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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.







1 comment:

robertm said...

Holy cow - I remember Ann Leaf! When I was young, back in the 1950s and 60s, organ was my favorite instrument - all kinds of organ. Church, theater, jazz, pop. And Ann Leaf was a pioneer in the early electric organs as they were known then - Hammond and so on. As I remember (it's been a long time since I thought about her) she was a real whiz of a player. Thanks for reminding me!