Friday, April 18, 2008

Telephone Time Tunnel

I had a bit of good blogging fortune this week. After I posted about “Hello Trouble” on Wednesday, I got a comment from someone who grew up in Shoals, Indiana. Eventually I learned that her father had serviced jukeboxes in Shoals for Sherfick’s, undoubtedly the owner of the jukebox in the Dwyer Café. This gentleman also worked for National Gypsum in Shoals, where my grandfather had the contract to provide security services. So, they knew each other from National and from the café. Since the man serviced jukeboxes from 1960 to 1963, he could very well have been the guy who gave me the 45 featured Wednesday and today. I don’t think the world can get much smaller than that, but this year of blogging is starting to churn up a lot of pleasant surprises, so we’ll see.

That paragraph was a news flash, and here’s another: you may note fewer loud thumps in this recording; that is because a regular reader, Yah Shure, gave me a couple of tips on click/pop reduction that doesn’t involve ruining the presence of the sound. The sound isn’t perfect, but most of the really bad thumps are gone. Believe me, if I could find another (cleaner) copy of this record, and several others, I would share them with you.

Now I’ll give you the original post I wrote a month ago. I have talked myself out on the Big 6 story (until someone comes up with new data for me), but the song brings other thoughts to mind.

Today’s song, “Can’t Hang Up the Phone” by an anonymous Nashville vocalist (perhaps the guy who sang “Hello Trouble’ on Wednesday), talks about how desperate the protagonist is to get his girl on the phone. He’s going to “keep on sayin’ that I love you to the dialin’ tone.” To the mind of current telephone users, the lyrics sound ridiculous. I am here to help you understand this guy’s logic.

Now, in 2008, people who have only a cell phone will not hear a dial tone very often. On a land line, I can punch in the number before I pick up the handset, so I don’t hear any dial tone there, either.

Even those who use a land line often know that, after twenty seconds (I just checked) of listening to the dial tone, you hear the recording “If you’d like to make a call . . . ,” followed shortly by the terrible screech that is supposed to wake you up if you fell asleep because of the sonorous A 440 tone that was massaging your eardrum. So nowadays this guy in the song couldn’t possibly say “I love you” more than a dozen times before the phone started giving it right back to him.

Ah, but it was not always so. When I went off to college in 1978, our phones at school, rotary dial and all, had a magical feature: you could dial part of a number and let the phone sit. It would not ring, and it would not cut you off. When I told a friend I liked Mary Ann Di*****, he dialed her number, all but the last digit, and told me to do that one myself. I sat there for ten minutes, sweating, wondering how stupid I was going to sound. I finally dialed the last digit, and her phone was busy. I didn’t let them put me through that again.
So the guy in the song had the same type of mechanical phone setup we did at Indiana University. It was indeed primitive, though not compared to the nearby Smithville Telephone Company, whose wires sometimes had been strung along pasture fence posts and were prone to being torn loose by cows who rubbed against them.

But our phone book did have a listing for Fone Company—see Indiana Bell Telephone Company. Same thing for “Phone Company.” I am not kidding you.

And so, first Stonewall Jackson, then the anonymous singer of my version of the song, sits waiting for the girl who just dumped him to need to call her mom for a recipe or something. And at that point, she will hear his voice, realize that she was wrong to let such a persistent suitor go, and fall back in love with him.

Um, nowadays we call that stalking, I think. Don’t try it at home.

But it’s a really good song. I had to do funky things with the sound file to get it to work; there was a fatal skip in the intro, so I spliced in part of the intro to the second verse to keep the song together. And where he says “caused my heart to break,” you will be able to tell that I had to deal with another skip. Sorry about that. If one of you has a better transfer than mine, let me know.

And that, folks, is what I can say about Big 6 Records. I was hoping I’d have space to tell the story about my grandfather and the hellgrammite he gave me to hold, but it will have to wait. I’ll be back Wednesday with another tune from the Dwyer Café jukebox—one you know. See you then!

Big 6, Can’t Hang Up the Phone

Label scan


stackja1945 said...

I only know of Stonewall Jackson from his Waterloo fame. Again another interesting story.

whiteray said...

"Fone Company"? For those hoo wir huked on fonics, I imagine!