King Records Meets “Big Red”

In May, 2015’s piece about Guitar Crusher, it was pointed out that Seymour Stein, along with fellow Sire Records co-founder, Richard Gottehrer, had done production work on a Columbia recording in 1967, having formed Sire Productions the year before.  As Billboard would note in its chronology of the music industry executive who signed Madonna from his hospital bed while recovering from a heart infection, Stein had served his first music label apprenticeship at Cincinnati’s King Records for two years, beginning in 1957.  Syd Nathan‘s operation would prove to be a “farm league” for a number of other industry notables, as pointed out in Jon Hartley Fox’s King of the Queen City:  The Story of King Records:

“King Records was a good training ground where one could get a thorough, hands-on education in all facets of the recording industry.  One of the label’s enduring legacies is the large number of producers, A&R men, and sales or marketing executives who ‘trained’ under Nathan.  Among the King alumni who enjoyed successful careers at other labels are Seymour Stein (Sire, Sire-London, and Elektra), Hal Neely (Starday and Starday-King), Henry Glover (Old Town, Roulette, Starday-King), Ralph Bass (Chess), Jim Wilson (Starday and Sun), Alan Leeds (Paisley Park), Ray Pennington (Step One), and nearly a dozen others.”

As it turns out, the same year Seymour Stein produced a Guitar Crusher single for “Big Red,” Stein also organized a 12-inch release for Columbia Records (under the “Sire Productions” name) that consists entirely of country releases from the King Records vault, albeit (groan) “electronically re-channeled for stereo.”  That’s right, 1967 would see the release of a Columbia album (in name only) 18 King Size Country Hits, with extensive liner notes by Stein himself that promise the LP to be “one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century.”

Many of the songs on this LP were million sellers when first issued, according to Stein

King Size County Hits - Seymour Stein LP-a

This album, sadly, would seem to be the only one released (I can only assume Columbia felt sales to be insufficient enough to warrant future volumes).  It’s not for lack of trying though, as Stein very helpfully provides some historical context on the factors that helped King succeed in the marketplace:

Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today.  The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the ‘hillbilly’ world was ‘Midwestern Hayride,’ the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain.  Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro.  Lloyd ‘Cowboy’ Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati.  With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of ‘Midwestern Hayride’ had achieved any amount of success on records.  Most had never recorded despite their popularity among the Midwest and South.”

King Records In the big leagues:  On “Big Red” one year before Syd Nathan’s passingKing Size Country Hits II

Billboard would report the following news item in its July 8, 1967 edition:

Col. to Release Two R&B, Country LP’s From King

NEW YORK — Columbia Records will issue two albums of all time best sellers from the catalog of King Records.  One package will contain country material and the other rhythm and blues.  The deal, considered unusual, was okayed by Bill Gallagher, Columbia Records vice-president, after discussions with Seymour Stein of Sire Productions.  Stein, who regards the deal as a tribute to the achievement of Syd Nathan, president of King, produced the packages from masters in the King archives.

Each of the albums contains 18 performances.  The country package, titled 18 King Size Country Hits, includes “Signed Sealed and Delivered” by Cowboy Copas, “Blues Stay Away From Me” by the Delmore Brothers, “Mountain Dew” by Grandpa Jones, “Money, Marbles and Chalk” by the writer Pop Eckler, and sides by the Carlisle Brothers, Jimmy Osbourne, Wayne Raney, Moon Mullican, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Reno and Smiley.

The second package, titled 18 King Size Rhythm and Blues Hits, contains such classics as “Fever” by Little Willie John; “Work With Me Annie” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters; “Hearts of Stone” by Otis Williams and the Charms; “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett; “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and the Dominoes, and additional sides by James Brown and the Flames, Otis Redding, the Five Royales, Ivory Joe Hunter, Freddy King, Bullmoose Jackson, Wynonie Harris, and Earl Bostic.

The packages will also be distributed by the Columbia Record Club.”

Could the 1949 recording, “Money Marbles and Chalk” – fittingly, the album’s final track – be the only one ever released by Pop Eckler, who wrote songs for Rex Allen, Red Sovine, and Wink Martindale, as well as King labelmates, Grandpa Jones and The Stanley Brothers?

“Money, Marbles and Chalk”     Pop Eckler     1949

Eckler would pen “Money, Marbles and Chalk,” also covered at the time by Chet Atkins and Stubby and the Buccaneers, as well as later by Patti Page (1957) and King colleagues, Reno & Smiley (1961), while Link Trotter would give it a go in 1973.Pop Eckler 78Stein would have this to say about Eckler:

“Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of ‘Money, Marbles and Chalk.’  The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.”

Seymour Stein’s liner notes for Columbia LP ’18 King Size Country Hits’King Size County Hits - Seymour Stein LP-rear cover

“Yancey Special”: Prog Reggae II

Keith Emerson would captivate me as a grade schooler with the deep, heavy Moog sounds he conjured for “Lucky Man” — the final track, fittingly, on a 4-LP box set from 1973 that got a lot of mileage in our household growing up, Superstars of the Seventies, one of the earliest titles in the Warner Special Products series.

Superstars of the 70s-a“Lucky Man,” from Emerson, Lake & Palmer‘s 1970 debut album, derives much of its appeal from being a “power ballad” that builds to an explosive solo, and yet Aerosmith would get all the credit for having created this new rock subgenre, even though “Dream On” did not hit the record racks until 1973.

Dig the ’70s earth tones, man

Superstars of the 70s-xAfter Emerson, Lake and Palmer went their separate ways in 1979, Emerson would arrange a reggae-tinged take on a Meade Lux Lewis boogie instrumental, “Yancey Special” for his 1981 solo album Honky:

“Yancey Special”     Keith Emerson     1981

Most fascinatingly, Emerson’s first solo album post-ELP global fame would be released on an independent Italian label, Bubble, aimed at the “Italo-Disco” progressive dance market. Honky would find release two years later in the UK on Emerson’s imprint, Chord RecordsRock and Roll Paradise asserts Italy to be the only country where Honky was a hit album.

Keith Emerson - bubble This review in Vintage Rock would note —

“Emerson, on an extended vacation in the Bahamas, rounded up a crew of local musicians and exploded with a wild variation of calypso and reggae tunes—foreign substances to the legions of ELP fanatics who were expecting something less whimsical and more monumental.  But really — you can’t blame him for turning his back on the “legendary” noose around his neck and indulging seafaring gems like ‘Hello Sailor’ and ‘Rum-A-Ting.’  And the irresistible boogie woogie of Meade Anderson ‘Lux’ Lewis’ ‘Yancey Special’ shakes the manacles off completely”

Keith Emerson LPAccording to the liner notes, “honky” was a nickname used by children of the island and, thus, appropriated by Emerson for the album’s title.  “Yancey Special” would hit the airwaves two years after Rick Wakeman‘s cod reggae version of “Swan Lake,” the featured instrumental in Zero to 180’s January, 2015 piece, “Prog Rock Reggae.”

Keith Emerson:  One of The Best (Literally)

BB Chronicles offers a 1990 soundboard recording of a little-known (and short-lived) supergroup named The Best that once included Keith Emerson, along with John Entwistle (The Who), Joe Walsh (James Gang/Eagles), Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter (Doobie Brothers), and Simon Phillips (er, Toto).

           Keith Emerson & the skunk                        Emerson & the ox & the skunk

Keith Emerson & the skunk-xKeith Emerson & the ox & the skunk-x

Emerson’s spirit, sadly, would leave us this past March. – his obituary from the March 13, 2016 edition of The Guardian.

Bossa Country -or- Honky Nova?

On my one and only visit to Northampton, Massachusetts (NRBQ’s 35th anniversary show in 2004), I ducked into a second-hand vinyl shop and came away with a K-Tel country collection from 1976:  Country Superstars – 20 Greatest Hits.

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-frontThis collection of early-to-mid 70s hits includes 1976 dieselbilly hit “Roll On Big Mama” by Joe Stampley, plus Johnny Cash’s “A Thing Called Love” (1971), Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” (1973), Hank Snow’s “Hello Love” (1974) and Dotty [sic] West’s “Country Sunshine” (1974), among others.

Track listing

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-track listingLost to the winds of time, unfortunately, is the institutional knowledge at Canada’s K-Tel corporation as to who made the curious decision to include a “country bossa nova” song from 1964 – Skeeter Davis‘s charming kiss-off “Gonna Get Along Without You Now“:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     ‘K-Tel version’

But wait:  as it turns out, Skeeter Davis’s version would hit two times, the second time being 1971 (thanks, Wikipedia), hence its inclusion on a K-Tel 1970s country compilation.  The version above – it just dawned on me – is a ‘new’ arrangement from 1971.  The original release from 1964 below sounds markedly different:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     1964

Could this be the first county pop number to take commercial advantage of the fresh bossa nova sounds that were sweeping popular music in the early-to-mid 1960s?

US 45                                                          UK release

Skeeter Davis 45-aSkeeter Davis 45-b

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now” was written by Milton Kellem in 1951 and has been covered in a wide variety of styles to date – more recently, Zooey Deschanel & Matt Ward (as She and Him) in 2010.   Kellem’s name would be associated with a number of 45s, from the 50s & 60s, including a King B-side for Bubber Johnson, ’59’s “House of Love.”

A Canadian Defends America

I own 50 or more K-Tel (and Ronco) hits LPs that were issued from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.   I almost passed on Music Power recently, since the cover looked so similar to K-Tel’s other offerings from the early 70s, but upon closer examination, I had to admit there were a few tracks i did not recognize — most conspicuously, “The Americans (A Canadian’s Opinion)” by Gordon Sinclair:

“The Americans (A Canadian’s Opinion)”     Gordon Sinclair    1973

Sinclair, who describes Americans as “the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people in all the world,” points out that the U.S. has used its resources and expertise to implement flood control measures on the Yellow, Yangtze, Nile, Amazon, Ganges, and the Niger Rivers — yet “no foreign land has sent a dollar to help” the U.S. during the Mississippi Flood of 1973.   Sinclair, unsurprisingly, nurses other grievances, and he’s not afraid to voice them.

Gordon Sinclair:  unlikely pop star

Gordon SinclairWikipedia picks up the story from here:

“On June 5, 1973, following news that the American Red Cross had run out of money as a result of aid efforts for recent natural disasters, Sinclair recorded what would become his most famous radio editorial, “The Americans.”   While paying tribute to American success, ingenuity, and generosity to people in need abroad, Sinclair decried that when America faced crisis itself, it often seemed to face that crisis alone.

At the time, Sinclair considered the piece to be nothing more than one of his usual items.  But when U.S. News & World Report published a full transcript, the magazine was flooded with requests for copies.[18]  Radio station WWDC-AM in Washington, D.C. started playing a recording of Sinclair’s commentary with “Bridge Over Troubled Water” playing in the background.  Sinclair told the Star in November 1973 that he had received 8,000 letters about his commentary.

With the strong response generated by the editorial, a recording of Sinclair’s commentary was sold as a single with all profits going to the American Red Cross.   ‘The Americans (A Canadian’s Opinion)’ went to #24 on the Billboard Hot 100, making the 73-year-old Sinclair the 2nd-oldest living person ever to have a Billboard U.S. Top 40 hit (75-year-old Moms Mabley had a Top 40 hit in 1969 with ‘Abraham, Martin & John’).”

Does K-Tel’s Music Power include all four minutes and fifty-five seconds of “The Americans”?   Just by looking at the length of each track on the record itself, I can see that K-Tel has edited this long-winded diatribe easily by half.  Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine many other instances where K-Tel would include spoken-word narration with incidental musical backing.  Are there other such examples Zero to 180 is legally obligated to ponder.

Original K-Tel ad for ‘Music Power’ LP — Why No excerpt from the Gordon Sinclair Hit?

“Wacky Wacky Wacky”: And Yet Lacks Wack

Blue Mink is a British musical group that enjoyed 6 Top 20 hits in the UK from 1969-1973 but only one chart appearance (“Our World” #64) here in the US.  I had assumed from the appearance of their #9 UK hit “Randy” on K-Tel 1973 hits album, Fantastic 22 Original Hits 22 Original Stars, that maybe this winsome Wings-like pop rocker had enjoyed some American radio airplay, but the song – I’m surprised to learn – failed to chart here.  K-Tel's Fantastic 22 Original Hits LPEMI would issue “Randy” as a single in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Spain & New Zealand — but not in the Americas.  K-Tel, therefore, would be the sole American distributor for this one particular Blue Mink track, “Randy.”

K-Tel’s version (it defies belief) is actually a shortened version of the song that fades out ever so tantalizingly around the 2-minute mark, just as twin guitars take joyously to flight — my American ears are still adjusting to the “extended” instrumental solo & other final bits:

Blue Mink comprised top-tier London studio musicians – Roger Coulam (keyboards), Madeline Bell (vox), Herbie Flowers (bass), Alan Parker (guitar) & Barry Morgan (drums).  Vocalist Roger Cook wrote the group’s songs with Roger Greenaway.

The previous year Blue Mink had released a single “Wacky Wacky Wacky” that was surprisingly restrained for a song that all but advertised hilarity and hijinks.  This 1972 UK television appearance is the only form in which this overlooked single resides on YouTube:

Blue Mink:  Active Supporter of Independent UK Radio

Blue Mink performed the jingle (written by Cook/Greenaway – arranged by George Martin) for early UK independent – Capital Radio – who first went on the air October 16, 1973 with (1) the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen”; followed by (2) a message from station director, Richard Attenborough; (3) then Blue Mink’s Capital Radio jingle; followed by (4) Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” [Capital Radio’s first commercial was for Bird’s Eye fish fingers].

German 45

Blue Mink German 45 sleeve

“Seven Deadly Finns”: Roots Rock Rediscovery

Back in the days of vinyl (i.e., “before music was free”), there seemed to be endless time to pore over the contents of a record album.  However, truth is we invested the time, since budgetary restraints (and lack of YouTube) made it incumbent upon the listener to really make the most of each musical purchase.

As someone whose limitless appetite was often constrained by limited funds, I have a particularly fond spot in my heart for various artists compilation albums, particularly the ones that have a strong hit-to-miss ratio.  UK indie label, E.G. Records, issued one such album in 1982 – First Edition – a good-value gathering of offbeat songs that run the gamut from art-rock to ambient-pop.

First Edition LPHow interesting to learn only now that Eno oddball track – “Seven Deadly Finns” – with its doowop touches and nice little yodel near the end, is a single that appears on no other album but this one (even then, only the American – not the UK version!)

Even more fascinating to discover this live television performance, where a still-glam Eno sings to a noticeably different backing track than the rambunctious mix on the First Edition compilation album:

“Seven Deadly Finns”     Brian Eno     1974

Eno’s 70s take on the early 50’s rock sound fits right into Peter Doggett’s narrative (as captured in his biography of David Bowie in the 1970s – The Man Who Sold the World) that “it seemed [in the early-mid 70s] as if everyone in British pop was remembering the 1950s and early sixties, from Elton John’s ‘Crocodile Rock’ to 10cc’s ‘Donna’ and Wizzard’s ‘Ball Park Incident,’ taking a self-conscious look back at an era they had originally experienced without a hint of irony.”

Saw this concert film (at concert volume) at a cincinnati cinemahouse in 1973

Good Times Roll aRoots Rock’s Reawakening:  Moving Forward (by) Looking Backward

Bob Dylan & The Band     Original Basement Tapes Sessions     1967

The Beatles     “Lady Madonna” single    1968

The Beatles     Get Back Sessions     1969

Bill Deal & the Rhondels     “May I”     1969

Sha Na Na     Woodstock Performance     1969

Bryan Ferry     These Foolish Things Sessions     1973

David Bowie     Pin Ups Sessions     1973

The Who     Quadrophenia Sessions     1973

Various Artists     American Graffiti (film)     1973

Various Artists     Let the Good Times Roll (film)     1973

David Essex (et al.)     That’ll Be the Day (film)    1973

Rockin’ Ronny     “We Like Rock and Roll”     1973

David Essex (et al.)     Stardust (film)     1974

Brian Eno     “Seven Deadly Finns”     1974

John Lennon     Roots      1975

“Small Beginnings”: Shorter vs. Longer Version?

Early Yes guitarist, Peter Banks, and vocalist, Colin Carter, formed prog rock ensemble – Flash – in Summer 1971, signing with Capital subsidiary, Sovereign, and recording their first album in November (with early Yes member, Tony Kaye on keyboards).  By 1972 the group had a Billboard Top 40 hit right out of the gate with debut single – “Small Beginnings” (#29) – and album, Flash (#33).

Flash - publicity shot

“Small Beginnings” was also included – in edited form – on several hits anthologies, including 1972 K-Tel compilation, 22 Explosive Hits Volume 2:

Small Beginnings (K-Tel mix) – Flash

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Small Beginnings” (K-Tel mix) by Flash.]

K-Tel's 22 Explosive HitsApparently, the difference in song length between the album version of “Small Beginnings” and the mix offered by K-Tel is not insignificant — here, for purposes of comparison, is the full-length album version:

Q:  Which version do you prefer?

“Always Unknowing”: Roxy Music, Forever Uncertain

Phil Manzanera squeezes off soulful guitar lines, particularly during the instrumental coda, on “Always Unknowing” – the flip side of Roxy Music’s Top-20 hit from 1982, “Avalon”:

This languid and forlorn Bryan Ferry composition remained a B-side for 20 years or so until included in a remastered CD mix of Avalon.  “Always Unknowing” was also included on 1983 Warner Brothers B-sides and rarities compilation album, Attack of the Killer B’s.

Attack of the Killer B's

“The Message”: Nyah Rock from the UK

K-Tel put out a 70s hits package called Super Bad and wisely decided to include Cymande‘s moody and mysterious 1972 hit, “The Message“:

Says Discogs:   “Formed 1971 in London, England, disbanded 1974. Cymande played what they themselves called NyahRock: a mixture of funk, soul, reggae and African rhythms.”  Wikipedia claims group members to be from Guyana, Jamaica & St. Vincent.

Pronounced Sah-MAHN-day.
Cymande
“The Message” would reach #48 on the pop chart, #22 on the R&B chart in 1973.
`
K-Tel's Super Bad

’20 Heavy Hits’: If For No Other Reason, the Album Cover

Not too long ago I picked up 20 Heavy Hits, a bubblegum-leaning collection of radio hits from 1968 that appears to be the predecessor to Crystal Corporation’s, 20 Solid Gold Hits.  Even though it was only a buck, I almost didn’t get it since I already had most of the tunes on other albums.  But in the end, it was the cover – specifically, the sumptuous Victorian-era elevator – that convinced me:20 Heavy Hits

In the end, I’m glad I picked up this collection, if for no other reason than to hear Ricardo Ray’s hip Latin take on Shirley Ellis’ 1963 top 10 hit, “Nitty Gritty”:

This song is the lead-off track from The Ricardo Ray Orchestra’s 1968 album of the same name – released on Alegre, an imprint of Roulette.