1969: Bethlehem’s Last Session?

As noted in Zero to 180’s recent history of Bethlehem Records in the “Post-Syd Nathan” era (i.e., starting in 1958, when Nathan acquired 50% of the label), Ruppli’s King recording sessionography indicates that some new recording had taken place at King’s Cincinnati studios in a few instances connected to the Bethlehem label, most seeming to take place 1962/63: The Mighty Faith Increasers; The Wilson Sisters; Jean Dee; Beverly Buff; The Guitar Crusher & The Vice-Roys.

Both Sides Now Publications documents the final years of Bethlehem in Part 4 of its informative Bethlehem Records Story:

By 1969, King had long since abandoned Bethlehem and its jazz catalog.  The last of those albums was released in 1965.  Syd Nathan himself had died in 1968, and the label was sold to Starday Records, now operating as Starday/King.  After four years of owning the imprint but releasing no product, Starday/King decided it would revive Bethlehem for a mixture of albums that didn’t seem to fit with their regular country (Starday) or soul (King) series.  So Bethlehem became the home of (1) a jazzy soul band (Dee Felice Trio) that was one of James Brown’s projects, (2) a saloon sing-along/ragtime/novelty band (The Saloonatics), (3) Wayne Cochran, a well-known rockabilly artist, (4) the Oscar Brandenburg Orchestra, a big band swing “orchestra” that was really Neil Richardson, Alan Moorehouse, and Johnny Pearson recording music to be used behind BBC test patterns for TV, (5) Azie Mortimer, a female jazz singer, and (6) to cap off the label, a reissue of a 1955 Dick Stabile studio album recorded in New York and advertised as recorded at a swanky New Orleans hotel.  Not the first time King pulled this trick, however.  The album had previously been issued on King 623 as Dancing on Sunset Strip.

The last Bethlehem-related session in Ruppli’s sessionography — The Saloonatics, who recorded their one and only album on April 29, 1969, Crazy World Crazy Tunes, which features country blues weeper, “I Get the Blues When It Rains” as the A-side of a 1969 single:

“I Get the Blues When It Rains”     The Saloonatics      1969

Note the 1929 Cadillac Dual Cowl Phaeton on the LP cover…

… while the rear cover features liner notes from none other than Mr. Dick Clark

Dick Clark’s liner notes:

The Saloonatics are a group of musicians and singers who entertain each night, and as a result of this daily contact with the people, they seem to know what the people like.  It is just that element, what the people like – that is reproduced here.

The story behind the Saloonatics and this album goes much further.  This recording is the accomplishment of an ambition for two men who have been in all phases of the music industry for many years.

Paul Striks plays piano and sings, Ralph Guenther plays bass and banjo and also sings.  They are the nucleus of the group presented here.  Saul was with a group called Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads from 1947 to 1960 and was on all the hit records produced by that group during those years.  Ralph was a recording musician for King Records in Cincinnati for many years, and participated in the recording of many hits.

Saul and Ralph knew each other but never worked together.  After a severe injury to Saul, which forced him to stop traveling, friends brought Saul and Ralph together again and insisted that they should work together.  The group, which began as an experiment, soon became an outstanding attraction in Cincinnati. 

The next step was recording:  the reasoning behind this was that Saul and Ralph had been on hit records before, but had never received credit for what they did on the records. They were anonymous.

Here are two experienced professionals finally getting the recognition they deserve.  The musicianship obvious in the piano and banjo playing is enhanced by the unique singing of both men.  Saul plays the piano and Ralph plays the banjo.  Saul sings “Me and My Shadow,” “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby” and “Red Silk Stockings.”  Ralph sings “Vo Da Dee O Do,” “I Get the Blues When It Rains,” “Just Because,” “Lock My Heart,” “San Francisco Bay Blues,” “Columbus Stockade Blues,” and the original song with the improbable title, “If My Baby Cooks as Good as She Looks, I’ll Be Happy All the Time.”

To this comination of musicians, another element was added – O.B. Marshall, a great arranger with many hits to his credits, was brought in to be the musical framework in which the talents of Saul Striks and Ralph Guenther would best be shown.  O.B. added a band of all-star recording musicians, and conducted the sessions as well as writing the arrangements.

That’s the crew:  Saul Striks, Ralph Guenther, and O.B. Marshall.  The result is this album.  We hope you enjoy it.  We did.

Bill Sachs, Cincinnati reporter in Billboard‘s ‘From the Music Capitals of the World’ column the week of June 10, 1972, notes that “The Saloonatics, namely Saul Striks, piano, and Ralph Guenther, banjo and bass, set for up an indefinite stay in the Terrace Hilton Hotel.  Striks was for many years with Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads.”

We know that Wayne Cochran and others had album releases on Bethlehem that followed The Saloonatics, so the big question that runs through this piece: Were the Saloonatics the last Bethlehem act to record at King’s Cincinnati studio — versus the Nashville studio used by the new consolidated Starday-King label (e.g., the JB’s featuring Bootsy & Catfish Collins and other CIncinnati musicians)?  And who exactly was the last artist to record at the King Studios – do we know?

Jazz Misrepresented As Surf?

The Australian All-Stars‘s 1959 album – Jazz for Beach-Niks – was originally released on Columbia Australia and picked up for US release four years later by King subsidiary label, Bethlehem (and reissued 2013 in Japan), subject of the previous history piece.  One can only presume Syd Nathan was trying to capitalize on the burgeoning surf sound via the misleading cover photo (strictly jazz – not a trace of surf).

Volume 1 = US release on Bethlehem in 1963

Billboard would deem Jazz for Beach-Niks “three stars” (indicating moderate sales potential) in the jazz section of the album reviews for its May 11, 1963 edition.

volume 2 = US release on Bethlehem in 1960

+Australian All-Stars = Beach-Nik Jazz LP

Vexingly, Bethlehem had already issued the Australian All-Stars sophomore album in 1960, three years prior to the US release of their first album.  Are you confused?

“Decidedly”     The Australian All-Stars     1960

Ruppli’s 2-volume King Labels recording sessions discography, sadly, is bereft of any information (“details not known”) about this release by The Australian All-Stars.  Fortunately, Discogs has the musician credits, with the following players listed on both albums:

Freddy Logan:   Bass
Ron Webber:      Drums
Terry Wilkinson: Piano
Don Burrows:     Saxes, Flutes & Clarinet
Dave Rutledge:   Tenor Sax & Flute

Bethlehem Records: Post-Syd

Syd Nathan would end up acquiring jazz label, Bethlehem Records, in a series of strategic moves over the course of years — so when exactly can Syd Nathan take credit for shaping the music released on that label?  Unfortunately, that’s a question that each person has to answer for him/herself.  I can, however, put forth some relevant information.

Gus Wildi, a Swiss immigrant, founded Bethlehem in 1954, as Billboard reports in its February 27, 1954 edition.  By 1958, however, Wildi – in a desperate bid to stay liquid – would give Syd Nathan half ownership of the label for distribution.  As Cash Box reports in its August 2, 1958 edition:

King Takes Over Bethlehem Distribution

CINCINNATI — Sydney Nathan, President of King Records, and Gus Wilde [sic], President of Bethlehem Records, jointly announced last week the conclusion of an agreement whereby King will take over the exclusive world-wide distribution of all the Bethlehem product. The agreement is effective immediately, but the distribution does not take place until the near future.

In discussing the take over of Bethlehem by King, Nathan pointed out that this is only the first of several deals now in negotiation whereby King is getting a new look and expanding its product line by agreements with other labels.

Wilde will continue as President of Bethlehem and will supervise the operation from his New York headquarters. A big program of regular monthly new releases is scheduled, starting in August with new albums by Mel Torme, and The Australian Jazz Quartet. In addition Wilde has concluded contracts for a new heavy recording schedule which kicks off.

This deal, on its surface, would seem to connote a 50/50 partnership, but as Both Sides Now Publications points out in their Bethlehem Records history piece, Syd Nathan immediately took charge once this new relationship was established:

From the time King Records essentially took over, Bethlehem slowly wound down. Nathan incessantly mined the back catalog for various artists compilations, and fewer and fewer new recordings were done…

Bethlehem continued to fade, and in 1962, Gus Wildi sold the remaining 50% of the company to Syd Nathan. By 1965, Nathan had just let the label fade away.

Around this period of time, Otis Redding, interestingly enough, would enter the picture when his debut single – “Fat Girl” b/w “Shout Bamalama” – needed a little extra help launching off the ground.  The debut 45 by Otis Redding and the Pinetoppers was originally released in 1962 on the Confederate label.  The single would find a new home that same year on tiny Orbit before enjoying wider distribution on Bethlehem two years later in 1964.

45Cat contributors Dead Wax and Ort. Carlton (among others) have the back story:

[Dead Wax] According to Peter Guralnik (Sweet Soul Music) the record was first issued on Confederate. The record enjoyed some local success, but not before Bobby (Confederate owner) was forced to change the name of the label to get airplay on r&b stations.  Also later re-issued on Conco, a Confederate related label, possibly co-owned by Wayne Cochran.

[Ort. Carlton] When several influential disc jockeys, including Big Saul at WOIC in Columbia, S. C. and John “R.” Richbourg at WLAC in Nashville heard the disc, they knew it was a hit, but both suggested a label name change. Apparently Bobby [Smith] and (to a lesser degree) Phil Walden put Orbit in business for this purpose only.

Bobby Smith Studios, according to Discogs, is a Macon, Georgia recording and production facility that was founded when Syd Nathan “commissioned the engineer and producer Bobby Smith to build a studio in the adopted hometown of the James Brown, the star of the King labels.”   45Cat contributor mickey rat with the discerning eye speculates aloud about Bobby Smith and his business relationship with Syd Nathan:

For years I’ve wondered who was involved in Boblo Music. I’ve always had it listed with that clutch of half a dozen imprints that Syd Nathan of King Records shared with his favourite producers (e.g. Men-Lo = Fred Mendelsohn & Syd Nathan and Son-Lo = Sonny Thompson & Syd Nathan, where the “Lo” bit was short for Nathan’s flagship publishing imprint Lois Music). Anyway after reading the current comments on the initial releases of this Otis Redding record on Confederate and Orbit it’s dawned on me that the “Bob” bit is probably Bobby Smith in Macon, GA. Looking quickly at other Boblo discs on King by James Duncan, Bobby Leeds, Billy Soul and Fabulous Denos, they all have a “BS” prefix on matrix numbers. Can anyone confirm this is indeed Bobby Smith? Interesting too that Boblo’s big hit was Wayne Cochran’s composition “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson. Nathan missed the actual record but would have done very well from the publishing royalties. Boblo seems to have evolved later into Macon Music, also a King related imprint I think.

Dead Wax staunchly refutes others’ assertions about the date of the Otis Redding recording session (Ruppli’s sessionography, for instance, says September, 1960) while also revealing the back story behind future Bethlehem recording artists, The Rockin’ Capris:

Recorded in March 1962 in Athens, GA, in the studios of WGTV, the public television station affiliated with the University of Georgia. Otis was backed by members of Wayne Cochran’s group, the Rockin’ Capris.

“Shout Bamalama”     Otis Redding & the Pinetoppers     1962

Ruppli’s King Labels recording sessionography indicates that some new recording did take place at King’s Cincinnati studios in a few instances related to the Bethlehem label, most seeming to take place 1962-63 (The Mighty Faith Increasers; The Wilson Sisters; Jean Dee; Beverly Buff; The Guitar Crusher; & The Vice-Roys), with a few faint stirrings up until 1969.

What’s In a Name?
From the Pen of Syd Nathan

Chief among Syd Nathan’s contributions to Freddy King’s musical legacy, notes Jon Hartley Fox in King of the Queen City, were the nonsensical titles he gave to the legendary blues musician’s original tunes:

As Freddie remembered, “‘Hide Away’ and ‘Just Pickin’,’ I think those are the only two I named.  I made ’em all, you know, wrote all the tunes, but the studio put the names to ’em.  Some of them, I don’t even know … They said ‘Swooshy,’ you know.  I’d listen to it and not even know what he’s talkin’ about.  They got some heck of a names in there.”

There seems to be a common thread running through “The Bossa Nova Watusi Twist,” “San-Ho-Zay” and some of the nuttier album titles coming out on the Bethlehem label post-Syd Nathan, as Jon Hartley Fox observes:

During King’s involvement with Bethlehem, King tried to broaden the audience for Bethlehem’s artists by releasing a series of multiple-artist compilation LPs with such cornball titles as Nothing Cheesy About This Jazz; We Cut This Album for Bread; Jazz Music for People Who Don’t Care About Money; A Lot of Yarn But A Well Knitted Jazz Album, and No Sour Grapes, Just Pure Jazz.

“El” Pauling & the Royalton

Lowman Pauling (a.k.a., “El Pauling“) exchanges vocal lines with Royal Abbit (i.e., “The Royalton“), while also taking the time to squeeze off some stinging guitar licks on “Solid Rock” — recorded June 9, 1960 in Cincinnati at the King Studios:.

“Solid Rock”     El Pauling & the Royalton     1960

Lowman Pauling — in a solo stint from The ‘5’ Royales, following their great run with King — teams up with Royal Abbit, “who would become the group’s pianist and replacement vocalist for any of the group members when sick,” according to 45Cat.  Over 50 years later, someone would pay $295 for an original copy of this Federal 45 described by The Houndblog as “rockin’ gospel” (check out the prices paid for other singles attributed to El Pauling).

The two vocalists would team up for three more Federal 45s of their own creation [streaming audio by clicking on song titles below]:

Billboard would praise the flip side as “heartfelt warbling stint on emotion-packed rockaballad” in their March 20, 1961 edition.

Billboard‘s October 23, 1961 edition would deem this single release four stars, indicating “strong sales potential.”

Billboard‘s review in its June 16, 1952 edition would rated the final 45 three stars, indicating “moderate sales potential.”

King Cash-In Surf LP #2

Zero to 180’s sprawling history trawl “Rare & Unreleased King” made passing reference to another surf-ploitation LP issued by King Records – 1963’s Surfin’ on Wave Nine – and even threatened to make that album the focus of a future history piece … whose time has come today.

Compared to Look Who’s Surfin’ Now (King LP previously celebrated hereSurfin’ on Wave Nine is a bit more of an organic affair, with only a modest amount of jiggery pokery involved.

Track Listing

  •                                 A1  The Vice-Roys – “Seagreen
  •                                 A2  The Nu-Trons – “Malibu Mal
  •                                 A3  The Tramps – “Maharadja
  •                                 A4  The Nu-Trons – “Tension
  •                                 A5  The Vice-Roys – “The Fox
  •                                 A6  Mickey Baker – “Gone
  •                                 B1  Mickey Baker – “Zanzie
  •                                 B2  The Vice-Roys – “Moasin’
  •                                 B3  The Nu-Trons – “Wild Side
  •                                 B4  The Wobblers – “The Wobble
  •                                 B5  The Nu-Trons – “Ninth Wave Out
  •                                 B6  The Vice-Roys – “Buzz Bomb

According to Ruppli’s 2-volume Kings recording sessionography, we can only be certain that two of these songs — “The Fox” and “Buzz Bomb” by The Vice-Roys — were recorded in Cincinnati.

The Vice-Roys would record their songs for King in three sessions:  c. Nov/Dec 1961 (“Moasin'”); c. September, 1962 (“Seagreen”); and April, 1963 (“The Fox” & “Buzz Bomb”).  Worth noting that King would issue a split single in 1963 with “Seagreen” by The Vice-Roys chosen as the flip side for “That Low Down Move” by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters.  But, as Discogs notes, “Seagreen” actually began life as an A-side issued on Bethlehem with the title “Seagram’s” – ostensibly a salute to the whiskey brand.  Both Sides Now Publications recounts the controversy:

In 1960, an instrumental rock band called the Viceroys brought Bethlehem an instrumental master they called “Seagrams,” apparently thinking the name of a hard liquor brand would be hip for teens.  Bethlehem liked the tune and released it. Unfortunately, Seagrams Corporation didn’t think it was funny and threatened to sue for trademark infringement, and some stations refused to play a song with the name of a commercial product without being paid for advertising time.  A sheepish notice in Billboard on March 23, 1960, said, “We Goofed!” and explained that “Seagrams” was now changed to “Seagreen.”

Worth noting that in that same March 23, 1960 edition of Billboard along with the official industry notice from King Records saying “We Goofed!” was this wink-wink news item:

Just Call This a Real Loaded Idea

SAN FRANCISCO— A novel record promotion originated by Bob Earl, San Francisco branch manager for King Records, has been picked up by the national record distributor and will be repeated in Cincinnati, Chicago and New York.

Bethlehem’s new recording of “Seagram,” sung by the Vice-roys, prompted Earl to include a half pint of Seagram’s VO whiskey and a package of Vice-roy cigarettes when delivery the disk, all wrapped up in gay “Mardi Gras” gift paper. Uniformed messenger delivery personnel called upon local deejays in the four top r & b and rock and roll stations in San Francisco and Oakland — KSAN, KEWB, KDIA and KYA.

The Nu-Trons would record two sessions for King — the first (“Tension” and “Wild Side”) in May, 1963 (possibly in Cincinnati — Ruppli is uncertain) and the second (“Malibu Mal” and “Ninth Wave Out” in June, 1963.

The Tramps‘s sole contribution “Maharadja” is the earliest contribution to this various artists compilation (August, 1961), but alas — the recording is leased from another label.

Mickey Baker‘s guitar instrumental classic “Zanzie” (previously celebrated here) was recorded – along with “Gone” – June, 1962 in Paris.

Without a doubt, the song most likely to grab your attention is “The Wobbler” which likely was recorded late (November?) in 1961 by The Wobblers:

“The Wobble”     The Wobblers     1961

Listen to King Surf Albums on the Radio!

This Saturday – September 8, 2018 from 6-8 PM – there will be a King Surf Party!  In 1963, King Records released several surf albums, Surfin’ on Wave NineLook Who Surfin’ Now and Freddie King Goes Surfin’, in response to the California craze.  Join WAIF FM radio hosts, Rock-it Rick, Midwest Surf Guy and Handsome Dan, as they play tracks from these King compilations on the legendary “Rockin’ & Surfin’ Show.”  Those who live outside Cincinnati can tune in on the web – click on the link to WAIF 88.3 FM.

King Cash-In Surf LP #1

In the course of sleuthing, I stumbled upon a King surf cash-in compilation from 1964 that, upon closer inspection, revealed a trio of “mystery bands” — The Surf Jumpers, The Wild Kats and The King Surfers — that are mysteriously absent from Ruppli’s otherwise fairly comprehensive 2-volume discography of King Records and its associated labels.  Further examination revealed the curious fact that every song title can only be found on this one King album with the one exception being “Low Tide” by Freddy King.

Track Listing

  •                          A1  James Brown – “Surfin’ Along”
  •                          A2  The Surf Jumpers – “Surfin’ Party”
  •                          A3  Albert King – Surfin’ the Blues Away
  •                          A4  Gene Redd – Surfin’ Beat
  •                          A5  The King Surfers – Surfin’ in the Far East
  •                          A6  The Wild Kats – Wild Surfin’
  •                          B1  Freddy King – Low Tide
  •                          B2  Little Willie John – High Tide
  •                          B3  King Curtis – Surfin’ in Blue
  •                          B4  Hank Moore – Cool Feet
  •                          B5  Johnny Otis – Let’s Surf Awhile
  •                          B6  Tonni Kalash – The Surf

Given what we’ve learned from the Philip Paul history piece about Gene Redd‘s 1959 recording “Zeen Beat” getting re-branded as “Surfin’ Beat,” I suspect that Syd Nathan simply re-titled 9 instrumentals from the King catalog that might possibly be mistaken for “surf beat” to go with the three new spiffy original surf-flavored tracks hastily thrown together by The Surf Jumpers, The Wild Kats, and especially The King Surfers.  One Discogs contributor even entreats:  “If anyone knows the original track names of these tracks which were re-titled for this release .. it would be very helpful.”

For example, I would bet big money that “Joggin’ Along” – from 1962’s James Brown and His Famous Flames Tour the U.S.A. – is the recording used for “Surfin’ Along,” a James Brown song title found nowhere else but here.

“Joggin’ [i.e., Surfin’] Along”     James Brown & His Famous Flames     1962

Ruppli’s discography indicates the Albert King recording to have taken place in St. Louis sometime in 1961 and even notes the song title as “Surfin’ the Blues Away.”  Nevertheless, I feel burned by Ruppli having titled the 1959 Gene Redd track as “Surfin’ Beat,” plus I’m highly dubious that Albert King was moved by the earliest surf strains of 1961 while located in the Midwest.

Ace UK, meanwhile, helped me figure out that 1961’s “Let’s Rock” by Johnny Otis (recorded in Los Angeles, with Johnny Guitar Watson) is the original recording used for “Let’s Surf Awhile” (which Ruppli notes as the title, not “Let’s Rock”).

I’m just guessing that “The Boss” by Tonni Kalash is plausibly surf sounding to pass as “The Surf” to less discerning ears.

Ruppli’s discography indicates the King Curtis track (“Surfin’ in Blue”) to be a 1957 blues instrumental recorded in NYC that originally bore the title “Wicky Wacky” (and, alternatively, “King Curtis Stomp”).

Dying to know whether “Katanga” – an instrumental attributed to Little Willie John from December, 1961 that was laid down in King’s Cincinnati studios – is the recording that was renamed “High Tide” for this album.  Can’t imagine King included many instrumentals (if any) on a Little Willie John LP or 45.

Tenor saxophonist session player Hank Moore stepped out as bandleader on a few tracks that were recorded in Cincinnati.  “Cool Feet” is one such track from March 9, 1961 that appears, miraculously, to have retained its original title – although, it figures that this instrumental would appear on Look Who’s Surfin’ Now and nowhere else.

Listen to King Surf Albums on the Radio!

This Saturday – September 8, 2018 from 6-8 PM – there will be a King Surf Party!  In 1963, King Records released several surf albums, Surfin’ on Wave Nine, Look Who Surfin’ Now and Freddie King Goes Surfin’, in response to the California craze.  Join WAIF FM radio hosts, Rock-it Rick, Midwest Surf Guy and Handsome Dan, as they play tracks from these King compilations on the legendary “Rockin’ & Surfin’ Show.”  Those who live outside Cincinnati can tune in on the web – click on the link to WAIF 88.3 FM.

“Atomic Telephone”: King 78

Folks who do not have enough dough (or shelf space) for Bear Family’s undoubtedly meticulous and wide-ranging box set of popular music from the original Atomic Age, can nevertheless simulate the experience by (1) keyword searching 78 RPM using the wordatomic” (also “atom“) and then (2) listening to desired tracks via YouTube streaming audio.

Bear Family’s Atomic Platters 5 CD/1 DVD Box Set from 2005atomic-platters-box-set

I especially like that the search results from 78 RPM are in chronological order.  Note that the earliest songs in the first search (“atomic”) are from 1946, however the second search (“atom”) yields a song from 1945 that is not in the Bear Family box set and competes with Slim Gaillard’s “Atomic Cocktail” (not published until 1946, according to this site) for earliest song about atom splitting — “Atom Boogie” by Sammy Franklin (sadly, not yet uploaded onto YouTube).

The box set would also include King Records‘ big contribution to the national conversation: 1947’s “When They Found the Atomic Power” by Hawkshaw Hawkins and, four years later, The Spirit of Memphis Quartet‘s “The Atomic Telephone” – a song credited to Henry Glover, Lois Mann (i.e., Syd Nathan) and Eddie Smith.

“The Atomic Telephone”     The Spirit of Memphis Quartet     1951

The Spirit of Memphis Quartet – Jethro Bledsoe (lead vocals), Silas Steele, Willmer “Little Axe” Broadnax and others (supporting vocals) — recorded the original version of “Atomic Telephone” on August 14, 1951 at the King Studios in Cincinnati.  1951 would also see “The Atomic Telephone” covered by The Harlan County Four –recorded in Cincinnati on October 29, 1951, according to Ruppli’s King Labels sessionography — yet another early example of Syd Nathan putting one of “his” songs (published by Lois Music) to work in more than one “market.”

Johnny Sippel, Billboard‘s man on the “Folk Talent and Tunes” beat, would report in the May 3, 1952 edition that KMA disk jockey Lee Sutton of Shenandoah, Iowa “conducted a contest, asking listeners to guess the names of the Harlan County Four, new King artists” [i.e., Alton and Rabon Delmore, plus Zeke and Ulysses (“Red“) Turner, as affirmed by PragueFrankBillboard‘s record review of The Harlan County Four version in the February 9, 1952 edition would note that this “fast-tempo spiritual shows off the nice blend of the group and their sincere vocalizing.”]

The song would get name-checked in Bob Groom’s essay “Beyond the Mushroom Cloud:  A Decade of Disillusion in Black Blues and Gospel Song” [included in 2008’s Ramblin’ On My Mind:  New Perspectives on the Blues, edited by David Evans]:

Many of [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur’s supporters had favored “nuking” the enemy out of existence, failing to understand the consequences if Russia retaliated on behalf of China.  The lethal power of the nuclear weapon was not readily apparent from recordings like “Atom and Evil,” a humorous parody recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet on June 5, 1946 (Columbia 37236), and the Spirit of Memphis Quartet’s “The Atomic Telephone” (King 4521), recorded August 14, 1951.  It was hard to imagine the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki happening in America, and the government promoted among the population the naive belief that fall-out shelters would protect most people from harm.  The development of the hydrogen bomb offered an even speedier path to annihilation, but even this weapon could become a macho image.  Certainly, singer Bob Ferguson used it to stress his power as a performer when he adopted his nom-de-disque “H-Bomb” Ferguson in 1951.

The original 1951 King 78 release “Atomic Telephone b/w “He Never Let Go My Hand” sells for two figures at auction.

On a Related Note   

Check out bless-this-soul.com‘s King & Queen Gospel Discography

“Hey Mister Cotton Picker”: On the Cusp of the New Rock Sound

Nick Tosches would include a “Chronology of the Coming of Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1984’s Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll (subtitle: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Dark and Wild Years Before Elvis) that begins in January, 1945.  October, 1946 is when Cincinnati’s King Records makes its first appearance on Tosches’ proto-rock-‘n’-roll timeline:

Moon Mullican‘s ‘New Milk Cow Blues’ (King 578) is released.”

But alas – if only the song were available for us to preview on YouTube — would love to know how many people reading this history piece own an original 78 of Moon Mullican’s “New Milk Cow Blues” (especially since the song has been only reissued in Europe)…

One year prior to Elvis’s legendary Sun sessions, however, Mullican would record an especially swinging release “Hey Mister Cotton Picker” in Nashville on April 20, 1953 that King (who would categorize the song as “Folk/Western”) would issue as a single the following month:

“Hey Mister Cotton Picker”     Moon Mullican     1953

The version recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford (featuring Speedy West, no doubt), alas, appears to have been the first one recorded (April, 1953), with Tex Williams and Roberta Lee, and the (Three) McGuire Sisters and Art Lund also putting their artistic stamp on “Hey Mister Cotton Picker” that same year.

The text on the King DJ/promo “bio disc” tells us that “when Moon was 8, his father brought a fine pump organ home, and it was on this that Mullican developed his distinctive two-fingered right-hand style of playing the piano.”

But wait!  Larry Nager’s comments about one of the more famous guests who stayed at Cincinnati’s Carrousel Inn (i.e., Merle Haggard & the Strangers in the 1980s, including the great mandolin player from Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys band, Tiny Moore) would direct Zero to 180 back to the Billy Jack Wills reissue disc already in his collection — transcriptions recorded for radio broadcast at Radio Station KFBK in Sacramento, California between 1952-1954 (among Moore’s finest playing, as Tiny would tell Nager), including a spanking version of the song (simply titled “Mr. Cotton Picker” on the track listing), with young steel virtuoso, Vance Terry, on steel guitar.

Lesson learned:  Given the alternate form of “Mr.,” I should have broadened my search by trying a search without “Mister” (six letters).

Mullican’s final recording session for King would take place three later years in Cincinnati.  As notes Phil Davies in his tribute to Moon Mullican – “King of the Hillbilly Piano Players” – for the Rockabilly Hall of Fame:

“[Mullican] tackled rock head on by going into King’s studio in January 1956 with Boyd Bennet’s band.  Together they cut the rightfully classic “Seven Nights To Rock” and “I’m Mad With You.”  What a brilliant gesture by a plump middle aged balding piano player, let’s show this durn kids that they didn’t invent the big beat.  I was partly prompted to write this piece after sadly reading an interview with BR549 where they said they’d covered the song because they were familiar with Nick Lowe’s (ex-son-in-law of Mr Cash, married Carlene Carter) 1980s cut, not with Moon’s original!  That says a lot about the modern country stations in the US.”

Further Reading:   Moon Mullican looms large in Zero to 180’s recent tribute to pioneering King session drummer, Calvin “Eagle Eye” Shields

Listen now!   WVXU radio host and music historian Lee Hay has produced numerous shows pertaining to King Records history.  Lee continues her profiles on King artists with a look at Moon Mullican:

“Known as the King of the Hillbilly Piano Players, singer, songwriter and pianist Moon Mullican was an innovator who merged styles such as blues, pop and honkytonk, showing what was possible for young pianists such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Floyd Cramer. His work predated rock ‘n’ roll by years, and his influence is still felt in the outlaw movement, rockabilly and country.  There’ll be interviews with Mullican’s nephew, Oscar Pepper; John Rumble, Senior Historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame; and Kathy Hughes, daughter of Cowboy Copas, who performed with Mullican on the Grand Ole Opry; as well as Billy Grammer, session guitar player for Mullican; and Calvin “Eagle Eye” Shields, King Records house drummer.  Listen on the web — Saturday, September 1, 2018 at 11 PM (also Sunday @ 7 PM and Monday @ 1 PM) @ WVXU

King’s Classic Yodeling 78

78 RPM claims that King released Carolina Cotton‘s signature song “I Love to Yodel” (penned by the singer herself) as the B-side – Discogs, too.  I find that hard to believe:

“I Love to Yodel”     Carolina Cotton     1946

According to the person who posted this audio clip on YouTube:

Recorded 30 October 1946 (possibly) at Radio Recorders, 7000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood , CA — Hank Penny Orchestra a.k.a. Carolina Cotton Pickers (Hank Penny [leader], Carolina Cotton [vcl], Fred Cianci [fiddle], Ralph Miele [steel], Doye O´Dell [gt/vcl?], Max Fidler [fiddle], Bob Caudana [accordion], and possibly Eddie Bennett [piano].

Carolina Cotton was born Helen Hagstrom in Cash Arkansas (1925 – 1997) a.k.a., “The Yodelling Blonde Bombshell.”

“I Love to Yodel” b/w “Mocking Bird Yodel”

Surprisingly little fanfare surrounding this unjustly obscure western swing King classic – released in November, 1949.  Exactly three years prior, King had released Cotton’s first single “Three Miles South of Cash (In Arkansas)” b/w “Singing on the Trail” in November, 1946.  Cotton briefly performed with Hank Penny, reports the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, who undoubtedly helped her get signed with King.

I first learned of this song by way of cassette, interestingly enough — yet another influential musical moment facilitated by the Cherokee Trading Post, who once sold tapes of King recordings (sometimes conjoined with items from the Starday label) produced by Gusto/IMG — owners of the King and Starday combined catalog since 1975.  The cassette in question All Star Western Swing — as with Country Tunes Done R&B (celebrated in the previous piece) — has no corresponding catalog record in Discogs, nor can you find any information about it on the web (okay, one reference).

Undated cassette – produced by Gusto/IMG

Furthermore, just as with Country Tunes Done R&B, there is a King LP that appears to be the inspiration for the cassette version marketed by IMG/Gusto — in this case, 1963’s Western Swing – Famous Western Bands.  This vinyl long-playing collection contains all 8 songs found on the cassette plus 4 additional tunes by Paul Howard (& His Arkansas Cotton Pickers), Leon Rusk, Luke Wills (& His Rhythm Busters), and Jimmie Widener.

Western Swing – Famous Western Bands [King LP 876]

[click on song title links below to hear streaming audio]

A little surprised by the fact that five of the twelve songs included on this album are not yet available for preview on YouTube.

*Amusingly, the label says “Bring It On to My House HENRY

I remember sending copies of these tapes to Larry Nager during my first flush of wonder back in the 1990s on my annual trips to Cincinnati, and Larry theorizing that places like Cherokee Trading Post in semi-rural West Virginia just might be the last vestiges of Syd Nathan’s distribution system in place — “bringing the music to the people” where they live.

“I Love to Yodel” can also be found on this rare Audio Lab EP

An earlier version of “I Love to Yodel,” by the way, would be recorded for Cotton to sing in the 1944 film I’m From Arkansas. (click on link to watch the clip).  Check out the Carolina Cotton website for lots of great information and vintage photos.

King’s ‘Country Done R&B’ LP

Just after I finished putting together the “Chew Tobacco Raghistory piece, I happened to have stumbled upon a 1964 King LP compilation – Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs – that no doubt served as a template for the Gusto King cassette compilation, Country Tunes Done R&B, that I had once picked up at the Cherokee Trading Post near Wheeling, West Virginia.  I thought it might be fun to compare two collections that both set out on the same mission.

          1964 King LP                          vs.              undated Gusto cassette

Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs [King LP 884]

[streaming audio web links indicated in blue and red]

Interesting to see which tracks on this album Syd Nathan does not own a piece of, i.e., hits by Buck Owens, Hank WIlliams, George Jones, Toni Harper, Leon McAulilffe and Merle Travis — half of the album.  Odd to see “Lonesome Whistle Blues” (written by Rudy Toombs, Elson Teat & James Moore, a.k.a., Slim Harpo), included on this King compilation — the only recording on this album that was not an R&B makeover of a honky tonk hit.

Despite King’s past leading-edge efforts in helping country music cross over into the R&B market and vice versa, I can’t help thinking this King collection was packaged in response to the massive commercial success enjoyed by Ray Charles on his 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western.  Sure enough, if you read the back cover liner notes (made possible by Discogs, tip of the hat!), you will see King informing the music-buying public that their label had, in fact, already blazed a trail with regard to this type of cross-marketing prior to Ray Charles:

This is a rare combination!  An All Star variety combination which is different, exciting, powerful, entertaining!  There is little chance to be bored or get ear fatigue from listening to a whole album by just one artist … each is different, each is a contrast, each complements the others.  A great new idea from KING RECORDS … RHYTHM AND BLUES stars meet and greet and sing some of the GREATEST COUNTRY SONGS of all time.

It’s different to say the least, yet the personal style and approach by these R&B singers to country music is amazing.  Each one of them seems to feel this kind and type of music differently and each one adapts the song to his own personality.  True the talented Ray Charles leads the way for R&B singers to do country songs and have them accepted by the public, however, it’s an interesting fact that most of the performances included herein were recorded prior to the actual recording dates of Ray Charles for his famous country album.  Who is to say for sure who was first or who originated the idea … the only important thing is that great and wonderful songs found a new meaning and have been recorded by other than strictly country artists.  It had always been sort of an unwritten rule that only country artists could sell country songs and that for anyone else to record them was unacceptable.  Well, this old hat theory went the way of the winds as proven by inspired renditions of these twelve block-busters.

While it is true that Syd Nathan’s cross-marketing efforts go at least as far back as 1949 with Bull Moose Jackson’s arrangement of “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,”I find it hilarious that King is trying to take credit for pioneering the “country done R&B” concept (“it’s an interesting fact that most of the performances included herein were recorded prior to the actual recording dates of Ray Charles for his famous country album”) using this compilation LP, as only two of the twelve songs on this album  precede Modern Sounds in Country and Western!  King obviously knows this to be the case, hence the label’s hedging (“who is to say for sure who was first or who originated the idea”) in the very next sentence.

Country Tunes Done R&B  [Starday Best of Country – Vol. Eleven – year unknown]

[streaming audio web links indicated in blue and red]

I’ve noticed in recent years that those Starday-King cassette tapes I began buying in the mid-1990s on my annual trips to Ohio are no longer available for purchase at the Cherokee Trading Post,   Just as there are certain songs or versions/arrangements that can only be found on 8-track (a fun topic previously explored here), I suspect that at least one of my Starday cassettes issued by Gusto/IMG just might harbor recordings that can be found only on cassette tape [the one example that comes readily to mind is a very hot instrumental “Western Limited Boogie” by Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys – previously celebrated here].  Google the album title “Country Tunes Done R&B” and notice that – outside of Zero to 180 – the internet has no record of this cassette’s existence.  Not the worst tragedy in the world, since there are only two songs on this 8-song cassette that are not already included on Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs. (though the Charles Brown recording common to both albums is worth seeking out).