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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ghosts of Nashville's Studios Revisited


Ghosts of Nashville's Recording Studios Revisited



Nashville's old studios are like ghosts. They can't be seen but they can still be heard. Let's take a little trip down Music Row to your favorite Nashville studio of yesterday. They range from the small to the large, the unknown to the world famous, and they are waiting to be rediscovered. After receiving so many requests for this feature to continue, I have decided to make this one larger. So follow me to the ghosts of Nashville's past . . .



By Randy McNutt


Nashville's preoccupation with recording dates back about 60-some years. During this time, many studios have come and gone. I love going down there to search for the old sites. Some of the buildings can still be found. They might be studios or they might be hair salons now, but they are interesting to see. Nashville is a veritable graveyard of old studios!


1. Music City Recorders. One of my favorite studio ghosts is Scotty Moore's Music City Recorders, 821 19th Avenue South. Moore, Elvis's original guitarist, opened it at 19th Avenue South in the summer of 1966. You can read more about it in my book Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century. His engineer was Thomas Wayne Perkins, of  Thomas Wayne and the DeLons fame, from Memphis. The studio reached its busiest time in 1970 when it hosted 1,042 sessions. Music City Recorders was never one of Nashville's largest, elite studios, but it was a good place to record. Ringo Starr did his Beaucoups of Blues album there, and Lawrence Reynolds cut his hit Warner Brothers single "Jesus Is A Soul Man" there. Scotty is one of the greatest rock 'n' guitars of all time, and his studio studio was a good one. Later, he got into tape duplication down in Nashville, and that business thrived too.






2. Woodland Sound. Yes, I've mentioned this one before, but I'll do it again because I happen to be partial to Woodland. I mixed a song there once, and I loved the place. You don't get much better than Glenn Snoddy, the engineer who founded the place in 1968. (See my other piece on Woodland elsewhere on the blog.) In the 1960s and 1970s, Woodland was the place to record in Music City. It was state of the art. Bobby Goldsboro cut "Honey" there, and it became one of the biggest hits of the late '60s. A tornado messed the building up in 1998, but the studio kept going. It closed several years later. It is one of the best audio "ghosts" in town.
 

3. American Recording, 1111 17th Avenue South. In 1973, producer Chips Moman left Memphis and went to Atlanta, but soon he arrived in Nashville, where he set up American. It was named for his famous Memphis studio. Kenny Rogers came to the new American to cut "Lucille," and B.J. Thomas, a former Moman artist, came in to cut "(Hey, Won't You Play A) Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," which Moman produced. Other hits from the 24-track studio included "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)," "The Wurlitzer Prize," and "I Ain't Livin' Long Like This" by Waylon Jennings. Producer Larry Butler bought the studio in the late 1970s.
 
 
4. Globe Recording, 420-A Broadway. Opened in the late 1950s, Globe was used for "demonstrations, master tape, disc, recording of all types for songwriters, singers, publishers." The studio came equipped with Ampex recorders and Telefunken microphones. It became one of the city's oldest studios. Manager Jim Maxwell moved the operation to 1313 Dickerson Road in the 1970s.
 
 
5. JMI Records, 1308 16th Avenue South. Yet another Jack Clement studio in Nashville. This one was smaller, an in-house facility for his JMI Records, which opened in 1971.
 
 
Excerpted in part from Randy McNutt's Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the Twentieth Century. (HHP Books). Available from Amazon.com for $25 plus postage.
 
 







Friday, September 27, 2013

More King Records 70th Anniversary



More King Records
70th Anniversary Month
 
 
 
As we end the celebration of King Records' 70th anniversary, let's look at a few more recording artists who made the label great and memorable. Remember to look for King compilations the next chance you get.




The Chief, Syd Nathan
 
He had a knack for recording and
marketing. He turned a tiny label into
a large indie in only six years. Nathan
was a modern recording pioneer and
a type A personality who needed to
be involved in nearly everything that
his company did. He was successful, too.
Although he suffered from poor eyesight and
heart trouble, he continued to work at his
company from its founding in 1943 until
his death in 1968. Unfortunately, he missed
some work time due to ill health. After his
passing, the label was sold and resold. It could
never work the way it had without the Chief.
 
 
 
 
 
Wynonie Harris, Blues Singer
 
The Chief signed him during a visit to
his New York hotel room. Harris was
there with cold champagne and hot women.
Later, he went to the bar and ordered drinks
for everyone, courtesy of King Records. The chief
was not happy!
 
 
 
 
Roy Brown, Blues Singer
 
In the late '40s he wrote the hit song
"Good Rockin' Tonight,"
which Harris cut in the King studio in Cincy.
Brown's version on Deluxe Records competed
with the Harris version. Nathan bought
Deluxe, and then the two masters were
owned by the same company.
 
 
 
Tiny Bradshaw, Blues Band Leader
 
Nathan signed Tiny Bradshaw and brought him
back to prominence. King Records resurrected a
number of blues artists and country acts in
the late 1940s and early 1950s. Here the band
records in the King Recording Studio, which
was located at the King facility on Brewster Avenue in
Cincinnati's old Evanston neighborhood.
 
 
 
 
Lucky Millinder, Smooth Blues
 
Another King big band blues act, Lucky was
a mainstay of King's early blues days in the late
'40s, when Lucky played in Cincinnati frequently.
His band recorded for King, along with
sax man/vocalist Bull Moose Jackson.

 
 
 
 
 

The Charms
 
Otis Williams, who went to high school in
Cincinnati, came to King to record with his
group, the Charms, one of King's early
doo-wop groups and R&B mainstays.
Otis remained with the label for years.
One of their hits was "Ivory Tower,"
an R&B version of the Cathy Carr pop
version in the mid 1950s.
 
 
 
Little Willie John
 
A Nathan favorite, Detroit's Willlie John
became a major R&B star for King in the mid-'50s
with the hit "Fever," a song remade
many times by other acts. John died in
prison in the 1960s.
 
 
 
 
 




 

Monday, September 9, 2013

King Records
70th Anniversary Month



Some events include:

Saturday, September 14:

WVXU Radio will rebroadcast the second episode of its 2007 four-part documentary series on King Records. The two remaining parts will be aired September 21 and 28 at 11 p.m.

RJ Smith, author of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, will speak about Brown a the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County at 3:30 p.m. It will be in the third-floor genealogical space.

Sunday, September 15:

The King Studios' Educational Program Benefit Concert will be held from 6-11 p.m. at MOTR Pub in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. Performers will include Cheryl Renee, Ricky Nye, Magnolia Mountain, and the Sundresses.







 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

King Records: 70th Anniversary


By Randy McNutt







Cincinnati is celebrating King Records Month to remember the 70th anniversary of the indie label's founding by Sydney Nathan and several friends and family members in 1943. Home of the Hits blog will be running stories about King to coincide with this event. The following story is a remembrance of one of America's most interesting independent labels of history.

Many years ago, when I started producing recordings independently with my partner Wayne Perry in Cincinnati, we finished a track called "Mr. Bus Driver" at Rusty York's Jewel Recording in suburban Mount Healthy. I told Wayne that I would like to see it come out on King, because King did so much soul music. Our recording was soul-rock, and I thought it would give King a more contemporary sound and help us too. Neither Wayne nor I knew much about the history of King Records. We were only 21 years old, so King was older than we were at the time. But we knew that James Brown, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and other good soul acts came out of King's studio at 1540 Brewster Avenue in the Evanston neighborhood of the Queen City. That was enough for us.

Wayne called a guy named Bob "Mr. Movin'" Patton, a former disc jockey on our hometown radio station, WMOH in Hamilton, Ohio. Wayne told him what we wanted, and he offered to take us on a tour of the King factory and studio. He worked for James Brown at the time as a promotion man, and Brown, as King's reigning seller of records, kept an office in the old building. The place looked like something out of a Dickens movie. It was low and funky and uninviting. Wayne and I took my Karmann Ghia to the factory, about 25 miles from our town, and we nearly froze on a January night when the temperature was close to zero. Once inside, we noticed the place was very dim. Shadows covered the corridors. Patton led us through offices and more connected buildings, and finally we ended up in the pressing plant. It looked eerily still.

Then we moved on to the recording studio, which Nathan opened in 1947. He needed a place to record because he was tired of going out of town or using a local studio that he preferred not to visit. I can still remember the place in the semi-darkness, and Wayne standing up in front of a microphone and yelling, "Hey, all right!" We laughed, and he did his James Brown impersonation, and we moved on. But for that few minutes we spent in the studio, I imagined how it must have looked when so many hits were being cut right there--"Memphis" and "Wham!" by Lonnie Mack (on Fraternity Records); "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" by the Casinos (also on Fraternity from Cincinnati); the original version of "The Twist" by Ballard and the Midnighters; and many country and R&B hits by Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and other acts. The studio's resume seemed like the credentials to the Who's Who in Recording.





While there, we moved on through a long narrow hallway with garish album covers all over the walls. I stopped to read them and I marveled at the unusual artwork and the names of people I had only heard about in snatches of conversation with musicians--guys like Copas and Hawkins, and Otis Williams and the Charms, Freddy King, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and so many other hits acts who had recorded here or for King from the 1940s until that very year--1971. I felt like I was standing on hallowed musical ground, and I wasn't even aware of much of the history yet.

After Nathan, the architect of it all, died in 1968, the label was sold and resold, and finally the new owners decided to operate King from the offices of parent Starday Records in Nashville. They cleaned out the old building on Brewster Avenue and that was the end of King in Cincinnati. This came shortly after our walk through King on that freezing evening. Unfortunately, the Cincinnati office of King was no longer around for me to pitch "Mr. Bus Driver" to, so we went to other labels. King's local musicians, producers, A&R staff, and others scattered to seek work elsewhere, mainly in Nashville. James Brown's contract was sold to Polydor Records in New York.

But my interest in King was only beginning. From then on, whenever I could find someone who had been associated with King in some way, I interviewed him or her. I started meeting some fascinating and talented and hardworking people. I'll explain more about them later.

For now, though, it's time to sit back and play some King hits.




Rusty York recorded his version of
"Peggy Sue" for King.
 
 
 
 




 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hillbilly Stars of King Records


Some Hillbilly Stars of King Records
(A pictorial appreciation)



Founded in Cincinnati in 1943, the independent King Records started with hillbilly music and Grandpa Jones. Soon founder Sydney Nathan expanded the hillbilly roster and by 1946 he was having national hit records with Cowboy Copas, a "Grand Ole Opry" star. Over the 1940s and 1950s more King country acts came along--Bonnie Lou, the yodeling star of several WLW and WLWT programs; Lulu Belle and Scotty, a couple who performed on WLW's country shows; Jimmie Osborne, another hit-maker for King; and Moon Mullican, a boogie-woogie piano man and vocalist who was an inspiration for some rockabilly acts that would soon follow. King continued to make country music through the years, but its heyday was in the late 1940s. 


   
Bonnie Lou



Lulu Belle and Scotty



Grandpa Jones and Cowboy Copas




Cowboy Copas




Jimmie Osborne



Moon Mullican



Read more about the hillbilly stars of King Records--and other acts--in Randy McNutt's King Records of Cincinnati, issued by Arcadia Publishing. The book is available from Amazon.com and other Internet outlets and book stores.






Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy

Book Review
by Randy McNutt


 Highly Recommended

Rick Kennedy's updated book on Gennett Records is perfect for exploring Richmond, Indiana's historic music sites. The city has done a lot to make the sites accessible, and this book completes the process by showing readers where to find them and explaining their significance.






Track One

Jellyroll, Bix, and Hoagy: Gennett Records and the
Rise of America's Musical Grassroots
by Rick Kennedy


Published by Indiana University Press, 2013

276 pages with photos; trade paperback; $25

Revised and expanded, with a foreword by Ted Gioia



Track Two

If you enjoy old-time music, recording history, indie labels, and Gennett Records in particular, then this book is for you. It is terrific--as good as the best indie label books ever written. Yes, it originally was published in the late 1990s, when it focused heavily on jazz. But author Rick Kennedy, a fan of the label for years, realized the need for an expanded and revised version that would give proper credit to Gennett's experimentation in the old-time music field, including hillbilly. Kennedy came through for us. In addition, he included more information about some of the pioneer A&R men and recording engineers who worked at Gennett, including Ezra Wickemeyer, the man who captured the sounds at Gennett's studio. This book is a delight to read. Kennedy's love for the music and the history come through on every page, and so does his attention to detail. He spent years looking up Gennett family members and company employees, and interviewing them for the book. Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy is like a new book to me. I have the first one but I couldn't do without the second version. It even has a new cover.
 
 
 
Track Three

 
Rick Kennedy is a noted Gennett historian who has devoted decades to studying the seminal label. He has written about it for magazines such as Traces, the Indiana Historical Society's magazine, and 78 RPM, one of the better historical recording publications. He told me he wanted to do the revision so that readers could take the book to Richmond and look up the street addresses--to stand where the Gennett employees stood. I love this idea. It allows us to feel that we share the same space in time with history. He told me that he has expanded the fascinating part of the book about the Ku Klux Klan's use of Gennett's studio and record pressing plant, and "I confirm that studio engineer Ezra Wickemeyer was a KKK member as well. Also the new edition includes detailed correspondence from the Gennett staffers with Fiddlin' Doc Roberts. The exchanges are pretty funny, and [they] tell you quite a bit about the early days of country recording, the use of pseudonyms, and how remote the world was for these artists. James Roberts has his first soft drink on his trip to Richmond. I hope you enjoy the improvements to the book. . ." 



Track Four


Rating: 5 out of 5








Monday, July 15, 2013

45-rpm Advertising



45 Madness!

Advertising shows how the 45-rpm disc 
stormed the world in the late 1940s and 1950s




This isn't  your grandfather's Victrola:
RCA offered five revamped Victrola's
at Christmas of 1950. They included
a children's phonograph.



More RCA Victor ads for 45-rpm record
players from the late 1940s to the early 1950s...