How fun and fulfilling to see Philip Paul (as well as Bootsy Collins and Otis Williams) included in the official photograph taken on the day when Jack White was awarded the key to the city in early June, 2018 by Cincinnati mayor, John Cranley, while strategically positioned outside the original King Records headquarters in Evanston.
[L to R: Bootsy Collins; Otis Williams; Jack White; Mayor John Cranley; Patti Collins & Philip Paul at Cincinnati’s King Records = photo courtesy of Jack White]
Paul would recount for historian Steven C. Tracy in Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City (1993) the creative pressures of being a studio musician and the demands placed on the drummer by Syd Nathan to keep rhythms endlessly fresh:
Well, like I would get a call the same morning. You know, maybe 7 or 7:30 a.m. Can you get over here in a half hour? O.K. I’d get up and walk over there. And, uh, maybe the artist wouldn’t be there. But maybe whoever the A&R man was may have, would have a little riff or something in his head. He’d say, ‘It goes like this’ or something, you know? And we’d wait until the artist arrived, and the artist would sing. Maybe they couldn’t keep four bars together. But we’d work until we put something together. If it took all day … Yeah, with the little head sets. And they used all kinds of recording devices. But basically they never came, very seldom did they come in with charts for everybody and say play this, play this, play that. It was always – Syd Nathan wanted you to do something fresh all the time. I don’t care if you recorded three albums a day, he always wanted something different. He didn’t want the same beat on every tune. And you would have to sit there and come up with something. Because he would be in the booth hollering at you, you know. I look back on that and it was very insulting at the time, but it was a lesson also, because he provided musicians an opportunity to record under those conditions and see what recording was really about.
Getting the “right sound” at King would, for Paul, also involve the occasional use of kettle drums, wood blocks, and even a suitcase in place of a kick drum, points out Tracy.
Paul would initially intersect with King Records in 1952 through his professional relationship with Tiny Bradshaw — whose group had the house band gig at Cincinnati’s top black nightspot, the Cotton Club, according to Tracy. Six months earlier, Bradshaw had first taken notice of Paul’s playing at the Savoy Ballroom. The next nine years with Bradshaw would serve as a proving ground:
We knew we had to work hard. Like we would play an hour set; he didn’t restrict us. We was basically a blues band, but we had, at times we had some guys in the band that were very good jazz players. Sonny Stitt played with us. Johnny Griffin played with us. Al Sears played with us. We had all kinds of musicians out of Duke [Ellington]’s band playing with us. So when they came in the band, even if it was for one night or two nights, they really had to work. Noble Watts, Sil Austin – oh God, we wore out tenor players. But Red [Prysock] was the backbone; he could really handle it.
It was through Bradshaw, as Tracy writes, that “Paul got hooked up with King, and countless sessions followed.” According to Brian Powers, Paul has played on over 350 recordings and, like Calvin ‘Eagle Eye‘ Shields, backed a number of King’s country artists, such as Bonnie Lou, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins (also Grandpa Jones, say both Tracy and Nager), even though documentation is similarly and frustratingly scant.
Paul – whose father (from St. Croix) played trumpet and uncle drummed professionally – grew up in Harlem. While in New York, according to Steven Tracy, “Paul played with Milt Larkin, recorded for Decca with Buddy Johnson, and cut some sides with Basie sidemen accompanying Jimmy Rushing.” As Powers notes in A King Records Scrapbook:
His career took off when he began playing with jazz musicians Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie. He got a regular gig at the famed Savoy Ballroom in Harlem with Buddy Johnson’s Big Band that featured the great vocalist Arthur Prysock. Eventually Paul met bandleader Tiny Bradshaw whose drummer, Calvin ‘Eagle Eye’ Shields, was leaving the band. Bradshaw was impressed with Paul’s playing.
Paul’s ability to be on call as a session musician at King was facilitated by means of a house in Evanston “which Syd Nathan had helped him purchase,” points out Powers. Even after Nathan’s passing in 1968, Paul continued to forge a musical career, as Powers explains, that enabled him to remain rooted in Cincinnati but with the flexibility to tour as needed:
By the late 1960s, Paul began several years of recording for Columbia Records in New York as one-third of Roy Meriwether‘s hard-driving gospel-influenced trio. [Stone Truth and Popcorn & Soul, both LPs from 1966]. He played for six years at the Carrousel Inn on Reading Road in [Cincinnati’s Roselawn neighborhood], but also toured with jazz artists like Herbie Mann, Jimmy Smith and Nat Adderley throughout most of the country. He played festivals and clubs, including the famous Apollo Theater in New York. Paul has accompanied George Wein & the Newport All-Stars throughout the United States and Canada.
Philip Paul: the Roselawn connection
Paul would eventually get “overdue” recognition for his contributions to music history, thanks to Larry Nager‘s profile – “Keeping Time” – in the October, 2009 edition of Cincinnati Magazine. Among Cincinnati’s household names and musical institutions, Nager notes unequivocally, “when it comes to impacting American music and culture, this quiet, unassuming octogenarian stands alone.” Furthermore, Nager cogently observes, “as America struggles to find something – anything! – we can sell to the world, the one unqualified success continues to be our music,” as Ebay prices in the new century for original vinyl make clear (see discography/listening section below).
In 2002, the Cincinnati Enquirer would bestow upon Paul a Lifetime “Cammy” (Cincinnati Area Music) Award as part of a select group, Legends of King Records. Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, in 2009, would create a special exhibit, as part of its of Songwriters to Sound Men series, to celebrate the session work of Paul — who would also receive that same year an Ohio Heritage Fellowship, “the state’s highest honor for traditional artists,” notes Nager. Says the Ohio Arts Council: “The Ohio Heritage Fellowship program recognizes Ohio folk and traditional artists who are influential masters of their particular art forms and traditions, and whose work has had a significant impact on their communities.”
PHILIP PAUL TRIO – CINCINNATIAN HOTEL
[Photo courtesy of bill Hulsizer]
The 21st century would find Philip Paul issuing his first album, 2003’s It’s About Time, on which he served as bandleader — supporting musicians would include Peter Frampton, Edwyn Conley, Kenny Poole, Steve Schmidt, and Mike Sharf. The following year, Paul and Conley would comprise the rhythm section for Big Joe Duskin‘s final album, Big Joe Jumps Again!, joined by Frampton on two tracks, as well as producers, Larry Nager (bass) and William Lee Ellis (guitar). A 2016 Cincinnati Jazz Hall of Fame Inductee, Paul – who has been a weekly fixture at the Cincinnatian Hotel’s Cricket Lounge for countless years – would be feted in 2018 by Cincinnati’s Listernmann Brewing Company with a beer “Fas Foot Phil” named in his honor.
[Photo courtesy of Bill Hulsizer]
A Philip Paul Jukebox!
King Recording Session Chronology: 1952-1963*
→ Click on song title links below to hear streaming audio of songs ←
- Tiny Bradshaw & His Orchestra — Oct. 6, 1952 — Cincinnati
- Bullmoose Jackson w/ Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra — Oct. 6, 1952 — Cincinnati
Original “Big Ten-Inch Record” 78s & 45s can do well at auction
- Tiny Bradshaw & His Orchestra — Jan. 19, 1953 — Cincinnati
- Tiny Bradshaw & His Orchestra — Jul. 29, 1953 — Cincinnati
1954 King EP = 4 songs on 45
- Tiny Bradshaw & His Orchestra — Apr. 5, 1954 — Cincinnati
- Wynonie Harris — Apr 14, 1954 — Cincinnati
Original King single sells respectably well at auction
Other single from the same recording session does even better at auction
- The Midnighters — Apr. 24, 1954 — Cincinnati
“Sexy Ways” one of 1954’s top 10 R&B records (sales & jukebox) per Billboard
NOTE: Released on the Federal label in US but on King in Canada — what gives?
- Tiny Bradshaw & His Orchestra — Sep. 1, 1954 — Cincinnati
- Tiny Bradshaw & His Orchestra — Jan. 11, 1955 — Cincinnati
King “bio disc“
Flip slide refers to the bandleader as “Brad”!
- Rufus Gore — Feb. 24, 1955 — New York City
This Rufus Gore session is only one Paul recorded outside of Cincinnati
- Bill Jennings Quintet — Jul. 24, 1955 — Cincinnati
People have paid three and even four figures for Bill Jennings’ King releases
- John Puckett Trio — Jun. 7, 1957 — Cincinnati
- Tiny Topsy & the Charms — Oct. 2, 1957 — Cincinnati
- Titus Turner — Nov. 7, 1957 — Cincinnati
45 can fetch three figures at auction
- Earl Connelly King — Nov. 7, 1957 — Cincinnati
- Tiny Bradshaw — Jan. 16, 1958 — Cincinnati
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Aug. 6, 1959 — Cincinnati
- Gene Redd & the Globe Trotters — Sep. 4, 1959 — Cincinnati
- Rudy West — Sep. 29, 1959 — Cincinnati
Rudy West — lead tenor for The Five Keys
- Little Willie John & Strings — Dec. 23, 1959 — Cincinnati
Both songs included on 1961 King LP
- Lynn Hope — Mar. 4, 1960 — Cincinnati
King 45 issued on UK ‘ska’ label — note “corrected” spelling to King’s English!
- Lynn Hope — Mar. 28, 1960 — Cincinnati
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Mar. 31, 1960 — Cincinnati
Tab Smith — Apr. 28, 1960 — Cincinnati
- Little Willie John — Jul. 8, 1960 — Cincinnati
Billboard chart history for “Sleep” (#13), “Walk Slow” (#48) & “Very Thought” (#61)
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Jul. 26, 1960 — Cincinnati
The Chambers Brothers & East Bay Soul Brass among groups to cover “Let’s Go”
- Tab Smith — Aug. 5, 1960 — Cincinnati
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Aug. 16, 1960 — Cincinnati
Note: “Hoochi Coochi Coo” peaked at #23 on Jan. 30, 1961 — 11 weeks on chart
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Aug. 17, 1960 — Cincinnati
- Smokey Smothers [w/ Freddy King] — Aug. 25, 1960 — Cincinnati
“Smokey’s Lovesick Blues“; “Crying Tears“; “Midnight and Day“; “Honey, I Ain’t Teasin’“; “Blind and Dumb Man Blues“; “What Am I Going To Do“; “I’ve Been Drinking Muddy Water“; “I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man No More“; “You’re Gonna Be Sorry“; “Can’t Judge Nobody“; “Give It Back“; “Come On Rock Little Girl“
Jon Hartley Fox writes in 2009’s King Records history, King of the Queen City: “Guitarist and singer Otis ‘Smokey’ Smothers [Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist prior to signing with King] never came close to stardom, but for a period in the early 1960s, he had one of the most talked-about albums of the day. Smokey Smothers Sings the Backporch Blues, released in 1962, is highly coveted by collectors today as one of the rarest of blues albums. Forty-five years ago, it was an unexpected blast of down-home blues that took everybody by surprise.”
[Auction alert! $1223 paid in 2009 for original Smokey Smothers King LP]
- Freddy King — Aug. 25, 1960 — Cincinnati
“Attn: Disc Jocks – This instrumental will be liked by The Teenagers!”
- Clifford Scott — Nov. 26, 1960 — Cincinnati
- Clifford Scott — Dec. 6, 1960 — Cincinnati
1962 French EP on Odeon
- Freddy King — Jan. 17, 1961 — Cincinnati
- Freddy King — Jan. 18, 1961 — Cincinnati
- Hank Marr [w/ Freddy King] — Jan. 18, 1961 — Cincinnati
- Freddy King — Apr. 5, 1961 — Cincinnati
$255 paid in 2008 for this 1961 King LP
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Jul. 18, 1961 — Cincinnati
- Freddy King — Jul. 24, 1961 — Cincinnati
“Christmas Tears” & “Jingle Bells” strictly 45 tracks — reissued in 1975 (below)
- Eddie Clearwater [w/ Hank Marr & Freddy King] — Nov. 22, 1961 — Cinti.
$261 in 2017 for this A-side
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Jan. 6, 1962 — Cincinnati
1962 King LP does pretty well at auction
- Freddy King — Jan. 10, 1962 — Cincinnati
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Sep. 12, 1962 — Cincinnati
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters — Sep. 13, 1962 — Cincinnati
- Bob Kames — October 1-4, 1962 — Cincinnati
Songs that would comprise 1962 King LP Bob Kames Goes Western
- Milt Buckner [w/ Gene Redd] — Nov. 26, 1962 — Cincinnati
- Milt Buckner — Mar. 5, 1963 — Cincinnati
1963 Milt Buckner LP reissued in Japan in 2013
- Freddy King — Sep. 26, 1963 — Cincinnati
“If You Have It” — from especially rare Freddy King album (King LP 931)
[*Source: The King Labels: A Discography, edited by Michel Ruppli & Bill Daniels]
A King History Moment: Session Bassist Bill Willis
Bill Willis quoted in 2000’s Rollin’ and Tumblin’: The Postwar Blues Guitarists:
King Records had four of us who played on everything — me, Philip Paul on drums, Sonny Thompson on piano and Freddie Jordan on guitar. Everything was live so you had that spontaneous feeling going. None of us played together outside. The only time we played together was in the studio. A lot of times I didn’t hear what I was playing, like on “Hide Away,” because I went directly into the board. They turned my bass amp off, and I very rarely used headphones. I wanted to hear everybody through the room and catch all the nuances.
Philip Paul Postscript from Brian Powers — in a Zero to 180 exclusive:
I am sure Paul played on some Cowboy Copas stuff — before Copas left King in 1955, but I couldn’t tell ya what. I’m pretty sure he played on Hawkshaw Hawkins’ album recorded in fall 1962 (with Gene Redd on vibes and Bill Willis on bass), which had a number one country hit with “Lonesome 7-7203.” I know this because Ray Pennington told me – he produced it and there quite a few songs written by Ray.
But, as Jon Harley Fox notes with a heavy heart (in King of the Queen City):
After a long, dry spell with only one hit to his credit, Hawkins returned to King in 1962. He cut twelve songs in a September session, including the song that restarted his career, “Lonesome 7-7203,” a honky-tonk shuffle in the style of Ray Price. It would be Hawkins’s first number one hit single, but he wouldn’t live to see it happen. Just three days after the record entered the Billboard county chart, Hawkshaw Hawkins was killed in a plane crash with Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. Nothing else from Hawkins’s last session made the charts.
Be sure to check out these special radio moments with Philip Paul: