Five years before “The Monster Mash,” King Records would peddle their own piece of Halloween pop in 1957, with the only release ever by The Swinging Phillies on DeLuxe — “Frankenstein’s Party” (backed with “L–O–V–E“):
The Swinging Phillies are a Philadelphia-based group, and are composed of Charles Cosom, lead; Philip Hurtt, first tenor; Richard Hill, second tenor; Ronald Headon, baritone; and Al Hurtt, bass singer and founder of the group.
More band history below courtesy of the “bio-disc“:
Hard to believe that people have paid hundreds of dollars for an original copy of this doowop 45, but they have.
A search of the 45Cat database seems to suggest strongly that DeLuxe 6171 is the first of the “Frankenstein” songs, two years before Buchanan & Goodman’s “Frankenstein of ’59” (and one year before Bo Diddley’s “Bo Meets the Monster” – although this source says 1956), but is it also pop music’s earliest Halloween-slash-horror song? All attempts to find “scary” songs earlier than 1957 – using such search terms as monster, ghoul, vampire, mummy, spooky, haunted, Halloween, et al. – have not yet proven abundant. According to AllButForgottenOldies, the “flying saucer” songs of 1956 would kick start the teen horror fad in popular music, which merely echoed the big screen — although I’m not sure I would include “Old Black Magic” (especially as rendered so touchingly by the Glenn Miller Orchestra; same goes for Margaret Whiting’s “Old Devil Moon” — ditto Perry Como’s “Haunted Heart“) on a Halloween song list.
“Frankenstein’s Party” just might be King’s only Halloween and/or horror tune.
Q: Aside from the “flying saucer” discs of 1956, can you find a Halloween/horror tune earlier than 1957?
One can be forgiven for mistaking the heartbeat bass line and the off-kilter, syncopated hand drumming in this 2-minute heavy chant as being part of the Jamaican Nyabinghi tradition. Note the special effect at song’s end — somewhat “high tech” for King in 1954:
“Oooh-Diga-Gow” Cecil Young Quartet 1954
And yet, this King track by the Cecil Young Quartet, according to Michel Ruppli King Labels discography, was recorded December 7, 1953 in Cincinnati. But where – given the live audience sounds – exactly? We the listeners can only presume that stage movements and vocal inflections, designed to accentuate the “meaning” of the lyrics, are what’s eliciting periodic bursts of laughter. To make sense of the laughs, it is imperative, given the lack of accompanying video, that the listener consult his or her inner oracle.
“Oooh-Diga-Gow” was originally a B-side that enjoyed release on 78 as well as 45. Five years later, King would reissue the song on Audio Lab LP, Jazz on the Rocks. One Ebay ad for this song (with no reference to the A-side) describes the music as “rare jazz exotica Yma Sumac,” while another seller would go even further.
King’s art department would turn out some delightful ‘cool jazz’ covers for Cecil Young and his crew during their short run with the label 1953-54:
The Guerrillas‘ “Lawdy Rolla” is a King reissue of a European single on Polydor.
Points out the YouTube contributor who posted this audio clip:
“Traditional worksong recording [from] Alan Lomax’s Negro Prison Blues & Songs – ‘Early in the Mornin” http://youtu.be/lw6GFCupesI US ish (issue) of a French Congo acoustic RnB/Jazz tune, has an amazing vibe and groove”
“Lawdy Rolla” The Guerillas 1969
Alan Lomax would record a performance of “Early in the Mornin'” in 1947 at Mississippi State Penitentiary’s Parchman Farm, thus setting into motion a chain of events that would lead to this prison work song entering the realm of popular music.
Australia’s Purple Hearts would inject “Early in the Mornin'” with fresh energy in 1966, as would Christchurch, New Zealand’s The Chants (as noted here), no doubt using The Graham Bond Organization‘s more polite version from the previous year’s The Sound of ’65 album as a template.
King would release “Lawdy Rolla” in October, 1969. Little to no information seems to exist about this obscure 45, which commands a respectable price at auction. The Guerrillas would record these two songs at Studio CBE in Paris.
Polydor picture sleeve – Note the spelling variant of Guerrillas
Lyrics to the original prison work song can be found here — for mature audiences only.
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 the 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
Catchy King instrumental — and what is that instrument, exactly? Sounds like a blend of organ and harmonica, most likely:
“New Annie Laurie” Gene Redd 1960
“New Annie Laurie” seems an obvious attempt by King to “cash in” on the fresh organ retooling of “Red River Rock” made famous the previous year by Johnny and the Hurricanes, although without directly resorting to plagiarism, cleverly enough, by using an olde Scotch ballad.
Billboard‘s review of the single in its October 10, 1960 edition would have this to say about the A-side “New Sidewalks of New York” — “Gene Redd sells this happy rocker with warmth on this driving instrumental side, it’s the old tune dressed up with a rocking beat” — and then, hilariously, utter two words “same comment” about the B-side “New Annie Laurie”! Worth noting that Redd covered “Red River Rock” for King the previous year.
Brian Powers’ King Records Scrapbook informs me that Redd, originally a session player and King artist who became a talent scout for the label, would go on to do arrangements for Kool & the Gang, for which his son, Gene Redd, Jr., served as manager.
King Records would try to cash-in on the success of “Tequila” by The Champs, as Johnnie Pate‘s 1958 Federal 45 “Muskeeta” would demonstrate:
Johnnie Pate’s “Muskeeta” 1958
Johnnie Pate (b, ldr); Ronald Wilson (fl); Williams Wallace (p); Wilbur Wynne (g); Donald Clark (d).
Chicago, March 20, 1958
According to Armin Büttner‘s Johnnie Pate history website, the version of “Muskeeta” on the French EP (below) is exactly the same as the version on King LP 584, but for a tenor sax probably overdubbed by Ronald Wilson himself. It is not yet known, which version of “Muskeeta” is on Federal 45-12325.
The Five Keys, during their short stint with King Records, would carry out three recording sessions between 1959-1960 that would yield two albums for the label. One album, Rhythm & Blues Hits: Past and Present, would be released in 1960, while the other self-titled album would be released, oddly enough, 17 years later on the Gusto subsidiary. Note that the Five Keys original King album can fetch over $500!
One song title in particular seems to call attention to itself – “Your Teeth and Tongue (Will Get You Hung)” — fittingly, the album’s final track. Could this be an attempt at social protest, not unlike Lowman Pauling & the Five Royales’ “The Slummer the Slum”. Still decoding the lyric, but if true, might explain why this song was never put out for single release (*correction: Gusto would issue this song as a B-side in 1982).
Although this record bears the “James Brown Production” logo, the labels credit a Steve Baron as the actual producer of both tracks. Baron is also the songwriter on both of these tunes, which to me are reminiscent of the kind of sophisticated funk that Galt MacDermot was turning out around this same period. I’m sure JB approved.
Blakey would be identified as “Cincinnati Talent in Action” by Billboard in its May 23, 1970 edition:
Dennis Wholey, a resident of New York since his syndicated talk show bearing his name was chucked by WKRC-TV five months ago, was a visitor here last week, accompanied by singer Carolyn Blakey, whom he has under contract. Miss Blakey cut a session at King Records here, with Wholey monitoring. Her initial release on the label some months ago was “Tomorrow’s Child.” Now working out of the William Morris office, Dennis is still mulling the idea of presenting The Who here, with he as emcee.