Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Richard Huntley Plays King Music

Richard Livingston Huntley
He's Keeping the Beat of King Records

Three drummers appear in Cincinnati King, the new play written and directed by KJ Sanchez and presented at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park. They are the late Sydney Nathan, a one-time drummer and the owner of King Records; veteran King side man Philip Paul; and Richard Huntley, an Austin-based drummer and the play’s music director who appreciates the colorful story behind the musicians, vocalists, and songwriters at the old Cincinnati label.
Huntley is the only one of the drummers who actually plays in the show. He performs with a crack combo that he assembled specifically for the production, which will run at the Playhouse through December 23.
The man who sits behind his own vintage 1960s drum set has been exploring the city’s musical past and present, including a visit to the old King headquarters on Brewster Avenue in the Evanston neighborhood. “The whole city’s music scene is legendary—and historic,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s such an honor to come here and meet Philip Paul and see where the King musicians played on all those great country and R&B hits.”
At ninety-three years old, the iconic Paul is still playing drums around town. Unfortunately, King closed its Cincinnati plant in 1971, after a run of twenty-eight years.
While the actors who play Nathan and Paul appear as important characters on stage, Huntley doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t have to. His smooth beats take us back to the early music of King Records of the 1940s and ’50s, when it laid the foundation of rock ’n’ roll.
Fortunately, I got to spend a couple of hours talking to him a week after the show opened. He is as great a conversationalist as he is a drummer. He has been devoted to music since he was a kid growing up in New York. His favorite style is jazz, but he can play any type of music—and enjoy it.
Huntley started his lifelong musical adventure when his mom enrolled him and his brother in piano lessons. But it was the drums that he was drawn to, and the power they provided. He paid for a drum set by using the money he earned from a paper route when he was only twelve years old. Even then, his mom would not let him keep them in the house. He had to move them to a neighbor’s basement, and that’s where he spent hours developing his craft. In a satisfying career that has taken him to over thirty countries, he has performed at important jazz and blues festivals and backed many jazz giants, including George Coleman, Harold Mabern, and Dave Liebman.
Huntley selected all the music for the Cincinnati King, spending hundreds of hours reviewing the vast discography that Sydney Nathan and his music-makers left behind. Huntley listened to their originals, covers, and remakes before finally making the tough decisions: Which ones would end up in the musical? Before making the decision, however, he had to negotiate with his wife, KJ Sanchez. She had been working on the script for several years, and had become fascinated with Nathan and his many star recording artists. “I have always been drawn to the tension between ambition and endurance,” she said.
Huntley, who has jazz in his DNA, was the perfect musician to find the great country and R&B numbers that would be sung by the talented actors playing Little Willie John, Lula Reed, the Delmore Brothers, and others. Yet the hardest part was whittling down the sixty songs he had already favored. After much agony, he realized he had to cut the number to seventeen. That’s how many ended up in the musical. “The decision wasn’t easy to make,” he added. “In fact, it was nearly impossible. But I kept at it. I needed special songs for the play, so that was a major factor in the selection process.”
It was a joy to hear the songs actually performed live. As Huntley explained, “I remember clearly the first time I had heard multiple versions of the King hit song ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’. The eerie, plaintive twang of the Delmore Brothers, the gutbucket cry of Lonnie Johnson, and the doo-wop infused Otis Williams and the Charms. I was blown away. I listened to the three versions repeatedly one afternoon, over and over again. How could one song be arranged, sung, and delivered with such a completely different feeling, grooves, and swing?”
The eerie sounds hit me, too. With their different arrangements, they sounded like three different songs. For the first time, I realized how the three versions could sound totally different. To my ear, they were entities of their own. The band brought its own originality to the songs, yet kept the feeling of the hits. Credit goes to drummer Huntley, pianist Ralph Huntley (Richard’s brother), guitarist Seth L. Johnson, and bassist Terrell Montgomery.
Huntley said he was surprised by the sounds that King achieved by recording for the first few years on one-track tape machines. “This was an era, mind you, when the music was recorded at the same time, with musicians in one room playing live—with no overdubs or ‘punch-in’ to correct a mistake,” he said. “One had to play it correctly or live with the consequences—there were no computer programs to correct a wrong note, a ripple in the grooves, or a waiver in the pitch.” He said the immediacy and intimacy of the one-track sessions “is the real genius of this music, and I truly hope it inspires deeper listening.”
Recorded vocals and arrangements used in the play are not necessarily based on the ones done first by King. Nor are they always by the artists most closely identified with the songs. Nathan liked to record the same song by artists in R&B, country, pop, and other genres, so plenty of versions were available to Huntley. He decided to base his versions on those that fit the plot, the show’s theme, and the types of vocalists who are featured. Several songs that Huntley chose were recorded by Little Willie John because he is a major character, portrayed by actor and vocalist Richard Crandle. His vocals are electrifying.
Huntley chose these songs:
1. “Gravy Train,” sung and written by Tiny Bradshaw.
2. “I’ve Done It,” sung and written by Moon Mullican, with co-writers Henry Glover, Lois Mann (Syd Nathan), and Louis Innis.
3. “Fever,” sung by Little Willie John and written by John Davenport (Otis Blackwell) and Eddie Cooley.
4. “All Around the World,” sung by Little Willie John and written by Titus Turner.
5. “I’m Doin’ It,” sung by Annisteen Allen and credited to writers Alan Freed, Henry Glover, Lois Mann, and Fred Weismantel.
6. “Blues Stay Away From Me,” sung by the Delmore Brothers and Lonnie Johnson and written by Rabon and Alton Delmore, Henry Glover, and Wayne Raney.
7. “Sixty-Minute Man,” sung by Bill Brown and written by Billy Ward and Rose Marks.
8. “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered,” sung by James Brown and written by Cowboy Copas and Lois Mann.
9. “The Twist,” sung and written by Hank Ballard.
10. “It’s Easy Child,” sung by Lula Reed and Freddy King and written by Sue Sandler, Gene Redd, and Kaye Bennett.
11. “Need Your Love So Bad,” sung and written by Little Willie John.
12. “You’re Welcome to the Club,” sung by Lee “Shot” Williams and written by Sonny Thompson.
13. “My Love Is,” sung and written by Little Willie John.
14. “I’m Shakin’,” sung by Little Willie John and written by Rudy Toombs.
15. “Leave My Kitten Alone,” as sung by Little Willie John and written by John, Titus Turner, and James McDougal.
16. “Drown in My Own Tears,” sung by Lula Reed and written by Henry Glover.
17. “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,” a R&B version sung by Little Willie John and written by Wayne Raney and Lonnie Glosson.
Nathan published a number of the songs through his Lois Music. He produced some of the earlier recordings and preferred to live with a mistake or two in a track because it sounded livelier and had more feeling than other the takes. He was looking for a sound that only he could hear, and many times those livelier songs were big hits.
“As I dug deeper,” Huntley said, “I learned that King had an interracial studio band, which, for the 1950s and 1960s, was very rare indeed. Who were these fabulous unsung heroes who could create such exquisite and memorable music—music that would be the foundation of rock ’n’ roll, soul R&B, and country music? . . .
“So many styles and flavors—music that was pulsing and swinging with an intensity and spirt that sounds just and vibrant and fresh today as the day it was released.” At King Records, in a run-down former pressing plant in Evanston, Richard Huntley found a whole new world of music. 

Alison James contributed to this story.

KJ Sanchez, writer and director

Cincinnati King
By KJ Sanchez

The Cast
Syd Nathan: Neal Benari
Philip Paul: Stanley Wayne Mathis
Little Willie John: Richard Crandle
Roberta Paul: Tracy Schoster
Anita Welch: Annisteen Allen, Lula Reed, and others.
Cullen R. Titmas: Moon Mullican, Cowboy Copas, the Delmores.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Announcing a new book and its
related blog, Spinning the Groove and 
by Randy McNutt


I didn't have a quarter, and I had just gotten married. 
But I loved records. I found myself a job as a record 
salesman . . . it was a dream come to life.

Johnny Vincent
Founder, Ace Records
Jackson Mississippi

Adventures in 
Spinning the Groove


Many years ago I started compiling antiquated terms used in the days of the old record industry. This unusual task came after enjoying an afternoon lunch with my friend Shad O'Shea, the record producer, novelty performer, and DJ who operated Fraternity and Counterpart Records out of Cincinnati. Shad taught me so many things about the business that I can't count them all. He helped me launch my own production company and my original label, Beast Records, which I established as a college student in 1973. At lunch that day Shad casually used the term "paper add," and I asked him what it meant. He laughed and said DJs and record guys used it to describe a radio station's stealthy move to add an obscure new record to its playlist without ever playing the record, or else maybe playing it only once a day. Why was this done? To do a favor for a friendly record label owner or local distributor. Obviously, today this tactic could not work. There's too much money at stake--in radio and the record business. Computers rule the world now. Who could slip a paper add onto a playlist unless it was at a station in Henpeck, Ohio, and then such a little station wouldn't have a playlist because it would be using a programming service from L.A.

So I began compiling obscure terms, more and more of them, until finally I had enough to publish a booklet on the subject. I was satisfied. But I never did get around to publishing that booklet. More years passed. Meanwhile, I continued to compile terms but forgot the project. Then one day as I was halfway through writing a new book, I stopped working on it. I simply burned out. So I picked up the terms, as loose a bunch that existed, and began working on a book that I called The Disctionary. This went on for a year or more, when I finally surrendered. After all, you can only collect so many terms before your book gets out of control. I renamed my book Spinning the Groove: An A to Z Guide to the Lingo and Legacy of the Old Record Business. And I jumped head-first into publishing the thing. By then I had accumulated more terms than I ever imagined, including some more familiar ones that have changed in meaning over the years (the cover record, for instance). I also added more legend stories, lore, and some larger stories about regional recording acts, personality DJs, and the long-gone Top 40 instrumentals. (I chose a DJ term called spinning the groove from one that I've included in the book. It simply means playing a record.)

The blog will stick to the broad areas covered in Spinning the Groove. A few excerpts will appear from time to time, and some will be expanded versions. As HHP's editor remarked on the back of the book: "Randy McNutt's Spinning the Groove [is] an encyclopedic work, an eccentric and informative journey through a record industry that no longer exists. Enchanted by the business he knew and loved, McNutt defines forgotten terms once used by record producers, jukers, distributors, record label chiefs, disc jockeys, musicians, and other purveyors of sound from the 1940s through the 1970s. Some are humorous, others informative and enlightening, while a few others are wistful odes to a time when 45-rpm singles and long-playing albums ruled the music industry."

Let me be your tour guide into the old record industry.

Randy McNutt 


The book, published by HHP Books and for sale on, sells for $25. It consists of 301 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches, and dozens of photos and advertisements to illustrate the many old terms from the days when vinyl ruled the world. These terms include such obscure ones as cherry pie, coin man, and tin ears. And more common ones such as cover record, gold record, and bubblegum music. These and other well-known terms have changed over the years, and you'll be surprised to read what they once meant and what they mean today. 

The new blog will focus almost exclusively on the old record business, roughly 1948 to 1990, and its colorful personalities, labels, and recording artists.





Do You Know the Meaning of . . .

paper add
sweetheart record
glue job
Cherry pie
Iron mother
Ride a record

You’ll find the answers in
Spinning the Groove,
which was also a term used in the days
when shellac and vinyl ruled the world
and turntables hummed day and night.
Welcome to your destination:
The Record Business that Was.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Celebrate Lonnie Mack's Career

This story first appeared in on April 24, 2016. We are republishing it in honor of Lonnie Mack, whose life and career will be celebrated in a program at the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library at 1 p.m. September 15, 2018 in downtown Cincinnati. Speakers will include Cincinnati musician Carl Edmondson, who produced several of Mack's early records, including "Memphis" and "Wham!" 

Farewell to the Memphis Man
and the Cincinnati Sound

By Randy McNutt

When Lonnie Mack died in a Nashville hospital on April 21, 2016, his passing was felt in Cincinnati. I'm sure his death at age 74 will be overshadowed by the death of Prince, the celebrated performer who died on the same day. For those of us who appreciate blues-rock, however, Lonnie will also be hailed as special. He influenced Stevie Ray Vaughan and untold numbers of guitarists. Just knowing that Lonnie Mack was alive kept me connected to those gritty roadhouse sounds that I long to hear.

With his passing, something else finally died too--the old Cincinnati Sound. That's what people used to call the Queen City's blue-eyed soul and blues-rock sound of 1960 to 1975. In time, disco madness ran it out of town. Cincinnati was probably the last place on earth that harbored it, like some stubborn virus hiding in the veins of America. And Lonnie Mack was its undisputed king.

I suppose the Cincinnati Sound was all but gone anyway, but so long as Lonnie Mack was still alive I could trick my mind into believing that the old Sound still existed. After all, he was the flame that kept it all going. Every time I'd drive through some little town in southwest Ohio and see a shuttered, funky old roadhouse like the Blacksmith Shop in McGonigle, I'd think of Lonnie and imagine that  his tight band was playing inside. I'd momentarily believe it was still the 1960s. Sounds of "Memphis," "Crying Over You," and "Honky Tonk '65" would fill my head. But now that he is gone, I don't know what I will think the next time I pass one of those run-down places. I'm sure I'll feel a little empty.

Lonnie was a fixture in the clubs and roadhouses around Cincinnati in the 1960s. His music was part blues, some good-time rock 'n' roll, and an occasional country lick thrown in for good measure. The best way to describe it is Lonnie Mack music. He could put his stamp of personality on any song.

Born Lonnie McIntosh, he was a Hoosier from Aurora, Indiana. He dropped out of school and started playing the Cincinnati area clubs when he was only fourteen. I believe his career can be divided into two parts: the double-punch "Memphis" and "Wham!" singles period, which ran from 1963 through the 1970s, and the Strike Like Lightning period, which came in the mid-1980s and ran into the 1990s. After that, things slowed down for Lonnie and he stayed on his farm in Smithville, Tennessee. In the '80s, Bruce Iglauer, who grew up in suburban Cincinnati and knew of Lonnie's guitar legends, signed Lonnie to the Alligator blues label in Chicago and gave the Whammy man a second life that sent him all the way to Australia to play. My favorite album they did for Alligator was Strike Like Lightning, for which Lonnie drew upon his past for inspiration. He also brought along drummer Gene Lawson, an early band mate, to pound the beat. Gene's intelligent approach was a steadying influence.

While involved in the Cincinnati music industry in the 1970s, I got to know some of Lonnie's players. They influenced me greatly. They became good friends and trusted musicians. Years earlier, I saw their names on album covers: Gene Lawson, drums. Denzil "Dumpy" Rice, piano and acoustic guitar. Wayne Bullock, Hammond B-3 organ and bass. All wonderful guys and terrific players. Dumpy is gone now too, but his memory lives on every time somebody plays his song "There's A Honky Tonk Angel (Who'll Take Me Back In)." Even Elvis cut it.

Last June 7, Wayne Bullock hosted another of his Cincinnati musician reunion shows at the Harrison, Ohio, VFW Post. One hundred of them came varied places and new occupations. To my surprise, Lonnie walked in, coming all the way from his home in Tennessee. I enjoyed talking to him. He was never a talkative or humorous man, at least not around me, and I realized this when I was set to interview him 20-some years ago. So I decided I had better pair him with Dumpy one night as we sat in a reincarnation of that little roadhouse in McGonigle. Their conversation flowed like soul river. Funny, poignant, fascinating stories. Stories of the road, stories of one-nighter performances and long drives. Eventually, their conversation appeared in "Lonnie on the Move," a chapter in my book Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock 'n' Roll. (Indiana University Press, 2002). On that June 7 at the VFW Post, however, I sensed that Lonnie had come to see his fellow players possibly for the last time.

Lonnie's death inspired me to write this appreciation of him. He was not a man who talked about his accomplishments, so I will. I try not to write these kinds of stories about musicians because that is all I would be doing, writing obituaries. But Lonnie, well, I just couldn't resist. He was the heart of the Cincinnati Sound. There were so many blues-rock and white soul bands around Cincinnati then that I lost count. Billy Joe Royal, another wonderfully soulful singer, sang in town then. Even the Casinos, known more for their pop sound, recorded their own version of "Soul Serenade," and it was a good one. An old story goes that at least once a night somebody in the audience anywhere would scream, "Play 'Soul Serenade'!" It became a hybrid of Cincinnati and Memphis.

It's hard to say goodbye to performers of Lonnie's stature. He had a great career. It's too bad it couldn't have continued at the pace of the "Memphis" days forever, but then times and tastes change. I still enjoy playing his only vinyl album released on Fraternity Records in 1963, The Wham of that Memphis Man! Produced by another top Cincinnati guitar man, Carl Edmondson, the album has been a collector's item for years. Around 1970, Lonnie's manager, Harry Carlson of Fraternity, dealt the guitar man's contract to Elektra Records in Los Angeles, and from there Lonnie played on sessions with the Doors and also at their live performances. He recorded some good solo albums (Whatever's Right and Glad I'm in the Band) for Elektra, and convinced the A&R staff there to allow him to record a lot of the tracks where he felt the most inspiration--Cincinnati. He recorded at Rusty York's Jewel Recording in Mt. Healthy, a little studio in the older suburbs. On audio tape. No gimmicks. On the backs of the albums you will find the names of some of Cincinnati's best players of that time, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They include Lawson, who kept the beat as well as he did on "Memphis" in 1963. "We used so many musicians," Rusty once told me, "that we had to stick the horn players way out in the hallway."

Looking back on those days, they seem like a dream--vaguely remembered, yet real somehow. The record industry has changed, and so have people's tastes. But still, to me there is nothing more exciting than to pop The Wham of that Memphis Man down on a turntable and listen to Lonnie play guitar on "Wham!" and wail like the Hoosier blues man on "Where There's a Will There's a Way."

Farewell, Lonnie. You'll be picking with Dumpy and Rusty tonight.

Lonnie in better times, the 1960s.

Wayne Bullock on the B-3 at
musician's reunion party. Wayne 
played bass on "Memphis."
(Photo by Randy McNutt)

 Carl Edmondson picks the guitar,
minus the Driving Winds, June 20, 2016.
(Photo by Randy McNutt)