Cover Image: Jukebox Empire

Jukebox Empire

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Member Reviews

My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Rowman & Littlefield for an advance copy of this history on the confluence of musical jukeboxes, organized crime, one man's dream and how his schemes all went wrong.

"Put another nickel in/ In the nickelodeon/ All I want is having you /And music, music, music." I first heard this song on the Muppets years ago, and than when the television channel Nickelodeon used to run it when they first began. The song Music, Music Music, is very catchy, a sort of musical earworm that won't leave the mind once heard. Though instead of music, music, music, the line money, money, money, would fit better. Nickels and jukeboxes made for a great team. Drunks wanted to hear that sad song that made them drink, teens wanted to move and swing, and hear the song that could make the others dance with them. And a lot of loose coins, in a lot of loose places were of interest to others, those with an aversion to taxes, or reporting royalties to record labels, and with a lot of places to hide these coins that could become paper so easily. Lots of paper. Jukebox Empire: The Mob and the Dark Side of the American Dream by investigative reporter David Rabinovitch, is a personal look at jukeboxes, crime, and one of men who planned to make a fortune, only to nearly lose it all when the music ended.

William Rabinovitch was born in a small town in Canada, the son of a self-made man, who had big dreams and even better for those dreams loose morals. As a teen Rabinovitch made money smuggling hooch or alcohol over the border during Prohibition, before moving to Chicago to make his name, which he changed to Wolfe Rabin, to seem more American. The end of Prohibition meant that bars needed entertainment and soon Rabin was in the jukebox business, which when World War II started he retooled his equipment to become part of the arsenal of democracy, making money manufacturing rifles for Uncle Sam. After the war, the money was drying up, and soon Rabin was back into jukeboxes, only this time with silent partners who had a scheme to shave money out of their jukeboxes, cheating Uncle Sam, and the artists and companies out of royalties, but making a lot of money for a select group. Which it did until things started to go spectacularly wrong.

A very well-written story that is not only a crime story but a personal story. Wolfe Rabin was Uncle to the writer David Rabinovitch, who never met each other. Rabinovitch knew little about his uncle, his father was not one to discuss him, and most of this has been gained by research by the author. The story is both personal, and very informative, discussing crime, the making of various jukeboxes, the corruption that seemed everywhere, and how much money could be made just by playing music. The story moves well covering a lot of time, and a lot of different ideas, technical, criminal and about family, and never bogs down. One thing becomes quite clear Wolfe Rabin was quite a character.

Recommended for both music fans and organized crime fans. There is enough about both to keep readers interested and wanting to know more. A nice companion piece to T. J. English's book Dangerous Rhythms about the mob and jazz music.

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