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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Wayne Perry: Songwriter

Learn How Hit Songwriter Wayne Perry Began His Career

Dear Readers,

Tomorrow night, between 7 and 8 p.m. on WVXU, Cincinnati's top public radio station, I will be interviewed about my late production partner and friend Wayne Perry. Many of you will remember Wayne as a successful Nashville songwriter who wrote five No. 1 hits on the country chart, a composer of nationally charted records, and a wonderful vocalist. Artists recording his songs include the Back Street Boys, Lorrie Morgan, and Tim McGraw. Wayne and I produced many records together in the 1970s and early 1980s. One is a blue-eyed soul song named "Pain" by Little Flint featuring Wayne Perry. Those of you in the UK might know of his popular dance club song. But I will save that story for another day. If you can't find my interview tomorrow night, you can also find it on WVXU's web site. I will insert a link below. Wayne's vocal track "Take the Chance to Love Again" will be used at the end of the interview. Sometime I hope to do a story about Wayne's days as a blue-eyed soul singer in Cincinnati, where he started singing at age 14. He was too young to get into the Inner Circle nightclub, so older band members had to vouch for him (a different era, for sure).

Stay well,


Wayne Perry in the mid-1980s.

Local Music Producer & Author Randy McNutt Shares Memories Of Singer-Songwriter Wayne Perry
  • Randy McNutt
  • Author and music raconteur Randy McNutt joins our Elaine Diehl to talk about his friend and one-time writing partner Wayne Perry, probably the second most successful modern local songwriter (behind Troy Seals.) Perry, whose music has been recorded by Backstreet Boys, Tim McGraw, and others, completed his first song 50 years ago this year.

    Friday, February 28, 2020

    King Records Interview, Part 2

    For Immediate Release
    Media inquiries contact: Emily Higgins, Publicist 
    843.853.2070 x 113

    Randy McNutt stands in front of the
    King Records history exhibit, 2018.

    An Interview with

    Randy McNutt

    Author of King Records of Cincinnati

    Part 2

    Publication date: June 1, 2009

    Continued from previous page.

    Why is King Records important?
    Because it became a model for labels that followed later in the 1940s. Syd Nathan, the owner with the goggle glasses, knew what he was doing. Few companies could afford to build their own studios, launch a series of sales offices across the nation, and hire a staff of more than 600 people. But other label owners did take time to follow Nathan's lead in taking charge of his own business model. They realized that one-stop's and jukeboxes would play a large role in selling records. They began to milk these ideas. New labels also took King's vision and applied it to their music. They learned that the bulk of any label's long-term income came from publishing, so they courted writers and producers. Newer labels also gave BMI a good look, as Nathan had done before he signed his Lois Music Publishing to the rights organization. In those days, BMI as just beginning, and it was trying to find as many publishers as possible.

    How did you research the information for the book?
    After producing records on my own for years, in Cincinnati, Nashville, New York, and other places, I became interested in the session players who worked with me in Cincinnati. I had heard many stories about them, of course; they had accomplished many things during their long careers. But I didn’t know that some of the white musicians had played on James Brown’s recording sessions. I didn’t know that some of the country musicians had played on R&B sessions at King. So I started interviewing them—the people who made the music at King. I became so fascinated that I continued talking with more and more of them, over 15, 20 years. Then I interviewed the company’s executives and songwriters and office workers. Finally, I decided to write a book about King. But my focus was always on the performers and the songwriters and all the other people who created the music. They really achieved something. They made something that lasted.

    What will readers find interesting about the book?
    They will find the book full of surprises. They will say, “Why, I didn’t know that Joe Tex recorded for King—or the Platters, or Guy Mitchell.” So many singers recorded for King. Unfortunately, some were either at the very beginning or the very end of their long careers, so their work at King isn’t all that well known to the public—in and out of Cincinnati. But many other excellent performers did end up on the charts for the first time with King Records in Cincinnati. And the location, I’m sure, will intrigue a lot of local people. They just assume that very little ever happened musically in their hometown when, in fact, a lot happened here. The infrastructure for having hit records existed here in those days, making Cincinnati one of the top music cities in the country, along with New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, and a few others. When I told their stories in my book Guitar Towns, I called them regional music centers—cities with music establishments that operated independently of the major recording cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. And King Records helped Cincinnati become the big music town that it was. Hundreds of nationally charted recordings came out of Cincinnati, most of them on King.

    What writing advice would you give to aspiring authors and historians?
    Find a subject you are passionate about, and learn all you can about it. Continue to pursue your idea and don’t give up. If you don’t document fading history, chances are it will be lost to time. Ask yourself, Why not me? You don’t need a doctorate in history. Those people have their place in the world of history, but I prefer to read what is known popular history. It’s the people’s history. University professors used to write it to educate and entertain the public—and to become well-known writers. Then in the 1970s they gave up on this kind of writing to focus on their inside-the-education-community work. I write about how the history connects to us. Past to present. I enjoy writing about the people behind the movements. The people are the most important part of any record company or music movement. Really, about anything. Write about them in a moving but simple way so that anyone can understand your message. I write about all kinds of subjects, but I usually return to music history because I—and many of the people I knew—was a small part of it.

    What lasting impact do you hope your book will leave?
    I hope that a century from now, someone will discover a copy of King Records of Cincinnati, blow the dust off the covers and say, “Wow, I didn’t know any hit records came out of Cincinnati.” Then that person will turn on the latest high-tech listening device and play “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Train Kept a Rollin’.” I suppose that’s what every writer hope to achieve—longevity of the work. In King Records and other books, we have time capsules made of paper.

    Randy McNutt is former reporter with The Cincinnati Enquirer and a contributing editor for several national magazines. He has written twenty-three books and hundreds of stories for book anthologies, magazines, and newspapers across the United States. His music books include The Cincinnati Sound; King Records of CincinnatiGuitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock ’n’ Roll; Little Labels—Big Sound: Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music (with Rick Kennedy), We Wanna Boogie: An Illustrated History of the American Rockabilly Movement; and Too Hot to Handle: An Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the Twentieth Century.

    Sunday, January 12, 2020

    King Records of Cincinnati

    For Immediate Release
    Media inquiries contact: Emily Higgins, Publicist 
    843.853.2070 x 113

    An Interview with Randy McNutt

    Author of King Records of Cincinnati

    Publication date: June 1, 2009, Arcadia Publishing

    Indie producers Randy McNutt (left) and Wayne Perry 
    at the board at Jewel Recording, Cincinnati, 1972.

    Recently I found this old interview that was done for promotion purposes some years ago. I thought I'd share it with my friends. No doubt you will have a favorite King story of your own.

    What inspired you to write the book? 

    The record company itself. I’m interested in how labels operated years ago, their founders, and their places in the overall record industry of their time. Fortunately, I was able to talk to many of these guys. I learned a lot from them. I was also inspired by King Records' studio and the musicians who worked over at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati. I grew up listening to King recordings, but honestly I didn't think much about them when I was a kid. I was too caught up in Motown and the more commercial rock sounds. We were lucky then, before I could even drive, because radio gave us a broad music education. We heard everything from "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck to "Harper Valley PTA" and even the lush Percy Faith stuff. I guess you could call it jazz collides with mini skirts and begets "A Summer Place." But later, a few of King's hard-edged records began to leave a lasting impression on me. Just listen to the echo on "Cold Sweat"! Listen to the recording's clarity. They did this on tape, you know, and probably on no more than four tracks. Recently, I was driving down the road and that record came on the radio. Suddenly, a thought struck me. Those King records were so good because they were made by people, not machines. If there was a mistake, a little one or two, you kept the best take anyway because it was the one with the most emotion. I know that's how King worked, and even Sun Records too. I didn't get in on that [practice] because I started working on eight tracks, and we overdubbed. You really had to know how to sing and engineer records back in King's heyday because you didn't have Autotune and drum machines and Pro Tools. Too many of the new recordings are compressed to death until there is little humanity left in them. They sound like robots. On purpose, too. I know robots might build my car, but I don't want them making my music.

    How did you become interested in pursuing a book about King?

    I never intended to do one, not a picture book, anyway. It sort of morphed over the years. I suppose it started many years ago. Once I began to learn about recording techniques, and to make my own records, I started appreciating what went on over there at 1540. I'd "interview" anybody who would talk to me. We had conversations. I didn't even know what an official interview was back then. This happened long before I became a newspaper reporter and magazine writer. I became hooked on the place, and on the mystique of recording studios in general. They were like some kind of sanctuaries where you went to do special work. As a kid, I corresponded with a producer up in New York, and he'd type out long letters, single-spaced, explaining whatever I was curious about. I didn't even know this guy. Can you imagine this happening today? You'd get a text that reads like a telegram. He mentioned King a number of times. I admit that King was never on the cutting edge of recording, but that studio on Brewster Avenue could get funky with the best of them. What was it? Magic? I don't know. I have a friend who is a veteran engineer. His name is Gene Lawson, who played drums on "Memphis" by Lonnie Mack at King. He claims the special sound comes from the Ohio River. It is some kind of mystical deal, he tells me, and it runs through cities [located] on rivers. Well, I guess so. I don't know about that kind of thing. All I know is that studio had a sound that made soul and funk stand out. Good grief, it had a big concrete-block echo chamber on the roof. That'll give a record a jolt of adrenaline. King was special in more ways than one. Cincinnati had some terrific players, guys like Troy Seals and Roger "Jellyroll" Troy come to mind. Oh, man. Wayne Bullock, the organ man, and Lonnie Mack, the guitar player. Well, then there was Wayne Perry, the singer. We produced records together and had a great time. I loved the guy. We were comrades. He sounded really good on tape, too. As "the kids," as the older guys called us, we got to work with some of those older guys. They were larger-than-life to us. Jellyroll did some sessions over at King. Once, he came to another studio where I was recording, in the early '70s. He was to play bass. He was wearing a pair of red, white, and blue shoes. I said, "Hey, man, where'd you get those shoes?" That night I went out and bought a pair, even though I was a broke college student. I didn't care. I was wearing Jellyroll shoes! That afternoon when we recorded, somebody repossessed his car. Oh, the big time. The odd thing was, country music sounded good in the King studio, too. When it came to innovation, King Records was right there at the top of the list.

    What is your personal connection to King?

    It predated my own recording, but not by much. In 1971, Wayne Perry and I were lucky to be given a private tour of the King plant. It was on a chilly night, not long before the plant's doors were closed for good. The place felt as cold and lonely as a tomb. James Brown operated a record-production company out of there. I knew that much. I also knew I wanted to get one of our singles placed with King. This is when one of Brown's top promotion guys, Bob “Mr. Movin’” Patton, escorted us through the whole place. I dropped my jaw. Bob had been a DJ on WMOH in Hamilton, Ohio, where Wayne and I grew up. Wayne knew Bob. So Wayne asked him if King was taking any masters, and Bob said no, sorry, but he could show us around the place if we wanted. I thought it would be in some fancy building. Well, now I know that fancy wasn't a word used at King. I can still recall stopping to enter the studio. It had little red lights blinking on and off, and a big mic was standing upright. Wayne went right up to it and yelled like James Brown. "Hey, all right!" You know, when when we walked down a dimly lighted hallway decorated with dozens of album covers, I felt out of place. I thought I must be on Mars. Many of the artists’ names were unfamiliar to us then. We were too uninformed to recognize the names Cowboy Copas, the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Hank Ballard, James Brown, Tiny Bradshaw, and other acts. But when I was 18, 20 years old, I had no idea who these people were or what they meant to their kinds of music. I guess we were like any up-and-coming generation. We didn't know our music history. We were all that mattered then.

    Why did King close in 1971?

    Founder Syd Nathan had died. The whole operation had rested on his shoulders. The company was sold, and sold again. The closing of the plant signaled the beginning of the end of an era in independent music—in Cincinnati and the nation. King meant that much to the independent record industry. There was never a label as independent as King, and there never will be again. It did just about everything except make the cardboard shipping boxes and the record sleeves, and they were made up in Miamisburg, Ohio, just a modest truck drive [away] from Cincinnati. Indie labels would continue, and they will always be around as long as somebody has the gumption and desperation to do it himself. But there will never be a label like King Records again.

    King ad shows the label's 
    diversity in the late 1940s.

    What made King so successful? Was it versatility? 

    Sydney Nathan. King Records was his vision. He literally built it from nothing. Some of his ideas weren’t totally original, although he might not have even heard of some of those early indie labels that had tried a few similar ideas 20 to 30 years earlier. Nathan came up with his ideas, borrowed some others, and eventually came up with his own series of nationwide distribution offices. Starting his pressing plant back in the '40s was the most important decision he made because it gave him the freedom to manufacture his own records. King became the bridge between America’s old-time labels of the 1920s, like Gennett Records of Richmond, Indiana, and the radio-oriented indies of the single’s golden age, the '60s. King's presses were humming with Brown's records by the mid-'60s. Oh I knew about James Brown, for sure. Wayne and I used to see him around town. I used to joke about it to Wayne and say, "Hey, there he is! James Brown!" He'd tell me I'm an adolescent. Pretty soon, he was doing it, too. Then one day downtown I really did see James Brown, and by the time Wayne caught a glimpse of him, Mr. Dynamite was dashing into a store. Wayne used to see Brown, when he was in town, over at the Inner Circle nightclub in Cincinnati. Wayne sang blue-eyed soul there when he was something like, oh, I guess he was sixteen years old. He couldn't legally get in there! It was there that Brown discovered what would become the Dapps, which I consider the first white funk band and for sure one of the earliest funk bands in the country. The Dapps were on the scene early on, not long after "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." That record saved King from going under. Brown signed the Dapps to his production company, and that's how they got on the King label. I believe Mr. Nathan was gone by then.

    What made King different from other independent labels?

    By example King showed other independent labels how to stay in business. You should create a lucrative publishing company, squeeze out every dime you can by cross-pollinating your own songs from one genre to another, build a large pool of studio musicians, cover the right hits, make everything under one roof, and so forth. Say what you will about Nathan, but he practically invented the concept of the one stop. He pioneered the development of modern country music. Why isn’t he in the Country Music Hall of Fame? This is a rhetorical question. He isn’t in it because he wasn’t from Nashville, and he was a crotchety fellow who displeased some competitors down there. Few younger people in the current record business know who he was or what King meant to the industry. It’s the same thing that happens in baseball, in any field. You’re a has-been in ten years. He was cutting hit “hillbilly” and roots records before Nashville ever dreamed up the name Music City, U.S.A. And he was doing his thing up here in Cincinnati. Obviously, he didn’t fit in. 

    How did you research the information for the book? 

    I had help from a number of people, from various corners. A friend of mine, Brian Powers, is a librarian in Cincinnati. He is as crazy about this stuff as I am. We both love the old record business and the way it operated. We trade anecdotes about music pioneers. I gathered a lot of my information slowly, in my spare time, mainly from people who were there at ground zero on Brewster. I had heard many stories about them, of course; they had accomplished many things during their long careers. But I didn’t know that some of the white musicians had played on James Brown’s recording sessions. I didn’t know that some of the country musicians had played on R&B sessions at King. Keep in mind that I did this just for fun. If you had told me it would be used in a book, I would have said you are crazy. So I started interviewing them—the people who made the music at King. I became so fascinated that I continued talking with more and more of them, over 15, 20 years. Then I interviewed the company’s executives and songwriters and office workers. But my focus was always on the performers and the songwriters and all the other people who created the music. They really achieved something special, something that has lasted.

    Coming soon: Part 2 of Randy McNutt's interview. You will find his "King Records of Cincinnati " in bookstores and through

    James Brown was keeping the 
    label going by the 1960s.

    The Delmore Brothers came to
    King early, in the 1940s.

    Thanks to the people at Arcadia, 
    and especially to record man Howard Lovdal, 
    my mentor and friend, for interviewing me 
    for a change. We had a blast at lunch over 
    at the Tiny Cove, didn't we Shad? 
    You are missed.--RM

    Saturday, November 9, 2019

    The Right Sound

    The Right Sound

    Most people think of folk music as intimate performances and campfires. But there is more, much more. Used interchangeably with hillbilly into the 1940s, the name folk became a marketing term. In the later years of its dual use, it was applicable to guitar-strumming vocalists like Clyde Moody, who recorded for King Records and other labels. One can see how the term eventually became used by the folk singers of the ’60s, the real heyday of solo and group folk singers. Along with it came another side of folk, the right side, which I call conservative folk music. Its roots came from the same tree as conventional folk. 

    But first, a little background: The initial wave of modern folk music arrived in the late 1940s with Pete Seeger and in the 1950s with more “hip” groups such as the Kingston Trio, which turned out sing-a-long hit records. Many folk acts (and non-folk) recorded the old Negro spiritual “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” a song that originated in post-Civil War days. After losing popularity with the mass commercial audience during the early Cold War years, folk music resurged during the turbulent 1960s, when Joan Baez, Buffy Saint-Marie, Bob Dylan, Ian and Sylvia, and many other acts sang about civil rights, social justice, the war in Vietnam, and other liberal causes. Labels popped up to accommodate the burgeoning number of new folk artists. The hippie movement embraced folk as well as rock-band psychedelic music. The heyday of coffeehouse folk music thrived, especially in urban settings. 

    That’s when the conservative wing arrived. Conservative folk singers? Come on! You might ask why and how. Wasn’t liberal folk pre-woven into the fabric of the music? Yes, it was. But to young people who lived in the 1960s, folk music also meant one singer, one acoustic guitar, and the intimacy of the performance.Just because a singer was politically conservative didn’t mean he or she hated the style of folk. So a few took up their guitars, wrote songs, and changed folk’s liberal themes to conservative ones. Naturally, these singers were rare. This is because many conservative youth of the day had an image of folk music, and it was Joan Baez. They didn’t want to think of the “F word.” Folk, that is. So if they even heard of conservative folk singers, they regarded them as quirky, but nonetheless worthy of being heard. 

    Leaders in the conservative folk movement, if we can even call it a movement, were Janet Greene, an Ohio-born entertainer who began her career at eight years old and later became a children’s TV host in Cincinnati and Columbus; Vera Vanderlaan, who worked on her family’s dairy farm in Vermont; Bunny Kop, a nurse from Massachusetts; and Tony Dolan, a student at Yale University, a liberal bastion. Greene recorded for Chantico Records of California. The label was an offshoot of Dr. Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communist Crusade. Greene toured with him and other conservative speakers. She sang and recorded original material, including “Termites” and “Comrade’s Lament.”

    Greene, the most well-known conservative folk singer, was a big part of Schwarz's programs. As he said, "The communists are unhappy that the forces of freedom and morality have at last awakened to the power of music and have commenced to use it effectively. The communists have been using music for many years. The ideas of freedom can be presented most effectively in song . . ." At that time, the mid to late 1960s, America was rocked by race riots, anti-war demonstrations, assassinations, and a general upheaval in society. The nation was still reeling from the communist scare of the 1950s, and groups such as the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade were drawing large crowds of people who wanted to learn what the Cold War was all about and how they could help America win it on the home front.

    It isn't generally known how effective conservative folk singers were to the cause. There were so few, that is doubtful that people remember them. They operated concurrently with liberal folk singers, so there assumption is that the two presented two sides of the story. But the tiny contingent of conservatives were drowned out by the wave of liberal folk singers, who received attention from larger record companies and television. After a performance one night in Cincinnati, Greene challenged Baez to a duel—with guitars, not guns. Apparently Baez was too busy performing to care. Vanderlaan and Kop both recorded for another California label called Round Table Music. Tony Dolan cut a small-label album for which conservative-libertarian William F. Buckley, Jr., host of The Firing Line TV show, wrote the liner notes. In the late '60s, Dolan performed at coffeehouses in Connecticut, where liberals found him amusing. How things have changed. Not one to surrender, he went on to become a speech writer for Ronald Reagan. Greene left Chantico in the 1970s and sang a combination of folk, show tunes, and pop music in California restaurants and small clubs around Long Beach. What happened to Vanderlaan and Kop? And Greene and Dolan? They were lost in the cracks of music history. Their records are rare and collectible among hip liberals and even some conservative young people

    Perhaps Dolan had the tougher time of it. After all, he was at Yale. Egghead professors and students of the far left and the anti-war crowd had to have rained down scorn on the young singer. He seemed unnerved. He ended up in another nerve-wracking place, the nation's capital.

    Today, the brief appearance of conservative folk singers is but a blip on the radar screen of American music.

    Janet Greene, mid-1960s.

    A 1960s advertisement for
    the Crusade's shows in Tucson.

    In the 1970s, Janet Greene left the movement
    to perform in restaurants and small clubs.

    The Crusade takes Green back to
    Cincinnati, mid-1960s.

    Janet Greene, late 1970s.

    Vera Vanderlaan, 1960s.

    Tony Dolan, c. 1969,
     strums at a coffee house.

    Tony Dolan might not have appeared on Bill
    Buckley's TV show Firing Line, but the young
    singer surely was on the firing line at Yale.

    Parts of this story are excerpted from Randy McNutt's book "Spinning the Groove," published by HHP Books and sold through

    Wednesday, October 2, 2019

    Davy Crockett Covers Himself

    Got You Covered: Dick Hayes vs. Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier  


    There is some confusion over the definition of cover record, though today the original definition has been replaced by the term remake. But in the 1950s, when the cover was popular, it was called just that--a cover version. The cover was intended to compete with the original on the charts. Remakes were versions done later.

    In 1955, when covers flourished in pop music, Music Guild magazine published an editorial titled, "Should You Run for Cover? Or Should You Program a Single Recorded Version of a Hit Tune?" It was aimed at jukebox operators, who faced a dilemma: The original, the competitor, or both? Editor D.M. Sternberg wrote, "The situation poses a problem for the operator . . . the choice or choices is up to the [jukebox] operator." Also that year, Billboard proclaimed that the cover record is "an integral part of the disk business, and "regarded as completely ethical by all." But some labels owners claimed they worked hard to record and promote a record, especially an R&B record, only to be scooped by a larger label's pop version. 

    Sometimes two versions of the same song became big hits. Then there's the incredible story of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" in 1955. To this day, the story of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" remains one of pop music's most fascinating cover stories.

    The Walt Disney TV show, broadcast in December of 1954 in several one-hour parts, recounted the career of the "king of the wild frontier." Fess Parker starred as Crockett. The show became a phenomenal success, and soon every other kid was wearing a coonskin cap and carrying a toy flintlock rifle.

    But the song came as a fluke. While reviewing the show, Disney realized that his director, Norman Foster, lacked enough footage. Disney didn't want to shoot more, so he suggested that his staff come up with a song that Parker could sing in between sequences. The song would take up some time and save Disney the cost of shooting more film and bringing back the actors and crew. Disney instructed Bill Walsh, a dedicated Disney employee, to take care of the matter. Disney himself suggested that the song have the feel of Crockett moving along. Walsh found George Bruns, a trombone player who had come to work at Disney a year earlier. Then Walsh found Tom Blackburn, a Disney script writer, to help. According to Paul F. Anderson, author of The Davy Crockett Craze, Blackburn admitted, "I never wrote a song in my life." But Mr. Disney wanted a song, and Bruns and Blackburn intended to please the boss. Anderson described their song as just a "throwaway," intended to link parts of the  story. Imagine the writers' surprise when their throwaway spawned a number of renditions that collectively ended up at No. 1 for three months, and stayed on the Hit Parade chart for six months. 

    Eureka! No overtime required. Bruns had written the music and Blackburn the lyrics--in twenty minutes! After Disney approved it, and the song was added to the show, the public finally heard it. Despite the song's popularity with TV viewers, Walt Disney still didn't consider releasing a single with the star, Parker, singing the song. To Disney, the song was still a throwaway piece to fill up time on his show.

    This is where the cover came into play. Back in New York, Archie Bleyer, the owner and chief of the independent Cadence Records, heard the song on TV. He told singer veteran pop singer Bill Hayes that he would have a hit record if he cut the song for Cadence. Bleyer told him that the song's publisher didn't care about it, so Cadence could record it. Soon after, Bleyer and Hayes went into the RCA Victor Recording Studio in New York studio and cut the song with two acoustic guitars, a bass, a jew's harp, and three boy singers. It was cut on one track, and in one take. The B side was "Farewell," which Hayes claimed was written by Crockett himself. 

    When Disney finally realized what was going on with Cadence, he approved a request that Parker record it. In the poor throwaway song Disney had a gold mine and he didn't even know it. Hayes' version turned out to be the bigger and, oddly enough, the original. Crockett star Parker's record was a cover. Nonetheless, Parker ended up selling a million copies for Columbia Records. Hayes did even better with 2.5 million copies sold over six months. Bleyer was so confident in the record that he ordered 750,000 copies at one time. 

    Meanwhile, the covers kept on coming. They had to come quickly, too, while the song was new. TV saw to that. It was an immediate medium. At least fifteen covers came out, including ones by country singers "Tennessee" Ernie Ford, Mac Wiseman, Tex Ritter, and Eddy Arnold. One parody, by Lalo Guerrero, reportedly sold 200,000 copies.

    Thanks to Davy Crockett and Archie Bleyer, the cover record was going wild. It rocked the record industry. Though it had been around for some years, the injection of TV into the mix provided something new and exciting. Suddenly, A&R men were talking about covers--and making them. 

    Special Note
    Partially excerpted from Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove: An A to Z Guide to the Lingo and Legacy of the Old Record Business, available from

    Special thanks to Paul F. Anderson, author of The Davy Crockett Craze, for saving the stories of the song and Davy Crockett.


    Tuesday, August 27, 2019

    All Wired Up

    In Memoriam 

    The Wire Recorder 

    A Webster Chicago wire recorder for the home, 1949 


    In the mid-1940s, before tape dominated, wire recorders arrived and became popular for ten years for home recording and to a much lesser extent for professional recording in studios and radio stations. Both wire and tape used the magnetic method of storing sound. But tape won the magnetic war. The most well-known seller of wire recorders was Webster-Chicago. It advertised heavily, particularly in local newspapers. Wire recorders for the public got the jump on tape recorders, starting in earnest as World War II was ending in 1945. When the Ampex 200 tape recorder arrived on the market in 1948, however, the fate of the wire slowly became known. The tape machine received most of the attention in the newspapers. It seemed like the invention of the talking machine in the late 1800s. 

    Soon, home recorders arrived, and the battle between wire and tape began in earnest. People were genuinely excited. As a result, sales of wire recorders declined steadily. By the mid-1950s, wire machines were becoming passe. But the end had not yet come. The most well-known seller of wire recorders was Webster-Chicago. It advertised heavily, particularly in local newspapers. It reminds me of the duel between BETA and VHS, the two types of video recording tape in the 1980s. Once it was clear that VHS had won that war, BETA’s days were clearly numbered. So it was with wire. 

    My memories of the wire recorder date from my childhood. My uncle bought one to record me. He was fascinated with his new machine, and he learned to record with it quite effectively. Over the next five years, he recorded me speaking my first words, singing, telling jokes, and saying silly and serious things. As I grew, he continued to record my words, and later my younger sister’s. We were comfortable at the microphone. About 1951 my aunt and mother started obtaining tickets to Ruth Lyons’ 50-50 Club shown on WLWT in Cincinnati. It was the most popular television program in our area. Ruth was the ultimate raconteur and a talented songwriter who composed local and regional hits, many with a Christmas theme. In 1961 she wrote “Wasn’t the Summer Short?,” a haunting ballad recorded by Johnny Mathis. Once, Ruth spotted me in the audience and asked me to join her on her couch, where she chatted about all sorts of subjects. She loved children. I was only about three years old, but even then I was a talker. You could say I was a live wire. Already I was cracking jokes and observing life and automobiles. I told Ruth that I wanted to grow up to own a junkyard. (FYI: I did not fulfill my fantasy.) 

    Ruth and her sidekick, Willie Thall, a local country musician who had appeared on the station’s Midwestern Hayride, loved exploring my tiny mind. Back at home on my TV days, my uncle always got away from his job as a grocer and meat-store owner to record me with his wire machine as I held court on television. He kept those spools of wire for the next half-century, until they began to snap when played. They were as durable as tape. To rescue some of the wires he copied them to audio cassettes. When he died in 2004, I became the keeper of his Webster-Chicago and the wires of our lives.

    Excerpted from Randy McNutt's new book Vintage Tape Recorders: A Pictorial History of Professional Tape Machines, Long-Forgotten Studios, and Assorted Gear (HHP Books, 2019). The large-format book, which sells for $25, features 235 pages of historic photos, advertising and publicity materials, spec sheets, and more materials representing recording machines from the 1940s into the 1970s. The book is available through and other book outlets.

    Wednesday, August 21, 2019

    Arrival of the Film Theme Singles 


    Billboard reporter June Bundy called 1960 the year of “the film theme single.” That’s when record executives discovered that movie themes could sell a lot of as 45s, if the performers stayed true to the original. One of the biggest—a number-one record in February of 1960—was “The Theme from ‘A Summer Place,’” by Percy Faith and His Orchestra on Columbia Records. He remade the original song about the time the movie was released in late 1959. Actually, it was the film’s love theme, not its main title theme, but who’s quibbling over something that sold over a million copies? It broke a record by remaining at number one for nine consecutive weeks. By then I was just leaving elementary school. My friends and I all enjoyed the records lush sound and pleasing melody, but we never saw the “adult movie,” as we called ones like “Summer Place.” We never stopped to think that it was strange to hear Percy Faith on the same radio station that played records by Jan and Dean. Like his effort, many film singles were remake interpretations by artists not connected to the pictures; other singles were used in the original film soundtracks. The preferred choice among record people was the film theme remake. It could be promoted as something new by an already big act, and not just a one-shot movie theme. A pioneer in mining these kinds of discs, United Artists Records gave us Ferrante and Teicher’s “Theme from the Apartment” and “Exodus.” Both hit the top ten that year on the trades’ top 100 charts. Over the coming decade Ferrante and Teicher would give UA two more top ten film singles, “Tonight” (West Side Story) and “Midnight Cowboy.” The dual pianists also provided their label with several other nationally charted records during that decade. Another smaller but nonetheless recognizable UA single was composer John Barry’s “Goldfinger” in 1965. But for UA management, “Exodus” was the most satisfying of the film music 45s. They told Bundy that it was fastest-breaking single in the label’s history.

    Excerpted from Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove (HHP Books). Available on