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 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
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, CD Baby, and other Internet sites as well as from record stores. For information, write to

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.