Thursday, February 24, 2011

Our piggy bank was a Wurlitzer

The Johnny Cash ballad "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" reached No. 1 on the Billboard country charts at this time in 1959 and spent six weeks there, holding court until Johnny Horton assumed the top spot with "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)."

There was great excitement waiting for the next Johnny Cash single to be released, knowing that the flip side would get nearly as much play as the A side. ("I Still Miss Someone" was the flip to "Guns" and might have become the more popular song over the years.)

A little pipsqueak growing up in Wisconsin could legally hang out in a tavern if a parent was within earshot. He could even sip a "shorty" beer. So if you were tall enough to reach the coin slot on the juke box you were in tall cotton.  Imagine the trust your daddy placed in you when he gave you change from his euchre earnings to "Play the box, son."

The nickels and dimes that went into that Wurlitzer, and the music it spit out. "Guns" was Johnny's fifth No. 1 hit, and it was surrounded by memorable country tunes: Ray Price's "Heartaches by the Number," Eddy Arnold's "Tennessee Stud" and by the end of 1959 Marty Robbins hit paydirt with "El Paso." Somewhere in there Johnny slipped in "I Got Stripes" and "Luther Played the Boogie."

Those were the days, buddy, and we don't mean maybe.

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