Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Story of a Jukebox

My dad’s parents lived in Shoals, a town of perhaps a thousand people that ran on gypsum mining and farming. On Main Street in Shoals there was a little restaurant called the Dwyer Café, and my grandparents owned it. When we drove down (five hours by car once I-65 opened), I loved to hang out there. I cleaned tables, washed dishes, peeled potatoes, and generally prepared myself for a career in the food-service industry. You could ask if that was a good idea, but I promise you I have never asked anyone if they wanted fries with that. Whatever “that” is.

The other thing I did at the Dwyer Café was stare at the jukebox. Three-year-old caithiseach couldn’t get enough of this particular device. When someone ordered a song, a semicircular metal hook grabbed the correct 45, laid it on the platter, and the tonearm came over and began to play the record. My record player was manual, so seeing the mechanics of an automatic player up close never bored me. The tonearm also held a small brush to shoo dust away from the groove. I found that very elegant, and I asked for a brush for my first good turntable.

I played two songs on that jukebox a lot. One I will discuss next week, but the other one is legendary in my music collection. Uncle Tom didn’t get me this record; I got it myself. The song is called “Hello Trouble,” and it appeared on the Big 6 label. I will approach the story from the beginning, so you can see what I learned about the song as time went on.

The record was created to maximize jukebox record slots: it had three songs on each side, with very fine grooves. I had some EPs at home, so it didn’t surprise me to find a 45 with six hits on it. Something I never figured out, and still don’t understand, is how the tonearm could find the right spot to start the second and third songs. It was like magic; if you ordered “World of Forgotten People,” the needle dropped in exactly the right spot, just after “Hello Trouble.” And if you played “Hello Trouble,” you didn’t get the other two songs for free. If you know how this machine from the early 1960s worked, do tell.

I knew the jukebox man sometimes opened up the window and swapped out records. I learned to my horror one day that he was taking “Hello Trouble” away. My distress must have been evident, because he gave me the 45. As many times as I had played that song in Shoals, I could now play it a hundred times more often in Merrillville. The tragedy of losing the recording forever was averted, and I added a prized tune to the box of 45s when I got home.

From 1963 until 1979, I played “Hello Trouble” often. The 45 didn’t get Ground to Dust, because I had better needles then, but it got crackly, as you’ll soon see. The 45 went to college with me, and when I got a good turntable and an excellent tape deck, I decided to tape the song so I could retire the 45.

That was a bit of a challenge. The lighter tonearm skipped on the record. As I was determined to get this song recorded, my roommate Ray and I doodled with the anti-skate setting. I figured out that by moving that knob at the right instant, I could get past the skip in the guitar pickup notes, and then by turning it fully to the other side, I’d slip through the second skip in the groove. I got my recording.

Then I thought it might make sense to look for the song on LP. Since the artist was not listed on the 45, we had to guess at who the singer might be. Ray suggested Buck Owens, and at the local record store we learned that Buck had indeed recorded the song. I was hesitant to buy the LP without being sure, so I held off to await further data.

From 1979 to the early 1990s, I listened to my tape of “Hello Trouble” and didn’t buy Buck’s version. But when his box set came out, I couldn’t resist. Instead of being unable to pull the trigger on a $5 vinyl purchase, I dropped $30 on Buck’s box. I ran home and dropped the laser on “Hello Trouble.” And I’ll be darned if it wasn’t the wrong version. Way wrong, not even similar to the one I had loved for thirty years.

You see, Buck had his way of doing songs. I have made a medley of Buck Owens intros from the early days of his Bakersfield Sound, and you’ll see that it’s not much of a stretch to go from these recordings to a cookie-cutter-Buck version of “Hello Trouble.” But it’s not the way the song should have been done. Considering that I have heard the song covered later by the Desert Rose Band and others in the Buck Owens style, rather than in the original manner, I am a bit miffed still at Buck. He changed the chords in the chorus, for crying out loud. And since he let Wynn Stewart give him his break in music without giving back much, Buck and I are going to have a little chat in about sixty years.

So, having eliminated Buck from the running for singer of “Hello Trouble,” I bothered to do some research. I learned that the song’s writer, Orville Couch (1935-2002), had taken the song to #5 on the country charts, with the run beginning on 11/24/1962 and lasting 21 weeks. His version, Vee Jay 470, was not available on CD. So that search stalled.

But I went to Nashville to check out the scene in 1996, and in a store full of 45s I found “Hello Trouble” by Orville Couch. The store had turntables, so I dropped the needle on it, and . . . it wasn’t my version. It was far closer than Buck’s, but I suddenly knew what was going on. I owned six soundalikes of early-1963 country hits. The actual hits are:

Orville Couch, “Hello Trouble” #5 11/24/1962
Unknown, “World of Forgotten People” Not a Top 40 hit
Kitty Wells, “We Missed You” #7 11/3/1962
Stonewall Jackson, “Can’t Hang Up the Phone” #11 1/26/1963
Unknown, “Safely in Love Again” Not a Top 40 hit
Porter Wagoner, “I’ve Enjoyed As Much of This As I Can Stand” #7 12/8/1962

All of my versions are soundalikes. Since 1996, I have been looking for a cleaner copy of this 45, but I can’t even get anyone to confirm that Big 6 Records existed. What I can say about the song is that, of the three concurrent versions of “Hello Trouble,” my Big 6 cut is the smoothest and most listenable. It’s the version I learned to love, it’s true, but the harmonica in the Couch version is far too sappy, and Buck took the song to Bakersfield and never gave it back.

One thought comes to mind. When Billboard calculated jukebox plays for chart purposes, Couch et al. would not be getting credit for the plays of Big 6 45s. That makes me think these songs could have climbed a bit higher on the chart were it not for this soundalike record. The same might hold true for songs that got the Hit Records treatment. At least the songwriters got their royalties. I think.

Speaking of them, Orville Couch posted 100 compositions with BMI, but none seems to rival the success of “Hello Trouble.” His co-writer, Eddie McDuff, shared credit on numerous Couch-McDuff composition. McDuff also wrote two tunes with Dorothy Barnett Couch, who I figure to be Orville’s wife. There’s not much more available on these guys.

And that’s “Hello Trouble” for you. Be sure to listen to all of the sounds, so you can see the complete picture. When I was three, I especially liked the line about letting Trouble “rest your shoes.” It was several years before I figured out that Trouble was a girl. I figured that out all at once, and I suspect this should be my theme song.

Saturday I’ll have another song from the B side, with commentary on the technology of the time. See you on the flip side!

Big 6, Hello Trouble

Orville Couch, Hello Trouble

Buck Owens intro medley

Buck Owens, Hello Trouble

Big 6 Hello Trouble label scan


Elizabeth M. said...

Hello! I grew up in Shoals, and lived there until I went to college in 1980. My dad worked for Sherfick's in the 50s-60s and serviced juke boxes all over southern Indiana -- I bet he knows how that juke box worked.

caithiseach said...

Elizabeth, your dad could have been the guy who gave me the 45. Do ask him how that machine knew which song to play, if you get a chance. If you graduated around 1980, you went to school with my cousins, Lora and Brian S. And you would have been old enough to have gone to the Dwyer Cafe before Oscar Albright bought it around 1971. If you get info about the jukebox, you can email me with it via the link or leave it here. Thanks!

Cyndy said...

Hello. My grandfather was Tom Sherfick (who owned the Jukebox Service). My dad also serviced many jukeboxes around Shoals. Someday I would love to find an old Wurlitzer Jukebox from the Sherfick era. What's more coincidental is that my first job in high school was at Dwyer's Cafe. I wasn't very good at it so I didn't last long as a waitress, but I ate there a lot in hs. I have a nice record collection from the 60s too but I melted some in the sun while rollerskating to the music as a kid. What a dork. It was nice thinking about younger years. I graduated from SHS in '74.

caithiseach said...

OK, Cyndy,

Do you remember Dick and Eva's son, Jack? If he was ever there, so was his scrawny kid. That would be me. I know I met Tom Sherfick. So, between Elizabeth's father and your grandfather, the guy who gave me this record has almost certainly been mentioned. Thanks for writing.

R Kennedy said...

Hi, regarding your jukebox memories, well, memory can be fanciful but there was never any such machine.

What existed were machines that could play EP's -these units had no exceptional features in their playing mach's, just the ability to charge a slightly higher price for the EP which required that they be confined to a specific Letter/number section of the machine.

By 1959 "little Lp's" were integrated into Seeburg, Rock-Ola and some AMI machines..Wurlitzer didn't incorporate this feature 'till 1962. Little Lp's were 7 inch just like 45's but with a small center hole and it was this feature that allowed a juke to switch from 45 to 33rpm. They had three songs each side and some machines made by AMI and Seeburg (LPC1 and LPC 480) could play both sides in-order but gain, no track selection.

from what you describe of seeing a "a semicircular metal hook" -called a "gripper bow" that was probably a Rock-ola or, if the tonearm was on the left side it would be an AMI JEL or JAL from 1962-63 That was the first juke I played and Four Seasons' "Sherry" was the first record.

Regards, R.Kennedy

Anonymous said...

Hello! My husband Bob Allbright worked for Sherfick Music at the time and he probably was the one who gave you the record. His brother, George used to repair jukeboxes and had his own business. He, too worked for Tom.
Patty Allbright

P.s. We now own Tom's house on High Street.