Is it possible that the Jenning’s March 25, 1970 appearance on ABC’s wildly successful Johnny Cash Show is what prompted A&M that same year to make a renewed attempt to cash in on their mid-60s recordings of Waylon?
1970’s Don’t Think Twice — Waylon’s only LP on A&M — issued in US & UK
Jennings, you might recall (though likely not), was the subject of an early Zero to 180 piece that featured his unusually bass-centric take on Bob Gibson’s “Abilene.”
Know Your Product
Examine the cover carefully and note that A&M couldn’t even be bothered to transcribe the song title correctly: “I Didn’t Believe You”!
John Hartford‘s strings version of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” which kicks off the Jud soundtrack LP: Is it true, as the person who posted this YouTube video states, that this 45 was “never released”?
As it turns out, Hartford “doesn’t seem to play a lick, actually” on “One Too Many Mornings,” cheekily observes YouTube contributor been there.
Billboard, in its May 29, 1971 edition, would praise this “folk rhythm ballad” as part of its “Special Merit Spotlight” that features “newsingles deserving special attention of programmers and dealers” (opposite a full-page promotional ad for Karen Dalton’s album, In My Own Time):
From the soundtrack of the film ‘Jud,’ Hartford has a strong commercial reading of the Bob Dylan folk rhythm ballad with much chart potential.
The following week’s June 5, 1971 edition would likewise find the Jud soundtrack album included in Billboard‘s “Special Merit Picks“.
Ampex did issue a promotional/DJ 45, but alas, there appears to have been no single release for the Hartford-sung/Phillips-arranged “One Too Many Mornings” in the US … However, further probing of Discogs reveals that Ampex apparently green-lighted a single release in Canada!
The single featuring Hartford didn’t even list an artist for its flip of “Solitary Sanctuary,” which was actually performed by Alan Brackett, John Merrill, and Barbara Robinson. Another version of the same song was the last cut on the LP and was performed by the American Breed.
Whether you try to obtain this recording via the movie soundtrack or either of the Ampex 45s: not an easy row to hoe. But wait, good news: “One Too Many Mornings” would end up, fittingly, as a final “bonus” track on 2003’s pairing of two Hartford albums — 1970’s Iron Mountain Depot and 1971’s previously unreleased Radio John — on one compact disc (that also comes with a DVD of a live studio performance of John Hartford and Iron Mountain Depot on February 24, 1970).
Left to right — Standing: Phil Fosnaugh – keyboard/organ (deceased); Jerry Asher – bass (deceased); John Asher – guitar (now Evansville IN); Sitting Bill Shearer – drums (Gas City IN), Keith Murphy – lead singer/rhythm guitar (Long Valley, NJ)
“Slightly Reminiscent of Her” Keith Murphy & the Daze 1968
The Daze, Keith Murphy postulates, are among King’s final signings while Nathan was still actively involved:
“Louis Innis [previously celebrated here] was a wonderful man, and you can see from the letters [featured below] how nicely he treated me. No letters in 1967, then in 1968 I reapproached him with The Daze, the band of which I was lead singer. Again, the band was so sure the idea of getting a contract with King was so slim, none of the band members went with me to talk to King. As it turns out, it was just as well, for when King wanted only me as the lead singer songwriter, they did not resent my name being on the label. This was the pattern of King I thought, to just sign the lead singer/songwriter then they had one person to deal with and the most valuable property, like James Brown and the Famous Flames, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, etc. I did insist that the band name also be on the record and they were ok with that.
We recorded the record in May of 1968, but it was not released until September or October of that year. I see in their final letter, it was chaotic. Actually, Syd Nathan died in March 1968, and it was chaos then too, as I recorded about 2 months later. I suspect, but do not know, that I was one of the very last artists that was approved by Syd Nathan himself. Louis mentions that he wanted to see me alone to proceed forward, and they were releasing the record in England. I had just graduated from college, had a baby daughter, had a regular job and was too busy to attend to everything. I don’t think I ever went back. I think he mentioned something on the phone about re-recording the songs.”
The same single would find its release 6 months later in the UK on Polydor, albeit with the A and B sides flipped. Murphy would inform Zero to 180:
“I attached a picture of the exact Yellow King record [below] that was sent to England to see if Polydor was interested. As you can see, they considered ‘Dirty Ol’ Sam’ the A side there. I do know they must have shipped the tape or master there, as ‘Sam’ does not fade out in the UK version and is 7 seconds longer with a limp ending. It is a near miracle I have that record. The person who sold it worked for Polydor UK and was asked to clean out the warehouse or library. He kept the records, and confirmed it was where it came from and the markings on the record are the numbers that ended up as the Polydor number.”
This very King 45 led to the song’s issue in UK on Polydor: note ‘A’ & ‘B’ markings
The single’s UK release of 15 November, 1968, unfortunately, would be a mere 8 days or so before Starday* would sell the entire Starday-King operation to Lin Broadcasting for a mere $5 million (*see related vintage news item appended to this piece).
UK release on Polydor – with A & B sides flipped!
“Dirty Ol’ Sam” Keith Murphy & the Daze 1968
Keith Murphy & the Daze at Cincinnati’s King studios – May, 1968
Photo notes from Keith Murphy
“Here is the sole picture that was taken in the King Recording studio in May, 1968. L to R: Phil Fosnough – Keyboard; John Asher – Lead Guitar; Bill Shearer – Drums; Jerry Asher – Bass, Keith Murphy – Lead singer, songwriter. I remember two incidents during the recording session: Someone came in and said they needed to send somebody to the jail to give Hank Ballard a pack of cigarettes, he had been arrested for public intoxication. The other memory is that it was a hot day, and along side the building, the workers had the doors open and had a pressing machine partially outside to get some cooler air for the workers!”
Louis Innis & Keith Murphy:
Selected Correspondence || 1965-1968
Dec. 14, 1965: “Have [Becky Wiggins] do 3 or 4 different type songs” [see Q&A]
Dec. 21, 1965: “Please find copy of my agreements” + “5% of the retail price”
Jan. 25, 1966: “Anxious to get the sides recorded” + “what a rat race I’m in”
Feb. 17, 1966: Pardon the delay – “echo chambers have been out in the studio”
Apr. 13, 1966: “Returning your contracts so you can do something else” (!)
Sep. 16, 1968: “Record should be out pronto” + keep your chin up
Oct. 9, 1968: Final note = 45 to be issued in UK, but King “under new management”
PDF copy below of Keith Murphy’s contract with King (click on link)
Prior to the King 45, Murphy had actually recorded under the name Keith O’Conner as part of The Torkays, who recorded exclusively for Chicago’s Stacy Records (home of Al Casey, guitarist/bandleader behind three Lee Hazlewood A-sides in 1963 & 1964 for the label and not to be confused with The Torquays from Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills High School, located across the [future] interstate, interestingly enough, from King Records).
In that pre-Beatle era, O’Conner was part of a Mark, Don & Mel-type of arrangement (sorry, kids – that’s a Grand Funk Railroad joke) with The Torkays — Frank, Keith, and Jimmy — who would write a martial arts-themed composition, “Karate,” for their recording debut in 1963, with “I Don’t Like It (But What Can I Do)” on the flip.
Q & A with King Recording Artist, Keith O’Conner Murphy
Q: What led up to your getting signed by King? A: I started with a side project apart from my band The Daze. They felt the chances of getting on a R&B label was such a long shot that they did not want to pursue it. I wrote a Sonny and Cher type song called “We’re Gonna Get It” for myself and a girl named Becky Wiggins. I started talking to Louis Innis of King in 1965. He was very interested, as reflected in his letter which I have shared. Sometime in 1966, Ft. Wayne native Troy Shondell, who had the big hit “This Time,” persuaded her to record for his small label 3 Rivers as Beck Holland with “I’m Going Away.” So that scuttled the King deal. In 1968, I then connected with Louis again, by myself, as the band still did not think it was worth the effort. I actually was hoping to get on the Cincinnati Fraternity label, and interviewed with Harry Carlson, the owner. He was a genuine caring person, but did not see a place in their current roster for me. I liked his artist Mouse and the Traps, and he gave me a copy of their newly released “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – still one of my favorites. The label was also home to Lonnie Mack, who recently passed, and my all time guitar instrumental favorite “Memphis.” My next stop was King, and Louis was ready to go once I dropped some of my bold royalty demands!
Q: Was Louis Innis Innis your main point of contact, given Syd Nathan’s death in March, 1968? Who were some of the staff – as well as artists – you encountered during your time with King? A: I only worked with Louis Innis, a man I cannot say enough kind words for. The only other person was a King engineer who I do not know the name of. A white guy maybe in his 30’s.
Q: Where was “home base” during your time with King — and what were your impressions of Evanston, as well as Cincinnati, during your tenure with the label?
A: My home was the small country town of Sweetser, Indiana, and the other guys lived in the “big” town of Marion or the nearby Gas City. Grant County Indiana is the same small rural county that Fairmount is in — home of James Dean and Jim Davis who created Garfield.
Q: Did you live in Cincinnati for any extended period of time? A: I never lived in Cincy. Being in the middle of Indiana, we knocked on doors in Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, and Cincy — the major cities with record companies. I love Cincy, however, the hills and the friendliness and especially the Chili!
Q: I dig the far-out backdrop used in your King promotional photo — was that photo taken at King’s art studio and who designed the cool “Daze” logo? A: We had a booking agent, Bill Craig Jr. of Muncie, Indiana who I think partially owned a TV station there. He also managed the Chosen Few, who later were on RCA and Mercury. That photo was taken at a nightclub he owned called Halcyon Days, and he used it to get bookings. Our keyboard player who used a Hammond B3 Organ with a Leslie speaker, he made that DAZE sign which had colored lights that rotated behind it.
Q: Which make/model of electric guitars, basses & drums were plugged into the Fender amplifiers pictured in the King promo photo?
A: John played a Fender Jazzmaster, and at that time it looked like he was using Fender amps. At other times he used Sunn, and I think for a short time the rolled and pleated Custom amps. Jerry played a Fender bass, but bought a bass like Paul McCartney played sort of looked like a violin, a Hofner. He didn’t have it long when it got stolen off the stage when we played a club in Detroit called The Mummp.
Q: Where was home base originally for The Torkays, and what was the local response to your “Karate” 45 (which has a cool musical bridge, by the way, that loops back nicely to the verse)? A: “Karate” never got off the ground except in Pittsburgh. Stacy’s biggest hit record, “Surfin’ Hootenanny” rightfully pushed everything else aside. For some reason it has been revived on YouTube with several people posting it and 6,000 total views. I wrote a song “Tiddlywink” for a German rockabilly band Black Raven, and they recorded it. They have notified me they want to record “Karate.” I am surprised at the interest in this record.
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“Two Kings”: A True Tale by Keith Murphy
“Chip Taylor — did not know him, but we were both on the King label. He was on King under his real name Wes Voight.
“He was doing a concert here in NJ and I called him and left a message, and said I would like to meet him afterwards, telling him I was in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Well, I was out in the yard, but fortunately he left a phone message congratulating me! I met him after the concert and brought my and his King record and had him sign it along with my copies of “Wild Thing” on both the Atco and Fontana labels by the Troggs. Reg Presley of the Troggs died around that time, and Chip had flown to England to attend the funeral, as their careers were forever bound together by that one iconic great rock song. It is the example I always give of how important arrangement is. The Troggs had the creative genius to put an ocarina and other stuff on there. Chip just was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame [also famous for 1968 smash hit, “Angel of the Morning”] this summer, and I called him and congratulated. He should have been in there a long time ago.”
“Two Kings”: Chip Taylor (a.k.a., Wes Voight) and Keith Murphy
Keith Murphy is also a voting member of the Grammys and Country Music Association
A K i n g R e c o r d s V i n t a g e H i s t o r y M o m e n t
Lin Broadcasting Buys Starday-King for $5 Mil; Execs Policy Retained
NASHVILLE — Lin Broadcasting Corp., owner of communication outlets, has purchased Starday and King Records and their affiliated companies for $5 million.
Fred Gregg Jr., Lin’s chairman of the board and president, said this would mean a great expansion program here. “It will mean an additional $6 million to $8 million in gross income to the Nashville music economy,” he said.
The corporate structure of Starday-King will remain the same, with Don Pierce, president; Hal Neely, vice-president; Jim Wilson, vice-president for marketing; Johnny Miller in charge of the Cincinnati office; Henry Glover, manager of the New York office; and Harlen Dodsen, general counsel.
“Nashville will now be a complete operation in the rhythm and blues field,” Pierce said. Pierce said James Brown now would record here, and would bring in the “right musicians for the r&b sound.” Just having Brown record here, he said, would give tremendous impetus in this direction. “Now that we’re working under a huge corporate structure,” Pierce said, “we can effect economies, efficiencies, acquisitions and total expansion. We can compete for larger acts, go after great catalogs.” He made it clear, though, that the sale in no way affects the operation of the business or its past policies.
Both Gregg and Pierce said they plan new overseas music companies in England, Germany and France at first, and eventually in other nations. Pierce said the firm would expand its overseas distribution and exploit its various companies around the world.
The Starday president said he was obtaining a record club contract for King with Columbia, RCA and Capitol, the same ones with which Starday now has an arrangement. He said the club membership would include James Brown.
Pierce, one of the founders of the Country Music Association, was Billboard’s Man of the Year in 1962 and is vice-president of RIAA. Starday was founded in 1952 in Los Angeles and moved here in 1957.
Recently (Billboard, Oct. 26) Starday acquired the King Records operation. Those holdings included the record and distribution operation and masters, Lois Music and its publishing subsidiaries, the Royal Plastics Pressing operation, and the long-term contract of Brown. Starday holdings include Hollywood, Look and Nashville Records, and Starday, Tarheel and Kamar Music.
Bonus Craft Project! Make Your Own King Records stationery
The male heir to the Zero to 180 fortune insisted that his father write a history piece centered around a nearly 100-year-old Christmas song that, for today’s generation, inspires apprehension and consternation — but was that the intent of Arthur A. Penn, the songwriter responsible for “Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph“?
Editorial comments from those old-timers at Archive.org show that the unsettling feelings evoked by this recording are actually a cross-generational phenomenon:
This is one of the more unusual of Edison’s records. Listen to Santa’s sinister laugh he makes as he tries to sound fun, loving and kind. The www.menloparkmuseum.com staff agrees — if we were kids, we’d run!
“Santa Claus Hides in Your Paragraph” Harry Humphrey 1922
An obvious indicator of how far we’ve come since the days of Edison is represented in the recordings themselves. While it’s no surprise that the sound quality has improved, it’s interesting to note one particular improvement as well:
This is a 1922 recording made by Thomas Edison of Harry E. Humphrey. It was intended to be sold to owners of Edison’s phonograph so that their children could have some Christmas joy. In fact, on the contrary it is rather awful. If I were a kid, this would put me off Christmas forever. That laugh! Ugh!
Jerome from Watch Tower History points out that Harry Humphrey (“monologist, elocutionist, actor and recording artist”) and his association with Edison goes all the way back to 1912, when Humphrey made his first recording. Jerome, too, helpfully demystifies the technical aspects around the recording process in that era:
In those days, raw sound with its limited frequency range was literally collected by a horn and sent to equipment that vibrated a cutting stylus. Recording artistes sometimes had to virtually put their head into the recording horn and shout to get an acceptable result.
Speaking of primitive sound technology, have you ever seen a cylinder record being played back? Play the video below and also be sure to click on the link above to enjoy “thematic playlists” of recordings that go as far back as the 19th century, thanks to the fine folks at the UC Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.
“Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph” cylinder record 1922
How cool to discover that the Library of Congress catalog record for this 1922 recording by Thomas Alva Edison also includes the ability for anyone to (a) play a copy of the original recording and/or (b) download this 12.8 GB file to your own computer!
I wonder if the Arthur A. Penn Estate is aware that someone named Alan Brown has taken credit for having written a song with a nearly identical title — “Santa Claus Hides in The Phonograph” — that was released in 1923 for the US and Australian markets on the Brunswick label.
Back in 1966 when The Wailers were three vocalists (and not a backing band for reggae music’s most famous artist), Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer were under contract to Coxsone Dodd‘s Studio One label. Recently, after re-watching the 1992 Peter Tosh documentary, Red X, I suddenly got the urge to listen to the original 1966 Studio One recording of “Can’t You See” — a song authored by Tosh that sounds completely unlike anything else recorded by the Wailers from 1963-1966, stylistically and otherwise. So imagine my surprise when I discovered this recording’s complete absence from YouTube.
After a couple well-placed phone calls and a little bit of knob twiddling, Zero to 180 has now made it possible for you [depending on your geographical location*] to hear streaming audio of the song for the first time on YouTube. Blink and you will miss the percussion intro that kicks off the song (an intro, by the way, that fails to reappear in all future arrangements/recordings of the song — e.g., the early reggae version recorded across town at Leslie Kong’s studio in 1970, or the heavier roots reggae version laid down at Kingston’s Dynamic Sound in 1979, with Geoffrey Chung’s assistance):
“Can’t You See” Peter Tosh & The Wailers 1966
[*Per email from ‘The YouTube Team’ dated May 15, 2018: “Due to a copyright claim, your YouTube video has been blocked in some countries. This means that your video is still up on YouTube, but people in some countries may not be able to watch it.”]
Roger Steffens and Leroy Pierson, in the liner notes to the double-disc Wailers retrospective, One Love at Studio One, point out the “beat group” influences (during a particularly creative period for the Stones) that are evident in this standout track:
“Can’t You See” demonstrates Tosh’s early interest in rock and roll, particularly the influence of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, with whom he would sign a dozen years hence. Peter leads.
A little surprised to see Tosh’s name appear just thrice on the songwriting credits for the 40 songs included on this double-disc retrospective (Bunny Wailer’s name, by comparison, appears seven times).
In 2010, someone (in Sweden) would pay exactly $213 for a “blank original Coxsone” release of “Can’t You See.” But wait — two years prior, someone (in France) had paid $256 for a blank original release.
Genre-wise, how do I “tag” this recording? It’s certainly not rocksteady, despite being recorded the year of rocksteady’s birth. And calling it reggae makes even less sense. Zero to 180 may live to regret its (desperate) decision to tag it as “rocksteady” anyway.
As you may have already gathered, Zero to 180 has a soft spot for music history related to Silver Spring, Maryland. We now know, for instance, that Track Recorders (with help from its chief engineer, Bill McCullough) was an important recording facility in the 1970s, outside of New York and Los Angeles. We also know that Adelphi Studios (founded by Gene Rosenthal), enjoys renown for its 1960s and 70s recordings of seminal rediscovered blues artists, such as Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Rev. Gary Davis, and Honeyboy Edwards (tapes that were, in fact, purchased last year by Oxford, Mississippi blues label, Fat Possum).
Downtown Silver Spring [click on image for ultra-high resolution]
“H2O Gate Blues” from Winter in America was recorded in 1973, either September 4th/5th or October 15th, according to Discogs – it’s not clear. But wait! This Timeline of the Watergate Scandal notes the resignation of Vice-President, Spiro Agnew (and former Maryland governor) on October 10th! Listen for yourself, and you will know:
“H2O Gate Blues” Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson 1973
Be it thus resolved: “H2O Gate Blues” was laid on tape the fifteenth day in the month of October, 1973.
ESPN panelist, visiting University of Maryland professor, and Washington Post columnist, Kevin Blackistone would reference D&B Sound in the opening paragraph in a 2017 Post sports piece about Adam Jones that begins with a quote from Gil Scott-Heron — who himself wrote about the experience of recording at D&B in his 2012 memoir, The Last Holiday:
Dan Henderson, who was still our manager, and his wife, Wilma, eventually moved into the house with me and Brian, too, and in the fall of 1973 we went into D&B Sound in Silver Spring, Maryland, and began recording the album Winter in America. D&B was small, but it had a comfortable feeling — and it had Jose Williams as the engineer. The main room was so small that when Brian and I did tunes together, one of us had to go out in the hallway where the water cooler was located. I did vocals for “Song for Bobby Smith” and “A Very Precious Time” from there, and Brian played flute on “The Bottle” and “Your Daddy Loves You” right next to that cooler. A lot of people wanted to know wanted to know who it was playing flute on “The Bottle,” because it wasn’t specifically credited on the Winter in America album. It was Brian. He also played flute on “Back Home.” Those are all his arrangements. By the time we did Winter in America, Brian had become a very good flute player. He also played Fender Rhodes on that album.
Gil and Brian’s next album, Winter in America, on Strata-East, was credited to both Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. It was originally planned as a concept album called Supernatural Corner, in reference to the haunted vibe of the house at One Logan Circle. The record was intended to tell the story of an African American soldier coming home from Vietnam to an America that was indifferent to his experience and hostile to his race and who eventually loses his mind. The narratives in the song were taken from the soldier’s therapy sessions in a psychiatric ward, Jackson later explained. One of the original songs, “White Horse Nightmare,” is about the veteran’s heroin addiction. But the label [Arista] considered the album too morose, and Gil and Brian took out some of the songs, leaving “Rivers of My Fathers,” “Back Home,” “The Bottle,” and a few new pieces.
They had recorded the album in the beginning of September 1973, at Dan Henderson’s D&B Sound Studio, in Silver Spring, Maryland. The space was so small that there wasn’t enough room for both of them in the studio, so Gil would sing in the studio while Brian played flute in a hallway next to a water cooler. The tight quarters only added to Gil’s discomfort, and he complained about how long the sessions were taking. True to the ethos of the impromptu jams and poetry readings he’d soaked in as a teenager at jazz clubs in New York, he felt alive when he was performing and disliked the recording process. Whereas some musicians love to tweak their songs and do multiple takes in the studio, Gil tried to get it done as quickly as possible. Engineer Robert Hosea Williams, who had recorded Roberta Flack and funk guitarist Chuck Brown, recalls, “Gil was one of the hardest I’ve ever recorded. He had to do everything at once.” Not only would he resist multitrack recording, in which each section of the song is isolated and separately recorded, but “he never shut up,” says Williams. “When he would sing a verse and then start talking, it was crazy to record. We’d have to erase those things later.” Sometimes they would leave the mistakes in there. When drummer Bob Adams skipped a beat at the 1:40 mark of “The Bottle,” the band wanted to rerecord the track, but Gil said, “No, that’s okay.”
This information is all very interesting to know — but none of it addresses the vexing question of where D&B Sound was originally located. Zero to 180, after unsuccessful consultation with a number of Silver Spring veterans who were around in the 1970s, would seek out the assistance of a librarian – Jerry McCoy of the Silver Spring Historical Society – who knew exactly where to look:
D&B Sound Studios = listed just below D.B. Creighton Associates
Thanks to the Silver Spring Historical Society’s own collection of Polk’s Silver Spring, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Takoma Park & Wheaton City Directory (1973 edition), we now know that D(&)B Sound Studios [Jose Williams & Jules Danian, proprietors] once stood at 8037 13th Street in Silver Spring, Maryland, just over the Maryland-DC line.
Furthermore, Gregg Karukas, one of the early members of Tim Eyermann& East Coast Offering, enlightened Zero to 180 to the fact that Jules Danian is the principal figure who established Juldane Records. The group’s debut and sophomore releases on Juldane would be recorded at D&B — a memorable time, recalls Karukas:
“I’ll never forget when we were tracking the record, we did three tracks, a couple of takes, and we were in the groove, we wanted to record some more songs and Jules said ‘wait a minute’ on the talk back. After about five minutes we went in the control room and realized that he was splicing together tape (outtakes) from other used reels in the tape room, because he had only purchased one fresh reel of tape for our session…….and he was the producer/engineer/label. I was furious…..well, more like: really?”
Sadly, as Jerry McCoy notes, “this building has been demolished.” Do any pictures of the studio exist, one cannot help but wonder.
“There is an argument that it was all downhill for recording when music stopped being cut straight to disc.”
Ace Records UK has a catalog of reissues that is both all over the map and right out of this world. I am hardly the first person to be knocked out by the amount of attention and care Ace lavishes on its subjects, one of them being the King Records musical legacy. Ace’s website, unsurprisingly, documents the company’s journey in meticulous chronological fashion. 1993, for instance, would find Ace gaining the confidence and trust of IMG/Gusto, owner of the King master recordings:
Originally stationed in Cincinnati, Syd Nathan’s immense King Records was, by the 90s, located at Gusto Records in Nashville. We had licensed the Scepter/Wand and Musicor labels owned by the same company for some time. We finally got to access the well-organised King vaults and what a wonder they were. Pretty soon, the Delmore Bros where rubbing shoulders with Freddie King, Wynonie Harris shouted the blues at Moon Mullican: great sounding records from well-preserved tapes. Some years later, we shipped the original 16” acetates that contained the first recordings to our studio. We have been transferring them to digital ever since, releasing many previously unheard performances in pristine sound. There is an argument that it was all downhill for recording when music stopped being cut straight to disc.
In the wake of some intense tape research and unearthing original 16” acetates in Nashville, the King label was our big thing of the year. Before recording on tape, music was cut directly to large discs which were then copied, processed and used to make commercial 78s. These acetates are a remarkable archive. In those 16” grooves are many previously unheard recordings. Also, those that were released were often drenched in reverb. Our first two releases from this source were a pair of contrasting sets, one with six new performances from the Delmore Brothers, and one with seven previously unissued sides by Roy Brown.
Ace UK’s Tony Rounce would serve as fly-on-the-wall reporter to document the effort – this information reprinted with the understanding that Zero to 180 readers will seek out and purchase these quality King reissues from an honest-to-goodness music store:
Ace Visits the King Records HQ in Nashville by Tony Rounce
As all R&B fans will know, Ace has long reaped the benefits of its ongoing access to the King Records catalogue, thanks in no small way to the cordial relationship we enjoy with the catalogue’s owner, Mr. Moe Lytle, his international representative Stephen Hawkins and the excellent, hard working team at King’s Nashville HQ. Ace’s A&R team makes no secret of the fact that each of us loves multiple aspects of the King catalogue, and thus it’s never anything but sheer pleasure to be involved with the reissue of the company’s superlative recordings.
Through the kind auspices of Mr. Lytle, Ace’s A&R team has, or the past couple of years, been privileged to receive the ‘run of the vault’, during what has now become annual two-week trips to Nashville. Under the supervision of Ace’s MD Roger Armstrong a team of the company’s senior A&R guys has been permitted to access the entire King tape inventory, and to copy as much repertoire to DAT as can be copied in the time we have available to us. Happily for us, the friendly folk at King are more than amenable to putting in a few extra hours here and there to enable us to start early, and leave late, each day in our attempts to bring you as many quality reissues as we can assemble from two weeks worth of heads-down, no-nonsense copying. It’s a win-win situation for everyone concerned, on both sides of the pond.
King’s formidable and extremely well-organised tape vault is complemented by a well-preserved collection of mint ‘library copy’ 45s and 78s, which between them contain a copy of virtually every record ever released on King, or one of its subsidiaries. If this information is not itself enough to make most long-time R&B and soul collectors go weak at the knees, the knowledge that many of those vinyl and shellac masterpieces are blank label test pressings, with the label copy written in King founder Syd Nathan‘s own meticulous hand, will surely have most collectors reaching for the nearest comfy chair, while simultaneously clutching a bottle of maximum-strength smelling salts.
But that, as they say, is definitely not all, folks. Until very recently, the King vaults also contained most of that company’s original acetates, cut between 1944 and 1951 (Syd, like many other indie operatives, did not initially trust the longevity of tape, and he insisted on cutting acetate ‘safeties’ until such times as the durability of oxide could be fully confirmed), and it also included a copious quantity of acetates from those labels King acquired along the way, such as De Luxe. Most of the acetates had been in storage since Mr. Lytle’s Gusto Records purchased King in the mid 1970s, and most of them were in the same immaculate condition that they had been when they were first cut, over 50 years ago.
Those who are worrying about the use of the past tense here will be glad to know that it’s being used for a very good reason. The acetates were in the King vaults, until very recently. However, and as this piece is being written, those same acetates are now on their way from Nashville to Ace Towers, where each and every note of music they contain will be copied, downstairs at Sound Mastering Ltd over the course of the next year, to produce an unprecedented series of Ace CDs which will aim to present this historic and hugely important catalogue’s early masters as they have never been heard before (and, in many case, as they have never been heard, period!)
Ace had been discussing the possibility of undertaking such a task with Mr. Lytle and his team for some considerable time, so it goes without saying that we were all beside ourselves with happiness when permission was given for us to undertake the formidable task of decanting several hundred crumbling 25-count boxes of acetates into bigger and sturdier ones, for safe shipment from there to here. My Ace colleague Alec Palao and I had the arduous, but ultimately very rewarding, task of packing over 60 boxes, each containing at least 60-80 acetates. This might sound like a chore to some but, as we opened each box and steadily annotated the packing list, we were as excited as a couple of alcoholics with a month-long lock-in at their favourite neighbourhood bar. It took us the best part of a week to work our way through the lot, but we couldn’t have been happier with the end result.
An incredible number of acetates have survived the passage of time and, in most cases, in a condition that could only be described as “Mint Minus”. Unfortunately, a few of the earliest acetates were glass-based, and several of them had broken somewhere along the line, including, sad to say, some unique items that will now never be heard in anything other than ‘from 78’ quality. However, the vast majority of the acetates were and are metal-based – so no fear of breakages there, although a few had corroded beyond salvation. On the whole, though, the condition of these unique sound sources was, and is, superb, and the quality of the CDs that Ace will be able to produce from them ought to be nothing less than phenomenal.
As the chief ‘acetate-sorter-outer’, it fell to me to decide which slates to ship where there were multiple copies of the same one, thus I got to see every acetate as it moved from box to box. I need not explain to any collectors how much of a thrill this was, as the original acetates for Wynonie Harris‘ “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, Cowboy Copas‘ “Filipino Baby” and just about all of Hank Penny‘s first session for King flashed before my eyes, en route from a small carton to a packing box. Even more thrilling was the discovery that, contrary to long-held beliefs in the blues community, early De Luxe acetates that were believed to have been lost in a warehouse fire in 1948 mostly had not been. At least one take of most of the multitude of unissued and unheard Roy Brown sides were present and correct, as were other potential delights from legendary New Orleans names like Smiley Lewis, Eddie Gorman, Annie Laurie, Paul Gayten, Chubby Newsome & Dave Bartholomew. If this is not exciting news, then I’ll eat both my hat AND yours.
From a personal point of view, coming upon the original acetates for King 501 (Bob McCarthy a.k.a. Merle Travis‘ “When Mussolini Laid His Pistol Down” [1943 – audio unavailable on YouTube] was a thrill and a half, as was locating the acetate containing several takes of the Travis/Hank Penny western swing classic “Merle’s Buck Dance”. Who among us could not have been delighted to find out that the unissued Roy Brown‘s were alive and well, or that the likes of Homer and Jethro, John Lee Hooker, and the early Delmore Brothers/Wayne Raney sides would soon be heard a quality comparable to that in which they were originally recorded. Certainly not anyone who works at Ace, that’s for sure.
The acetate reissue programme will not happen overnight, of course. Much prioritising has to be done, followed by much transferring. But we at Ace hope that we will have the first releases in the special ‘acetate’ series on the market by late spring of 2005. Once the first titles are out we will be issuing further packages throughout 2005 and 2006 and, well, effectively until we run out of acetates to reissue, really. In general, the release of these packages should forever do away with anyone’s need to buy any more unauthorised Out Of Copyright issues of King material from this era, which can only be a very good thing, really.
Of course, we will not be neglecting our programme of “from tape” King reissues, either. While we were ‘on site’ in Nashville we also transferred enough sides, from original mastertapes, to extend our King programme well into 2006, even without the ‘acetate series’. The first fruits of this side of our labours will be available in January, with the first-ever legal reissue of The Lamplighters‘ great Federal catalogue in superlative sound, followed by a ‘5‘ Royales package that obviously includes the hits but that focuses its attentions mostly on those King sides which have been reissued less often or not at all. As 2006 unfolds there will be a second volume of King Rock ‘n’ Roll, two more volumes (at least!) of King Doo Wop [four volumes in all], the complete recordings of Dominoes/Drifters-affiliated group The Checkers, a package of the early recordings of The Royals/Midnighters, a second volume of Little Willie John [sets one and two] and much more besides. As Roger A. made the majority of the tape transfers for these packages, the guarantee that these will sound better than any other reissue of this material comes straight from the top!
Here at Ace, King will always be King, and we’re firmly committed to continuing to send it victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over all vintage R&B and Hillbilly aficionados. Long live the King!
King-Related Titles Available from Ace UK
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Hard to believe it was only 20 years or so ago I was having cheese coneys with The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s preeminent music writer Larry Nager and asking what it would take for the city to finally “own up” to its King Records history. Last week, to my utter delight and amazement, the City of Cincinnati, under Mayor John Cranley’s leadership and with the support of City Council, leveraged the power of the state on behalf of music history — so now Zero to 180 will have to find something else to complain about.
Thanks to a $1 land swap deal, there will be no wrecking ball for the original structure used by Syd Nathan and his talented team to birth a musical enterprise that enabled King the ability to ship out in the morning a piece of music that had been recorded the evening before. As Brian Powers point out in his King Records Scrapbook, no other label – including almighty Columbia – had the nimbleness to operate in this capacity.
Photo courtesy of Brian Powers
Unique among fellow King chroniclers and researchers, Powers organizes his King Records Scrapbook categorically — The Executives; A&R Men; Sound Engineers; Session Musicians; Recording Artists — rather than chronologically, while throwing in fun tidbits, such as a King Records Timeline of historical highlights plus street addresses of selected King artists and executives, including Syd Nathan (who once lived in Bond Hill an easy walk from the home of drummer, Reg Grizzard, and about a mile and a half from my boyhood home in Roselawn, as the crow flies).
Rob Finnis, in his extensive liner notes for Ace UK anthology King Rockabilly, reveals some of the audio engineering aspects behind King’s legendary sound (e.g., “Fever” by Little Willie John):
The live, upfront studio sound attained by engineer Eddie Smith had the bass and drums leaping out of the speakers with maximum impact. [Charlie] Feathers wasn’t the only beneficiary [“Bottle to the Baby“]. This sharp, larger-than-life ambience characterizes several other titles on this compact disc including “Move” [Boyd Bennett], “Peg Pants” [Bill Beach], “No Good Robin Hood” [Delbert Barker], and “Rock n’ Roll Nursery Rhyme” [Dave Dudley]. “That old King studio had a terrific sound,” explained Henry Glover. “It had a very high ceiling, maybe 24 feet, and the control room protruded into the studio in a V-shape like the bridge of a ship so the engineer could see in front and to the side of him. I sent for an engineer by the name of Eddie Smith who was a very good technical man. He stayed with King for about 12 years and later worked over at Bell Sound in New York.
Everything was done at one time, there was no multi-tracking; you would continue making cuts until you got every instrument, every voice, on the 1/4 inch tape and that was considered your final mix. In those days, we were even thinking of frequencies and emphasis on various instruments. Out of the regular upright bass, we got a sound just like today’s electric Fender bass by close-miking it with a microphone called the 44BX and surrounding it with live-surfaced acoustic isolation panels. The drum sound in those days was generally gotten by releasing the drum snares completely and you’d put a heavy object like the drummer’s wallet – or Syd Nathan’s wallet – on the snare and the really hard-driving backbeat stroke was actually a rimshot.
Glover would be even more emphatic in his praise for King as a facility with great sound in this passage from Arnold Shaw‘s classic roots rock historical critique, Honkers and Shouters (which includes a chapter devoted to King Records entitled “Record Company in an Icehouse”):
Shortly after he joined King Records, Glover moved to Cincinnati “because Syd Nathan had built one of the finest recording studios in the country and staffed it with Eddie Smith, a former musician who was a brilliant engineer.”
Calvin Shields behind the kit [photo courtesy Brian Powers]
Last year, on the eve of the city’s Historic Commission vote to consider the request for demolition, The Cincinnati Enquirer would subtitle Sharon Coolidge’s feature story on King in the Sunday edition, “Fight to Preserve the Legacy of King Records and Founder Syd Nathan at Crossroads” and include quotes from Patti Collins (Bootsy Collins Foundation), Elliott Ruther (Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation), Jon Hartley Fox (author of ‘King of the Queen City’), L.A. Reid (who actually grew up in Evanston), Otis Williams, Mayor John Cranley, former mayor Dwight Tillery, and Anzora Adkins of the Evanston Community Council.
Can you spot the gaffe?
Elliott Ruther, in the Enquirer piece, notes the progressive hiring practices employed by Nathan – in his attempt to extend his song publishing fortunes across the color line – that put King in the forefront of American race relations. Powers point out that Calvin “Eagle Eye” Shields, in his studio work from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, may have been “the first black drummer to record country music.”
CALVIN ‘EAGLE EYE’ SHIELDS – 1950
[PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN POWERS]
Quotes from Henry Glover & Calvin ‘Eagle Eye’ Shields
[special thanks to Brian Powers*]
“I started using drums for the first time for country music with Moon Mullican. He fell in love with a black drummer that I had been using on several dates around Cincinnati called Calvin Shields. He was better known as ‘Eagle Eye.’ He was very, very friendly and dear to Moon Mullican. He played on many of his sessions, and many of the other country & western records when they began to use drums, which they didn’t do when I first came to King. [With] Moon Mullican, I would use a heavy backbeat that this drummer called Eagle Eye, that came there with Tiny Bradshaw a few years back and made Cincinnati his home, he was ideal for that, the backbeat.” – Henry Glover
“Moon had such a great soul. He was just like a black man to me, you know, like he thought, felt, and expressed himself and everything else. Like we would say he had a whole lot of soul, Moon did.” – Henry Glover
“Drums were a must for Moon. Moon wanted drums. And he fell madly in love with this drummer called Calvin Shields that we called Eagle Eye.” – Henry Glover
“Moon Mullican was the first to use a black band at King. In just about every case, we had a black bass or maybe a black drummer with Moon in order to get the rhythm because Moon played like a black man and he even thought like a black man – in fact, I sometimes had my ideas about whether he was black or not! He was the very first white man, I believe, that caught my eye as being not filled with bigotry or hatred … he found himself as comfortable among blacks as he did among whites. And it’s a very funny thing – both races in those days were displaying standoff-ish attitudes — not Moon. Moon would make most of the black clubs in the worst parts of town and all of his friends during the course of his stay would be black people. He’d play in black clubs and they would give him a standing ovation. It was very rare.” – Henry Glover
“Glover introduced us. I walked in and all those white cats sitting around wondering, ‘Hey, he’s got a black man playing his music.’ So I don’t say nothing to them and they don’t say nothing to me. So we played and that’s when I fell in love with him because it swung. So Moon says ‘This is my drummer,’ so when he went to buy some whiskey for the group, he bought a bottle for them and a bottle of whisky for me and him. He said, ‘Man, I want you to take me over to the Cotton Club,’ and I took him. Tiny Bradshaw invited him up and he played nothing but Duke Ellington music.“ – Eagle Eye Shields
“When a cat becomes a studio musician, he’s a musician who plays anything they bring in front of him to play. When I played with Moon Mullican, I enjoyed it. When I played that Country music, I learned to swing with that Country-Western cause I got into their mood and into their groove. When I got ready to play Rhythm & Blues, I got into their groove. When I play dance music, legit music, I get in to a legit feel cause I am a musician. I didn’t become a superstar. My thing was to be good, in order to be in demand, to be sought after.”– Eagle Eye Shields
[Moon had a number of hits in 1950 produced by Henry Glover including “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” “Mona Lisa” & “Goodnight Irene”; Mullican accepted the invitation to join in the Grand Ole Opry that year.] “Then Moon said, ‘I want to take you on the Grand Ole Opry with me, man.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go on that.’ He asked me if I would travel with him. I told him if I’ll be out there in them towns, them junctions, you might not be around and they’ll done grab me and lynch me.’ But now I wish I had because, if I had got out with Moon, I might have made a name for myself. I might have ended up with the big one – Willie Nelson.” – Eagle Eye Shields
Moon Mullican & Henry Glover
Shields, who took not only his father’s name but nickname as well, came to King through his membership in Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra. Eagle Eye would conduct his session work for King in between performances with Bradshaw in town at Cincinnati’s Cotton Club and on the road in New York City. Shields would subsequently serve as drummer for the Billy Williams Quartet (1957-1961), Della Reese (1967-1973) and music director/drummer for Redd Foxx (1978-1984).
Calvin Shields with Paul Bryant (organ) & Norris Patterson (sax) – 1962 in NV
The index in King Labels: A Discography, edited by Michel Ruppli (with assistance from Bill Daniels) helpfully identifies sessions where Calvin Shields served as the drummer, thus allowing Zero to 180 to compile a special list of suggested recordings — all of them captured on tape in Cincinnati (except Willis Jackson – NYC):
Abstract expressionist cover art for 1952 French LP
Furthermore, Eagle Eye is believed – as best as Brian Powers can determine – to have played on Moon Mullican‘s version of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Well Oh Well” [recorded July 3, 1950] and the classic “Cherokee Boogie (Eh-Oh-Aleena)” [December 8, 1950], written by Moon with Chief William Redbird, plus Hawkshaw Hawkins‘ version of Tennessee Ernie’s “Shotgun Boogie” [January, 1951] and Al Dexter‘s “Hi De Ho Boogie on a Saturday Night” [May 19, 1950] — all recorded at King’s Cincinnati studio. Documentation from King’s early years, unfortunately, is often scant.
Shields would also keep time on an enchanting Latin-flavored instrumentalé tropicalé whose musical hook is a gloriously deep bass blast of the horn (B-flat):
Mack Rice wrote “Mustang Sally” following a visit to his friend, singer Della Reese in New York City. Reese had off-handedly mentioned that she planned to buy her drummer a Lincoln for his birthday. Calvin Shields, the drummer, appreciated the thought but reportedly replied, “I don’t want a Lincoln, I want a Mustang.” Shields’ response confused Rice. He could not understand why anyone would want the small Mustang instead of the bigger and more powerful Lincoln. After returning to Detroit, Rice began work on a song titled “Mustang Mama.” A serendipitous visit to Aretha Franklin’s house led to the name change to “Mustang Sally.” Franklin believed that “Mustang Sally” fit better with the music. And so the song was born.
*Henry Glover quotes are from an 1980s interview with the Country Music Hall of Fame *Calvin Shields quotes are from an interview conducted by Brian Powers in 2009.
**Willis “Gatortail” Jackson played a pivotal role in Jamaican music history when spies working for Duke Reid identified the source of Coxsone Dodd’s theme song (i.e., “Coxsone’s Hop”) that cemented Downbeat‘s status as the superior sound system in Kingston: “Later for the Gator” by Willis Jackson[1958 – sounds not a little unlike ska]. In those pre-Internet days, operators of competing mobile sound systems would use American 45s with the labels scratched off as proprietary source material. Duke Reid’s discovery of Coxsone’s source material would prompt Dodd into creating an original Jamaican sound in 1962 – ska – in time for the birth of JA’s independence. Much more direct evidence of the Cincinnati-Kingston connection can be found here and here.
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In his profile of Van Dyke Parks from this past April, Elyadeen Anbar wrote that “despite his unfavorable opinions on anglo-pop music [i.e., during Beatlemania’s first wave], Parks did become more interested in songwriting and landed a hit with his composition ‘High Coin,’ when it was recorded by San Francisco beat group The Charlatans” – i.e., on their 1969 debut album — two years after Battyn’s version.
As it turns out, “High Coin” had already been recorded by a handful of artists going back as far as 1965 with Bobby Vee, who, by the way, appears to have muscled his way in on the songwriting credits. Note that the song, however, got passed over for A-side when released in Australia.
“Well, I was working for a group called the Brandywine Singers, playing guitar, and I was earning £3,000 a week playing at this casino in Reno, Nevada. That was a lot of money then… it’d be a lot of money now! And we had a two-week job there, and I got in a Mustang convertible with Hal Brown, the bass player – who went on to become the Supreme Court justice of Alaska – and we drove to this almost ghost town, an old wild west town with a few dozen people left living there, and we got out of the car and walked into the saloon. Hal had his double bass and I had my guitar, and in the saloon there were four guys in the corner, in a crowd of smoke that smelt funny.
“They were the house band, The Charlatans, and they all looked like Neil Young on a bad day! One of them was Dan Hicks. And we asked if we could play a song or two, and they were derisive because I looked like a little square, but I got on and I sang ‘High Coin‘ and they fell on the floor and asked if I’d mind if they recorded it. I was just delighted. They took the song, I went back to Los Angeles, and I was broke… but then I got the news that ‘High Coin‘ was on the radio in San Francisco. And that established me with the counter-culture.”
Back when I did the daily commute to Baltimore and my car radio had better reception, I used to enjoy a great community radio station that shares programming with its owner, WXPN, the Philadelphia radio station known for its “World Cafe” program, and yet operates out of a high school from just across the Chesapeake Bay. You would think a signal of 17,500 watts would reach folks in Silver Spring, but sadly that’s not the case.
I remember phoning the late, great Charlie Coleman from the road, after I’d stumbled upon Worton, Maryland’s WKHS FM, to tell him how much I enjoyed his show, and Charlie asking me right off the bat if I was a fan of “country rock” — the first time I had ever stopped to consider that term.
I have since renewed my appreciation for 1995 retrospective, Legends of Country Rock, Volume 5 of Rhino’s “Hillbilly Fever!” series. Besides the opening track, 1967’s International Submarine Band’s “Luxury Liner” (written by Gram Parsons and released on Lee Hazlewood‘s LHI label), I am also taken with a song – “Rock and Roll Gypsies” by trailblazing Los Angeles country rockers, The Hearts and Flowers – that is almost tied for earliest recording on this CD compilation (i.e., “Grizzly Bear” – an RCA single by The Youngbloods, released in December of 1966, whose A-side would be misspelled on the rear cover of 1967’s The Youngbloods album):
“Rock and Roll Gypsies” Hearts and Flowers Recorded Dec. 20, 1966
Larry Murray: Vocal & Guitar Rick Cunha: Guitar & Backing Vocal Dave Dawson: Autoharp & Backing Vocalr Bernie Leadon: Guitar JohnForsha: Guitar Ray Pohlman: Bass Toxey Sewell: Drums Joe Porcaro: Percussion Jimmy Bond: Arranger Nik Venet: Producer
Grammar police strike again – Rear Cover of 1967’s Youngbloods LP
Rich Kienzle, in his liner notes for Legends of Country Rock, as you would expect, delivers on the history:
The mid-’60s L.A. band Hearts and Flowers featured songwriter Larry Murray and future Burrito Brother and Eagles charter member Bernie Leadon. This group, all but forgotten today, exemplified the talented if commercially unsuccessful country-rock pioneers. Their harmonies were far more bluegrass than folk, not diluted in any way to grab a pop audience. The use of mandolin on a pop record was unusual, as was the use of autoharp, the push-button instrument played by Mother Maybelle Carter. Aside from the Hearts & Flowers, only The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s John Sebastian used one.
Their producer Nik Venet, who’d worked with Lou Rawls, Bobby Darin, and The Beach Boys, hoped the group could fuse country music with politically liberal themes. “Larry Murray was really a country boy,” Venet recalls. “He wanted to be a country artist-writer.” “Rock and Roll Gypsies,” from their 1967 debut album, Now Is the Time for Hearts and Flowers, sold well regionally but didn’t break out nationally. The chaotic sound effects at the song’s end, says Venet, were real. Armed with a portable monaural recorder, Venet went up to Sunset Boulevard and recorded the sounds of an actual 1966 hippies-versus-LAPD riot near a rock club called Pandora’s Box. The group made two albums for Capitol before disbanding.
“Rock & Roll Gyspies”. This is a hit! This is a hit! This is a hit! The song, although written some time ago, is strangely applicable to the happenings on the many ‘Sunset Strips’ across the nation today. On the ending repeat of the song, actual crowd sounds are used from recent Sunset Strip riots in Los Angeles. The Hearts & Flowers, a very popular group from Los Angeles, was being very heavily bid on by many of the major labels based there. Their vocal sound is a unique combination of rock, folk and country, and they utilize strange old instruments, such as the autoharp and dobro in creating new Top 40 instrumental sounds. ‘Road to Nowhere’ is an exceptionally strong back-up side for the debut disc of a group that is definitely going to happen!
Historical note: Release Date indicated above (January 16, 1966) must be a typo if the song was recorded, as Rhino asserts, near the end of December in 1966.