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.


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!

Dave Scott said...

Is anyone still reading this blog? My name is Dave Scott. My dad, Walter Scott, was a country musician and used to record at studios in the Greater Cincinnati area such as Jewel Records and Ruby Records in Hamilton, Ohio. Dad was the first artist signed to Ruby Records and recorded his song "I'm Walking Out" there. I was only a few years old but I can remember being at that recording session. Dad sat me down on a stool and told me to be quiet because they were recording. I knew Rusty York at Jewel, or at least my dad took me to the studio a few times. I was just a kid, so I wasn't paying too much attention at the time. My mom worked at King Records back in the early days. I think she did receptionist work or something like that in the office. She used to tell me stories about the "boom room" - a concrete vault they would lower microphones into to record a natural reverb sound. Pappy Tipton, Rusty York, Larry Short, Kenny Price Jimmy Skinner... These people were all family friends. Thank you so much for remembering them.