“Carrying on like a mouse in a bucket!”
Gordon Gullickson was the most important man in my career whom I never met. Not even once. I had never even seen a photo of him; the one reproduced here came to me only recently. All I knew was that he was listed as editor of a home-made looking magazine quaintly named, “The Record Changer.”
For you iPod Age-rs, who might not know what a record changer was, I will now enlighten you – in the days when music was marketed in the form of 10 or 12-inch black shellac discs, both sides of which were inscribed with spirals of fine, wiggly grooves, we were sold an item that was not only unnervingly fragile, but contained a mere three to five minutes of music per side. Imagine!!!
These discs were usually played individually by carefully placing them onto a felt covered turntable with a short-rounded center spindle that fit exactly into a hole in the center of all such discs.
After the turntable was sent in motion, the speed adjustment lever was set at 78 revolutions per minute. You gently lowered a swiveling arm, tipped with a changeable steel needle, onto the beginning of the spiral groove, near the edge of the disc. For reasons too technical to go into here, the wiggly groove wiggled the needle in such away as to roughly recreate the sound of music which was created by another needle in a recording studio, cutting the original wiggly groove in a wax master disc. Is that clear?
Anyway, as this was definitely not the American way, a highly sophisticated machine was developed which could do all this mechanically, and not for just one disc, but up to ten discs at once!
The turntable of the record changer device had a tall center spindle onto which about ten records could be stacked, and held high enough over the turntable by metal “fingers,” to allow the pickup arm to swing freely below. At the end of the pickup arm was a small vibration sensitive electric “cartridge, into which was inserted the steel needle, tightened in place by a tiny thumbscrew, which worked best if you had tiny thumbs. When the music on the disc ended, the needle was led into an offset circular grove which caused the pickup arm to swing back & forth, alerting a clever mechanism which performed an elaborate mechanical dance, with the pickup arm lifting and swinging back out of the way as the metal fingers supporting the stack of records shifted, allowing the bottom disc to fall. The arm then returned to precisely the proper position and gently lowered itself onto the leading groove the disk that had dropped into place. Thus the listener could sit back or carry on with a task a hand while enjoying a half-hour more-or-less concert of the “A” or “B” sides of 10 records. That was the state-of-the-art genius of the mechanical record changer!
But the “Record Changer Magazine” had nothing to do with the mechanical record changer shellac disc player. I’m only giving you a run-down on the machine’s workings to illustrate the pixilated humor of Gordon Gullickson, who cleverly co-opted the name of the gadget as the name of his magazine, with the sense of its function as a ‘record ex-changer,” a service to collectors wishing to find and trade rare records, specifically rare jazz records. At the time such records were virtually impossible to find in any Main Street or even Side Street record shop.
The sharpie title showed that there was a man of wit behind what could have been seen as merely a dull classified ad booklet. In fact, it had already evolved from a folded sheet of listings to a small format lithographed magazine format with a cover illustration and a few articles of music criticism and comment.
And that’s what I saw when I noticed an issue of the RC on the counter of the Jazz Man Record Shop in the year 1945. By that time I was well enough up on the absurdities and quirkiness of traditional jazz record collectors to conceive the notion that what this magazine desperately needed were cartoons and graphics by me. I already had a good day job at CBS Radio, so felt I could afford to do some pro bono work…
I went home and made a few bizarre cartoons featuring a long-nosed horn-rimmed bespecticled fanatic jazz record collector, modeled after myself, and sent them off, clear across the country, to Fairfax, Virginia and Gordon Gullickson. Gordon immediately accepted my cartoons for publication, and we became continous postal pen pals. Whenenver he felt he was late in answering me, he apologized in his letters with his pet phrase for being very busy, „I’ve been carrying on like a mouse in a bucket!“
He suggested that my jazz fanatic cartoon character be named, „THE CAT,“ which Louis Armstrong used to name all jazz musicians or jazz lovers. I learned many years later that the West African word for a human was „katta.“ It can be assumed that this is the true origin of the non-feline use of the name „Cat!“
I greatly respected and admired Gordon Gullickson for his support, encouragement and suggestions as he continuously widened my role. Soon I was named as the magazine’s art director. It was my one, non-commercial project that allowed me to experiment with different styles; what ever I wished to try. Every cover design I did was in a different graphic style, and I think that my „CAT“ was the first regularlyy published cartoon character that took on a continuously altered appearance… I drew him differently month by month, even though he was supposed to be the same character…
Suddenly, with no advance notice, Gordon announced in his monthly personal column, „LEMME TAKE THIS CHORUS,“ that he was selling THE CHANGER. I never knew why. He vanished from my life. Even though I had become the magazine’s art director, the task was increasingly joyless with Gordon gone. I finaly left The Record Changer at the end of 1951, but my work on the magazine had formed my personal graphic credo, and led directly to my career in animation.