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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Celebrate Lonnie Mack's Career

This story first appeared in on April 24, 2016. We are republishing it in honor of Lonnie Mack, whose life and career will be celebrated in a program at the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library at 1 p.m. September 15, 2018 in downtown Cincinnati. Speakers will include Cincinnati musician Carl Edmondson, who produced several of Mack's early records, including "Memphis" and "Wham!" 

Farewell to the Memphis Man
and the Cincinnati Sound

By Randy McNutt

When Lonnie Mack died in a Nashville hospital on April 21, 2016, his passing was felt in Cincinnati. I'm sure his death at age 74 will be overshadowed by the death of Prince, the celebrated performer who died on the same day. For those of us who appreciate blues-rock, however, Lonnie will also be hailed as special. He influenced Stevie Ray Vaughan and untold numbers of guitarists. Just knowing that Lonnie Mack was alive kept me connected to those gritty roadhouse sounds that I long to hear.

With his passing, something else finally died too--the old Cincinnati Sound. That's what people used to call the Queen City's blue-eyed soul and blues-rock sound of 1960 to 1975. In time, disco madness ran it out of town. Cincinnati was probably the last place on earth that harbored it, like some stubborn virus hiding in the veins of America. And Lonnie Mack was its undisputed king.

I suppose the Cincinnati Sound was all but gone anyway, but so long as Lonnie Mack was still alive I could trick my mind into believing that the old Sound still existed. After all, he was the flame that kept it all going. Every time I'd drive through some little town in southwest Ohio and see a shuttered, funky old roadhouse like the Blacksmith Shop in McGonigle, I'd think of Lonnie and imagine that  his tight band was playing inside. I'd momentarily believe it was still the 1960s. Sounds of "Memphis," "Crying Over You," and "Honky Tonk '65" would fill my head. But now that he is gone, I don't know what I will think the next time I pass one of those run-down places. I'm sure I'll feel a little empty.

Lonnie was a fixture in the clubs and roadhouses around Cincinnati in the 1960s. His music was part blues, some good-time rock 'n' roll, and an occasional country lick thrown in for good measure. The best way to describe it is Lonnie Mack music. He could put his stamp of personality on any song.

Born Lonnie McIntosh, he was a Hoosier from Aurora, Indiana. He dropped out of school and started playing the Cincinnati area clubs when he was only fourteen. I believe his career can be divided into two parts: the double-punch "Memphis" and "Wham!" singles period, which ran from 1963 through the 1970s, and the Strike Like Lightning period, which came in the mid-1980s and ran into the 1990s. After that, things slowed down for Lonnie and he stayed on his farm in Smithville, Tennessee. In the '80s, Bruce Iglauer, who grew up in suburban Cincinnati and knew of Lonnie's guitar legends, signed Lonnie to the Alligator blues label in Chicago and gave the Whammy man a second life that sent him all the way to Australia to play. My favorite album they did for Alligator was Strike Like Lightning, for which Lonnie drew upon his past for inspiration. He also brought along drummer Gene Lawson, an early band mate, to pound the beat. Gene's intelligent approach was a steadying influence.

While involved in the Cincinnati music industry in the 1970s, I got to know some of Lonnie's players. They influenced me greatly. They became good friends and trusted musicians. Years earlier, I saw their names on album covers: Gene Lawson, drums. Denzil "Dumpy" Rice, piano and acoustic guitar. Wayne Bullock, Hammond B-3 organ and bass. All wonderful guys and terrific players. Dumpy is gone now too, but his memory lives on every time somebody plays his song "There's A Honky Tonk Angel (Who'll Take Me Back In)." Even Elvis cut it.

Last June 7, Wayne Bullock hosted another of his Cincinnati musician reunion shows at the Harrison, Ohio, VFW Post. One hundred of them came varied places and new occupations. To my surprise, Lonnie walked in, coming all the way from his home in Tennessee. I enjoyed talking to him. He was never a talkative or humorous man, at least not around me, and I realized this when I was set to interview him 20-some years ago. So I decided I had better pair him with Dumpy one night as we sat in a reincarnation of that little roadhouse in McGonigle. Their conversation flowed like soul river. Funny, poignant, fascinating stories. Stories of the road, stories of one-nighter performances and long drives. Eventually, their conversation appeared in "Lonnie on the Move," a chapter in my book Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock 'n' Roll. (Indiana University Press, 2002). On that June 7 at the VFW Post, however, I sensed that Lonnie had come to see his fellow players possibly for the last time.

Lonnie's death inspired me to write this appreciation of him. He was not a man who talked about his accomplishments, so I will. I try not to write these kinds of stories about musicians because that is all I would be doing, writing obituaries. But Lonnie, well, I just couldn't resist. He was the heart of the Cincinnati Sound. There were so many blues-rock and white soul bands around Cincinnati then that I lost count. Billy Joe Royal, another wonderfully soulful singer, sang in town then. Even the Casinos, known more for their pop sound, recorded their own version of "Soul Serenade," and it was a good one. An old story goes that at least once a night somebody in the audience anywhere would scream, "Play 'Soul Serenade'!" It became a hybrid of Cincinnati and Memphis.

It's hard to say goodbye to performers of Lonnie's stature. He had a great career. It's too bad it couldn't have continued at the pace of the "Memphis" days forever, but then times and tastes change. I still enjoy playing his only vinyl album released on Fraternity Records in 1963, The Wham of that Memphis Man! Produced by another top Cincinnati guitar man, Carl Edmondson, the album has been a collector's item for years. Around 1970, Lonnie's manager, Harry Carlson of Fraternity, dealt the guitar man's contract to Elektra Records in Los Angeles, and from there Lonnie played on sessions with the Doors and also at their live performances. He recorded some good solo albums (Whatever's Right and Glad I'm in the Band) for Elektra, and convinced the A&R staff there to allow him to record a lot of the tracks where he felt the most inspiration--Cincinnati. He recorded at Rusty York's Jewel Recording in Mt. Healthy, a little studio in the older suburbs. On audio tape. No gimmicks. On the backs of the albums you will find the names of some of Cincinnati's best players of that time, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They include Lawson, who kept the beat as well as he did on "Memphis" in 1963. "We used so many musicians," Rusty once told me, "that we had to stick the horn players way out in the hallway."

Looking back on those days, they seem like a dream--vaguely remembered, yet real somehow. The record industry has changed, and so have people's tastes. But still, to me there is nothing more exciting than to pop The Wham of that Memphis Man down on a turntable and listen to Lonnie play guitar on "Wham!" and wail like the Hoosier blues man on "Where There's a Will There's a Way."

Farewell, Lonnie. You'll be picking with Dumpy and Rusty tonight.

Lonnie in better times, the 1960s.

Wayne Bullock on the B-3 at
musician's reunion party. Wayne 
played bass on "Memphis."
(Photo by Randy McNutt)

 Carl Edmondson picks the guitar,
minus the Driving Winds, June 20, 2016.
(Photo by Randy McNutt) 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rick “Bam” Powell
The Funky Drummer of Cincinnati

By Randy McNutt

Rick Powell in his home studio, 1972. Photo by Randy McNutt

Singer-drummer Rick “Bam” Powell has soaked up plenty of soul in his long career in music, most notably while working in two river towns that have contributed heavily to America's roots-rock and soul--Cincinnati and Muscle Shoals, where he worked as a sideman. Add to this the experience of forty years as an active musician, and you'll have the story of one of the few remaining authentic soul-rockers who is still out there singing his songs.

"I'm a singing drummer,” Rick Powell says with a laugh, “and there’s no category for me. Guitarists get most of the attention. How many drummers do you see out there singing the songs?”

He has a good point, and a minor problem. People don't usually associate vocalists with being drummers. But Powell doesn't mind so long as he's singing. He grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, and began playing drums as a kid. “A guy up the road had all the records, the 45s by the Beach Boys and other groups, and I fell in love with harmony and all those old sounds,” Powell says. That influence can be heard today in the harmony he places on his recordings. By the time he was in high school in the early 1970s, he was playing and singing in a garage band called The Chamberly Kids. Singer Wayne Perry discovered the band, and joined it. Powell ended up in the studio working on a blue-eyed soul record as the drummer and second lead vocalist.

On Perry’s independent sessions in suburban Cincinnati, Powell became the drummer and co-lead vocalist with Perry on “Gonna Have a Good Time,” which was released under the name Little Flint. It was a studio band assembled by Perry and his production group. Little Flint recorded only one single, but it gave the young Powell a chance to record with some veteran musicians. The experience was invaluable, and made him long for more.

During these sessions he was thrilled to work with bassist Roger “Jellyroll” Troy, whose band, Jellyroll, had just received a contract from New York’s Kapp Records. “Here I was, a high school kid, playing with a guy as good as Jellyroll,” Powell recalls. “He impressed me, for sure. I thought he had it all, had it made. Then during that first session we did, Jellyroll’s car got repossessed in front of the studio. That should have taught me something.”

Perry, one of Cincinnati’s top soul-rock singers at the time, liked Powell and the Chamberly Kids so much that he took time to work extensively with the band. Powell adds, “He booked us at a club called the Half Way Inn, which was in an old house. To me it was the ultimate roadhouse known for its dancing and soul. I was still in high school at the time. So when I arrived, they asked me for my I.D. Wayne had to vouch for me to get in.”

In the mid-’70s, Perry left to write hit songs in Nashville. Powell joined a Cincinnati-based rock band called the Raisins, which had an extended gig in Toledo. The Raisins were not Powell’s typical kind of band. They were frenetic. In just a few years, they developed a large regional following. The band’s early members also featured guitarist Rob Fetters, bassist Bob Nyswonger, and pianist Rick Neiheisel (known later as Ricky Nye.)

“One day I got a call from a guy who claimed he managed LeBlanc and Carr in Muscle Shoals, Alabama,” Powell says. “I asked him, ‘All right, who’s pulling my leg?’ But he was their manager, and he was offering me a job as one of their two drummers. I auditioned and got the job. They were popular then with their hit ballad ‘Falling.’ Later, they cut back to just one drummer—me. I toured and recorded with them for the better part of four years. I played on one of their albums that was cut at Atlantic Studios in New York. We were on the road constantly. It was insane, really. We opened for a bunch of hit acts—Robert Palmer, England Dan and John Ford Coley, Taj Mahal, and others. I was based out of Muscle Shoals, where I visited the famous studio where the Swampers [studio musicians] cut the hits that originated there. I feel like a small part of history. I’m still using some things in my stage work that I learned in during my Muscle Shoals days.”

When the band broke up, Powell ended up living in Tupelo, Mississippi—Elvis’ birthplace. He finally moved to Alabama to play music, and in 1980 he returned to Cincinnati to live and continue his career. Fortunately, he managed to drum his way through the disco era, and even the modern trend toward DJs in clubs. No matter what trend was breaking, Powell was still playing his music and maintaining a dedicated core of fans who followed him. “I’m getting older, but I have no intention of quitting,” he says. “They’ll have to drag me off the stage when I’m through.”

The Cincinnati Sound—the music often heard when Lonnie Mack, Beau Dollar and the Coins, and other area performers played in the roadhouses of southern Ohio—left an even bigger impression on Powell, whose music also incorporates elements of country, rock, and soul. But his style is mostly bluesy rock ’n’ roll. He started writing songs just after high school, and he has continued to this day. “I’m always writing,” he says. “It’s something I love.”

You haven't heard his records on the radio, but then he isn't seeking to sound robotic--like something out of a sci-fi film. He is looking for "realness," as he calls, the emotion ones hears in his voice as he sings his soulful ballads and driving rock-soul numbers. His albums, on CD, have included Bam Powell and the Troublemakers, Perforated by Tickled Pink, and his solo effort, Eat the Fat, Drink the Sweet. The Troublemakers group featured some ex-band mates from the Raisins, a group from the late 1970s. On this album, released by the group's own Baby Ranch Recording Company, Powell performed "Funky Drummer Sinfonia Part II" and "Funky Drummer Reprise," and sang his original song "I Like Skin," a favorite with audiences. "I enjoy singing my own songs," he says, "and people enjoy hearing them. I'm fortunate."

Powell believes there is a place for veteran performers who have learned to please crowds and write songs that come from the heart. “It’s all soul music,” he says. “Some of those old stone-country records are so soulful they make you cry. To me, there’s not much difference between Miles Davis and George Jones, besides the obvious. They both have soul. The Cincinnati Sound blends soul and country and the blues. I can’t escape it. It is a part of my heritage. I embrace it now. I still have something to offer. I want to keep playing my music as long as people want to hear it.”

Powell is carrying the torch passed to him by Cincinnati's early rock and soul drummers, including Phillip Paul, once a prolific sideman at King Records in town, and Gene Lawson, an early soul-rock drummer who played on Lonnie Mack's hit instrumental single "Memphis."

Calling Loveland, Ohio, his home base today, Powell still works with some of Cincinnati’s top rock groups. In the 1990s they included the Blue Birds, a white soul band that continues to perform in various incarnations. He also has performed with the rock groups Tickled Pink and Bucket, and the popular Cincinnati country band Stagger Lee.

He has always been a featured vocalist as well as a drummer. “Sometimes with the Blue Birds I would stand in front of the band to sing, and another guy would take over the drums,” he says. “At times, I think I should do that again. But I never want to give up the drums. I love them.”

He depends on more than his voice and drums to entertain. His original songs capture the interest of his audiences. By playing music and hearing people's stories he has developed insight into hard times and good times. Always the social observer, Powell turns his observations into succinct and moving song lyrics and melodies. He is at ease writing and singing soulful ballads as well as raucous rockers.

His highly personal approach to performing and his musical diversity have propelled his career through the decades, and made him an important part of his hometown’s music past, present, and future. As Nashville music journalist Larry Nager, a former Cincinnati pop music reporter, observed in 2012: “If the last thirty years of Rick ‘Bam’ Powell’s life were turned into a TV mini-series, it would tell a pretty thorough story of Cincinnati’s music scene.” That rich scene saw King Records cut dozens of hits in the 1940s for Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Moon Mullican, and other hillbilly stars, then turn around in the ’50s and record hits for James Brown and the Famous Flames, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and the 5 Royales. The city continued its hit streak in the 1960s when Fraternity Records released “Memphis” and “Wham!” with Mack and his band.

By the time Powell arrived on the city’s musical landscape in the early 1970s, King had just closed its local office doors. But by then he had already soaked up the country and soul sounds and had started writing songs in both genres. He and his songs reflect Cincinnati’s eclectic sounds. Powell can sing “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”—not an easy feat—and then turn around and belt out a country song. His own recording of “Funky Drummer” is far out and as crazy as they come.

Today, Powell continues to write, perform, and play on recording sessions. “I like to play music and write about subjects that are overlooked,” he says. “I love the old sounds and I don’t want them to be lost, yet I want to put a modern spin on the lyrics. It’s rewarding to write a song and then hear someone in the audience call out its name, wanting me to sing it.

"I’ve been told that I’m hard to pigeon-hole. It’s just natural for me to sound part rock, part R&B, and a little bit country. But then that’s the Cincinnati way, and I grew up on it. I wouldn’t change it.”

* * *

About His Music

If you'd prefer an electronic copy of this story, go to, and see "Bam! The Story of Rick Powell, the Funky Drummer of Cincinnati." It is the first in the Legendary Musicians of the Heartland Series. The Kindle Short Read reached number eleven on Kindle's e-book rock music chart in August of 2017, and continues as a soul chart best-seller. If you're interested in the music, you can find some of Rick's recordings on YouTube. An early version of Rick's "I Like Skin" appears on the CD Souled Out: Queen City Soul-Rockers of the 1970s, an anthology released by the Fraternity Records Group out of New York.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ohio-Indiana Garage Bands 1960s

Return of the Garage Bands, Part 1

Ohio-Indiana garage bands flourished in the mid-to-late-1960s. So did their gigs. The bands included The Us Too Group and the New Lime, which recorded regional hits for the Counterpart label out of Cincinnati.
     Other Cincy rock bands included the Tunesmen, Ivan and the Sabres, Salvation and His Army, the Pictorian Skiffels, the Heywoods, the Daybreakers, Sacred Mushroom, the Varmints, the Dingos, the Undecided, Soul, Inc., the Brothers Royal, the New Torquays, the Rastels, the Missing Links, the Virtues, the Beau Weegans, the Vice Lourdes, the Denems, the Offsets, and the S.O.S. The Intruders, the Livin' End, and the Cavaliers came out of Middletown, and the Chandells from Centerville.
     Gary and the Hornets, who recorded for Mercury's Smash label, came from Franklin, Ohio.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Independent Label Advertising of the 1950s

Intriguing record company advertising reached its zenith in the 1950s and 1960s, when the single reigned and labels purchased ads in Billboard, Cashbox, Record World, Record Business, Music Vendor, and other trade publications. Here are a few from the '50s. 







Saturday, April 23, 2016


See my Home of the Hits 2

A companion to my blog Home of the Hits ....

On BlogSpot. Check it out!

Featuring more record-biz characters, regional recording centers,
and singer-songwriters and producers and so much more!

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 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.