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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Record Pressing Keeps On Keeping On

Seventy years later, 45s are still spinning in circles

From Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove: An A to Z 
Guide to the Lingo and Legacy of the Old Record Business 

The golden days of the record pressing plants are over, though lately they have returned for an encore as demand for vinyl discs attempts to keep up with need. An indie label owner in New York told me in 2016 that he had to send his orders to a plant in Cleveland, and even then he had to wait six months to receive his records. The good news is that some new plants have opened since then, and pressing companies that once made records are returning to the market. Their problem is, they sold or scrapped all their presses in the 1990s, when compact discs came into favor. At that time few people believed that vinyl would ever be in demand again. The few plants that remained stayed in business by making specialty pressings. My prediction is that the number of plants will continue to increase and then taper off as the ceiling for singles and LPs is reached. After all, plastic discs are more for collectors than the everyday music fan, who wants his music fast and doesn’t care to “own” it. As for me, I want to own it, either on vinyl, CD, or even in downloads.

As late as the 1980s, pressing plants were all over America and the world. Their main business was manufacturing singles and LPs for record labels. Some plants were owned by large labels such as RCA and Columbia, which also did custom work for about anyone who would pay. Independent plants such as United in Nashville did excellent work, too. Then there were the small plants owned by individuals, recording studios, and a few little indie labels. (Their pressings were often, well, spotty.) As a way to generate additional income, these operations often offered pressings to their customers and musicians who lived in the area and needed a record made quickly. I did one once at Artists Recording Studio in Lockland, Ohio. When I went over to pick up my boxes of EPs, the owner took me on a tour, which didn’t last long. He had only about six presses. Another time I stopped at a suburban Cincinnati pressing plant and a label called Rite Records, which had about a dozen presses and did a good little business pressing for gospel and country acts. The old-man owner had a hair-trigger temper. When I inquired about the cost, and told him that I could get the job done less expensively at Artists, he started yelling and throwing up his hands. “Get out of here! Get out!” he shouted. I did—fast.

Then there was my memorable first record, pressed by King Records’ Royal Plastics division in Cincinnati. This was, as I recall, in 1970. (I was no more than a kid producer who didn’t know a biscuit from a band.) The label owner who released my record usually went to a Nashville plant or to RCA, but this time he wanted to rush-release my production. King offered to turn the custom order around in only a few days. When I first heard my record, I was disappointed. It sounded, well, I can’t describe it. Kind of flat. The next record I cut for another indie label was pressed at RCA. What a contrast. You could always tell a RCA pressing from others because its 45s were a little thinner. They played well, too. Of course a lot of the quality depended—and still does—on the mastering.

In Cincinnati, Royal Plastics was led by Howard Kessel, a grumpy guy and an original King investor. He once admitted to me that Royal’s records were not all that good compared to the products made in the more sophisticated, corporate-owned plants. This was due, he said, to Royal’s older presses. In the 1950s Royal had switched over from making 78-rpm discs to 45s and LPs. Some of the presses had been updated over the years, and others not. Fortunately, Royal’s press operators—consisting mainly of women but a few men too—knew how to make records. The middle-age women worked there for years. According to one outrageous legend, the old factory got so hot in summer that employees’ sweat ran onto the floors. One guy, who later became a top mastering engineer in Los Angeles, once told me that he saw a female press operator take off her blouse once and never miss a beat. I still don’t know if he was kidding.

Heat notwithstanding, they were an experienced lot, those King press people, good enough to crank out millions of James Brown discs and also the ones recorded by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and other R&B and country acts. By the late ’60s demand had become so great for Mr. Dynamite’s records that King farmed out some orders to RCA. I suppose the irascible Sydney Nathan, King’s president, hated to do it, but then he wanted to sell every record he could. By then Brown’s records were keeping the doors open—at both King and Royal Plastics.

Today, United in Nashville is still punching out the same good vinyl discs that it did for me back in the 1970s and ’80s. It is a survivor, and it is expanding.

The vinyl freaks out there want their discs and they want them now.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Oldies but Goodies Aren't in Rocking Chairs

While Granny is Rockin', Grandpa's Gawkin'

By Randy McNutt

Once, there were no “oldies,” except grandma and grandpa. Then in the late 1950s came a demand for records from the beginning of rock ’n’ roll. Oddly enough, the early days had happened only five or six years earlier. No matter. The need was there. 

The original term oldies meant something specific: doo-wop singles. Soon the demand for oldie LPs increased, too. As Music Business magazine put it in 1964: “The evolution of the term oldie in recent years is comparable to what has happened to such originally specific terms as folk and hootenanny. They tended to take on a broader meaning than originally and as this pattern developed the trend itself became diluted and less clear-cut.” 

In New York, Irving “Slim” Rose opened what is considered one of the first oldies-only record shops in the nation, Times Square Records. Rose referred to oldies as those made from 1953 to 1959. His customers were mainly in their teens to early twenties. Rose sold original 45- and 78-rpm discs. Soon he started releasing original doo-wop masters on his own label. Some DJs started playing them on oldies radio programs. Noticing this trend, the original record labels started re-releasing some of their old hits. 

In the late ’60s, the oldies market picked up considerably, blossoming in the era of hipness, hippies, and psychedelia. Companies kept up with the times by re-releasing songs from the early ’60s. Meanwhile, the ’50s oldies market remained strong, sparking a modest career comeback for Bill Haley, who by 1968 sounded like a clunking old Chevy without an exhaust.

And so, the oldies market drifted into the future. Old being a relative term, the oldies expanded to include classic hits a decade ago. To meet the demand, an increasing number of the original record labels began publishing catalogs exclusively devoted to their re-issue discs. 

By 1971, Sterling, the title-strip maker for jukebox records, counted forty-one record companies with oldies catalogs. From 1970 to 1971, the number of labels offering oldies catalogs doubled, according to Billboard. One beneficiary of the oldie was the jukebox industry. When labels realized the oldie was not a fad, they started forming their own special imprints for oldies. One of them was Starday’s Country Jukebox Oldies. Others included RCA’s Gold Standard and Decca’s Original Performance. Elektra introduced its Spun Gold series in 1971. In that period, the most favorite oldies were by big-name acts in various genres, including Ray Price in country and Creedence Clearwater Revival in rock. Obviously, not all kids were dipping into the past for their fix of music. 

These days, oldies are taken for granted as a part of the record business. They are often called re-issue albums. Perhaps the 45 oldie will come back stronger now that younger people have discovered vinyl.

Excerpted from Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove: An A to Z Adventure to the Lore, Legends, and Lingo of the Old Record Business (HHP Books.)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Scott Walker's Death Ends a Pop Era

Scott Walker: The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore

The recent death of Scott Walker all but closes the book on '60s pop giants. His fame came at a time when a young rock 'n' roll gladly embraced a pop sound without hesitation. So long as you were young and your hair was long, you stood under the rock umbrella.

He was one of my all-time favorite singers. He put everything he had into each track. The guy was one fabulous singer. Too bad he didn't cut more songs with which people could identify. But never mind. At least he did what he wanted.

Walker--his real name was Scott Engel--began his career in America in the late 1950s. In the early 1960s, teamed with John Walker, another vocalist, and they soon found Gary Leeds, a drummer who also sang. They all adopted Walker's last name and headed to England, where in the mid-'60s the Walker Brothers found chart success. Hits there turned the group's members into major stars. "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," a flop for the Four Seasons in America, turned into a international hit, mainly because its English producers combined the group with an orchestra and decided to speed up the tempo of the song. Another well-known hit for the group was "Make It Easy on Yourself," written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

In England, the Walker Brothers' hits kept on coming. But in the States, subsequent releases failed. Scott Walker disliked the fame he had gained, and the material that was chosen for the group. When the band broke up in the late 1960s, he started a successful solo career and was rewarded with his own television show in England. The group temporarily reunited over the next decade, but its magic sound had faded. In time, Scott Walker turned to experimental recordings, which seemed almost like no music at all.

I'm just pleased that he left a lot of beautiful tapes in the can. Take a listen to him on YouTube. In the last year I bought everything he did--the real songs--from the '60s and '70s. If you want to hear him at the peak of his vocal career, listen to the moody album cut "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," a Randy Newman song done by the Walker Brothers. He tears up "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life."

The echo on that Newman song is real, and different. It makes Walker even better. Not that he needed any vocal enhancement. In his heyday, you had to be great to be called great. No Auto Tune, electronic gimmicks, or anything else that put you on key and fattened thin, whiny performances. In those days, your naked voice was out there for everyone to hear.

There were some great young pop-rock singers back then, including Gary Puckett and Billy Joe Royal on Columbia alone, but for my money, no one could do it like Scott Walker.

In the States, he was underappreciated. He left one song that is close to Ohioans, "The Lights of Cincinnati."

Goodbye, Scott. Thanks for the melodies.
Scott Walker i

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Sonny Moorman
Rockin’ the Blues with Lucky 13 Naked

Singer-guitarist Sonny Moorman has done it again with his new blues-rock album, Lucky 13 Naked. Like the other albums in his growing repertoire, this one will knock your head off. He is literally in the groove, for this record is a real one—his first vinyl LP. “I’ve always wanted a vinyl one,” he said. “We spent a lot of time on this record.”

The celebrated power blues man from Hamilton, Ohio, shows everyone that his music is the essence of rock and the blues. He distills them like musical moonshine and serves it up for a growing number of fans who enjoy his distinctive sound—whether it’s plugged in or unplugged.

The guitarist can flat-out pick, and Naked shows it once again. His record features a band that’s as tight as an iron fist, and his vocals sound as gritty as any old roadhouse stage. Hearing Naked for the first time, listeners will find it difficult to believe that the immense sound is coming from three musicians: Moorman on guitar, Chris Perreault on bass, and Dave Fair on the drums. Moorman can change speeds as easily as a ’59 Corvette. One minute his guitar whines like an old freight train rolling through lonely Southern countryside, then thunders as loudly as a fast-coming storm. He grew up in southwestern Ohio, a melting pot of the blues, rock ’n’ roll, country, and about everything in between. Somehow, all of these elements became infused in his world of music. Now, he has established himself as a blues man with power. His followers call it the “Sonny Moorman sound.” The room rocks whenever he walks in.

His music comes about as close to the old-time roadhouse sound as you’ll ever hear, and he proudly plays it with the affection and enthusiasm of a true blues fan. For Sonny Moorman, the giants of his rockin’ world—Lonnie Mack, Freddy King, Duane Allman, and others—are revered for their musical trail-blazing. He manages to fit in with them while he forges his own sound, one that carries his own stamp of musical personality. In Lucky 13 Naked, he offers up power blues ballads, power rocking blues—and as much voltage as your local power plant. When he sings, "I’m and ol’ gunslinger, and I roam from town to town,” you know he means he carries his guitar across the country. When he adds, “I’m not as fast as I once was, but I’m much too fast for you,” you know he’s not so serious. For Sonny Moorman fingers still move at the speed of light.

He’s that rambling, roadhouse power man.

Sonny’s latest release is on Atlas Records, the label owned by Willie Perkins—best known for being the Allman Brothers’. road manager. In the Hamilton-Cincinnati, Ohio, area, the record is available at Shake It Records, Everybody's Records, Main Street Vinyl, 3rd Street Music, and Lester's Rock and Roll Shop, as well as at Sonny’s gigs. He has also taken mail orders through his Facebook page. Each store copy comes with a digital download card. He plans to soon make the album available digitally on CD Baby as well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Richard Huntley Plays King Music

Richard Livingston Huntley
He's Keeping the Beat of King Records

Three drummers appear in Cincinnati King, the new play written and directed by KJ Sanchez and presented at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park. They are the late Sydney Nathan, a one-time drummer and the owner of King Records; veteran King side man Philip Paul; and Richard Huntley, an Austin-based drummer and the play’s music director who appreciates the colorful story behind the musicians, vocalists, and songwriters at the old Cincinnati label.
Huntley is the only one of the drummers who actually plays in the show. He performs with a crack combo that he assembled specifically for the production, which will run at the Playhouse through December 23.
The man who sits behind his own vintage 1960s drum set has been exploring the city’s musical past and present, including a visit to the old King headquarters on Brewster Avenue in the Evanston neighborhood. “The whole city’s music scene is legendary—and historic,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s such an honor to come here and meet Philip Paul and see where the King musicians played on all those great country and R&B hits.”
At ninety-three years old, the iconic Paul is still playing drums around town. Unfortunately, King closed its Cincinnati plant in 1971, after a run of twenty-eight years.
While the actors who play Nathan and Paul appear as important characters on stage, Huntley doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t have to. His smooth beats take us back to the early music of King Records of the 1940s and ’50s, when it laid the foundation of rock ’n’ roll.
Fortunately, I got to spend a couple of hours talking to him a week after the show opened. He is as great a conversationalist as he is a drummer. He has been devoted to music since he was a kid growing up in New York. His favorite style is jazz, but he can play any type of music—and enjoy it.
Huntley started his lifelong musical adventure when his mom enrolled him and his brother in piano lessons. But it was the drums that he was drawn to, and the power they provided. He paid for a drum set by using the money he earned from a paper route when he was only twelve years old. Even then, his mom would not let him keep them in the house. He had to move them to a neighbor’s basement, and that’s where he spent hours developing his craft. In a satisfying career that has taken him to over thirty countries, he has performed at important jazz and blues festivals and backed many jazz giants, including George Coleman, Harold Mabern, and Dave Liebman.
Huntley selected all the music for the Cincinnati King, spending hundreds of hours reviewing the vast discography that Sydney Nathan and his music-makers left behind. Huntley listened to their originals, covers, and remakes before finally making the tough decisions: Which ones would end up in the musical? Before making the decision, however, he had to negotiate with his wife, KJ Sanchez. She had been working on the script for several years, and had become fascinated with Nathan and his many star recording artists. “I have always been drawn to the tension between ambition and endurance,” she said.
Huntley, who has jazz in his DNA, was the perfect musician to find the great country and R&B numbers that would be sung by the talented actors playing Little Willie John, Lula Reed, the Delmore Brothers, and others. Yet the hardest part was whittling down the sixty songs he had already favored. After much agony, he realized he had to cut the number to seventeen. That’s how many ended up in the musical. “The decision wasn’t easy to make,” he added. “In fact, it was nearly impossible. But I kept at it. I needed special songs for the play, so that was a major factor in the selection process.”
It was a joy to hear the songs actually performed live. As Huntley explained, “I remember clearly the first time I had heard multiple versions of the King hit song ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’. The eerie, plaintive twang of the Delmore Brothers, the gutbucket cry of Lonnie Johnson, and the doo-wop infused Otis Williams and the Charms. I was blown away. I listened to the three versions repeatedly one afternoon, over and over again. How could one song be arranged, sung, and delivered with such a completely different feeling, grooves, and swing?”
The eerie sounds hit me, too. With their different arrangements, they sounded like three different songs. For the first time, I realized how the three versions could sound totally different. To my ear, they were entities of their own. The band brought its own originality to the songs, yet kept the feeling of the hits. Credit goes to drummer Huntley, pianist Ralph Huntley (Richard’s brother), guitarist Seth L. Johnson, and bassist Terrell Montgomery.
Huntley said he was surprised by the sounds that King achieved by recording for the first few years on one-track tape machines. “This was an era, mind you, when the music was recorded at the same time, with musicians in one room playing live—with no overdubs or ‘punch-in’ to correct a mistake,” he said. “One had to play it correctly or live with the consequences—there were no computer programs to correct a wrong note, a ripple in the grooves, or a waiver in the pitch.” He said the immediacy and intimacy of the one-track sessions “is the real genius of this music, and I truly hope it inspires deeper listening.”
Recorded vocals and arrangements used in the play are not necessarily based on the ones done first by King. Nor are they always by the artists most closely identified with the songs. Nathan liked to record the same song by artists in R&B, country, pop, and other genres, so plenty of versions were available to Huntley. He decided to base his versions on those that fit the plot, the show’s theme, and the types of vocalists who are featured. Several songs that Huntley chose were recorded by Little Willie John because he is a major character, portrayed by actor and vocalist Richard Crandle. His vocals are electrifying.
Huntley chose these songs:
1. “Gravy Train,” sung and written by Tiny Bradshaw.
2. “I’ve Done It,” sung and written by Moon Mullican, with co-writers Henry Glover, Lois Mann (Syd Nathan), and Louis Innis.
3. “Fever,” sung by Little Willie John and written by John Davenport (Otis Blackwell) and Eddie Cooley.
4. “All Around the World,” sung by Little Willie John and written by Titus Turner.
5. “I’m Doin’ It,” sung by Annisteen Allen and credited to writers Alan Freed, Henry Glover, Lois Mann, and Fred Weismantel.
6. “Blues Stay Away From Me,” sung by the Delmore Brothers and Lonnie Johnson and written by Rabon and Alton Delmore, Henry Glover, and Wayne Raney.
7. “Sixty-Minute Man,” sung by Bill Brown and written by Billy Ward and Rose Marks.
8. “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered,” sung by James Brown and written by Cowboy Copas and Lois Mann.
9. “The Twist,” sung and written by Hank Ballard.
10. “It’s Easy Child,” sung by Lula Reed and Freddy King and written by Sue Sandler, Gene Redd, and Kaye Bennett.
11. “Need Your Love So Bad,” sung and written by Little Willie John.
12. “You’re Welcome to the Club,” sung by Lee “Shot” Williams and written by Sonny Thompson.
13. “My Love Is,” sung and written by Little Willie John.
14. “I’m Shakin’,” sung by Little Willie John and written by Rudy Toombs.
15. “Leave My Kitten Alone,” as sung by Little Willie John and written by John, Titus Turner, and James McDougal.
16. “Drown in My Own Tears,” sung by Lula Reed and written by Henry Glover.
17. “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,” a R&B version sung by Little Willie John and written by Wayne Raney and Lonnie Glosson.
Nathan published a number of the songs through his Lois Music. He produced some of the earlier recordings and preferred to live with a mistake or two in a track because it sounded livelier and had more feeling than other the takes. He was looking for a sound that only he could hear, and many times those livelier songs were big hits.
“As I dug deeper,” Huntley said, “I learned that King had an interracial studio band, which, for the 1950s and 1960s, was very rare indeed. Who were these fabulous unsung heroes who could create such exquisite and memorable music—music that would be the foundation of rock ’n’ roll, soul R&B, and country music? . . .
“So many styles and flavors—music that was pulsing and swinging with an intensity and spirt that sounds just and vibrant and fresh today as the day it was released.” At King Records, in a run-down former pressing plant in Evanston, Richard Huntley found a whole new world of music. 

Alison James contributed to this story.

KJ Sanchez, writer and director

Cincinnati King
By KJ Sanchez

The Cast
Syd Nathan: Neal Benari
Philip Paul: Stanley Wayne Mathis
Little Willie John: Richard Crandle
Roberta Paul: Tracy Schoster
Anita Welch: Annisteen Allen, Lula Reed, and others.
Cullen R. Titmas: Moon Mullican, Cowboy Copas, the Delmores.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Announcing a new book and its
related blog, Spinning the Groove and 
by Randy McNutt


I didn't have a quarter, and I had just gotten married. 
But I loved records. I found myself a job as a record 
salesman . . . it was a dream come to life.

Johnny Vincent
Founder, Ace Records
Jackson Mississippi

Adventures in 
Spinning the Groove


Many years ago I started compiling antiquated terms used in the days of the old record industry. This unusual task came after enjoying an afternoon lunch with my friend Shad O'Shea, the record producer, novelty performer, and DJ who operated Fraternity and Counterpart Records out of Cincinnati. Shad taught me so many things about the business that I can't count them all. He helped me launch my own production company and my original label, Beast Records, which I established as a college student in 1973. At lunch that day Shad casually used the term "paper add," and I asked him what it meant. He laughed and said DJs and record guys used it to describe a radio station's stealthy move to add an obscure new record to its playlist without ever playing the record, or else maybe playing it only once a day. Why was this done? To do a favor for a friendly record label owner or local distributor. Obviously, today this tactic could not work. There's too much money at stake--in radio and the record business. Computers rule the world now. Who could slip a paper add onto a playlist unless it was at a station in Henpeck, Ohio, and then such a little station wouldn't have a playlist because it would be using a programming service from L.A.

So I began compiling obscure terms, more and more of them, until finally I had enough to publish a booklet on the subject. I was satisfied. But I never did get around to publishing that booklet. More years passed. Meanwhile, I continued to compile terms but forgot the project. Then one day as I was halfway through writing a new book, I stopped working on it. I simply burned out. So I picked up the terms, as loose a bunch that existed, and began working on a book that I called The Disctionary. This went on for a year or more, when I finally surrendered. After all, you can only collect so many terms before your book gets out of control. I renamed my book Spinning the Groove: An A to Z Guide to the Lingo and Legacy of the Old Record Business. And I jumped head-first into publishing the thing. By then I had accumulated more terms than I ever imagined, including some more familiar ones that have changed in meaning over the years (the cover record, for instance). I also added more legend stories, lore, and some larger stories about regional recording acts, personality DJs, and the long-gone Top 40 instrumentals. (I chose a DJ term called spinning the groove from one that I've included in the book. It simply means playing a record.)

The blog will stick to the broad areas covered in Spinning the Groove. A few excerpts will appear from time to time, and some will be expanded versions. As HHP's editor remarked on the back of the book: "Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove [is] an encyclopedic work, an eccentric and informative journey through a record industry that no longer exists. Enchanted by the business he knew and loved, McNutt defines forgotten terms once used by record producers, jukers, distributors, record label chiefs, disc jockeys, musicians, and other purveyors of sound from the 1940s through the 1970s. Some are humorous, others informative and enlightening, while a few others are wistful odes to a time when 45-rpm singles and long-playing albums ruled the music industry."

Let me be your tour guide into the old record industry.

Randy McNutt 


The book, published by HHP Books and for sale on, sells for $25. It consists of 301 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches, and dozens of photos and advertisements to illustrate the many old terms from the days when vinyl ruled the world. These terms include such obscure ones as cherry pie, coin man, and tin ears. And more common ones such as cover record, gold record, and bubblegum music. These and other well-known terms have changed over the years, and you'll be surprised to read what they once meant and what they mean today. 

The new blog will focus almost exclusively on the old record business, roughly 1948 to 1990, and its colorful personalities, labels, and recording artists.





Do You Know the Meaning of . . .

paper add
sweetheart record
glue job
Cherry pie
Iron mother
Ride a record

You’ll find the answers in
Spinning the Groove,
which was also a term used in the days
when shellac and vinyl ruled the world
and turntables hummed day and night.
Welcome to your destination:
The Record Business that Was.