John Lennon's 1965 Portable KB Discomatic Jukebox
John Lennon lived in an analog world, he was killed a few years before the CD was introduced, and a couple of decades before the iPod changed the way most people listen to music. I wish I knew more about Lennon's home hi-fis over the years, but while touring with the Beatles in 1965 he grooved to Booker T & the MGs and Chuck Berry tunes on a portable jukebox. His KB Discomatic was a 1965 model, sold by Kolster-Brandes Ltd., in the U.K.
The jukebox went missing for a number of years before it surfaced in a Beatles memorabilia auction in England in 1989, where it sold for £2,500 to music promoter John Midwinter. He had the jukebox restored and researched the forty, 7-inch 45 rpm singles loaded in the changer mechanism. We can be fairly certain the music was selected by Lennon because the jukebox's lid had all the 45s titles hand written by JL in each position. The machine is on full view in "John Lennon's Jukebox," a 2004 documentary film directed by Christopher Walker. The film was first broadcast on "The South Bank Show" in the U.K, and on the "Great Performances" PBS series in the U.S. in 2006. I taped it on VHS and transferred it to DVD. The commercially released DVD may still be in print, and you can probably find copies of the CD collection, "inspired" by the documentary on Amazon. Want a free taste? No worries, bits and pieces of the film are all over YouTube.
Most of the documentary footage is culled from interviews shot in 2004 with the artists who's music is on the jukebox. That's the most touching aspect of the film, they're shown with the jukebox, watching the mechanism change discs. They're all thrilled to have been included in Lennon's top 40 collection.
Lennon played harmonica on a few early Beatles tunes, and when you hear Delbert McClinton playing on Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby" 45 you'll hear how much Lennon's harp sound was based on McClinton's. Channel and McClinton are in the film, and have fond memories of touring with the Beatles in 1962, before the Fab Four hit it big. Sting appears a few times, totally in awe of the jukebox, and how it encapsulated so much of Lennon's early musical DNA. The stock film clips of 1960s American teenagers dancing gets tiresome, I wish the filmmakers documented in greater detail the provenance of the jukebox.
Lennon's musical choices, running from contemporary hits like Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street," to Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour," and Fontella Bass' "Rescue Me" (she's the only female singer with a 45 in the machine) are mainstream hits. A healthy number of the selections are 1950s rock and roll classics from Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and the Isley Brothers, the music that heavily influenced the Beatles early on. Donovan and the Animals are among the very few then current British bands that made the cut.
The Lennon interviews where he talks about how much early rock and roll meant to him are touching. He says the band studied the music, took it apart, trying to see what made the songs work. During one 1970s interview Lennon says he can't remember how to play most Beatle songs, but he has no such problem with his early rock favorites. He may have been a Beatle, but John Lennon remained a fan of the music that first inspired him.