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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Regional Record Labels, Pt. 1





Regional Labels, Part 1
The Cincinnati Connection


By Randy McNutt

Regional record companies flourished in the halcyon days of Top 40 radio, primarily the 1960s. Many local radio stations were willing to play high-quality singles released by local and regional labels. By the late '60s, however, this cooperation had begun to fade. Pressed by increasing radio competition,  stations decided to play mostly big-label releases. The days of local labels scoring hits in their towns was ending.


Independent, commercial radio labels were of two varieties: local and regional. Local labels operated out of a hometown or one city, and didn't try to seek radio play in a wide geographic area. Regional labels did seek airply through a whole state or several states. But they did not seek national airplay.


Some local labels developed into regional ones. And a few made the jump from regional to national. But most of their owners were content to remain small. They knew their market and its influential disc jockeys, distributors, studio owners, musicians, and other music people. When I was growing up in Hamilton, Ohio, in the 1960s, I assumed the Counterpart label in Cincinnati was national because its records were played on the area's No. 1 Top 40 station, WSAI. From the mid-'60s through the mid-'70s, Counterpart released singles by rock bands such as the Mark V, the New Lime, Canon, the Grey Imprint, and other groups.


Counterpart owner Shad O'Shea worked the telephones, seeking regional airplay. He sold tens of thousands of singles over the years, usually selling from 1,000 to 5,000 copies of a hot rock single in the mid-'60s. Sometimes he received offers from larger labels--Laurie, Monument, SSI International, Columbia, Capitol, RCA, and others--to release the records nationally.



A 45-rpm Counterpart sleeve from the mid-1970s.



Counterpart Records


Founded by WCPO Radio disc jockey Shad O'Shea in 1963, Counterpart Records released singles aimed at the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana region, focusing primarily on the larger cities of Cincinnati and Columbus in Ohio; Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky; and Indianapolis and rural parts of Indiana.


That year O'Shea also formed Counterpart Music, BMI, which owned the publishing for many of the label's songs. He operated his companies from his home in suburban Cincinnati until 1970, when opened Counterpart Creative Studios at 3744 Applegate Ave. in Cheviot, a small city on the west side of Cincinnati. He moved the publishing company and the record label into the studio's office. From this studio he would record many of his label's singles. He also recorded his own singles. A prolific producer, O'Shea (real name Howard Lovdal) wrote and recorded many novelties under various names, including his own.


By 1975, when O'Shea purchased the national Fraternity Records name from founder Harry Carlson, times had grown tough for local and regional labels. Radio had tightened its playlists. O'Shea continued to use the Counterpart label, but only sporadically. He focused on Fraternity and a new label, the Applegate Recording Society.


When he semi-retired in the mid-2000s, he sold his publishing interests, his label names, and masters to a New York music producer. Today, the Counterpart name is rarely used.



A subsidiary label of Counterpart, 1970s.






Vocalist Wayne Perry takes a break during a
session at Counterpart Creative Studios, the
home of Counterpart Records. When this picture
was taken in the summer of 1973, Perry was there to remake
the New Lime's "The Only Thing To Do." 


Beast Records


Strictly a local label in Cincinnati, Beast Records was founded by Randy McNutt in 1973. Its one and only release was "Gonna Have A Good Time"/"Pain" by Little Flint.

This was actually performed by two groups, the newly formed Little Flint ("Pain") and the Chamberly Kids ("Good Time") from Lebanon, Ohio. The Kids recorded another version of "Good Time" but it was not released. A compact disc album now in preparation by a New York label features the Kids' version as well as Little Flint's. The Kids featured highly talented Rick "Bam" Powell, a high school senior who sang and played drums. Both songs featured 17-year-old sideman Terry Hoskins on Hammond B-3 organ and veteran sideman Roger "Jellyroll" Troy on bass. Unfortunately, by 1973 the local radio market was all but excluding local labels from the air, and the Beast label quickly came and went. It was pressed and distributed by Counterpart using A-1 Distribution in Cincinnati.








Candee Records

Owned by popular WLW talk-show host and songwriter Ruth Lyons, Candee Records was named after her daughter. It was both a local and regional pop label in that it was based in Cincinnati, and used for a local audience, but it also served other cities in the region where Lyons' 50-50 Club was shown on television and heard on radio, including Louisville, Lexington, Indianapolis, and Columbus.

According to author Michael Banks, Candee was incorporated on March 4, 1959, as Candee Enterprises. Principals were Ruth Lyons Newman, president and director; her husband, Herman Newman, vice president and director; Candy Newman, director; and Ronald J. Coffey, secretary and director. Coffee, probably Lyons' attorney, was based at 603 Dixie Terminal Building with another attorney, Donald G. Rowlings, who was Miss Lyons' lawyer.

Banks said the corporation was dissolved on April 28, 1965. Miss Lyons, who wrote "Wasn't the Summer Short?" by Johnny Mathis and numerous other locally recorded songs, never registered Candee as a trademark, Banks said.

The company released some 45s and albums, mainly with Christmas music. Pressing and recording was often done at King Records in Cincinnati.


Tip-Toe Records

Cincinnati's Bill Watkins, a rockabilly and country singer since the 1950s, founded the Tip-Toe label in the early 1970s and operated it sporadically until the early 1980s. He named the yellow label after his 16-track recording studio that he operated in the basement of his home in suburan Colerain Township. He lived here with his wife and studio partner, Axie Watkins.

Watkins released his own material on the label as well as that of other artists who recorded at the Tip-Toe Recording Studio. The label was local, although Watkins' singles became known to rockabillly collectors around the world.


Watkins recorded two rockabilly albums in the Tip-Toe studio, one for the Rockhouse label in Holland ain 1988 nd the other for the Gee-Dee label in Germany in the early 1990s. Several singles were released from sessions at Tip Toe, including "Red Cadillac" and "Cowboy" on Randy McNutt's General Store Records. By the early 1980s, however, all activity had ceased on Tip Toe Records.





More regional and local labels will be covered in later blogs.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Uncle Josh and the Record Labels





Uncle Josh and the Record Labels



By Randy McNutt

In country music, only a few performers are prehistoric—contributors to what hillbilly music became in the 1920s. One of them is Calvin Edward Stewart, known Cal Stewart, who began recording comedic monologues in the 1890s and continued until his death in 1919. As the creator of the Uncle Josh Weathersby series of recordings (Josh was the Down East farmer whose foibles entertained millions of people on the infant talking machine), Stewart stands out as an actor, author, comedian, songwriter, and rustic poet. Recently, iUniverse reissued my 1981 book Cal Stewart, Your Uncle Josh in both softbound and e-book formats. A subtitle, America's King of Rural Comedy, is now added to this rewritten and expanded second edition. The book is available from Amazon.com and other Internet sites as well as from www.iUniverse.com. The book costs $20.95; $9.99 in electronic form. In addition to 19 chapters, the 277-page book features 42 rare photographs and illustrations, a guide to Stewart’s Punkin Center characters, a Stewart career timeline, a discography, and a “Cylopedium” of terms used by Stewart’s characters during the late 1800s and early 1900s.





From the Introduction to
Cal Stewart, Your Uncle Josh: America's King of Rural Comedy

 


As a winter storm pummeled the city of Hamilton, Ohio, I was below ground, exploring the artifacts of my elderly uncle’s life. The unfinished basement in his 1920s bungalow was his personal museum, a dim place crammed with everything from antique fishing reels to corroded weathervanes. They were piled all over the room. All his life he had hoarded assorted junk and hand-me-downs, and they all ended up there in his basement. As a child, the place fascinated me with its strange things and creaky sounds. My mind can still see them—an old orange soda pop thermometer, a set of yellowed cow’s teeth, a dozen black iron tobacco cutters, rusty horseshoes, a train-station clock, and a big hornets’ nest—long since abandoned, thankfully.

Rummaging in a corner on that stormy February night long ago, I discovered an upright Brunswick crank phonograph, a fancily carved oak model that had been painted flat red. (In the 1920s, it must have been a flapper’s dream machine.) Next to it stood a pillar of dusty 78-rpm records. I glanced at one of the more oddly named selections; it was credited to someone named Cal Stewart, who performed as Uncle Josh. To a slightly bored twenty-something newspaper reporter, Vernon Hornung’s assorted collectibles looked like relics from another century—old, useless things, suitable for tomorrow’s trash. At first, I included the Uncle Josh records in this category. As I studied the paper label on one of the heavy discs, however, I became intrigued by the performer's stage name.

“Who’s Uncle Josh?” I asked.

My uncle smiled. “He was a big name in his day. When I was young, my brother and I used to entertain ourselves for hours by listening to his records.”

I pointed to the phonograph. “Does that thing still work?” 

He examined the brittle platter, slapped it onto the red felt-covered turntable, and turned the metal crank. When the steel needle touched the record, a man’s tinny voice rose above the scratching to greet me with laughter. The title, “Uncle Josh and the Honey Bees” (identified only as a “talking record”), compelled me to continue listening—once, twice, three times. Stewart recorded it for Victor and other labels. He recorded for many pioneer record companies during his long career. This record was unlike any that I had ever heard. It was both American history and entertainment. It seemed that Stewart was talking to me personally about his fictional little town, Punkin Center, a place with stories, characters, issues, laughter, and sadness. His music—a forerunner of country—brightened some of his talking records. While my own uncle regaled me with personal tales of listening to Uncle Josh records as a boy in an equally obscure small town named Dunlap, Ohio (fifteen miles west of Cincinnati), I sat down on the cold floor and paid close attention to the entertainment. I wanted more of this Uncle Josh. Later, I searched local flea markets and found a few of his records. Then I graduated to collector auctions. Seeking more Cal Stewart, I visited libraries and Josh-related sites in Boston; Swanzey, New Hampshire; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Tipton, Indiana; and even two rural Indiana communities named Punkin Center.



For a time, I actually felt that I was on Josh’s trail—cold as it had become by then. Some small-town business districts were left so unchanged that I imagined them ready to accommodate Stewart’s acting troupe from Indiana. I walked along old brick streets and saw some now-closed theaters—former stops on a loose network known as the Kerosene Circuit. The theaters provided paychecks for traveling actors and diversions for hard-working townspeople in the days before radio and television.

Regardless of where I traveled, I learned this simple truth: Finding fragments of Cal Stewart’s life and career and putting them together is like working on a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. It will never be complete; questions will always confound us. Stewart preferred to discuss his fictional characters rather than himself. We practically know as much about them as we do their creator, who continues to live in dust-filled grooves of shellac records and wax cylinders. As I began to accumulate more information, I decided to write his story as an appreciation. If nothing more, I wanted to organize the facts that remain about the actor who entertained millions of people at the turn of the twentieth century. Slowly, my notes filled several file folders. I learned, for instance, that Stewart has been elected to the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York. Unfortunately, on the day I viewed his space on the group’s Web site, a large blank space existed under Stewart’s biography section. But that’s not surprising, for people tend to remember Stewart—if they bother to remember him at all—for some undetermined achievement. The truth is, he was a pioneer performer-songwriter, a forerunner of our modern ones. His personal life—so colorful, he claimed—is filled with discrepancies. Did he really leave home at age twelve? Did he make up half the things he said about himself? Was he really an express messenger on a stagecoach out West? Did he operate a locomotive? Did he work with the famous actor Denman Thompson? Was he a friend of Mark Twain? Even by using public documents and personal accounts, it's difficult to verify his claims. It is also difficult to uncover much personal information, including where Stewart lived at any one time. Too much time has elapsed, and Stewart hesitated to talk about himself except in the most superficial ways. He seemed to purposely hide clues from future researchers. Even his wife, close friends, and acting associates claimed they were not fully informed about his past. A business and music partner, Frederick Hager of Northport, New York, said of Stewart in a letter to writer Jim Walsh: “Mark Twain was an old friend and, in later life, Will Rogers.” I can’t verify it, and Hager can't elaborate. Twain had already become a famous literary figure by the time Stewart went to work for the railroad companies. Who knows? Perhaps they met on the lyceum circuit in the early 1870s, or maybe they didn’t meet until Stewart became a nationally known recording star twenty years later. Whatever the case, Stewart kept quiet about himself, which makes this book as much about the development of the Uncle Josh character in American life.





Still searching for Uncle Josh, I drove along rural Indiana’s back roads that reminded me of Hoosier highways of the early 1900s. In the southern hills, I imagined Stewart’s acting company chugging along on a train to some small-town theater before arriving at the prized destination—the Empire Theater in Indianapolis. Surprisingly, I still found evidence of his career—publicity photographs, concert handbills, books, and records tucked away in Indiana’s antiquarian bookstores, antiques shops, and libraries. Except for his earliest and most rare recordings (one recently sold for eighty-five dollars), however, most Uncle Josh recordings aren’t worth more than ten dollars because the record companies pressed them in large numbers. But they are culturally valuable, and interest in them continues to grow.
Driving farther on back roads, I stopped in Tipton, the hometown of Stewart’s wife, Rossini, and her family. The Stewarts also lived there, although they weren’t at home too often. At the Sisters of St. Joseph on the outskirts of Tipton, retired Mother Superior Gerard Maher once told me that she remembered when Hazel “Rossini” Stewart returned to Tipton after Cal’s death in 1919. Mrs. Stewart accepted a job teaching music at the Catholic academy. The transition from performing to teaching music to girls in her hometown must have been jarring, but no doubt Mrs. Stewart needed to stay in one place and reflect on her life and future for a time. One thing is certain: Indiana influenced Stewart’s writing. Early in his career, Stewart fashioned the Uncle Josh character into strictly a New England farmer, and promoted the act that way. As the years passed, however, and he met and married the Indiana woman and brought her into his company of performers. That's when Uncle Josh became more generic—small-town Midwesterner meets New England farmer. Punkin Center turned into an odd amalgam of both regions, but most of all it represented rural America.
 
 
When I met Mother Gerard she was in her nineties, but her memory was still clear. She was one of the few people in Tipton who knew Stewart and his troupe. To her, one half of a century had passed in the blink of an eye until the whole town seemed a sepia picture. Before the academy was demolished in 1977, Mother Gerard’s friends had mistakenly thrown away her Uncle Josh wax cylinder recordings. The younger women had no idea what the cylinders were, what they represented, and what they meant to the elderly nun. By the time I found her, she kept all that remained of her early days in a small wooden box: Stewart’s hardbound book Punkin Centre Stories, a collection of poems and monologues from 1903; a brittle newspaper clipping telling of his funeral in Tipton; and a playbill. She presented the book to me as a gift, and I reprinted it to share Uncle Josh’s writings with the world.




Twenty-five years later, I returned to Tipton. At the Tipton County Public Library, a modern building near the courthouse downtown, a young man escorted me to the local history room and pulled out the only file he had on Stewart. It contained ten newspaper and magazine stories from recent years. As I sifted through them, I found an unexpected prize: an original publicity photograph of Stewart in character. My heart raced. The picture was about five by eight inches, with a sepia tone, and it was cut unevenly on all sides. Dressed as Uncle Josh, Stewart stood on a set in front of a wooden railing, wearing his straw hat (with a chunk bitten out in front), white shirt, and speckled vest. His wire-rim glasses were pushed up on his wide and furrowed forehead. I believe the picture was taken late in his career, between 1915 and 1919. As I studied the heavy wrinkles under his eyes, I saw how much Stewart had aged in the last ten years of his life. I wondered if Cal himself had ever held this same picture, and what he might have thought of it. Then I turned it over and I saw these handwritten words, “Cal Stewart—Donated to the library by the Sisters of St. Joseph.” At that moment I understood that the photograph probably had belonged to Stewart’s wife, a good friend of the sisters. Holding his photograph on that gray day reinvigorated my search for Uncle Josh.





A hour later, as I stood at the broken cross that marks his grave in Tipton’s Fairview Cemetery, I asked myself: Why is Stewart nearly forgotten? Moments later, the wind blew a brown leaf across the frozen grass, pressing it firmly against the base of his tombstone. Then I realized that change is reality. Popularity is fleeting. Although each generation has its own faded stars, Cal Stewart is one worth remembering for all time.



 



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hits from Muscle Shoals Sound Studios


Selected Hits from
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
3614 Jackson Highway
Sheffield, Alabama



During the used-appliance years, the 1990s.


Selected Hit Singles
“Take a Letter, Maria,” R.B. Greaves, 1969
“Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby),” 1969
“Always Something There to Remind Me,” R.B Greaves, 1970
“Brown Sugar,” Rolling Stones, 1971
“Wild Horses,” Rolling Stones, 1971
“It Hurts So Good,” Katie Love, 1971
“Heavy Makes You Happy,” the Staple Singers, 1971
“Don’t Knock My Love,” Wilson Pickett, 1971
“A Very Lovely Lady,” Linda Ronstadt, 1971
“Dinah Flo,” Boz Scaggs, 1972
“Tightrope,” Leon Russell, 1972
“Starting All Over Again,” Mel and Tim, 1972
“If Loving You Is Right (I Don’t Want to be Wrong),” Luther Ingram, 1972
“Kodachrome,” Paul Simon, 1973
“Loves Me Like a Rock,” Paul Simon, 1973
“I Believe In You (You Believe in Me),” Johnny Taylor, 1973
“Lookin’ for a Love,” Bobby Womack, 1973
“Still Crazy After All These Years,” Paul Simon, 1974
“I’ll Be Your Everything,” Percy Sledge, 1974
“Beautiful Loser,” Bob Seger, 1974
“My Little Town,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1975
“Left Overs,” Millie Jackson, 1975
“Touch Me Baby,” Tamiko Jones, 1975
“Night Moves,” Bob Seger, 1976
“Main Street,” Bob Seger, 1977



The Story
The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (1969-1978) and its successor (1978-1990s) turned out hundreds of nationally charted singles. They included the records listed above, which also share something else in common: they aren’t generally recognized as being a product of the Alabama studios. (Note: In a few cases, additional overdubbing and/or mixing could have been done in other studios.)
  

Forgotten Facts

Founded by independent musicians bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, pianist Barry Beckett, and drummer Roger Hawkins. The band nicknamed itself the Swampers, but it was better known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section because it had played on hits at Fame Recording and other studios in northern Alabama.
  

Studio Quirks

 1. When the musician-owners bought the old Fred Bevis Studio in the late 1960s, they mortgaged their homes to pay for it. The roof leaked. They didn’t have enough money to repair it, so they tucked tampons in the ceiling. They worked.
2. The restroom walls are covered with autographs of stars.
3. By the 1990s, the studio was used as a used appliance store.
4. The studio was rare in that its owners were big-name musicians who worked in their own place as well as in other studios.
5. The studio was actually in neighboring Sheffield, not Muscle Shoals. Formerly, the building had been used as a small venetian blind factory.



 

Selected Hit Singles from

  Muscle Shoals Sound Studios
1000 Alabama Avenue
 Sheffield, Alabama
Singles:

“Sharing the Night Together,” Dr. Hook, 1978
“We’ve Got Tonight,” Bob Seger, 1979
"Old-Time Rock ’n’ Roll,” Bog Seger, 1979
“When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman,” Dr. Hook, 1979
“Gotta Serve Somebody,” Bob Dylan, 1979
“Giving It Up for Your Love,” Delbert McClinton, 1980
“Ozark Mountain Jubilee,” the Oak Ridge Boys, 1983
“I Guess It Never Hurts,” the Oak Ridge Boys, 1983
“Sexy Girl,” Glenn Frey, 1983
“Valotte,” Julian Lennon, 1984
“Too Late for Gooodbyes,” Julian Lennon, 1984
“I Will Never Be the Same,” Melissa Etheridge, 1993
“Shaky Ground,” Melissa Etheridge, 1993

Albums:
 
Plain From the Heart, Delbert McClinton, 1981
Billy Vera, Billy Vera, 1982
Comin’ Home, Bob Seger, 1982
No Fun Aloud, Glenn Frey, 1983
Deliver, the Oak Ridge Boys, 1983
The Allnighter, Glenn Frey, 1984
Havanna Moon, Carlos Santana, 1984


Studio Quirk
1. The building, along the Tennessee River, was once a navy reserve center. It offered 31,000 square feet.


FYI
For additional information on the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, see Randy McNutt’s Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock ’n’ Roll and Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of America Recording Studios of the Twentieth Century. Both books are available through Amazon.com.


Bassist David Hood stands in front of the second MSSS
in the late 1990s.  


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gennett Records and Mo' Blues



Mo' Blues at Gennett Records

By Randy McNutt

In Richmond, Indiana, on Saturday (September 10, 2011), local Gennett Records and Starr Piano enthusiasts kicked off their Mo' Blues concert and tours in Whitewater Gorge, the area that housed the independent label's factory complex in the 1920s and 1930s.

Under warm and sunny skies through mid-afternoon, the Starr-Gennett Foundation Inc. organizers welcomed people from across the region and several states.

Martin Fisher came from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, where he is is manager of Recorded Media Collections. "I will go wherever people are interested in hearing acoustic recordings, if the drive is within a reasonable distance," he told me. Fisher brought several acoustic talking machines, including a large one that he used to play back cylinders that he recorded with guests of the Mo' Blues concert and tours. He said he buys blank cylinders from a man in England, who manufactures them at his home. Fisher said another man, an American, also produces blanks, which also can be used to record on home machines.

The program was held at the Gennett-Starr factory area in the Whitewater Gorge Park in Richmond. Parts of the original buildings still stand. Concerts were held inside one of them. On a sidewalk leading along where the factory once stood is an attractive Walk of Fame, featuring a number of prominent artists who recorded for Gennett Records or its spinoff labels.

Fisher operated in a booth near where the Gennett Recording Studio once stood. "There's so much history left here," he said of the park.

Gennett Records is known for its disc recordings. At the historic site, a concrete floor is all that stands of the firm's record-pressing unit.

For Gennett's many recordings made before and during the Depression, Richmond calls itself "the cradle of recorded jazz." The Starr-Gennett Redevelopment Plan began earlier this year, using a federal grant. One of the Foundation's goals is to build an interpretative center, including a replica of the Gennett Records sound studio.

To donate or seek additional information, contact the Starr-Gennett Foundation at 33 South 7th Street, Richmond, IN 47374-5462, or see the group's website at www.starrgennett.org.




Photos by Randy McNutt


Singers and musicians who recorded for Gennett:

Louis Armstrong, Gene Autry, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke,
Big Bill Broonzy, Hoagy Carmichael, Vernon Dalhart, Georgia
Tom Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Wendell Hall, Coleman Hawkins,
Blind Lemon Jefferson, Uncle Dave Mason, Guy Lombardo,
Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and many others.


Jim LaBarbara and 1960s Radio

Jim LaBarbara on the air in Cincinnati, 1980s.



Jim LaBarbara: A Life Amplified
Through Radio and Rock 'n' Roll


By Randy McNutt


When the golden age of the 45-rpm single is re-examined, future historians will undoubtedly give proper credit to local disc jockeys who made and played the hits. One of them is Jim LaBarbara, late of Erie, Cleveland, Denver, Cincinnati, and other cities. Not only did he play the hits, but he interviewed and knew many of the singers and musicians who recorded them. He also has the distinction of being a major air personality in two great Ohio music towns.

One of the most knowledgeable air personalities in radio recalls his long career in Jim Labarbara, The Music Professor: A Life Amplified Through Radio and Rock 'n' Roll. It's not just another DJ book, nor is it a superficial one. It is a personal and career memoir, a rock history, and a tribute to the radio industry that employed him for fifty years. And it's also a lot of fun to read. Its many photographs give a sense of being there.

The radio industry that he discusses is mostly gone today. When he started in it in the late 1950s, the business was still wacky and wide open to people with big ideas. In the 1970s, I used to listen to LaBarbara--the Music Professor--on WLW Radio in Cincinnati, when he played the hits and then interviewed their artists. (I find it hard to believe that the same station today is mostly talk radio, but then that has happened all over the country.) If I missed his show, I thought I possibly missed something special. More recently, he played oldies on the popular WGRR in Cincinnati. Lately he has turned to chronicling his career, and with this book he proves that he can write with flair. He weaves his own story--a college kid wants to get into radio in the late 1950s--with the concurrent stories of singers who were making hit records in the early days of rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll. Over the years, he interviewed hundreds of them, including Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jackie Wilson, Chuck Berry, Neil Diamond, John Denver, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. And yes, the book offfers anecdotes about dozens of them. Those anecdotes, including the ones he tells about himself, make the book interesting.

He worked in a time when radio was still exciting and creative. His radio career began at small stations in Pennsylvania, his home state. "I drove my new . . . light-blue 1959 Jaguar XK150 with red leather . . . 150 miles to Erie on a few hours sleep," he writes in a chapter titled "J. Bentley Starr," his on-air name then. "The receptionist laughed when she saw me. She still had all the postcards I sent. I was so tired, but I wanted to go on from seven to midnight. I felt terrific; my adrenalin was pumping, and about eleven o'clock that tnight, I got an idea. I was going to hijack the station. WWGO had the transmitter controls in the same area as my on-air studio. I had control of the station. They couldn't take me off. When the all-night man came in, I locked him out after putting the news microphone in the hall. He was a college student and didn't care; he studied. I put a huge desk in front of the door and stacked cabinets on top and barricaded myself in the studio. I was replacing a guy who left to go across the street to 'Jet,' the number-one station. It was shameless self-promotion: 'Hey everybody, look at me! Here I am.' It worked. The next morning by 9 a.m., the whole city knew I was in town, but my boss wasn't happy because I missed playing some commercials. [While on the air] he fired me a couple of times, but I had to tell him to watch his language because I had the news microphone in the hall turned on. A local high school team came to break the door down. During most of that time, I played one record--"C'mon and Swim" by Bobby Freeman--and introduced it differently every time . . . It drove me crazy; I can just imagine what listeners thought." When the marathon ended thirty-some hours later, his boss agreed to keep him. When LaBarbara finally went to his car to go home, however, he found a lot of parking tickets waiting.

Eventually, he became the station's music director as well as a DJ. He stayed in Erie into the British Invasion, when he played both a British and American countdown show every night. When the Beatles visited Pittsburgh in 1964, he asked them before the show, "The 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah' in the song 'She Loves You,' was that inspired by your Liverpool friends Gerry and the Pacemakers' song 'I Like It'? Where did you get it? They all stood up [from the interview table] and mocked me, singing, 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.' Everybody got a good laugh."

He left Erie in 1966 to work for WKYC, a 50,000-watt Top 40 station in Cleveland, and WIXY. He used his real name. That year, WKYC promoted a Rolling Stones concert. The opening act was the McCoys of "Hang On Sloopy" fame. [Now the official state rock song of Ohio.--RM] LaBarbara writes: "The McCoys told me, 'We heard you on the radio last night. We're not from Dayton, Ohio, we're from Union City, Indiana.' They were upset, but that's what their record company told me. Their hit . . . was a giant, and I played it a lot. Yes, it bothered me a little that these high school kids, instead of saying, Thanks for playing our records. By the way, we are not from Dayton, but we were discovered in Dayton by the Strangeloves ("I Want Candy") when we did a concert with them, chose to be abrasive." But that's not all that bothered LaBarbara that night. "A teenage listener of WKYC won a contest," he continues, "and was invited backstage to meet the Rolling Stones in their dressing room. She made a cake and was excited to give this to her favorite band. The Rolling Stones took the cake from this little, bubbly thirteen-year-old, laughed about the cake, and proceded to throw it into a nearby toilet and flush it. She started to cry while they continued to giggle. We all thought they were jerks. I made a comment to one of my fellow jocks that I'd never play another one of their records. Of course that was difficult to do, but I sure didn't go out of my way to play them. They were dispicable in every sense of the word."

He changed his opinion of the Stones, however, when he saw them perform in 1972 in Denver. "They were a lot more professional than six years earlier," he says. "Mick [Jagger] worked the audience like Wayne Newton playing to the blue-haired angels in Las Vegas. I became a Rolling Stones fan . . . ."

LaBarbara was impressed and shocked at times by what he saw on stage and behind it. Once, "I got shocked for the first time on stage . . . I was standing in a little puddle of sweat when I grabbed the microphone to take off [stage] a soaking wet Mitch Ryder. It hurt, but I kept it to myself."

He is reminded of a conversation he had with Jerry Lewis, who visited the radio station when his son Gary had some hits. "What advice did you give Gary?" LaBarbara asks him. "He said, 'Just make sure you can look at yourself the next day in the mirror.' A simple sentence but more complex than you might think."

In the '60s, LaBarbara was excited to work in Cleveland, one of the nation's top radio markets. In 1967, he says, he and Ken Scott tied for second place behind the popular Jerry G. in a Billboard magazine radio response rating for the city. "I was flattered to be in that company," he says. Cleveland was one of America's top radio markets.

Another LaBarbara story comes from Sonny Bono, just after he and Cher had divorced. The incident reveals the way the entertainment business works. To the public, Bono had went from big star on records and television to nobody, he tells LaBarbara, with people asking what he would do now that he didn't have Cher. People saw her as the major part of the act. "I had built this whole thing," he tells Jim. "I had written all the songs--ten million-selling songs. I had written the show I had created; I worked eleven years, devoted to this act. And when everything was shaken down, I came out really holding a fig leaf. You know, I thought, I don't ever want to do that again. So, I want to do things, and at least get recognized for what I do."

Turning to politics, Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs and later a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He later died in a skiing accident.

Another telling incident came years later, when the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum recognized famous DJ Bill Randle, LaBarbara's good friend and the man who once brought Elvis to Cleveland. "I was asked to sit on the dais," LaBarbara says. "As I sat there on stage, I thought about the irony. The one place I knew he had total disdain for was the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. He told me that seventy-five to eighty percent of all the people [enshrined or noted] in there are accused or convicted felons. He certainly didn't like the politics involved with the selection process."

When the 1960s ended, and campus life erupted in violence, LaBarbara decided to move to Cincinnati, where he did a radio show that allowed him to conduct interviews with recording artists and play records. He became Jim LaBarbara, the Music Professor.

Class is still in session.

Coming soon to Home of the Hits blog: More tales of rock 'n' roll and AM radio days from Jim LaBarbara's new book. He will be making appearances in Cleveland and Cincinnati to promote it.


 
ABOUT THE BOOK


Jim LaBarbara, the Music Professor:
A Life Amplified Through
Radio and Rock 'n' Roll

Author: Jim LaBarbara
PublisherLittle Miami Publishing, Milford, Ohio.
Price: $28
Pages: 400; hardbound
Photos and illustrations: 50-plus
Publication date: October 1, 2011
Additional information: www.littlemiamibooks.com 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ghosts of Nashville's Recording Studios, Part 2

By Randy McNutt



The ghosts of Nashville's recording studios grow in number, but not all ghosts are created equal. Some live on through their hits while others already are forgotten.
     So let's continue our tour around Music City, where we'll explore two famous studios founded by "Cowboy" Jack Clement, the Sun Records legend who in the 1970s became a financially successful  Nashville producer. He possibly founded more studios than any other independent of his era.
     His studios spawned new ones, creating some great music and training grounds for talented audio engineers who continue to practice their craft to this day.
     And now, follow me into music history--and into the . . .


Jack Clement Recording Studios, 1969-1980s

 




Jack Clement, the legendary writer-producer who worked at Sun Records in Memphis in the 1950s, opened his own studio in Nashville in late 1969, at 3102 Belmont Avenue, not far from the happenings of Music Row.
     In 1974, Larry Butler and partner Al Mifflin bought the studio, retaining the name. It was during the Butler-Mifflin years that the studio became known as a huge hit-making machine. During the first six months of 1979, for example, about 11 percent of the Top 100 country singles listed in the major trade magazines were recorded at Clement Recording. At the time, about 150 studios were operating in Nashville, so Clement had a significant share of the business. Also that year, nine singles recorded there during the first 10 months hit No. 1.
     Many of the studio's hits were made by various producers and companies, but Butler, a long-time musician, soon became one of Nashville's hottest producers of the period.
     (Meanwhile, the Cowboy continued to be busy. He opened five studios, although some of them were privately operated.)
     Back at 3102 Belmont, the big names of the 1970s were walking through the door: Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Don Williams, Andy Williams, Don McLean, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Carrie Lucas, who cut a disco hit called "Dance With You." Soon after Butler bought the studio, he brought Rogers in and produced a string of singles that included "The Gambler" and "The Coward of the County." Mac Davis came in to record "It's Hard to be Humble."
     Prior to Butler's arrival, hits had been plentiful at Clement. Ray Stevens recorded "Everything Is Beautiful," Gene Watson cut "Paper Rosie," and Donna Fargo did "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A."
     The Clement Studio A measured 35x45 feet, with a 22-foot ceiling; Studio B, 25x45 feet with a 16-foot ceiling. In 1979, the complex featured a a Studer A-80 with 16- and 24-track capability, plus a Studer A-80 and a Studer B-67, both two-track recorders. The mixing console was a Harrison 32-32. If you wanted to record there, you paid $125 per hour for 16-track time and $165 per hour for 24-track time.
     Through the 1980s, the studio continued to operate. Eventually, it evolved into Clement's Sound Emporium.
     But that's another story.



Jack's Tracks, 1974-, c. 2010


 


The studio as it appeared in 1999.
Below, Allen Reynolds at the board.
(Randy McNutt)


Jack's Tracks opened in the mid-1970s at 1308 16th Avenue South on Music Row. Originally, the building was a large brick house, built in the 1890s. As the Row expanded over the years, the house became commercial property. Jack Clement, a successful Nashville producer, operated a commercial art and photography studio there until he decided to turn the house into a studio.
     The building also housed his JMI Records, which opened in 1971. 
     Producer-songwriter Allen Reynolds remembers how Jack's Tracks came to be: "I had come up from Memphis to write for Jack," he said, "and a bunch of writers pestered him to open a demo studio."
     Clement agreed.
     Reynolds liked what he heard. In fact, he loved it. So he became Clement's partner in the studio. In 1976, Reynolds bought Clement's share, and he continued to operate the studio until his retirement in 2010.
     Immediately Reynolds began to turn out hit singles and albums by Don Williams, Kathy Mattea, Crystal Gayle, and Garth Brooks--all produced by Reynolds. In 1978, Ampex Corp.'s magnetic tape division gave its Golden Reel award to Reynolds; his engineer, Garth Fundis; and Gayle, for making We Must Believe in Magic. The project was mastered on Ampex tape.
     The last time I visited Jack's Tracks (it was always known by that name), I found no sign to identify the studio. When I knocked on the door, Reynolds answered and invited me in for a tour. The Memphis native showed me the recording console and we sat down and discussed the changing record business, songwriting, and producing. He said he learned his way around the studio by watching Clement, who learned his way by turning out hits for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis in the late 1950s. Reynolds said Phillips was also his early engineering hero. "When he [Phillips] stopped at Jack's Tracks years ago, he said he liked it better than Jack's other studios," Reynolds told me that day. "The place has a certain homey feel to it that I've grown to appreciate. I was going to sell it once, but then I decided to hang onto it. It's not open to the public anymore. It's my private workshop."
     In his place he recorded Gayle's hit "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," "Ready For the Times to Get Better," and "Talking In Your Sleep." Brooks cut his hit "The Dance" there.     
     In a front room, a bag of golf clubs sat in one corner. Recording awards and photos hung on the walls. The heavy wooden front door remained locked. Access to the control room was through the former parlor, where recording artists relaxed while listening to playbacks. "We didn't plan it that way. It just happened," Reynold said.
     The control room was on the small side--about twelve feet long. It led into the studio, which was also rather small by modern standards. Dark commercial carpeting covered the floor; brown soundproofing material covered the walls. Wooden folding chairs sat around for musicians. Special booths were used for drums and vocals. In this unassuming place, Reynolds created Garth Brooks' projects, including the album that sold 10 million copies. In the 1980s, Reynolds used a 24-track Sony recorder and a Quad Eight (installed in 1980) console to replace an older Quad Eight. Although the studio went digital in its final decade or so, Reynolds still enjoyed hearing sounds made on tape. "I feel it brings a warmth and richness to recording," he told me. "The board I use is old, but it's sweet."
     So was Jack's Tracks.




    
     These studios and many others are featured in Randy McNutt's Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated History of American Recording Studios of hte Twentieth Century, available through Amazon.com.






Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ghosts of Nashville's Recording Studios, Part 1

By Randy McNutt


If you’re searching for record business ghosts, Nashville is a good place to roam. Buildings that once bustled with recording studios, record company offices, and publishing companies are around nearly every corner. All you need to get started is an address and some background.

     On my “ghost” tours, everything is game. I am looking for hits and history. Old studios fascinate me most, however, and there have been plenty of them in Nashville since the 1950s. Over the last several decades a number of the more high-profile studios have closed, despite their notoriety, success, and popularity at the time of their closing. When I think of them, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss, for many of the older studios were great places to record. (Their hits speak for themselves. They are from the tape era's golden days.)

     Here are a few of the more interesting ghosts that I discovered in Nashville town:


Woodland Sound, 1968-2001

 
In 1968 audio engineer Glenn Snoddy opened Woodland Sound Studios at 1011 Woodland Street, which was not on Music Row. But that didn’t matter. Music Row people came to Woodland because its sound was so good. By 1971 Snoddy was using tape recorders with one, two, four, eight, and 16 tracks; a few years later he upgraded with two 24-track Studer recorders. By 2000 new owner Robert Solomon added to the complex two recording studios (with Neve consoles) and a mastering room. By then, he was still attracting big-name clients. I recall what the place was like long ago. I mixed a single there in 1975, and the echo sounded terrific. Immediately Woodland became one of my favorite studios. I recall seeing it again in 1998, two months after a vicious tornado had ripped through downtown Nashville. The building’s exterior had sustained some damage, but inside business went on as usual. Unfortunately, Solomon closed Woodland in 2001, after some issues with the building’s owner, but the studio’s legacy remains in its hits. A few of them include “Honey” by Bobby Goldboro; “Knock Three Times,” Billy “Crash” Craddock; “Tennessee Birdwalk,” Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan; and A-1-A, the Jimmy Buffett album that featured “A Pirate Looks At Forty.”
 
     Woodland Sound was a winner. I won’t forget it.


                                          1998: Woodland after the tornado.
                                                Note damage to the facade.


Fred Foster Sound, 1964-1969

 

Fred Foster Sound Studios, 315 Seventh Avenue North, operated from 1964 to 1969, when the building was torn down to make way for an insurance office. At the time, Foster was the owner of Monument Records, the independent label that operated out of Nashville. Foster Sound was based on the top floor of the Cumberland Building, more commonly known as the Masonic Lodge. Foster’s place is sometimes confused with his other studio, Monument Recording, which operated in the Music Row area in the 1970s, after Foster Sound had closed. Fred Foster acquired his first studio from entrepreneur Sam Phillips, who had bought it in 1961 from Billy Sherill and Bill Cooner. Sherill stayed on as engineer and Phillips renamed the place the Sam Phillips Recording Service of Nashville. (This is the same Sherill who would become a producer at Columbia Nashville.) Three years later, Phillips sold it because he couldn’t devote enough attention to it while operating Sun Records and his other business holdings. Foster knew the studio would be a good acquisition.  "It was one of the best studios in town,” he once told me. “It was flexible for doing custom work as well as our [Monument’s] own.” He hired Bill Porter as engineer and later Mort Thomason and young apprentice Brent Maher. The studio’s three-track Ampex recorder was top-of-the-line for the early 1960s. The many hits cut at Foster Sound/Phillips studio included “Single Girl” by Sandy Posey; “Right Or Wrong” and “One Kiss For Old Time’s Sake,” Ronnie Dove; “What’d I Say,” Jerry Lee Lewis; “Mohair Sam,” Charlie Rich; “Hey, Paula,” Paul and Paula; “Down At Papa Joe’s,” the Dixie Belles; “GTO,” Ronnie and the Daytonas; and “Yakety Sax,” Boots Randolph.
     Too bad that I couldn’t see the building, for Fred Foster Sound was a magical recording studio—a place where great sounds and long-lasting music flourished.
  

Young ’Un Sound, 1969-1988


Session guitarist Chip Young founded Young ’Un Sound Studio in the late 1960s as his personal studio in Mufreesboro, Tenn., and later, as business increased, as a second, conventional studio at 114 17th Avenue South in Nashville. Nowadays, Young ’Un is remembered mainly for the home studio, which Young operated in a small log cabin on his farm, about 30 miles east of Nashville. Starting with a new 16-track Ampex recorder, one of Nashville’s earliest, Young recorded many clients—Delbert McClinton and Kris Kristofferson were among the cabin’s visitors—who sought the studio’s clean sound as well as Young’s reputation as a fine musician. The cabin studio was small—about 15 by 20 feet, including the control room. The walls and ceiling were made of logs, and the wood floor was covered with carpet. To ease space constraints, Young added a screened porch on which he could place the string players. He once told writer Richard Buskin that crickets can be heard on Buffett’s Havanna Daydreamin’ because they were chirping so loudly when the album’s strings were recorded. Young’s chief engineer was Glenn Rievf, but Young engineered many of the sessions himself. One of them was Billy Swan’s “I Can Help,” a bluesy pop hit from 1974. Young co-produced it with Swan at the cabin studio, using Young’s custom-built tube console. Despite the hits and the interest in his studio, Young didn’t get rich from owning it. It took too much of his time and money, so he closed his business in 1988. The building on Music Row later became Masterlink Studios.
     
     Sadly, the sounds of Young ’Un are no more.

These studios and many others are featured in 
Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century, available through Amazon.com for $25.




Woodland rate card, 1978