A recent Cincinnati visit allowed me the chance to verify that the former King Records complex is still standing. But for how long? Polly Lucke, Zero to 180’s West Coast correspondent, recently brought to my attention a battle over this city-designated historic landmark that pits the current owners (there are two of them) against an influential group of supporters (the city’s mayor being one of them), with Cincinnati’s taxpayers caught in the middle.
King Records circa 1966
This past summer there was reason for optimism. In August, 2015 the City Planning Commission had voted unanimously (1) to approve the application submitted by the Bootsy Colllins Foundation and the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation and (2) refer the matter to City Council, as reports WCPO’s website in an August 21, 2015 article entitled, “Support Grows for King Records HIstoric Preservation.” One parcel in the King complex remains vacant, while the other serves a warehouse – according to the Cincinnati Enquirer in an October 7, 2015 piece, “King Records Now a City Landmark” – and Dynamic Industries (owner of the vacant property) seeks a demolition permit in order to expand:
“Mayor John Cranley said Wednesday his administration is working to acquire the King Records property in good faith. Cranley, recalling his days on City Council, said King Records preservation efforts date back to 2008 after council approved a motion to work toward designating the properties as historic. The motion, he said, was approved prior to the owner purchasing the property and the buyer should have known the designation could eventually happen.”
Cincinnati taxpayers, thus, were given an opportunity to vote in early November whether to tack on about $35 a year per $100,000 of assessed home value (i.e., Issue 22, the “parks levy”) in order to generate enough funds to “transform” 13 of the city’s public spaces, including the King Records Evanston Pavilion (as well as the vacant Jewish Community Center in Roselawn, my old stomping grounds). As you may have inferred from the first paragraph, insufficient numbers came to the polls, sadly, to pass the new property tax. King’s future, therefore, is in limbo.
Rendering for Xavier University‘s King Experiential Learning Center
Martha Harvin – James Brown’s longest-running female vocalist – might possibly have set foot in King’s Evanston recording studios.
Photo of Martha Harvin courtesy of Blind Faith Records
Harvin began her career as part of DC vocal group, The Jewels, who toured with the James Brown Revue in 1966 and did some studio recordings before Harvin’s singing partners grew tired of life on the road and returned home. Harvin would remain with the James Brown Revue for more than 30 years.
Hundreds of handshakes to filmmaker, Jeff Krulik (Heavy Metal Parking Lot; Led Zeppelin Played Here, et al.) for directing me to Eli Meir Kaplan, who interviewed Harvin (a.k.a., “Martha High”) in December, 2014 for his DC music history blog, Soul 51.
The Jewels, it turns out, would record one single each for Federal and King. More intriguing, however, is the Jewels 45 written and produced by James Brown and released on the obscure (and mysterious) Dynamite label, “Papa Left Mama Holding the Bag,” a playful rejoinder to Brown’s breakthrough funk of 1965, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag“:
“Papa Left Mama Holding the Bag” The Jewels 1966
Cincinnati’s CityBeat includes a piece in its September 9, 2015 edition about the challenges of creating heritage tourism in the city landmark overlooking Interstate 71 — “The Once and Future King: In an Effort to Boost Evanston, Community Leaders Race to Preserve Its Famous Musical Legacy.”