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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vintage Recording Studios, Pt. 1


 
Vintage Recording Studios
Come Alive in
 
Still Too Hot to Handle
 
 
 
Sign at the historic Gennett Recording Studio
site, Richmond, Ind.



 
Owner Rusty York at console of early Jewel
Recording, Mt. Healthy, Ohio, near
Cincinnati, circa 1961.
 
 
 
 
 
Still Too Hot to Handle
More Historic Recording Studios of the 20th Century
 
 
 
 
This book is dedicated to my friend
and recording partner,
Bill Watkins

 
 
 
A Note from the Author 
 
 
This is the first electronic installment of my book Still Too Hot to Handle: More Historic Recording Studios of the 20th Century, released in 2006 in limited quantities. It is now out of print. The book was a follow-up to Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Historic Recording Studios of the 20th Century. I'll publish more excerpts from Still to Hot over the next few months, but not back-to-back. The book's purpose is to save information on forgotten and/or neglected recording studios. Note that some of the entries on studios lack much information. If you have anything to add, send it to me and I'll expand the entries. I wanted to save whatever information I could find--even if only the name of the studio and its city.

Randy McNutt
December 2012








We took the kids [Thomas Wayne and the DeLons] over to the old Royal Theater studio and recorded with two instruments—me on guitar and Bill Black on bass. We cut it in mono. The owners had recently installed a one-track Ampex tape recorder, which the engineer had to kick to start that day. The studio didn’t even have an echo chamber.
Scotty Moore on the recording of
“Tragedy” in Memphis, 1957.
 
 
We had only a monaural Concertone. It was trickery that pulled it off--pure recording trickery!
Frank Guida on the recording of
“Quarter Till Three” in Norfolk, 1963.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Acknowledgments

I owe a large debt to the people who have helped me with this book. They include Fred Masotti of Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada, for tracking down old documents, lists of studios, and the titles of songs. Fred is a tireless researcher and a good friend.
Another friend, videographer Barry Conrad of Glendale, California, helped me when I conducted research in Los Angeles. He became my driver when the traffic looked impossible to overcome. Barry’s patience helped make this a better book. (Once, while driving down a busy boulevard, I yelled, “Hey, stop! It’s the old ABC Records studio!” Barry wheeled across a couple of lanes, found a place to park, and allowed me to take my time and shoot photographs of the closed recording icon.)

Another friend who helped with his expertise was Gene Lawson (creator of the Lawson Microphone) of Nashville, the late producer Shad O’Shea of Cincinnati, and studio owner-musician Rusty York of Mt. Healthy, Ohio.
 
More friends and other people helped. They are too numerous to mention, but their kindness and generosity do not go unnoticed. I appreciate all that they have done to help with this research.

 
 
 
 


Introduction
The Ghosts of Recording
 
When I first wrote and published my book Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century in 2001, I had no idea that it would turn into a minor cult project that’s still in print. (See Amazon.com.) I’m still hearing from assorted gearheads, record collectors, engineers, studio owners, historians, and all manner of people who are interested in recording as well as in America’s classic hits.
 
The first question people ask is how long I worked on the book, assuming a year or two at the most. I explain that I had been saving related printed matter, information, and photographs for years, until one day I finally decided to put everything together into a book. (Well, almost everything.) The project required ten years of work, although I didn’t write full time for an entire decade. My work came in big spurts, and in the process Too Hot became a true labor of lust. How else can I describe it? I salivated over the idea of rediscovering old studios, meeting their former engineers, and uncovering little pieces of the recording past. Anecdotes became priceless nuggets to me. I began to see recording with a historian’s eye. The ghosts of recording past beckoned me to chronicle them and keep their memories alive. Soon my manuscript evolved into an appreciation for historic recording studios, their hits, vintage gear, house bands, affiliated publishing companies, and anything relevant about America’s houses of hits. In short, I celebrated the old sounds and the studios that made them.
 
The subject intrigued me for years and continues to take up my time. There is something fascinating about older recording studios. This is especially true in this era of high-tech recording and computers. So many advancements have been made that at times the old two-track recorders of the 1950s seem relics from a dark age. But don’t underestimate their effectiveness. They worked—well. Probably the younger readers won’t share my enthusiasm, for they didn’t live in a time when studios were special. I looked on them as magical places that created the music of my times. Back in the 1960s, in the days of flower power, miniskirts, and hippies, I used to wonder: What happens behind closed studio doors? How do the hits originate? What stories do the engineers tell? Surely, I once thought, these studios must be coated with stardust or some other magical ingredients that enable mere buildings to capture the fleeting sounds of such indigenous and pleasing music. How else, I asked, could so many popular sounds emerge on vinyl? Then I started traveling to these funky studios. I had high expectations. To my surprise, the studios were usually nondescript and unassuming. In fact, unassuming is an understatement. Studios ranged from ramshackle locations in New Orleans, Sheffield, Alabama, Memphis, and other out-of-the-way music places, to sterile locations tucked tightly into concrete corners in New York. But I didn’t care if the owners had to stuff Tampons into the ceiling to stop the rain from leaking inside (this actually happened at the first Muscle Shoals Sound Studios). I didn’t mind if the rooms were hotter than a Mississippi griddle. They were all special studios that created the hits—clear, clean, smooth sounds that have lasted for decades. The proof is in the product.
 
In those times, recording technology hadn’t developed to the point that studios—good studios—could be found in basements on about any block in the country, and, for that matter, in any conceivable place. If you wanted a professional sound (or close to it) from roughly 1930 to 1980, you usually had to pay good money to rent a studio and hire an engineer to do the sound work. When I booked my first session at Jewel Recording Studios in suburban Cincinnati in 1969, I was amazed at what I believed to be the high cost—from $55 to $75 an hour! Now, $75 an hour was a lot of money to me back then. But somehow I pulled it together and cut my record (“Mr. Bus Driver” by Wayne Perry) on a $500 budget. I stepped into the magical room and fulfilled a dream. I was an independent producer. (See Amazon.com or CD Baby for my album Souled Out: Queen City Soulers of the 1970s.)
 
Over several years, I wrote Too Hot to Handle simultaneously with Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock ’n’ Roll. It was a logical extension, for the second book took me across the country to search for the nation’s early music centers, including Memphis, Cincinnati, Norfolk, New Orleans, and other cities. Naturally, I focused on the regional studios as well as the larger ones in the major music centers—studios such as Gold Star in Los Angeles, Universal in Chicago, and Bell Sound in New York. Regardless of its sales potential, a book about recording history was something I felt compelled to write.
 
Over the years, I continued to travel to older studios and former sites, seeking out vintage gear to photograph, collecting photographs and advertisements, and interviewing retired employees and owners. I couldn’t get enough of the hit-making rooms. The problem was, I couldn’t cram everything into one book. In time, I had to finally force myself to stop writing. Unfortunately, to reduce paper costs I had to eliminate about thirty photographs and quite a few smaller studios from the listings section that made up most of Too Hot. (But being a pack rat, I saved everything.)
 
Now comes my latest compulsion: Still Too Hot to Handle: More Historic American Recording Studios and the Hits of the 20th Century. I see it as an extension of the first book. I placed the discarded information and photographs in Still Too Hot, and then I started adding more—and more. Again, I didn’t know when to stop. I shot many of the pictures during my thirty years (on and off) in the music industry, when I traveled to New York, Nashville, Cincinnati, Memphis, and other cities to make records and interview musicians for stories. (I only wish I had taken my camera along on sessions at Allegro Sound Studios, just before the place closed, and at Woodland Sound in Nashville the next year.)
 
For those who are unfamiliar with studio development, here is a brief history that’s necessary to put this story into context. The recording studio began with the earliest of recordings. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, recording rooms were nothing more than offices where singers sang and musicians blew into metal acoustic recording horns. Technology changed in 1925, when electric recording—with microphones, no less—revolutionized sound and the industry. Soon, recording engineers were experimenting with sound-deadening curtains and walls. When Ampex introduced its early tape recording machines in the 1940s, the industry further changed. More independent studios—including the King Records studio in Cincinnati and Cosimo Matassa’s J & M Recording in New Orleans—started cutting hits in country and rhythm and blues. The larger cities, of course, had their established studios in which commercials and recordings were made. As advancements were made in tape machines, more studios spread across the country and more tracks—two, three, four, eight, sixteen, twenty-four—were added.
 
Probably the American recording studio peaked in prestige and importance in the mid-1970s, before home recording and affordable equipment overtook the business. Today, it is difficult to tell the difference between a home studio and a professional one (or, for that matter, from one recording to another. So many sounds are homogeneous. So many are electronic.) Many of the older studios have gone out of business and their studio players have gone home to wash their cars and wait for session calls that come all too infrequently. Their clients no longer need them. The industry has changed drastically. It is a major loss for music.
 
In this book (unlike like the first one), I concentrate primarily on preserving the visual—photographs, advertisements, rate cards, and handbills—to help commemorate our nation’s vintage studios. Like the first book, I offer studios from the golden days of tape recording—the 1950s through the 1970s. This time, however, I devote even more space to the studios on Main Street, U.S.A., instead of the more recognizable names in Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, and New York. Studios in the mega cities are fine, but they have been written about before. I prefer to search for lesser-known studios in the major music centers and for the smaller studios that made a contribution—no matter how small—in communities that weren’t necessarily known for recording. (I love the name of this one: Laboratory of Jax, a studio that operated in the mid-1960s at 1104 South Edgewood Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida.)
 
I wanted to find the ghosts of recording history. They’re all over the country, even in my musically inclined hometown—the city of Hamilton, population about 60,000 people, in southwest Ohio. In the early 1970s, I watched eagerly as broke rock and soul bands sniffed out hole-in-the-wall studios operated by guys who had little more than a few hundred dollars and a dream—to cut a hit record. I recorded in one such place, a small building on a side street, a place called Studio B, once owned by the country musician and former rockabilly Rusty “Sugaree” York. In 1974, when my producer friends and I couldn’t afford to record a soul single (“Right or Wrong” by Westbound Freeway) in Cincinnati, we settled for Hamilton’s smaller eight-track studio with nothing more than a public-address console. In a drama of total overcompensation, we ended up traveling by van to New York City to mix the tape at Allegro Sound Studios. (Ironically, we were paired with a staff engineer who hailed from Cleveland.) Our cheap record, which we cut for $150, came out on Fraternity Records in Cincinnati later the next year, and died immediately. It remained as dormant as a cicada egg for thirty years, until it inexplicably hatched on an online auction house for forty dollars. Suddenly a collector called me and said, “Hey, man, do you have any copies of that record?” Of course I do! A pack rat never throws anything away.
 
As you can see, the subject of America’s smaller recording sites comes to me naturally. Because I once made records in Ohio, where a number of 1960s and 1970s rock hits were born, I’m interested in learning more about the studios and music of middle America—as well as the studios of other forgotten places. For example, everyone who’s interested in old studios has heard of Cleveland Recording, where Grand Funk Railroad cut their early albums with Terry Knight in downtown Cleveland. (See Too Hot to Handle.) In those days, the city was a busy regional rock capital that had just turned national. Cleveland Recording was at the center of the action. But how many people have heard of Cleveland’s Kelmar Studios, at 1054 E. 71st Street? In rock’s heyday of 1966 (when The Outsiders were cutting “Time Won’t Let Me” and other hit singles over at Cleveland Recording), the unheralded Kelmar was operating as a “competitor” of Cleveland Recording—well, sort. Or how about a few other studios in the city then—Way-Out Studios (now there’s another great name for a Sixties studio), 1850 E. 55th Street; Szappanos, 3046 E. 123rd Street; Boddie, 12202 Union Avenue; and even WBKR Radio, at 1169 Sylvania Road.
 
Such obscure but interesting places convinced me to list some studios by name only if necessary, sometimes with a little background. My thinking is: better to publish the name and address of an old studio than to arbitrarily exclude it. I prefer to list them than to lose their names and addresses to time. Who knows? Perhaps the information will be useful to future researchers. Maybe you will be able to learn more about a studio in your hometown. Besides, I still get a kick out of listing a studio with an odd or catchy or emphatically regional name, such as Cavern Sound, founded in 1965 in Independence, Missouri, and Red Flame Recording Studios, founded in 1960 in that state. Other names I like but know little about include La Louisianne, founded in 1954 at 711 Stevenson Street in Lafayette, Louisiana, and still doing business in the early 1970s; Mo Do, a studio founded in 1967 (no doubt the brother of MoJo; what better name for a Sixties studio?) at 50 Orange Street in Buffalo, and owned by William Nunn; and Ultra-Sonic Recording Studios, founded in 1963 at 100 N. Franklin Street in Hempstead, New York. There is something special about the name Ultra-Sonic—something right out of 1963 and the space program of that era.
 
As I collected each name, I became more fascinated by the studios. What were they like? What equipment did they use? Often, I didn’t know a thing about them. So why bother with using only a name and address, you ask? Well, mainly for the sake of history and respect. We’re talking about a different world in those days. Remember that these early studios had little if any high-tech equipment. Most of the ones before 1965 operated with fewer than four tracks. Yet the recordings from those days are clear and true. It is a tribute to the professionalism of the engineers and the “low-tech” equipment of the era. (The way I see it, America sent a man to the moon in 1969, so we had to be doing something right without using high-tech equipment.)
 
In a few cases, I have listed studios that I mentioned in my first book. This is not for repetition’s sake. I did so judiciously, only after obtaining some pertinent additional details, such as addresses or equipment. The information will be valuable to readers who live in small cities and towns across the country.
 
Regardless of the importance (or unimportance) or each studio, they were often popular gathering places for musicians, songwriters, and record people who made the most of only a few tracks. I remember interviewing the songwriter-producer Dan Penn, who owned Beautiful Sounds in Memphis in the early 1970s. Dan said one of his all-time favorite recorders was a three-track Ampex on which he worked at American Sound Studios. This Memphis studio turned out dozens of national hits, including “Kentucky Rain” by Elvis Presley. When American operated with three tracks, Penn produced The Box Tops’ “The Letter” and other national hits. He believes the machine is one of the greatest tape recorders ever made, and a pleasure to use. With such fond memories from a man who has more recently recorded on the complex multi-track machines at Beautiful Sounds and other studios, the Ampex three-tracker must have been quite a recorder.
 
And finally, that brings us to the subject of this book—recordings of the past and the recorders on which they were made. We salute them all—one, two, three, four, eight, sixteen, twenty-four tracks. We salute the real echo chambers and the rigged-up slap-back machines of Sam Phillips and Sun Records. We salute our vintage recording heritage. Long may it live!
 

Randy McNutt, July 2005







PALACES of SOUND
 More American Custom Recording Studios, 1920-1999

Front cover for Still Too Hot



A 

 
ABLE TURNTABLE AND TAPE, 6912 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. What a name. Able Turntable, which sounds more like a phonograph repair shop than a recording studio, opened in 1968 with owners Ted Gardner an Mike Dutton running it. Gardner served as chief engineer--very ably, I assume. If you have more information about Able, you might want to share it.

AIR-TONE SOUND & RECORDING CO., 2330 Market Street, Philadelphia. One of Philly's older studios, Air-Tone was founded in 1944. By 1970 it was owned by Eugene Hessel and managed by Peter Kiefer. The studio engineer was Al Witherup. By then, Air-Tone competed with Impact Sound (1965), Nine Nineteen Studio (1967), and Nise Productions (1968). The era's more celebrated Philly studios, of course, included Sigma Sound (founded in 1968 by engineer Joseph D. Tarsia) and Virtue Recording (founded in 1959 by guitarist Frank Virtue.)

ARTISIAN SOUND RECORDERS, Hollywood. Parts of DeBarge's All This Love were cut in this Los Angeles area studio in 1983 by Motown.

ARTISTS' RECORDING CO., 320 Mill Street, Cincinnati. As a typical smaller-market studio, Artist attracted Cincinnati's lower-budget country crowd as well as a large gospel contingent. It operated in an old brick church in the city of Lockland, a former canal town just of Cincinnati, off Interstate 75. The studio opened in 1951, and over the years operated quietly in a region that developed studios such as King Records Custom Recording Service and Jewel Recording in suburban Mt. Healthy. By the early 1970s, however, Arists had started gaining momemtum in local country music. President Homer L. Milam also operated a busy record-pressing shop in the back of the studio. In the late '70s, Artists' hired engineer-fiddle player Rollin Bennett Jr. from Jewel. He recorded on the studio's new 16-track Ampex recorder. Bennett, an accomplished musician, attracted a number of national clients, including Judy Lynn. He produced a Billboard-charted single for her at the studio. Bennett quit to move to Louisville, and was killed in a highway accident in 1990. Artists' closed in the early 1990s.

AUDIOFAX STUDIO, 821 19th Avenue South, Nashville. A demo and master studio that oeprated in the early- to mid- 1960s.


 
B
 


B&B RECORDING STUDIOS, 1515 West Century Boulevard, Los Angeles. A complete monaural recording facility--for both tape and disc--that served southwest L.A. in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

BEAVERWOOD SOUND RECORDING STUDIO, 133 Walton Ferry Road, Hendersonville, Tenn. Yet another independent studio used for demos and masters in the early 1970s. Eight tracks, Ampex.

BELT SOUND STUDIO, 979 E. Broadway, Muskegon, Mich. Another regional studio, Belt opened in 1968 and by 190 was owned by John Mihelich (studio manager), Don Hermanson (chief engineer), and John Mitchell. Belt was a division of the Port City Recording Company.

THE BOARD ROOM RECORDING STUDIO, 1616 16th Avenue South, Nashville. In 1994, the Board Room offered clients an Otari MX-80 24-track analog recorder, a Sony PCM, and a Tascam 234 four-track recorder. The studio, owned by Laron Pendergrass, brought in clients such as Sony  Tree, Epic Records, MCA Records, Sugar Hill Records, and Almo Irving Music. The studio specializzed in album overdubbing and high-quality demo recording.

BOLES STUDIO, Seattle, Washington. In 1960, Joe Boles owned a professional recording studio in a basement. The Ventures went there to record the original version of "Walk--Don't Run" on am Ampex two-track recorder. Boles engineerd the session.

BOULEVARD RECORDING STUDIOS, Chicago. Used by Cobra Records artists and other firms, Boulevard was one of the Windy City's busier studios for independent rock labels in the 1960s and early 1970s.

BOUTWELL RECORDING STUDIOS, 1929 Chaba Road, Birmingham, Ala. Opened in 1961, Boutwell and studio manager-engineer Ed Boutwell offered the latest in recording equipment to the Deep South. Later, he was competing with the New London Recording Center, which opened in 1969, and United Recoding and Productions, which opened in 1968.

BRITTANIA RECORDING, Los Angeles. Hail Brittania! In 1981, Merle Haggard came here to cut his Big Sky Country album for Columbia. The studio was used for a number of rock sessions throughout the decade.

BURNS STATION SOUND, Route 1, College Burns, Tenn. In 1987, this out-of-the-way studio featured as its chief engineer the accomplished Gene Eichelberger. Howard Toole was the second engineer and G.D. Stinson was the manager. Equipment included a MCI console, Otari 24-trck recorder, an Amplex two-track, and digital reverb.

Note: More studios coming in the second installment of Still Too Hot to Handle.


Back Cover for Still Too Hot
 
 
 
 
 Golden World, Detroit. Mid-1960s.
 
 
 
 
Randy McNutt at the console, Studio B,
Hamilton, Ohio, 1974. He was mixing a recording
for Fraternity Records of Cincinnati.
 
 
 
 
 Columbia Studios, Nashville, early 1960s.
 
 






 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Remembering Joe South


Joe South: In Memoriam

 
 
 

In the summer of 1965, Joe South emerged as a producer-writer with Billy Joe Royal's top ten single "Down In The Boondocks." Royal had been singing in Cincinnati, and I knew of him and wanted his new record. I noticed the songwriter's credit: Joe South. Over the next couple of years, Royal recorded more of South's soulful material: "I Knew You When," "I've Got To Be Somebody," "Heart's Desire," "Hush," and others. Soon, I bought Royal's album and I learned more about South, who also produced the recording and wrote many of its songs. What struck me about South was his originality. He didn't necessary try to write in a commercial vein. He did it naturally, with songs that reflected everyday life. In short, he was not a gimmick songwriter. He was simply a writer who captured people's emotions and feelings. His songs were so universal that they could be interpreted in any genre.

The public responded to his material. In 1968, the English rock band Deep Purple took "Hush" to the top of the pop charts, and, two years later, country singer Lynn Anderson did the same with South's "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden." Originally, Royal had recorded both songs. By then, everyone knew Joe South for his own hit record--"Games People Play," which hit big in late 1968 and early 1969.

After several more hit singles, South suddenly disappeared from the public view.

Now I learn that Joe South died of a heart attack at his home in Buford, Georgia, on September 5, 2012, at his home near Atlanta. The news saddens me, for South was another seminal voice of the regional music system. "He was one of the greatest songwriters of all time," observed Butch Lowery, president of the Lowery Group, South's long-time music publisher. Speaking to the Associated Press, Lowery added: "His songs have touched so many lives. He's such a wonderful guy and loved by many."

Many people, including me, loved his music and respected his musicianship. He was a good singer, to be sure, but what I will remember most about South was his ability to play guitar and write songs that touched the heart. This is what writers and performers could do in America's regional music centers, those cities that developed their own individual recording industries. Atlanta was one of them. These cities had their own studios, labels, publishers, writers, producers, performers, musicians--everything necessary to launch regional and national hits. Like Memphis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and other towns, Atlanta had its own musical infrastructure, including Bill Lowery's musical empire--a management company, song publishing firm, production company, and more. Lowery started the careers of good writers and singers such as Royal, Buddy Buie, Freddy Weller, Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed, Dennis Yost and the Classics IV, the Tams, and others. Joe South was another performer from the Lowery stable.

After writing "Boondocks" and another favorite of mine, "I Knew You When," South became popular in pop and country music. His songs transcended strict musical styles. He also played on sessions for Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Eddy Arnold, and Simon and Garfunkel. His "Games People Play," recorded in Atlanta, came from his album Introspect. I bought it, loved it, and admired its production. For it he won two Grammys, as Best Contemporary Song and the Song of the Year.

South recorded "Games" in a small, eight-track studio named Kin-Tel, over on Atlanta's Spring Street. He did so because the Lowery company's studio, Master Sound, was booked on the day he planned to record. Prior to South's arrrival, the studio was known mainly for making jingles. Owners Ron Kinder, a jingles producer since the 1950s, and partner Cecil Heftel, a radio station owner, didn't make many records in their studio. After "Games" hit, however, they started cutting musical acts independently.

South came back with more good singles, including "Walk A Mile In My Shoes," "Don't It Make You Wanta Go Home," and "Birds Of A Feather."

Early Years

In an interview with me years ago, Royal recalled teaming with South in their early years of performing in Georgia. South recorded several singles then, in the early 1960s, but they failed to attract a national audience. Eventually, South became a studio musician and later the producer of Royal's "Boondocks." Royal said he didn't particularly like the song, but he recorded it because South wanted him too. The record overcame a flood of recordings by British Invasion groups, and started Royal's long recording career in pop and country music.


 

I remember Royal's Boondocks album with its back-cover photos of South and his musician brother, Tommy South. (Their real last name was Souter.) Tommy committed suicide in 1971, the Associated Press reported, and Joe moved to Maui for a time and retired from the music industry. Later, he resumed his career in the studio, with his last album being Classic Masters in 2002.

No doubt Joe South will be considered one of the greatest writer-singers ever to emerge from a regional music center. His music didn't come from New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville, although he worked in Nashville often and recorded there as a musician. His career will always be associated with Atlanta and Lowery's publishing company, and his music will be remembered for as long as people aspire to write good songs.


In the Beginning

In  1958, Joe South began his hit recording career on Atlanta's independent NRC Records with a novelty named "The Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor," a take-off on two No. 1 hits, Sheb Wooley's "The Purple People Eater" and David Seville's "The Witch Doctor." The record hit No. 47. South's last charted single was "Fool Me," on Capitol Records in 1971. It reached No. 78. By that time, the regional sound was still going, but South's career and life had taken a different turn.

 
 



Left to right: Joe South, Tommy South, Freddy Weller, 
Emory Gordy, Jr., Ricky Knight, and, sitting, Billy Joe Royal.
From Royal's first Columbia Records album, 1965.
 

 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Forgotten 'Stars' of King Records


They Also Recorded for King Records





Most people who enjoy old music remember James Brown and the Famous Flames, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and other hit acts who recorded for King Records. But even the most dedicated music fans probably don't remember King's failed eforts to make stars out of organist Ann Leaf, country songwriter Pop Eckler, singer-guitarist Rusty York, and other performers who came to the studio at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati's Evanston neighborhood.

King, established in 1943, became one of country music's biggest independents in the 1940s. The label also launched many rhythm and blues stars about the same time. Through the company's history, it took chances on many unknown or faded performers, hoping to score on the sales of a single or an album. Sometimes the strategy worked. King did revive the careers of some former stars, including bandleader Tiny Bradshaw and, to a lesser degree, singer-pianist Amos Milton.


Ann Leaf


Many of King's forgotten "stars" came during the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the label created a pop division and signed some established acts such as April Stevens, Elliot Lawrence, and Johnny Long as well as some unknown young singers, including Steve Lawrence. But the pop division failed horribly, and King lost a lot of money. Many of the sessions featured string sections recorded at New York studios. One of the new vocalists was Al Grant, who recorded for King with Dewey Bergman's orchestra. King released five failed singles for Grant, who signed with the company in 1949. Bergman, the pop division's executive, believed in Grant, but he finally left the label to recorded for Columbia as Guy Mitchell. His "Singing the Blues" on Columbia would become a No. 1 record Mitchell, who was born Al Cernik in Detroit.


Steve Lawrence

Mac Curtis, King rockabilly

 

From the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, King signed a number of rockabilly and country singers, including the rocking Orangie Ray Hubbard, Ray Pennington, Swanee Caldwell, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Trini Lopez, Lattie Moore, Rusty York, Charlie Ryan, Mac Curtis, and Charlie Feathers. Some of them left King and found success elsewhere.




Rusty York covered "Peggy Sue."



York opened Jewel Recording in
suburban Cincinnati.


When King Records closed its Cincinnati office in 1971, a wealth of music history stopped flowing from the pressing plant and studio on Brewster Avenue. Much of it is now forgotten.


 

Romy Gosz,
Polka King


 
For more information on King Records, read Randy McNutt's "King Records of Cincinnati" and "Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated History of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century," both available through Amazon.com. The latter explores forgotten and iconic recording studios across the United States.







Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cincy Soul-Rockers of the '70s



Now available from the Fraternity Music Group.


Souled Out: Queen City Soul-Rockers of the 1970s
Compiled by Randy McNutt
17 Tracks
$12.99
Counterpart C-116



Wayne Perry's first single, which was actually recorded
at Jewel Recording in Mt. Healthy, Ohio, near Cincinnati.



New Album Showcases Vintage

Cincinnati Soul-Rockers



The Fraternity Records Group of New York announces the release of "Souled Out: Queen City Soul-Rockers of the 1970s," an anthology of Cincinnati recordings made for several labels at local recording studios in the 1970s. It is available through Amazon.com, CD Baby, and other Internet sites as well as from record stores. For information, write to  info@fraternitymusicgroup.com.

From the early 1960s until about 1975, soul-rock bands were a big part of the Cincinnati music scene. Independent producer Randy McNutt chose the material from his audio archives, which include songs by the Young Breed, the Chamberly Kids, Little Flint, Rick “Bam” Powell, and the hit songwriter Wayne Perry. Perry became one of the nation’s most successful songwriters in Nashville in the 1990s, writing hits for the Back Street Boys, Lorrie Morgan, Tim McGraw, and many other acts.

“The album shows the progression of local soul-rock through the decade,” McNutt said. “As the years passed, the bands adapted to other styles, including disco and a jazzy-rock-pop sound. By the early ’80s, the groups were rarely found in local clubs.”

This compilation features sides originally released on Cincinnati’s Fraternity, Counterpart, and Beast labels, as well as some previously unreleased tracks. Recording mainly in Cincinnati, the Perry-McNutt production company first recorded Perry, then the blue-eyed soul singer for the Young Breed, and then expanded to record other artists.

“I wanted to present the original mixes,” McNutt said. “They came from various local recording studios—Jewel, Counterpart, Studio B in Hamilton, Ohio, and the Forum in northern Kentucky. Most of the old studios are gone now. You’re lucky to find anyone with a multi-track tape machine these days.”

The CD is released on the Counterpart label, an important Cincinnati label in the 1960s and early 1970s. The name is now owned by Undercover Brother Productions of New York. Company president Victor Piagneri suggested releasing the CD on Counterpart because of its historical connection to the music. 

The CD’s 17 tracks include contributions by top Cincinnati musicians of the period, including singer-drummer Powell, bassist Roger “Jellyroll” Troy, pianist Denzil “Dumpy” Rice, B-3 organist Wayne Bullock (a former Lonnie Mack musician), guitarists Rusty York and Gary Boston, fiddle player Rollin Bennett Jr., saxophonists Les Asch, Craig Shenefelt, and Terry Burnside, and drummers Jerry Love and Gene Lawson, among many.

“These talented musicians and many others played on hundreds of recordings made in Cincinnati in the ’70s,” McNutt said. “I wanted to save some of the old tapes and make the songs available to music lovers again.”




Wayne Perry (left) and Randy McNutt in this
Avco-Embassy publicity photo, 1970.

 

The Souled Out Story

Four nights a week Wayne Perry wailed at the Half-Way Inn near Hamilton, Ohio, with a white soul band called the Young Breed, and by day he strolled the corridors of the Mosler Safe Co., picking up paperwork while singing to himself and exclaiming “Hey, all right!”
           By default, I became his producer, confidante, songwriting coach, publisher, traveling partner, and sort-of-manager. At my urging, we soon joined the overcrowded ranks of America’s independent record producers, forming our own PM Productions—complete with a crescent moon logo. On our lunch hour, we held “staff meetings” over burgers and malts at Hyde’s Drive-In restaurant, not far from the factory. To me, we led the most exciting lives of anyone at the old Mosler Safe Co.
We went after white soul. In those days, many nightclubs in Greater Cincinnati were dancing spots. Horn bands flourished, but horns weren’t always necessary. Soul was. A few of the more popular white soul-rock bands were the Dapps, Beau Dollar & the Coins, Lonnie Mack and the Memphis Men, and the Young Breed. They all drew large and dependable crowds, despite the rise of what some musicians called “hippie rock.” Mack’s 1963 hit instrumentals “Memphis” and “Wham!” had started a local fascination with blues-rock—a combination of the blues, rock ’n’ roll, and a dash of country. By 1970, however, Ohio’s raucous roadhouse sound had tilted more toward rock and soul.
In Cincinnati, the best places to record such music were the iconic King Recording Studio on Brewster Avenue in Evanston (where James Brown often recorded), and guitarist Rusty York’s newer Jewel Recording on Kinney Avenue in Mt. Healthy. They were mono paradises with a lot of bottom in their sounds. When King abruptly closed in 1971, Jewel became the main venue for blue-eyed soul. Mack operated out of there. Even the Heywoods recorded there. They had horns then, long before “Billy Don’t Be A Hero.”
          At 3 a.m. on a frigid January night in 1970, we finally cut the rhythm track for our first single, “Mr. Bus Driver,” on Jewel’s new 8-track Ampex recorder. We needed a B-side—fast and cheap. In desperation, we wrote our first original song, a strange mix of soul and bubblegum, in my boss’s factory office. We didn’t even have a guitar handy. Workers drifted past, watching as we gyrated and sang in the tiny windowed office. They must have thought we were lunatics. We soon returned to Jewel to record our newly written oddity, “Gimme the Green Light,” on Rusty’s older 4-track Ampex. (He charged less to use it because it was paid off.)
         Six months later, with help from music veterans Harry Carlson and Herman Griffin, we received six offers for our master. Each of us working independently, we inadvertently placed the tape with three different companies—Fraternity Records in Cincinnati, Certron Records in Nashville (I was impressed; it was Clint Eastwood’s label), and with New York’s Avco-Embassy Records. Because Avco offered the largest advance, we decided to sign with it. After some delays, the company shelved the record and decided to go “all black,” as Avco’s executives described their move.
Undaunted, we continued to discover new soul-rock bands that seemed to pop up in every other roadhouse. Wayne often joined them in the studio for additional vocal punch. One of our discoveries, the Chamberly Kids of Lebanon, Ohio, played at the Half-Way Inn, a jumping roadhouse on State Route 4 between Hamilton and Middletown, north of Cincinnati. Their talented drummer, a high school senior named Rick Powell, sang with a pure rock voice. Wayne joined him on harmonies and Roger “Jellyroll” Troy, leader of the band Jellyroll, played bass. During the memorable session at Jewel, Jellyroll’s car was repossessed and he wore red, white, and blue shoes.
We continued mixing and matching musicians to create our own bands. We spent our entire $2,000 in “up-front money” to record two more singles at Jewel. By necessity, I selected the material and Wayne picked the musicians—some of Cincinnati’s finest blues-rockers. All the while, I pressed him to write his own songs. He learned fast. When he liked one, which was often, he’d call me and sing it over the telephone. I’d make suggestions on the spot—lengthen the chorus, or change the title or a word or a phrase. Meanwhile, our fledgling production company limped along, recording Rick Powell and other acts on a new 16-track recorder at Shad O’Shea’s Counterpart Creative Studio. A few years later, we graduated to 24 tracks and to other studios.
         The tracks on this album represent only a part of the work that Wayne Perry and I did in the 1970s. We recorded together well into the late 1980s, trying gospel, country, pop, and rock for Wayne and other acts in Nashville and Cincinnati. As a talented singer, writer, and producer, he was heavily involved in every facet of the process. The work gave him invaluable experience, which he later took to Music City when he pursued a songwriting career and wrote hits for the Back Street Boys, Lorrie Morgan, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Joe Diffie, Holly Dunn, and other stars.
         While preparing these old tracks, I decided to restore credit to the original bands—the way Wayne and I intended it to be. (Sometimes we had to change the names for more practical reasons of the day.) Thus, the Young Breed now performs a version of “Mr. Bus Driver,” and Little Flint does its own version of “Gonna Have A Good Time.”
         I’ve also included one black soul recording, “Right Or Wrong” by the Westbound Freeway, a R&B group we found in a Cincinnati TV studio while they were rehearsing for a local soul program. Wayne’s original demo is also featured here for comparison. The Freeway’s record, recorded on an 8-track Ampex, demonstrates the inevitable merger of white and black soul in Cincinnati in the mid-1970s.
         In 1977, our friend Herman Griffin, lead vocalist and co-producer of the hit R&B group the Boys in the Band, asked us to help him assemble an album that would return the group to vinyl. He wanted to blend white and black sounds—a soul-rock sound. Wayne became one of his studio singers. Unfortunately, a recession hindered Herman from getting a deal and making a comeback.
         By then, the influence and popularity of white soul-rockers had diminished around Cincinnati due to all-pervasive disco, which dominated radio and our culture. Instead of offering the usual blue-eyed soul bands with horns, local clubs hung disco globes and hired club disc jockeys.
         Looking back on those times, I realize now that Cincinnati’s soul-rock era—roughly 1963 to 1975—was a special time. Its songs have survived disco, rap, and this negligent producer’s steamy attic, where decades ago he stashed old recording tapes in two large plastic garbage bags. Recently rediscovered, they are now unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.
         If I close my eyes, I can almost hear a deep-voiced MC as he stands on stage: “Ladies and gentlemen, introducing . . . the Young Breed . . . Rick Powell and the Chamberly Kids    . . . and, for your rocking pleasure, Mr. Wayne Perry!”
         Hey, all right! Yeah!
—Randy McNutt


McNutt (left) and Perry at Jewel Recording Studio.


Musician Credits
Thanks to these sidemen (and to the others who are forgotten): Roger “Jellyroll” Troy, bass, Rick “Bam” Powell, drums, and Gene Lawson, piano, on “Good Time”; Rusty York, dobro, Wayne Bullock, B-3 organ, Bill Jones, bass, and Les Asch and Craig Shenefelt, saxes, on “Bus Driver”; Terry Burnside and Les Asch, sax, on “Pain”; Gary Boston, guitar, Jerry Love, drums, and Roger Troy, bass, on “Pain”; Terry Hoskins, B-3 organ, on “Pain,” “Good Time,” and “Green Light”; Dave Fields, sax, and Mike Hodges, electric piano, on both versions of “Right Or Wrong”; Dave Fields, sax solo on “Take A Chance”; Dan Moonitz, trumpet and horn arrangements, on the master version of “Get ’Em Hot”; Denzil “Dumpy” Rice, piano, and Junior Bennett, violin and arrangements, on “Waiting For You”; and Gary Griffin, keyboards, on “Take A Chance.” Finally, thanks to the Jordan-Parker Revue for singing backup on the “Bus Driver” single, and to the revived Charmaines for their sultry sounds on the “Get ’Em Hot” master.


Select Veteran Cincinnati Sidemen Contributed to Souled Out




Denzil “Dumpy” Rice: This Hamilton, Ohio, resident played piano on hundreds of Cincinnati recording sessions from the 1960s through the 1980s; performed in local clubs as a vocalist and pianist; twice played with “Memphis” man Lonnie Mack; co-wrote “There’s a Honky-Tonk Angel (Who’ll Take Me Back In)” with former Cincinnati blues-rock musician Troy Seals, who wrote dozens of big hits. The song was a hit for Elvis Presley and Conway Twitty. Rice moved easily from country to rockabilly to blue-eyed soul, and his sound featured elements of all three styles.


Wayne Bullock: Lockland native Bullock is known for his performances on the Hammond B-3 organ, but he made his professional music mark on bass for Lonnie Mack in the early 1960s. Later, Bullock took up the B-3 and performed for one of Greater Cincinnati’s more popular soul-rock groups, the Young Breed. He provided a soulful sound for other blue-eyed soul bands into the early 1980s.

Roger “Jellyroll” Troy: Cincinnati’s own Troy recorded for Kapp and RCA in the 1970s and 1980s, fronting his own band, Jellyroll, produced by the producer of Three Dog Night. In addition to his fine bass playing, Troy was also a soulful singer who reportedly was turned down by Blood, Sweat and Tears when he sought to replace lead vocalist David Clayton Thomas. The reason? He sounded too much like the well-known singer.


Rusty York: York is known as one of the finest bluegrass musicians in the country. His studio, Jewel Recording in suburban Mt. Healthy, Ohio, hosted some of the top blue-eyed soul bands of the 1970s, including Lonnie Mack’s. York played on several of Mack’s recordings. A gifted string man, York played everything from soul-rock to bluegrass to country. He sang his only nationally charted record, the rockabilly “Sugaree” on Chess Records in the late 1950s.


Gene Lawson: The creator of the Lawson microphone in Nashville provided the beat for one of soul-rock’s greatest hits, “Memphis” by Lonnie Mack in 1963. A native of Reading, Ohio, Lawson moved into studio engineering early on in his career, working at Jewel and Counterpart studios in Cincinnati before moving to Nashville. He played soul-rock as well as country.



Herman Griffin: Vocalist-producer Griffin was Motown Records’ first artist in the late 1950s. He later became an independent producer, working out of Cincinnati in the early 1970s. His R&B chart group, the Boys in the Band, changed its focus in the late 1970s, as Griffin sought to change its image to soul-rock. Griffin was once married to Mary Wells, the “My Guy” singer who toured England with the Beatles under the direction of Griffin.


Rick “Bam” Powell: A Lebanon, Ohio, native, Powell formed the Chamberly Kids in high school around 1970. He soon began recording in his home. He would go on to play with a number of important Cincinnati bands, including the Blue Birds. He is a singer and drummer.


Rollin “Junior” Bennett: A country player by trade, Cincinnati’s Bennett toured with George Jones and other country stars. But he could play any kind of popular music, which provided him countless recording sessions as a sideman, recording engineer, and arranger. On Souled Out, he played string parts and arranged. Bennett was also a songwriter, composing the hit “Too Big A Price To Pay” for Kenny Price of Hee-Haw.





Rick Powell, 1974, recording at home.
(Photo by Randy McNutt)



Recording Companies Represented

The tracks featured on Souled Out were originally released on the Fraternity, Counterpart, and Beast labels of Greater Cincinnati.


Fraternity: Founded in Cincinnati in 1954 by portrait photographer Harry Carlson, Fraternity quickly became the city’s second most successful singles label (behind King Records). Carlson sold the name to studio owner Shad O’Shea in 1975. O’Shea operated the company until 2008, when he sold it to Victor Piagneri, who continues to operate the Fraternity Records Group in New York.



Counterpart: Founded in 1963 by WCPO Radio disc jockey O’Shea, Counterpart was based in Cheviot, Ohio, in suburban Cincinnati. The label introduced some of Ohio’s premier garage bands including the New Lime, Dayton’s Mark V, the “Us Too” Group, the Fifth Order, Le Bleu Monde, and Ivan and the Sabers. It also recorded blue-eyed soul diva Gerri Diamond and country writer-singer Bobby Borchers. O’Shea stopped operating the label regularly after obtaining Fraternity. He also sold Counterpart in 2008 to Piagneri, who reintroduced the name for the release of Souled Out.

Beast: Founded by producer Randy McNutt in 1973 and distributed by Counterpart, Beast featured the group Little Flint doing “Pain” and “Gonna Have A Good Time.” The company was based in Hamilton, Ohio.


The original release of "Good Time" on Beast, 1973.


Advertisement, 1971.






Wayne Perry takes a break at
Counterpart Recording, Cincinnati, 1973.