Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples comments on the transition of the neon jukebox from analog to digital for a Replay magazine story published Nov. 1, 1977.
Seated at a back table near the Golden Rooster’s alleyway exit, my eyes fix a stare on the joint’s Fifties neon face (jukebox). Thirty years from now, when a pair of glasses will be needed to fix a stare on anything, someone will be ensconced in a warehouse poring over rare Fifties parts and making thousands keeping the ol’ dinosaurs alive. They’re tomorrow’s twelve-selection Wurlitzers, and they’ll be programmed with scratchy copies of Waylon’s latest single.
It’s already beginning to happen and like many of you, my emotions and thoughts are mixed and ambiguous.
On the one hand, it’s easy to imagine walking into a bar straight out of “Star Wars,” sitting at a booth equipped with headset jacks and headsets with user-controlled volume/balance/treble/bass faders, and listening to Richard Hell and the Voidoids performing while watching the whole thing on a twenty-foot screen that’s patched into the mother video-disc neon machine.
On the other hand, the dwindling numbers of antique neon faces are Integral Americana, Neo-American Fetish art forms that deserve respect and lots of attention. They remind those of us old enough, and teach those of us too young to know the years and changes and times they’ve seen. We know how important piano rolls were at first, and the old archtop jukes have had their own impact on the American pathos. Maybe too much light would be shed on their mystiques if Wurlitzer resumed production of the old 1040, but such a move would be welcome among multitudes.
Maybe the coed who just dropped a quarter into the Rooster’s face would welcome it, too. Will she play any of the great swing numbers listed on the right? Nope. She plays Peter Frampton and James Taylor instead. Give her time, maybe she’ll start falling for Jimmy Jones.
It strikes me that a boom in jukes and related technology is inevitable, just as it is for digital pins. The jukebox is too much a part of American Drugstore and Honky-Tonk Culture, but it’s bound to change. People have been investing untold millions per year for home stereo gear so they can hear everything that’s been recorded, and as a result they’ve become more picky about the quality of reproduced music outside the crib. Some people have told me they don’t bother playing jukeboxes because they’d rather play it at home. The technology now becoming available to the coin-op neon face biz can and most likely will change their attitudes before much longer.
Additionally, more people are on the planet these days, and a greater proportion than ever before are more than casual music listeners. The last decade or two has been vitally important in blowing well-defined parameters in musical forms to smithereens, and more people are therefore listening to more diverse forms of music.
Evidence supporting that surrounds us. Witness the stirring account delivered in person by actor David Leighton describing something right out of a Burt Reynolds movie: “Somewhere along the wasteland between El Paso and Tuscon I stopped at a truckstop for coffee, and even though it was past two in the morning, two truck drivers were on the floor doing the bump while a Dolly Parton tune played on the jukebox. One of the two people, oddly enough, was female, but she was really just another good-ole-boy gear masher. That joint was jumpin’, and without that jukebox, the place would have been deader than a two-legged armadillo tryin’ to cross an eight-lane freeway.”
Bump to Dolly Parton? Disco-billy, rhythm and western. Why not? People seem to be ready for advancements in neon face technology, especially advancements in auxiliary sound systems. So put on your headphones — you’ll be able to hear the boom in perfectly mixed, glorious living stereo.
And please do it soon. My beer’s getting flat.
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is a features writer and photographer for KHTS Radio News (hometownstation.com) and SCVTV’s SCVNews.com. He also writes the occasional post for his own website and independently provides Web editorial and social media services for select clients. On TV, Peeples is host, writer and co-producer of the popular “House Blend” music and interview show on SCVTV, community television for the Santa Clarita Valley (scvhouseblend.com). In addition, he delivers the KHTS/SCVTV “SCV Entertainment Beat” report Thursday night during SCVTV’s NewsBreak program. Peeples was the original award-winning writer/producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One (1988-1990) and a 1994 Grammy nominee as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” boxed set (MIPF/Rhino, 1992). Contact him at skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com or visit http://www.stephenkpeeples.com.