And the more obscure, the better. Epstein would change out the records every few months, adding rarities like "Naturally Stoned" by the Avant-Garde -- game-show host Chuck Woolery's '60s psychedelic band -- and "Break It All" by Los Shakers, Uruguay's version of the Beatles.
Though several people interviewed for this story admit, somewhat sheepishly, that their jukes have suffered because of their new devotion to the iPod, filmmaker and former Rhino Records artistic director Sam Epstein (no relation to Dan) claims nothing can usurp his 1958 Seeburg with 200 selections. He's a die-hard collector of 45s, now owning more than 10,000, and contends the ideal sonic and aesthetic environment for discovering music is the jukebox.
"The 45 is the way it was originally intended, you know? For a lot of early rock 'n' roll, a lot of vintage vocalists, even the punk movement," Sam Epstein says. "It's more organic than any of the digital media, especially if you get an old Motown 45, or an old Chess 45, and you hear Howlin' Wolf or Bo Diddley. It's kind of like the whole box rumbles and the room rumbles, and it's different each time you play it."
Having been at Rhino more than 25 years, Sam Epstein also loves how what he calls "feeding the jukebox" leads him to new music. His interests have led him to make a film about the blues, still in production, called "When Blue Men Sang the Whites." He'll ask friends going home to Nigeria to bring him fresh juju singles, or will set up his whole jukebox with Bakersfield country.
"For those who really like to play the records, this was the machine," Epstein says of the Seeburg.
Tom Blackwell points out this is an urge the downloadable or Internet jukebox may not scratch sufficiently. He notes that all commercial jukeboxes have about 20 songs on them that are the hot sellers, the hits, and it's always been that way. The Internet jukes offer so many songs, and such little editing, that they're actually not as fun. So far, he understands, they're also not making much money.
Sam Epstein points out that this is exactly why the home jukebox is now so important. It's about selecting music, programming it. The box keeps the 45 alive, and 45s keep whole genres of music alive.
"Pop music is always going to be about what sells," he says. "And the whole fun of my jukebox is discovering things that were an obscurity -- one of mine was Sugar Pie DeSanto. She was a singer, a pal of Etta James, still lives up in San Francisco, putting out records. You'll never find that stuff downloadable, or whatever. It just doesn't make marketable sense. It's kind of like the haphazard route of history."
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Don't rock these jukeboxes
Decor is nice, and reasonably priced drinks can be a boon to business too, but the contents of the music-playing machine on the wall does as much as anything to set the tone in a bar.
"Jukeboxes totally epitomize the bar," says Carl Lofgren, who for four years was manager and co-owner of the Scene in Glendale. "When a person comes into a place, the first thing they do after getting a drink is to check what's on the jukebox.
"If there are good things on the jukebox, there are probably discerning people behind the bar."
That, of course, is a matter of taste. But predictability is, well, no way to be memorable. "Greatest hits collections are no good," says Lofgren, now manager and co-owner of the downtown bar La Cita. "You have to offer things outside of what people expect."
Following are 26 jukeboxes we remember. Got a favorite? Tell us: www.calendarlive.com/jukebox.
The Blue Room: Get your groove on in Burbank, where the digital juke seems to take on the color of the room. 916 S. San Fernando Road, Burbank. (323) 849-2779.
Cafe 50's: It's back to the future with a retro-style CD jukebox packed with Elvis, the Ronettes and more. 4609 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 906-1955.
Canter's Kibbitz Room: Heavy-on-the-rock box at the bar Guns N' Roses once frequented. Lots of Stones and, inexplicably, Third Eye Blind. 419 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. (323) 651-2030.
Club Tee Gee: Tony Bennett and Dean Martin rule the CD box, but classic rock rounds out the selection in this Atwater Village watering hole. 3210 Glendale Blvd., L.A. (323) 669-9631.
Continental Room: Hipster Fullerton martini bar has a great juke for those seeking a Rat Pack vibe. 115 W. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton. (714) 526-4529.
Frank & Hank: Pull up a stool at this K-town dive and if you are lucky, 91-year-old soul singer/songwriter and F&H regular Timmie Rogers will sing along with his CD. 518 S. Western Ave. L.A. (213) 383-2087.
HMS Bounty: Choose your poison -- CD or 45 rpm single -- at this Wilshire bar. Dueling boxes are heavy on classics such as Sinatra's "My Way." 3357 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown. (213) 385-7275.
Hop Louie's: Black-clad art students and Chinatown regulars alike are "Crazy" for Patsy Cline tunes played on this charming dive's CD jukebox. 950 Mei Ling Way, L.A. (213) 628-4244.