The Jukebox Room

It was a Saturday night in the Davis house, late 1976.  Everyone was in the Jukebox Room, laughing, cheering, singing and dancing to “Swing Your Daddy” by Jim Gilstrap.  Yes, you read that correctly, The Jukebox Room.  My father actually went out and got a jukebox from someone (or some business) and moved it into the family recreation room (formerly an unused bedroom because my two brothers and I loved sharing the same room.  Of course, when my brothers grew leg hair, we all wanted our own beds and rooms).  He positioned the jukebox within the recesses of the closet, from which he’d already removed the collapsible doors to make it fit. It was that old 60s-70s model that had the decorative vertical pipes at the bottom front with the half-dome glass cover on top that you slowly, carefully flipped up and back to change out the 45 records.

And that’s where it sat, for years, even when I claimed the room for my high school bedroom.  

When he first got it, he had it rewired so that you didn’t have to deposit any quarters for it to activate.  All you had to do was turn it on and press the corresponding letter and number of the desired song (I loved the hard “click” feeling and sound the buttons made), then watch it slide along the bridge to retrieve and play your song.  We put quarters in it anyway, because it served as a halfway decent money bank. Problem was, the money was never there and of course, noooooobody took it.

All of the records in the slots matched the title cards on the front display.  I remember the songs and the pictures of the record labels vividly:

  • Hues Corporation – Rock The Boat
  • Temptations – Just My Imagination
  • Dukays – Please Help
  • Arthur Conley – God Bless
  • Jackson 5 – Sugar Daddy
  • War – Low Rider
  • James Brown – Hot Pants

If you gave me enough time I could probably recall about 50% of them.  In fact, we played them so much that if you named one of the records in the slots, I could quickly tell you the B-side track.

Above the machine, resting on the upper shelf of the “closet” were endless 45s, neatly stacked from end to end.  Dad’s 45-rpm record collection was immense!  It could be found atop the closet and in various places throughout that and other rooms.  He began collecting when he was a young teenager, purchasing music every time he got paid from wherever he worked.  Singles, albums and 8-tracks. We played the full albums as well, but not as often.  Probably because we had to use the “hi-fi” stereo in the living room.  Not as much fun.  In fact, I preferred scratching up the hi-fi’s folding lid’s surface with my Hot Wheels cars (well, I didn’t PREFER it. It just happened. But that and the resulting whoopin’ are another story).

Eventually we put all of the 45s through the tray rotation.  We just had to remember what was what because we didn’t have the matching labels. If we couldn’t remember, we just let the jukebox play continuously, song-to-song, until he yelled for us to turn it down or off.  But this was why we young’uns knew so much material from the 50s-60s-70s.  

One day, he brought out the latest issue of Jet Magazine and pointed to the “Top 20 Singles” list in the back and had each of us kids pick a song.  I picked “Hotline” by The Sylvers.  My sister Denise selected “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder.  Craig picked “Ha Cha Cha” by Brass Construction.  I forget Terry’s choice.  Anyway, dad later went out and bought each one, adding them to the collection.  

Every payday he continued his old practice.  We did this until we got old enough to buy our own stuff.  My first personal record purchase was “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by The SOS Band.

But I digress.  Let me get back to the story, which I’m sure you forgot about…

Everyone was having a glorious time, cheering each other on as we took turns dancing through the “soul train” line in pairs.  There was my mother and father, Aunt Dee, Uncle Bill, cousins Gary and John/”Pot” and of course, my sister and two brothers. There was also my mother’s best friend, Mrs. Martelly from two blocks over, who usually sat and laughed at all of the fun.

Being a typical jukebox, it was capable of reaching some serious decibel levels and we often cranked it up enough to be heard by passersby outside, as well as the neighbors.  But nobody minded.  They often came over and joined us.  The Davis house was the party place for everyone in the area.

The “Davis Train Line” was so much fun that I can’t possibly put it into words.  Just picture a group of jubilant black folk crowned with afros, buckwheat braids, cornrows and wigs; wearing dashikis, disco shirts, hot-ass turtle necks & corduroy pants, bell-bottoms and high-heeled shoes or Buster Brown suede shoes.  All of us adorned with mood rings and necklaces with interchangeable Zodiac pendants (even the kids got to wear them).  The room quickly filled with the combined heat of the jukebox and twirling bodies as the smell of sweat, perfume and incense enveloped and intoxicated all.

Somebody please open the damn window!

Denise impressed everybody with her perfect execution of “The Washing Machine” as I boogied alongside her with my customized version of “The Robot”.  Those were our specialties.  Craig usually brought the house down with breath-stealing laughter when he jumped up and attempted to land in the split position.  He never got it quite right, sometimes illustrating that the only true split he could conjure would be in the crotch of his pants, but it was cool.  We were out of our “school” clothes and in our “play” clothes.

No one had a care in the world.  All we did was dance, sing, hug, kiss and love.

And after we applauded each other in recognition of a “funky good time”, we all enjoyed Kentucky Fried Chicken or Iggy’s Pizza as Aunt Dee and Uncle Bill stepped outside to enjoy a cigarette and cold beer, respectively.

That was life back then.  Music and family.

Well, dad, Aunt Dee, Uncle Bill and “Pot” have since been called home to glory, as has the old jukebox.  We Davis kids are now Davis parents and spread out around the Midwest, but the memories remain intact – preserved, cherished and shared with our own children.

Much as I try to recreate the magic nowadays, it doesn’t quite have that luster of yesteryear.  The faces have changed, the fried chicken and pizza taste depressingly different, the clothes are moderately toned down, the neighbors across the street will call the police for noise ordinance infractions and the crispety-crunchety-crackle of the needle on the record has been replaced with the silent transition from one mp3 track to the next, unless we make a mix on the computer.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Music and the Davis family go hand-in-hand.

…so we never stop dancing.

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