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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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8-track fever at Tex Tubb's Taco Palace
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This console at the counter is actually one of two 8-track players in Tex Tubb's. The other is mounted above the door to the bar.
Credit:Kenneth Burns

In Tex Tubb's Taco Palace, the Austin-inspired eatery at 2009 Atwood Ave., great country music plays everywhere. It comes from speakers in the bar area; and in the dining room, it is on the televisions that play DVDs of live music events. All the twang fits the festive Texas theme proprietor Kevin Tubb cultivates throughout the restaurant, what with the Willie Nelson posters and, of course, the authentic fish tacos.

And perhaps nothing better embodies the Taco Palace's honky-tonk retro-chic vibe than the 8-track player sitting on the front counter. The console is a Soundesign Classic from the mid-1970s, by the looks of it, and it sits amid dozens of 8-track releases by the likes of Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and George Jones. It pumps out country music as customers wait to order their chimichangas and queso dip.

"I think it's the coolest thing, myself," says Tubb, himself a local country singer. He notes that the console at the counter is actually one of two 8-track players in the restaurant. The other is mounted above the door to the bar, "kind of up there where people don't even notice."

In the 1970s, before cassettes became predominant, 8-track was the most popular tape format for American music fans. "There's some nostalgia," says Tubb. "Growing up, everyone I was driving around with had 8-tracks." Music companies stopped releasing 8-tracks in 1988, according to 8trackheaven.com, a Web site for fans.

Why 8-tracks for the Taco Palace? "We found a player at the Goodwill, this huge bookcase thing," he says. That player was partially dismantled and mounted over the door, and as he was preparing to open the restaurant last year, Tubb used the unit to play, endlessly, his only two tapes: Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline and a Merle Haggard compilation. What you might call 8-track fever ensued, and soon after the restaurant opened, Tubb installed the player on the front counter.

Originally Tubb wanted to play LPs, not 8-tracks. "I have a bunch of records," he says, "and I wanted people to choose them and play them. But didn't know if I wanted the records just out."

The 8-track player was a good substitute, and although the collection of tapes started small, it has swelled. "If you go to Goodwill, there's always some to choose from," he says. "And now people just bring us 8-tracks."

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