Danny Barton's Narrative

What is that music?

I came to the University of Texas in the fall of 1965 as an eighteen year old transfer student from Southern Methodist University. The first cultural resource I discovered at UT was the audio tape lab at the 'undergraduate library' on the campus’ West Mall. Thousands of phonograph records had been transferred to reels of audio tape and carefully ordered alphabetically, cataloged like books on 3”x5” cards in a many-drawered mahogany and maple cabinet. One found the title and catalog number of the tape one wanted to hear and gave a call slip to one of the student aides running the place. A show of student ID merited a set of old fashioned headphones with a two-channel plug of the type that was in common usage in telephone switchboards in the 1920’s. One then took a place along a divided bank of listening stations, each with thirty plug-in sockets to access tapes being played on different channels. A big chalkboard showed which tapes were being played on which channel.

The music I called for was always be-bop jazz of the Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane school or cool jazz from the Bob Brookmeyer/Stan Getz school. Pop music I liked, like the Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan, was not in the catalog.

One watched the board to see when the record one had called for would be played, and on what channel. One afternoon I noticed something unusual chalked onto the board, "The Country Blues." What was that? I plugged into the channel. My God, what a shock! It wasn't cool at all, it was hot. I rushed to the card catalog to see what I had tapped into. The names meant nothing to me then, but were fascinating;. Walk Right In by Gus Cannon and the Jug Stompers, Stealin' by the Memphis Jug Band, Special Agent by Sleepy John Estes, Fixin' to Die by Bukka White. I listened to this tape over and over again and tried, fruitlessly, to find a copy of the record it had been taken from.

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