A survey of local jukeboxes shows the American icon is still well alive in Chico
Nestled in the corner of Joe’s bar, a polished piece of American history leans between an ATM machine and the men’s room door. For more than 20 years, the 1954 Seeburg HF100R jukebox has retained its shine as well as its collection of authentic vinyl 45s. Costing 10 cents per play, the machine sports a row of records that span a history of musical greats, from Louie Armstrong, Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline to the Beatles, James Brown and the Doors. Almost every album is a classic that predates the bar itself.
Practically every bar in downtown Chico has a jukebox, and the selection of music offered does much in the way of classifying and even regulating the types of customers that bar attracts. The jukebox is used to generate a specific atmosphere—anything from retro jazz cool to mulleted power ballad rock.
“That old juke box was kind of what we built this bar around,” Joe’s bartender, Dan Burns, says. Dan is the brother of Joe’s owner Ed Burns.
“We like to keep it more of an old-time good-times place.” Everything in the bar, from the wood-burning heater to the floor cover of discarded peanut shells, embodies the same old-time/good-time feel.
For the last few months the jukebox’s Select-o-matic record arm has hung motionless. The Seeburg HF100R’s lights have dimmed, and its speakers are silent. Its cord has been unplugged, and it is scheduled for much-needed repairs. But Burns has plans for his jukebox’s revival. After all it’s the last of a dying breed here in Chico.
Everyone else has gone CD.
Several blocks away, Duffy’s Tavern boasts one of the most popular jukeboxes in town. Furnished with an eclectic and often obscure variety of CDs, Duffy’s seems to play all the stuff the other bars don’t. Forget that Beastie Boys License to Ill, or that Santana Greatest Hits. Instead, expect to find CDs like Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, the Paladins’ Million Mile Club, and the The Buena Vista Social Club Soundtrack. Duffy’s jukebox titles, like Duffy’s customer base, defy any set classification.
Duffy’s co-owner Doug Roberts takes great pride in keeping the selection fresh. “Sometimes people will find certain music annoying and we’ll pull that off. Some CDs are locked in and will never come off because we identify those as kind of the personality of the bar,” Roberts said.
Next door, the Towne Lounge hasn’t changed the CDs in its jukebox for ages. But why should it, when it’s stocked with some of the best classic country and rock around? Perfect tunes for those older bar hounds who prefer swigging their Wild Turkey to Willy Nelson than a moaning Creed anthem.
Over at Panama, the jukebox is far more functional than the row of swaying paddle-shaped ceiling fans. The lively little bar-and-grill has a jukebox that adds weight to its collection with such artists as Garth Brooks and AC/DC and rounds it off with local favorites Scapegoat Wax and Oleander.
The University Bar around the corner mimics the Panama approach, only it gears its music to a younger, more MTV-savvy crowd. It’s the only bar in town where you can bump Nelly and Elvis Presley back to back … or Nelly and anything, for that matter.
Jukeboxes in town usually fall into two categories: those that seek to please the average “regular” by validating their tastes and those that want to define the “regular” through owner-imposed style. “No depressing slow music for example,” one anonymous bar owner remarked, “that and the violent stuff just doesn’t go well with alcohol.”
On the opposite end of downtown, Normal Street bar provides one of the better collections of pop-punk and hard rock, second only to its bastard baby brother Riff Raff. Under the same management, both bars carry at least four NOFX CDs, one Dropkick Murphy CD, and zero Barry Manilow CDs (Barry lacks edge). But it’s Riff Raff’s jukebox that has been creating the latest juke-buzz, if you will. Three letters: N.W.A.; three words: Straight Outa Compton.
Originally there wasn’t supposed to be any rap music in the Riff Raff jukebox, but somehow N.W.A.'s gangsta classic was slipped into the stack. It got heavy rotation the first few weeks of business and earned itself a long-term spot. It seems obvious from the lack of rap present on local jukeboxes that many local bar owners are made nervous by the “rap element.” But at the Riff Raff, it seems gangsta rap and punk rock can work side-by-side, extending middle fingers across the color barrier for the betterment of mankind.
Still there’s no beating a classic jukebox like the one back at Joe’s.
Dan Burns steps off his bar stool and shuffles through the peanut shells, past the old Seeburg HF100R. He’s got a bar to run and a remodel on the way. He plans to add on an upstairs bar, where his old jukebox will gain new life as the sole source of music. He says the thing sounds great in a small space.
“We’re going to hang on to this [jukebox]," Burns says. "That sort of thing never goes out of style."