Archive for Sunday, August 22, 2004

Vintage music collection puts spring in step

August 22, 2004


— Don Whitebread lives in an A-frame chalet in rural Junction City with his wife, Florence.

His basement collection includes more than 3,000 records, boxes of cassette tapes, eight-track tapes, CDs, video tapes of musical performances, slides and photographs of musicians, a jukebox, phonographs, radios, a drum set, speakers sporting blue neon lighting, a synthesizer, several sets of bongos, a piano and a 1980s-era Rock'n Flower, which is a plastic flower that reacts to sound.

"My house is not normal," he said as Keely Smith's "Begin the Beguine" flowed from the Rock-ola 444 jukebox. "I'm not normal."

The 76-year-old says he could add "amorousity" to the room as he dances over to a small mirror ball hanging from the ceiling of his basement. He says a lot of the music from the era he likes is amorous -- suggestive even.

Do Don and Florence dance together?

Of course. They even jitterbug.

In the blood

The Whitebreads are a musical family. Don plays the drums and was a radio DJ until the early 1970s. In fact, Don and Florence met when he hired her in 1957 to work at the local radio station. He originally hired her sister, but she already had a job. She suggested Florence instead. Florence has played the organ and piano since she was 15. Don's uncle sang songs on Kansas City, Mo., radio during the Great Depression. His grandfather led an orchestra and mandolin club in Marysville at the turn of the century. Florence's father built radios in the 1920s. The Whitebreads' three children grew up playing music in a family band.

Despite Don's background, he can't read music.

Don Whitebread originally wanted to be an actor. He moved to California after high school and saw the movie stars, watched a taping of "Truth or Consequences" and saw Charlie Speedback at the Hollywood Palladium. After he decided he didn't have a future on the silver screen, he enrolled in the Pathfinder School of Radio in Kansas City, Mo. He has worked as a DJ at KWBW in Hutchinson, KGAR in Garden City, KJAY in Topeka, KMAN in Manhattan and KBTO in El Dorado.

"It's a great thing to do," he said. "If I can't play an instrument and don't know how to read music, I can play records."

Jazz fan

So much is digitized now, but he remembers cueing up a record. It was like what the rappers do now, except he didn't go back and forth, he said as he imitated a DJ scratching on a turntable.

His favorite music is jazz. His collection includes a lot of big band music and ragtime. He said he enjoyed it all as long as it had get up and go.

He brought out a 78 record from the 1940s titled "Serenade to a Pair of Nylons." A drawing of a woman wearing a pair of pantyhose with a black seam running up the back adorned the face of the record. It looks more like a commemorative plate or giant coaster. He then pulled two similar albums off his shelf. One had a photo of Tina Turner on one side and Michael Jackson on the other.

"Music's changed," he said. "I don't grasp much of the hard rock and all that stuff because I've had so much before me. I can't accept anything else."

His kids liked KISS, a name he said with the kind of bewilderment that divides generations of music fans.

Whitebread's basement is like a museum of the music industry. He demonstrated a windup RCA Victor player from the early 1900s. He cranked the squeaky handle, and a thick, heavy record spun unevenly. A staticky song that now you can only hear in the movies came rolling out of the speaker.

He later fired up the jukebox, and "Billy Butterfield" by Artie Shaw mingled through the basement. Remembering another record, he put an album by Mozart on Fifth on his Nunmark turntable. A classic ragtime song mixed with Shaw. The chorus of Terri Clark's "Girls Lie Too," which was playing on a radio upstairs, wafted down.

"I finally have got all the things I always wanted," he said proudly. "My toys."

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