Henry Stone on Seymour Stein of Sire Records:
“When I left King Records about 1956 I guess, Seymour Stein ended up interning there with Syd Nathan. He was a young kid. He must be about 10 years younger than me, must be about 75, or 80 by now.
He fell asleep at my birthday party at the table. He does a great imitation of Syd Nathan, loves to do an imitation of Syd. I became pretty friendly with him through the years. When he left King he was editor of Billboard for a while.
He penned the charts for Billboard in New York. I used to go up there and see him all the time. And then I used to see him a lot when we went to Cannes, France for the music festival. Every year they have that, they still do. It’s called MIDEM. It’s a big deal. I was going there since the very beginning in the 70s. I used to go there with my TK Productions. I was a big man when I used to go there.
I had the biggest independent music company in the world, and they loved discos and dancing in Europe. I used to hang out with Seymour there and he was just one of those real terrific real record guys. He found Madonna ya know, and The Ramones, The Talking Heads, and he founded the Sire label, that was his, Sire Records. I didn’t know him back in the King days. Syd Nathan and I had already split up. Syd used to talk about that son of a bitch Henry Stone. I guess he respected me as a good record guy y’ know. Seymour Stein’s a real good record guy too.”
Seymour Stein would be the one on the right
Stein’s signings — as noted in the text that accompanies his Ahmet Ertegun Award from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or his (abandoned) acceptance speech for CBGB’s Icon Award) — reveal a keen ear for talent in contemporary rock and pop: The Flamin’ Groovies, The Saints, The Rezillos, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Radio Birdman, The Dead Boys, The Undertones, The Pretenders, The Replacements, The Smiths, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Cult, Modern English, The English Beat, Madness, KD Lang, Depeche Mode, Aztec Camera, Everything But the Girl, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Barenaked Ladies, and Aphex Twin, along with the aforementioned Ramones, Talking Heads, and Madonna. Just as Cincinnati’s King Records helped give birth to 50s rock ‘n’ roll, this same scrappy indie label would then go on to play a significant supporting role in shaping modern ‘indie’ rock.
The same year that (future) music mogul Seymour Stein inked the liner notes for a Columbia collection of classic country hits culled from Cincinnati’s King label, Stein would compose text to accompany a corresponding compilation of King rhythm & blues hits that would similarly enjoy release on almighty Columbia’s hallowed red label as one his earlier Sire Productions: 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits from 1967.
LP of King R&B HIts remixed for stereo and issued on Columbia
Seymour Stein’s liner notes for the original 1967 Columbia LP, sadly, exceed my grasp. Nevertheless, I can only presume that Stein points out (as with King Size Country Hits) how this other batch of King hits represents millions of sales: 1956’s “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett (although, “Part 2” – the better side, some assert); 1956’s “Please Please Please” by James Brown, 1961’s “Hide Away” by Freddie King, 1947’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris, and Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night,” a huge ‘crossover’ hit in 1948 — massive sellers all.
Also worth pointing out the inclusion of an early Otis Redding single – “Shout Bamalama” from 1961 – that shows the influence of fellow Macon artist, Little Richard.
Also finding its way into 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits is “Another Woman‘s Man” – a song from Joe Tex‘s first ever recording session, which took place in New York City for King Records in September, 1955:
“Another Woman’s Man” Joe Tex 1955
Musical personnel (according to Michael Ruppli’s The King Labels: A Discography):
“Another Woman’s Man”- would be issued by King on LP only: (a) The Best of Joe Tex from 1965 (its first time on wax!), as well as (b) Rhythm and Blues: 18 All Time King Hits from 1968 (whose running order, curiously, duplicates 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits).
Seed Money for Sire: Beatlemania
Bob Mehr’s well-researched Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements provides some illuminating details about Seymour Stein’s fascinating roller coaster ride in the record business, as detailed here in this passage about the source of Sire’s seed money:
“In high school, Stein spent summers in Cincinnati apprenticing under King Records owner Syd Nathan [1957-58], whose biggest star was James Brown. Stein eventually would work for King full-time [1961-63], learning every aspect of the business at the company’s one-stop operation. Back in New York, he became an assistant to record man George Goldner in 1963, then in 1966 broke off with producer-writer Richard Gottehrer. Their label’s moniker scrambled the first two letters of their first names – SE and RI – to get Sire.
Each put up $10,000 in seed money. Stein’s funds had come from Beatlemania’s 1964 height, when Capitol Records in Canada sold a selection of Beatles singles not available in the United States. Stein had spirited a mass of the records out of the country, then offloaded them to US wholesalers, making a small fortune in a week. ‘The statute of limitations has passed,’ said Stein. ‘But that’s where my share of the money came from.'”
A: Capitol US – incredible as it might seem – passed on the Beatles’ first four singles!
- Check out Music Ally‘s February, 2016 interview with Seymour Stein that discusses the early days in even greater depth — and reveals that while “he loved working at King,” Stein ultimately “missed New York” and moreover, “found Cincinnati difficult”!
- PR Newswire states that Sire Productions, interestingly enough, initially set up shop in “the old King Records [New York City branch] offices on  West 54th Street.”
- Essential reading: “Seymour Stein – Apprentice at King Records” from John Broven’s Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock & Roll Pioneers.
- Also worthy of ingestion: “Shellac In His Veins“: The Billboard Icon Award Interview with Seymour Stein – January 21, 2012