Friday, September 27, 2013

More King Records 70th Anniversary

More King Records
70th Anniversary Month
As we end the celebration of King Records' 70th anniversary, let's look at a few more recording artists who made the label great and memorable. Remember to look for King compilations the next chance you get.

The Chief, Syd Nathan
He had a knack for recording and
marketing. He turned a tiny label into
a large indie in only six years. Nathan
was a modern recording pioneer and
a type A personality who needed to
be involved in nearly everything that
his company did. He was successful, too.
Although he suffered from poor eyesight and
heart trouble, he continued to work at his
company from its founding in 1943 until
his death in 1968. Unfortunately, he missed
some work time due to ill health. After his
passing, the label was sold and resold. It could
never work the way it had without the Chief.
Wynonie Harris, Blues Singer
The Chief signed him during a visit to
his New York hotel room. Harris was
there with cold champagne and hot women.
Later, he went to the bar and ordered drinks
for everyone, courtesy of King Records. The chief
was not happy!
Roy Brown, Blues Singer
In the late '40s he wrote the hit song
"Good Rockin' Tonight,"
which Harris cut in the King studio in Cincy.
Brown's version on Deluxe Records competed
with the Harris version. Nathan bought
Deluxe, and then the two masters were
owned by the same company.
Tiny Bradshaw, Blues Band Leader
Nathan signed Tiny Bradshaw and brought him
back to prominence. King Records resurrected a
number of blues artists and country acts in
the late 1940s and early 1950s. Here the band
records in the King Recording Studio, which
was located at the King facility on Brewster Avenue in
Cincinnati's old Evanston neighborhood.
Lucky Millinder, Smooth Blues
Another King big band blues act, Lucky was
a mainstay of King's early blues days in the late
'40s, when Lucky played in Cincinnati frequently.
His band recorded for King, along with
sax man/vocalist Bull Moose Jackson.


The Charms
Otis Williams, who went to high school in
Cincinnati, came to King to record with his
group, the Charms, one of King's early
doo-wop groups and R&B mainstays.
Otis remained with the label for years.
One of their hits was "Ivory Tower,"
an R&B version of the Cathy Carr pop
version in the mid 1950s.
Little Willie John
A Nathan favorite, Detroit's Willlie John
became a major R&B star for King in the mid-'50s
with the hit "Fever," a song remade
many times by other acts. John died in
prison in the 1960s.


Monday, September 9, 2013

King Records
70th Anniversary Month

Some events include:

Saturday, September 14:

WVXU Radio will rebroadcast the second episode of its 2007 four-part documentary series on King Records. The two remaining parts will be aired September 21 and 28 at 11 p.m.

RJ Smith, author of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, will speak about Brown a the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County at 3:30 p.m. It will be in the third-floor genealogical space.

Sunday, September 15:

The King Studios' Educational Program Benefit Concert will be held from 6-11 p.m. at MOTR Pub in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. Performers will include Cheryl Renee, Ricky Nye, Magnolia Mountain, and the Sundresses.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

King Records: 70th Anniversary

By Randy McNutt

Cincinnati is celebrating King Records Month to remember the 70th anniversary of the indie label's founding by Sydney Nathan and several friends and family members in 1943. Home of the Hits blog will be running stories about King to coincide with this event. The following story is a remembrance of one of America's most interesting independent labels of history.

Many years ago, when I started producing recordings independently with my partner Wayne Perry in Cincinnati, we finished a track called "Mr. Bus Driver" at Rusty York's Jewel Recording in suburban Mount Healthy. I told Wayne that I would like to see it come out on King, because King did so much soul music. Our recording was soul-rock, and I thought it would give King a more contemporary sound and help us too. Neither Wayne nor I knew much about the history of King Records. We were only 21 years old, so King was older than we were at the time. But we knew that James Brown, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and other good soul acts came out of King's studio at 1540 Brewster Avenue in the Evanston neighborhood of the Queen City. That was enough for us.

Wayne called a guy named Bob "Mr. Movin'" Patton, a former disc jockey on our hometown radio station, WMOH in Hamilton, Ohio. Wayne told him what we wanted, and he offered to take us on a tour of the King factory and studio. He worked for James Brown at the time as a promotion man, and Brown, as King's reigning seller of records, kept an office in the old building. The place looked like something out of a Dickens movie. It was low and funky and uninviting. Wayne and I took my Karmann Ghia to the factory, about 25 miles from our town, and we nearly froze on a January night when the temperature was close to zero. Once inside, we noticed the place was very dim. Shadows covered the corridors. Patton led us through offices and more connected buildings, and finally we ended up in the pressing plant. It looked eerily still.

Then we moved on to the recording studio, which Nathan opened in 1947. He needed a place to record because he was tired of going out of town or using a local studio that he preferred not to visit. I can still remember the place in the semi-darkness, and Wayne standing up in front of a microphone and yelling, "Hey, all right!" We laughed, and he did his James Brown impersonation, and we moved on. But for that few minutes we spent in the studio, I imagined how it must have looked when so many hits were being cut right there--"Memphis" and "Wham!" by Lonnie Mack (on Fraternity Records); "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" by the Casinos (also on Fraternity from Cincinnati); the original version of "The Twist" by Ballard and the Midnighters; and many country and R&B hits by Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and other acts. The studio's resume seemed like the credentials to the Who's Who in Recording.

While there, we moved on through a long narrow hallway with garish album covers all over the walls. I stopped to read them and I marveled at the unusual artwork and the names of people I had only heard about in snatches of conversation with musicians--guys like Copas and Hawkins, and Otis Williams and the Charms, Freddy King, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and so many other hits acts who had recorded here or for King from the 1940s until that very year--1971. I felt like I was standing on hallowed musical ground, and I wasn't even aware of much of the history yet.

After Nathan, the architect of it all, died in 1968, the label was sold and resold, and finally the new owners decided to operate King from the offices of parent Starday Records in Nashville. They cleaned out the old building on Brewster Avenue and that was the end of King in Cincinnati. This came shortly after our walk through King on that freezing evening. Unfortunately, the Cincinnati office of King was no longer around for me to pitch "Mr. Bus Driver" to, so we went to other labels. King's local musicians, producers, A&R staff, and others scattered to seek work elsewhere, mainly in Nashville. James Brown's contract was sold to Polydor Records in New York.

But my interest in King was only beginning. From then on, whenever I could find someone who had been associated with King in some way, I interviewed him or her. I started meeting some fascinating and talented and hardworking people. I'll explain more about them later.

For now, though, it's time to sit back and play some King hits.

Rusty York recorded his version of
"Peggy Sue" for King.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Hillbilly Stars of King Records

Some Hillbilly Stars of King Records
(A pictorial appreciation)

Founded in Cincinnati in 1943, the independent King Records started with hillbilly music and Grandpa Jones. Soon founder Sydney Nathan expanded the hillbilly roster and by 1946 he was having national hit records with Cowboy Copas, a "Grand Ole Opry" star. Over the 1940s and 1950s more King country acts came along--Bonnie Lou, the yodeling star of several WLW and WLWT programs; Lulu Belle and Scotty, a couple who performed on WLW's country shows; Jimmie Osborne, another hit-maker for King; and Moon Mullican, a boogie-woogie piano man and vocalist who was an inspiration for some rockabilly acts that would soon follow. King continued to make country music through the years, but its heyday was in the late 1940s. 

Bonnie Lou

Lulu Belle and Scotty

Grandpa Jones and Cowboy Copas

Cowboy Copas

Jimmie Osborne

Moon Mullican

Read more about the hillbilly stars of King Records--and other acts--in Randy McNutt's King Records of Cincinnati, issued by Arcadia Publishing. The book is available from and other Internet outlets and book stores.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy

Book Review
by Randy McNutt

 Highly Recommended

Rick Kennedy's updated book on Gennett Records is perfect for exploring Richmond, Indiana's historic music sites. The city has done a lot to make the sites accessible, and this book completes the process by showing readers where to find them and explaining their significance.

Track One

Jellyroll, Bix, and Hoagy: Gennett Records and the
Rise of America's Musical Grassroots
by Rick Kennedy

Published by Indiana University Press, 2013

276 pages with photos; trade paperback; $25

Revised and expanded, with a foreword by Ted Gioia

Track Two

If you enjoy old-time music, recording history, indie labels, and Gennett Records in particular, then this book is for you. It is terrific--as good as the best indie label books ever written. Yes, it originally was published in the late 1990s, when it focused heavily on jazz. But author Rick Kennedy, a fan of the label for years, realized the need for an expanded and revised version that would give proper credit to Gennett's experimentation in the old-time music field, including hillbilly. Kennedy came through for us. In addition, he included more information about some of the pioneer A&R men and recording engineers who worked at Gennett, including Ezra Wickemeyer, the man who captured the sounds at Gennett's studio. This book is a delight to read. Kennedy's love for the music and the history come through on every page, and so does his attention to detail. He spent years looking up Gennett family members and company employees, and interviewing them for the book. Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy is like a new book to me. I have the first one but I couldn't do without the second version. It even has a new cover.
Track Three

Rick Kennedy is a noted Gennett historian who has devoted decades to studying the seminal label. He has written about it for magazines such as Traces, the Indiana Historical Society's magazine, and 78 RPM, one of the better historical recording publications. He told me he wanted to do the revision so that readers could take the book to Richmond and look up the street addresses--to stand where the Gennett employees stood. I love this idea. It allows us to feel that we share the same space in time with history. He told me that he has expanded the fascinating part of the book about the Ku Klux Klan's use of Gennett's studio and record pressing plant, and "I confirm that studio engineer Ezra Wickemeyer was a KKK member as well. Also the new edition includes detailed correspondence from the Gennett staffers with Fiddlin' Doc Roberts. The exchanges are pretty funny, and [they] tell you quite a bit about the early days of country recording, the use of pseudonyms, and how remote the world was for these artists. James Roberts has his first soft drink on his trip to Richmond. I hope you enjoy the improvements to the book. . ." 

Track Four

Rating: 5 out of 5

Monday, July 15, 2013

45-rpm Advertising

45 Madness!

Advertising shows how the 45-rpm disc 
stormed the world in the late 1940s and 1950s

This isn't  your grandfather's Victrola:
RCA offered five revamped Victrola's
at Christmas of 1950. They included
a children's phonograph.

More RCA Victor ads for 45-rpm record
players from the late 1940s to the early 1950s...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ghosts of the Echo Chambers

A Little Chamber Music, Please

By Randy McNutt

While driving down the highway one morning I discovered an oldies radio station playing "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys. Not only was it the most expensive single ever recorded in its time (1965), but it was and still is one of the most luxurious. I wondered, Why does it sound so good? So alive? So up-close to the listener? Then I realized it was recorded using live echo, from a real echo chamber. Low tech, but effective.

I know that many young engineers and producers don't use echo, and that's all right. Some recordings sound better when heard without enhancement. But others benefit from it. Too many modern recordings sound manufactured, as if no humans were involved in the recording process. Adding a touch of echo could make a sterile recording sound exciting. But that's another story.

After hearing the echo on that old record, I started thinking of how many great records were cut using the real thing--the live echo chamber. Echo chambers were most popular from the early days of tape recording, in the late 1940s, through the mid-1970s, when various replacements for the chamber became popular in the audio marketplace. They saved a lot of effort and time, and they sounded good. But to me, they never sounded as good as the live echo chamber. Records made using this old technology have a special sound to them.

I recall using an old spring reverb system that was not nearly as effective as a 1970s plate echo system. With the spring reverb, the sound fell off a cliff when the engineer tried to push it to get more echo effect. The replacement echo sounded pretty good, though, and the modern ones are excellent. But that old echo chamber has a greater appeal to me. No, I am not being nostalgic. The old echo chambers provide a certain sound that you can't forget. Some of the greatest records of all time were made with the help of echo chambers.

Those old records are the ghosts of the echo chambers--sounds of years past that ring differently and interestingly to our ears. They are the sounds that make many older hits so memorable, distinctive, and impressive. They come from real echo, not factory-made echo, and this makes all the difference. Some older engineers used to tell me they could sometimes tell where a record was cut just by listening to its echo. In Los Angeles, the A&M Records studio came equipped with large echo chambers that provided a sweet sound for the Carpenters on "Close to You" and "It's Too Late" by Carol King. A&M had possibly the best echo in the city.

It all began when sound engineers wanted to sweeten their recordings in the early tape era. Studios started building echo chambers, and recording engineers got creative. Their chambers were usually around 8 by 10 feet, made of concrete blocks, and attached to the studio or located nearby. They usually featured a microphone (or two) inside the chamber with an amplifier. When the sound went through the chamber, echo was added from the chamber's interior. To get a great echo effect, a chamber didn't have to be massive. Take the sound on "Good Vibrations," for example. That No. 1 single was cut at Western Recorders in Los Angeles. Its chamber was considered one of the better ones in the city. The evidence is in the sound--Brian Wilson and company got such great echo on their record. The chamber at Western proved that you didn't need a massive hall to produce great echo.

I once had the honor of interviewing veteran audio engineer Frank Laico, who recorded Tony Bennett's early hits for Columbia Records in the company's 30th Street Studio in New York. Laico told me that the staff placed a speaker inside the studio's echo chamber and either an RCA 44 or a Neumann 4-47 microphone in with it. "Engineers from all over the world wanted to know our secret [to the echo sound]," he said. "There wasn't any. That chamber simply sounded wonderful." Below 30th Street in Manhattan, under the sidewalk and the gritty life, stood one of the giants of the record industry--the live echo chamber of Columbia's studio. It was about 12 feet wide and 15 feet long, and made of concrete. Laico helped devise a way of delaying the sound as it went to the echo chamber. He'd send the sound first through a tape machine, and then to the chamber. That less-than-a-second-delay gave additional depth to the echo. Unfortunately, the 30th Street Studio was torn down in the 1970s to make way for a parking lot.

Over the years, I've stopped at many old studios and looked at their equipment. Several were interesting for their echo chambers. The well-known King Records Studio employed a chamber, made of concrete blocks and perched above the ceiling of the studio. It had a fluorescent light inside that burned all the time, recalled Gene Lawson, a former Cincinnati recording engineer and creator of the Lawson microphone. He said that chamber helped give the King Studio its funky and distinctive sound. Another odd chamber was in Madison, Tennessee, home of Cinderella Sound Studio, owned by guitarist Wayne Moss. The studio was used for recordings by Mickey Newberry, Area Code 615, Dennis Linde, and harmonica player Charlie McCoy. Moss told me he converted a concrete-block garage into the chamber in the early 1960s. One day Newberry came by to record, and he wanted a cricket sound added to his tape. So he brought some crickets in a can and sat it inside the echo chamber to see what sound he could get. Unfortunately, the can overturned and crickets escaped. Moss  told me he could never get rid of them. The chirped incessantly. So he finally had to shut the thing down, and he turned to a manufactured echo system for his studio.

In Nashville, the Jack Clement Recording Studios on Belmont Avenue opened in 1969 with two eight-by-ten-foot echo chambers with 35-foot ceilings and non-parallel walls. The studio later added EMT echo systems for each of its recording rooms, but the echo chambers were still popular in the late 1970s.

Other great echo chambers helped make the sounds of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, including the chamber at Bell Sound and the tile restroom at A&R Studio in New York. There were more. Many more. Maybe they can be the basis of a second story about echo chambers.

I like this subject too much to let the echo die.

Echo on Vinyl

"Good Vibrations," the Beach Boys, recorded in 1965. Western Recorders, Los Angeles.
"Walk On By," Dionne Warwick, 1964. Bell Sound, New York.
"Crystal Blue Persuasion," Tommy James & the Shondells, 1968. Allegro Sound, New York.
"This Diamond Ring," Gary Lewis & the Playboys, 1964. Western Recorders.
"California Dreamin'," Mamas and the Papas, 1966. Western Recorders.
"Honey," Bobby Goldboro, 1967. Woodland Sound, Nashville.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gennett Records News

 Gennett Records News


By Randy McNutt

Rick Kennedy, my cowriter of Little Labels, Big Sound: Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music, has a new book--an updated and expanded version of his wonderful Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy: Gennett Studios and the Birth of Recorded Jazz. The book is still called Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy, but it has a new cover, more information, and a new subtitle, Gennett Records and the Rise of America's Musical Grassroots. The greatly needed work, first published in 1994, was reissued in February 2013 by Indiana University Press. 

Rick knows his subject. He has studied Gennett for two decades. A jazz enthusiast, he got into Gennett at first because of its historic connections to jazz. But years after his book was published to excellent reviews, he decided to rework it to feature more about Gennett's contributions to old-time country and other American roots music.

Gennett was a pioneer independent label based in Richmond, Indiana, in the early 1900s. It is considered a seminal jazz label, but many people don't realize that Gennett also recorded a lot of early country and blues acts. Gennett is considered one of the all-time great indies.

When Rick and I were planning to write Little Labels, we decided to include a chapter on Gennett to focus on some aspects of the label that were not discussed at length in Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy. Now, Rick has revamped his original book to feature much more information than I ever expected to find. He has featured more about Gennett employees as well as other types of music issued by the label, which was devastated by the hurricane of the Great Depression.

Rick's book is being sold through and most other Internet outlets and book shops. It is a must-read for anyone interested in old-time country music, early indie labels, and seminal jazz.

Randy McNutt stands near the site of
the Gennett Recording Studio during
a celebration of the label.

 Amazon's Synopsis

In a piano factory tucked away in Richmond, Indiana, Gennett Records produced thousands of records featuring obscure musicians from hotel orchestras and backwoods fiddlers to the future icons of jazz, blues, country music, and rock 'n' roll. From 1916 to 1934, the company debuted such future stars as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, and Hoagy Carmichael, while also capturing classic performances by Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Uncle Dave Macon, and Gene Autry. While Gennett Records was overshadowed by competitors such as Victor and Columbia, few record companies documented the birth of America's grassroots music as thoroughly as this small-town label. In this newly revised and expanded edition of Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy, Rick Kennedy shares anecdotes from musicians, employees, and family members to trace the colorful history of one of America's most innovative record companies.

Friday, May 10, 2013

How Columbia Records Lost Elvis

Veteran disc jockey Jim LaBarbara's book The Music Professor: A Life Amplified Through Radio and Rock 'n' Roll (Little Miami Publishing) is terrific. It is also a finalist for an Ohioana book award, sponsored by the State of Ohio's library. Jim was kind enough to share an excerpt here, which I chose. I recommend the book to anyone interested in radio, vintage sounds, and the history of modern music. In the following story, early rock DJ Bill Randle explains how Columbia had a chance to sign Elvis before RCA got him from Sun Records. But Mitch Miller, who ran Columbia, was a middle-of-the-road guy. Recollections from the late Mr. Randle are interesting to anyone who has followed music history. Randle was one of the early rock 'n' roll DJs who worked in cities such as New York (WCBS) and Cleveland. Randle, who was also a lawyer, saw some of the greats come and go. He is known for bringing Elvis to Cleveland in the early days of Elvis's career. He was good friends with Jim, who writes about Randle's influence.

How Columbia Records Lost Elvis

By Jim LaBarbara

Bill Randle had a lot to do with Elvis's early success, and he told me in great detail how he became involved with Elvis.

"I read about a riot in a small Florida town," Bill said. "Elvis, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black had played a gig in that town, and like most hillbilly or country artists, they sold pictures and records out of the back of their car. Presley had an old pink Cadillac at the time. He had started to get interested in strippers. Most people aren't aware he had dated strippers, and he had seen strippers work. He started to implement some of the bumps and grinds into the act. It just had these kids crazy that night. They had rushed the car. They were breaking the records, and so it made the wires. I thought anybody who would do this . . . and the name fascinated me, Elvis Presley.

"Arnold Shaw, who worked for the music publisher Edward B. Marks, was very tight with the artists and repertoire (A&R) guy Steve Sholes at RCA. [Steve was the producer in charge of the label's Country and Western Department.] I asked Arnold if he could get me some records at Sun. I had seen some blues records on Sun, but we didn't have access to Sun Records. Arnold was on his way to Nashville, and he heard Presley work. He bought the one song 'I Forgot to Remember to Forget' for publishing. He brought me the records. At first I didn't play them in New York because of CBS; it would have been unthinkable to play them [at that time]. I had a free hand. I'd play 'Honky Tonk' by Bill Doggett, but a down-country artist like Presley's 'That's All Right'--the crudity of the record was just too much. [In addition,] Technically, the records didn't meet CBS performance sound standards. . .

"This was mid-1955, because by the time of the Country Music Convention that summer, Presley records weren't even being played in country [radio]. Billboard magazine carried a story. Presley won some small award. [The story stated,] 'Even a disc jockey like Bill Randle thinks that Elvis Presley is going to be a big star.' It was an unusual thing to play country music at the time."

Bill was there, and he explained how Elvis went from Sun to RCA: "Okay, what really happened? [One] Saturday afternoon Freddy Bienstock and Gene and Julian Alberbach [Gene and Julian were brothers who owned Hill and Range Music Publishing Company. Freddy was their nephew] came in, and they were signing me to a twenty-page contract on things that later on would have been constituted to be illegal. I had found so many records that they wanted to pay me literally a royalty for X thousands of dollars for anything that I brought to them that grossed over fifty thousand dollars--if I gave them information first. The first piece of information I gave them was Elvis Presley. I said, "There's a kid in the South who's the biggest thing I've ever seen in my life" . . . Freddy Bienstock had a date that night with a blonde lady who was very important to him. Gene and Julian Alderbach, very German, very rich heads of this music corporation, told Freddy, 'You get on an airplane, and you go down, and you sign him [Elvis] as a writer because of this other song, 'I Forgot to Remember.' So Freddy, grumbling and groaning, goes down, and he signs him as a songwriter. At that time, Presley was managed by a local deejay, Bob Neal. Colonel Parker was with Eddy Arnold at the time. This is how the Alderbachs come in, and the real deal went down. Gene and Julian signed Presley to a publishing deal, but Steven Sholes was a part of their deal. They had contracts with everybody . . . Mitch Miller of Columbia [also] had a deal with the Alderbachs. They were very influential people at the time, so they signed Elvis as a writer. They brought Sholes in to make the deal with RCA Victor, and Victor put up some of the money for the buy-out from Sun Records and so did the Alderbachs with some royalties and things. . . So that was the package: Steven Sholes, who had never heard of Elvis until that time; the Alderbachs, the two German heads of a publishing company; Freddy Bienstock, who missed a date with his gorgeous blonde to sign this million-dollar thing; and Bob Neal, who was the manager. Then they closed him out . . . Colonel Parker became the head honcho because the Colonel was Steven Sholes's guy, and they were all in bed together, and that was the history of Elvis. Parker did run his career, and it was at that time that I stopped having anything to do with Presley on the level of things we were doing. I did the first concert with Presley at the Arena in Cleveland, but by then the relationship with Parker was very strained. . ."

Bill Randle told me the deal to get Elvis to RCA went down for forty thousand dollars. Bill added, "We offered him to Mitch Miller at Columbia Records first. I was doing a film called The Pied Piper of Cleveland for what's now MCA, but it was Universal [then]. In the film were Bill Haley and the Comets; Pat Boone, the little girl singer Priscilla Wright from Canada; the Four Lads; and Elvis Presley, with Bill Black and Scotty Moore [appearing at the Circle Theater in Cleveland at the time]. We shot the film on October 20, 1955, at Brooklyn High School and at Saint Michael's Church hall. Pat Boone talked about it in a Rolling Stone article where he said it was the first time he ever worked with Presley. We did the film with Elvis, paid him two hundred dollars to do the film. At that time, the Four Lads were managed by Michael Stewart, who was the president of United Artists. Mike Stewart afterward came up to me and said, 'You don't want to be associated with that kind of music.' Presley, by the way, had on red suede shoes, red socks, red shirt, red tie, and a red suit. That was it, a little gross for 1955, right?" He laughed. "At any rate, I said, 'Mike, this kid's going to be the biggest thing you ever saw.' Then Mike saw the reaction of the students --three thousand students. He called Mitch Miller, and Mitch got the [Presley] records and turned them down. So Mitch had the first crack at Elvis even with Freddy hustling because Columbia was such a big record company. That was a little before Freddy went down [to Nashville], so Mitch had a clear shot at him [Presley]."

Bill said nobody knew Elvis, but when he sang, the kids went wild. "They went berserk; it was just a madhouse."

Copyright 2011 by Jim LaBarbara. Excerpted from The Music Professor: A Life Amplified Through Radio and Rock 'n' Roll by Jim LaBarbara. Published by Little Miami Publishing, 19 Water St., P.O. Box 588, Milford, Ohio 45150. Price: $28; hardbound; 381 pages. For more information or to order a book, see

Jim LaBarbara on the air.
(Photo courtesy Jim LaBarbara)


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Legendary Herzog Recording

Herzog Recording: The Hit Room

By Randy McNutt

The office building that once housed E. T. Herzog Recording, one of Cincinnati's legendary studios, has gone from obscurity to regular use, thanks to local music enthusiasts who were determined to keep its memory alive. Now it is marked prominently by a historical marker and the room is used for live-musical performances and meetings of music fans.

The story of Herzog Recording, 1945 to 1955, mirrors the story of sound recording in the mid-20th century, jumping from recorded acetates to one-track magnetic tape recordings.

The studio was founded in 1945 by Earl T. "Bucky" Herzog, an engineer at the famous WLW Radio, and his brother, Charles. After the war, Herzog collected some hard-to-find recording equipment and opened a studio in his home. He quit his full-time job and started recording. Soon he opened a studio at 811 Race Street, on the second floor of a brick building in downtown Cincinnati. In those days, studios weren't plentiful, and neither was recording equipment. But Herzog knew sound and how to record it, and soon his studio's reputation spread beyond the city limits.

I was lucky to meet Bucky Herzog in the late 1980s. When he told me Hank Williams recorded in his Cincinnati studio, I thought he was joking. Then I realized he was not the joking kind. Some of the well-known singers and musicians who recorded there read like a Who's Who of music in Cincinnati and country music history. They include studio guitarist Zeke Turner, and Rex Allen, Patti Page, Red Foley, Homer and Jethro, and Moon Mullican.

In those early days, Nashville had not yet developed as Music City U.S.A. It had the "Grand Ole Opry" radio show, but not much else. Cincinnati, on the other hand, had the fairly new King Records and its country hits from Grandpa Jones. Later, Ernie Lee recorded music for his WLW radio show at the studio. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs cut the original version of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" at Herzog, and the Delmore Brothers recorded "Freight Train Boogie" there.

On December 22, 1948, music publisher Fred Rose came up from Nashville with Hank Williams. Hank cut "Lovesick Blues" with the Pleasant Valley Boys. It helped them become well-known studio musicians. On August 30, 1949, Williams returned to cut eight sides at the studio, including his iconic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It." 

Herzog's engineering experience at WLW helped him learn the art of recording sound. He started there in 1936 and continued to work part-time at the station until 1966. "I did many broadcasts with Chet Atkins in the late '30s," Herzog told me in 1989. "Chet worked there too. In those days, Nashville was just Nashville. Cincinnati was much bigger as a country music center. WLW had many country acts on its roster. Then the station had The Midwestern Hayride. All these performers would work out of WLW and do shows every day and night in the late '30s. We had the biggest staff of any non-network station. Down in Kentucky, the Renfro Valley (Jamboree) preceded the Grand Ole Opry. It was really the forerunner of the Opry every Saturday night."

At his studio, Herzog recorded Lee's country radio show for WLW, as well as other programs and recordings. "We did so many things, even R&B for King Records," Herzog recalled in an interview with me in 1989. "We were one of only a few studios in Cincinnati back then, in the late 1940s. Syd Nathan used to come to my studio to record his people for King Records. He'd get all worked up and make the musicians nervous. I told him he had to stop coming by. So he opened his own studio at his factory in Cincinnati. I guess he got tired of going out of town to record."

Eventually, Herzog sold his studio and opened Audiocraft Recording on the west side of Cincinnati. But he never forgot the days of old country music. The images of its heyday remained with him.

Nowadays, the original equipment is gone but the long room is used for meetings of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, which was formed to promote local music history and artists. Elliot Ruther, the group's president, and Brian Powers, a reference librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, have spent many hours researching the studio's past. "The studio is our musical history," Powers said.

Members have worked hard to open the second floor--where the studio operated--for use by the historical group. "To make a long story short and excellent, we unveiled a historical marker for the studio and Hank Williams on November 22, 2009," Ruther explained. "Prior to that, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the recording of 'Lovesick Blues' with a concert in the studio room." 

Since then, the group has found old photos of the studio and Herzog, and has blown them up to larger sizes and mounted them on the walls. They have also sponsored concerts honoring Hank Williams, the father of contemporary country music. 

The photographs help tell the story of E. T. Herzog Recording. It is the story of American music.

This two-sided historical marker
tells the story of Herzog Recording.
The sign was erected in 2009.
(Photos by Randy McNutt)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013



The Latest Glen Glenn Interview


By Randy McNutt

An interview with Glen Glenn, the pioneer rockabilly from California, was posted on YouTube on January 1, 2013, by videographer Barry Conrad of Glendale, California. Conrad shot the interview, which at first features an Elvis impersonator's performance, at the former Elvis and Priscilla Presley home in Palm Springs. 

Glenn tells Conrad what it was like to meet Elvis in 1956 at the Knickerbocker Hotel in L.A. Glenn also performs for Conrad and some friends, and tells how he first signed with a record company and became a rockabilly singer. 

The Presley house, originally called the House of Tomorrow for its innovations, was the site of Glenn's interview on April 29, 2000. It was once called Presley's getaway house for the times when he was performing in LasVegas and other locations in the West.

Thanks to Barry for sharing this with me and my readers. Barry, owner of Barcon Productions, has been a friend since my college days. Check out his films on the paranormal sometime. He has won many awards for his documentaries and features on ghosts and UFOs.

I interviewed the amiable Glen for my book We Wanna Boogie: An Illustrated History of the American Rockabilly Movement, published by HHP Books in 1989 (now out of print). He told me he recorded "Everybody's Movin'" at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles in 1958, using his band. Era Records heard the tape and signed him to a contract.

"Then I was drafted a few months later," he said. "That hurt because I couldn't promote my record. I couldn't go on American Bandstand and other shows; all I could do is perform on the Army base in Hawaii, where I was stationed. Here I had a pick hit of the week and I couldn't even take advantage of it."

Glen was an Elvis fan early on. "I heard about Elvis through the Maddox Brothers and Rose," he told me. "I said, "Man, he is different!"

And here you can hear Glen talk more about the King. Enjoy!

Image from We Wanna Boogie.

Interviewer Barry Conrad (left) with friend Randy 
McNutt, author of the rockabilly book "We Wanna Boogie."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Regional Music Centers of the 1960s

Stars of Regional Music Centers of the 1960s

By Randy McNutt

America's old regional music centers--cities such as Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Norfolk, and others--reached their recording heyday in the 1960s by turning out hundreds of local, regional, and national hit records, many on independent labels. Everyone knows the story of Elvis and Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records, in Memphis, but fewer people know the stories behind the hometowns that created and nurtured rock and soul music. 

Some of the independents became national in scope. Independent record producers, including Chips Moman in Memphis, operated production companies in their towns, often catering to the large New York and L.A. labels. Many of the producers recorded locally. (For more information, see my book Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock 'n' Roll.) 

The regional centers, where indigenous music was revered, competed with large music capitals for radio airplay and talent. Interestingly, the major labels often sent their acts to the regional cities to get the "local sounds," such as the ones musicians created in Memphis, New Orleans, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Nowadays, the old music cities still turn out recordings, but they are not seen so often on the national charts. 

The apex of the cities' commercial success is over, having peaked in the mid-1960s to early 1970s. But we remember the deeds of these heralded music towns, and we salute them in this photo essay.

Alabama native Percy Sledge recorded 
his signature hit, "When A Man Loves A Woman,"
in 1966. It went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts 
and started his national career. Later, he would cut a 
dozen other songs that landed on the charts. His
original recording home was Sheffield, Ala., in a
four-city area that outsiders generally called Muscle 
Shoals. He continued to record in the Shoals area 
for years.

Frankie Ford came out of New Orleans with the hit "Sea
Cruise," on Ace Records. The song has been remade many 
times, but nothing beats the original. Frankie is a terrific 
entertainer. It was recorded by producer Johnny Vincent.

Roy Head hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts
with "Treat Her Right" in 1965. He became a 
sensation in his home state of Texas. The hit 
was released on Houston's Back Beat Records, 
owned by legendary nightclub owner Don Robey. 

Bonnie Lou, a star of the Midwestern Hayride
TV show in Cincinnati, recorded some hits for
that city's King Records, including "Daddy-O" in
1955. Although it was a rockabilly song, Bonnie
preferred country music. She worked on WLW
Radio and WLW-T for years. 

The Charmaines recorded for several
labels, including Columbia and Fraternity.
For Cincinnati's Fraternity label, she 
cut "What Kind of Girl Do You Think I Am."
The trio became popular throughout the
southern Ohio region in the 1960s.

Lonnie Mack came out of Aurora, Ind.,
to record for Fraternity in Cincinnati.
His singles "Memphis" and
"Wham!" remain two of the better
blues-rock guitar instrumentals ever made. 

Guitar Towns
by Randy McNutt

 For more information on how America's hometowns created
their own record companies, song publishing firms, studios, and cooperative radio stations,
see Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock 'n' Roll
The 226-page hardbound book, available on Indiana University Press, is sold through and other online outlets and at bookstores for $14.95. It features many photographs and illustrations. For additional information, see the Indiana University Press home page.