Ghosts in the machine

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When the Art Bar and Blind Lemon expands northward from Deep Ellum with the opening of Your Mother's Hip and Lavaca Cantina, there will be a vinyl jukebox in there that compares well with the boxes of old. Johnny Cash, Slim Harpo, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, B.B. King, Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Freddie King, and more of their ilk will be heard coming from the box, joined by the king (or King, more appropriately) and queen of the jukebox, Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline. (A 1989 survey by the Amusement and Operators Association found "Hound Dog/Don't be Cruel" to be the top jukebox selection of all time, closely followed by "Crazy.")

But one of the finest jukeboxes in town can be found in a place that, without it, would be nothing but a decent enough place to get a plate of sausage and eggs, a cup of coffee, and a pack of smokes at three in the morning. Stuck in between scores of otherwise mediocre singles by the likes of Madonna and Hank Williams, Jr. and Bob Seger are a handful of gems that make the Metro Diner on Gaston Avenue home to a great jukebox--Bobby Bland's rendition of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues," Junior Walker and the All-Stars ripping through "Shotgun," Chuck Berry's immortal "Maybelline/Roll Over Beethoven," the Coasters' novelty classic "Charlie Brown," even Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Crossfire/Chitlins Con Carne."

But there is one cut that towers above them all--"Muddy Waters Twist," a track by the mighty bluesman that is not available anywhere except on the B-side of "You Shook Me." It's a genuinely rare piece of music, the use of organ and driving dance beat so unlike Muddy's more familiar fare, and you can't get it on any Muddy Waters CD or boxed set or rarities collection. You can't hear it anywhere else in town (that I know of) except at the Metro Diner.

And therein lies the appeal of the vinyl jukebox, being able to find that rare and unknown B-side not compiled on any mass-market CD. It's the thrill of discovery or the rush of rediscovery, those first few notes that peek through the cracks and pops of worn grooves, that makes a vinyl jukebox so special and a CD jukebox nothing but a ghost of a machine--the body with no soul, as William Bunch writes in his book.

"The best jukebox," he said, "somehow knows when to belt out Frank Sinatra when you're on top of the heap or B.B. King when you've been dumped. [It's] in perfect sync with its time and place."

And at the Metro Diner, with Muddy Waters singing his blues at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, there is no better time or place in all the world.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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