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Author of King Records of
Publication date: June 1, 2009
Why is King Records important?
Because it became a model for labels that followed later in the 1940s. Syd Nathan, the owner with the goggle glasses, knew what he was doing. Few companies could afford to build their own studios, launch a series of sales offices across the nation, and hire a staff of more than 600 people. But other label owners did take time to follow Nathan's lead in taking charge of his own business model. They realized that one-stop's and jukeboxes would play a large role in selling records. They began to milk these ideas. New labels also took King's vision and applied it to their music. They learned that the bulk of any label's long-term income came from publishing, so they courted writers and producers. Newer labels also gave BMI a good look, as Nathan had done before he signed his Lois Music Publishing to the rights organization. In those days, BMI as just beginning, and it was trying to find as many publishers as possible.
How did you research the information for the book?
After producing records on my own for years, in Cincinnati, Nashville, New York, and other places, I became interested in the session players who worked with me in Cincinnati. I had heard many stories about them, of course; they had accomplished many things during their long careers. But I didn’t know that some of the white musicians had played on James Brown’s recording sessions. I didn’t know that some of the country musicians had played on R&B sessions at King. So I started interviewing them—the people who made the music at King. I became so fascinated that I continued talking with more and more of them, over 15, 20 years. Then I interviewed the company’s executives and songwriters and office workers. Finally, I decided to write a book about King. But my focus was always on the performers and the songwriters and all the other people who created the music. They really achieved something. They made something that lasted.
What will readers find interesting about the book?
They will find the book full of surprises. They will say, “Why, I didn’t know that Joe Tex recorded for King—or the Platters, or Guy Mitchell.” So many singers recorded for King. Unfortunately, some were either at the very beginning or the very end of their long careers, so their work at King isn’t all that well known to the public—in and out of Cincinnati. But many other excellent performers did end up on the charts for the first time with King Records in Cincinnati. And the location, I’m sure, will intrigue a lot of local people. They just assume that very little ever happened musically in their hometown when, in fact, a lot happened here. The infrastructure for having hit records existed here in those days, making Cincinnati one of the top music cities in the country, along with New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, and a few others. When I told their stories in my book Guitar Towns, I called them regional music centers—cities with music establishments that operated independently of the major recording cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville. And King Records helped Cincinnati become the big music town that it was. Hundreds of nationally charted recordings came out of Cincinnati, most of them on King.
What writing advice would you give to aspiring authors and historians?
Find a subject you are passionate about, and learn all you can about it. Continue to pursue your idea and don’t give up. If you don’t document fading history, chances are it will be lost to time. Ask yourself, Why not me? You don’t need a doctorate in history. Those people have their place in the world of history, but I prefer to read what is known popular history. It’s the people’s history. University professors used to write it to educate and entertain the public—and to become well-known writers. Then in the 1970s they gave up on this kind of writing to focus on their inside-the-education-community work. I write about how the history connects to us. Past to present. I enjoy writing about the people behind the movements. The people are the most important part of any record company or music movement. Really, about anything. Write about them in a moving but simple way so that anyone can understand your message. I write about all kinds of subjects, but I usually return to music history because I—and many of the people I knew—was a small part of it.
What lasting impact do you hope your book will leave?
I hope that a century from now, someone will discover a copy of King Records of Cincinnati, blow the dust off the covers and say, “Wow, I didn’t know any hit records came out of Cincinnati.” Then that person will turn on the latest high-tech listening device and play “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Train Kept a Rollin’.” I suppose that’s what every writer hope to achieve—longevity of the work. In King Records and other books, we have time capsules made of paper.
Randy McNutt is former reporter with The Cincinnati Enquirer and a contributing editor for several national magazines. He has written twenty-three books and hundreds of stories for book anthologies, magazines, and newspapers across the United States. His music books include The Cincinnati Sound; King Records of Cincinnati; Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock ’n’ Roll; Little Labels—Big Sound: Small Record Companies and the Rise of American Music (with Rick Kennedy), We Wanna Boogie: An Illustrated History of the American Rockabilly Movement; and Too Hot to Handle: An Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the Twentieth Century.