“Foreman”: Sanitation Engineer

Scooter “The Music Computer” Magruder – WPFW radio host and general manager of Silver Spring’s Roadhouse Oldies – deserves much praise and respect for his leadership role in stoking an appreciation for our popular musical heritage over the years.  My recent album purchases at Roadhouse Oldies affirmed yet again that plenty of interesting songs remain primarily (if not solely) on vinyl, as originally intended.

Of the five albums that I picked up, the grooviest cover, by far, should have won an award for design, particularly the typography –- note the individualistic lettering:

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However, since Out of Sight! was issued by a subsidiary label of crass cash-in label, Pickwick, that somehow invalidates the album from consideration (in which case, I would again direct your attention to the uniquely expressive lettering above).

A couple tracks caught my ear, including one by Tommy Roe in which the musical backing track suddenly “departs” from the vocal fairly soon into the song … and never really returns!   Check out the steep “musical drop-off” that occurs around the 40-second mark — did Tommy Roe really intend for the mix to sound this way?

[Pssst:  Click on triangle above to play “Foreman” (the ‘Pickwick’ mix) by Tommy Roe]

For demonstration purposes only

Note that nothing of the sort happens in this “propermix posted on YouTube — the only audio recording of the song publicly available (and one that was only posted last month).

A working-class blues that is not without a certain amount of boastful pride (since, after all, the singer has a good job at the mill making “30 cents* an hour” as the “foreman of the garbage brigade”), important to note that “Foreman,” was originally issued in 1961 by Diplomat – Pickwick peer and purveyor of equally exploitative fare (as previously celebrated here) – on Tommy Roe’s Whirling with Tommy Roe and Al Tornello, and would subsequently be reissued two years later on bedraggled and beloved Crown Records (as paid musical tribute here).  I am assuming that the same recording was used for all 3 LPs.

1961 Diplomat LP                                               1963 crown LP

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The other tune that thrust itself upon my musical consciousness is an amusing surf-slash-drag-racing hybrid that is talk/sung in Bob Dylan fashion and backed by a bunch of smart alecks (who sound suspiciously like the backing vocalists on “The Ostrich”).  Halfway through the song, I spy the Pickwick logo on the back cover, and the realization suddenly hits:   Lou Reed!  Sure enough, “Cycle Annie” is from the pen of Lou Reed, as are three other tracks on the album:  “Soul City” by The Hi-Lifes; “Don’t Turn My World Upside Down” by The J Brothers; and “The Wonderful World of Love” by The Liberty Men.

“Cycle Annie”     The Beachnuts     1964

* [Note:  30⊄ an hour in 1961 dollars roughly equates to $2.45 an hour in 2017 dollars.]

Roadhouse Oldies, alas, will be shutting its doors for the last time in December, 2017. Message currently posted on the record shop’s website:

A SAD NOTE:  Sorry to report that, after 43 years in Silver Spring, we will be closing the business at the end of this year.  As you can probably understand, the demand for good old songs is fading.  We wish to thank our many loyal customers, and invite you to please come see us before we close, even if it is just to chat about the good old days.  We were the first true ‘oldies’ store in this area, and we thank you for 43 terrific years!

Zero to 180’s Photographic Tribute to Roadhouse Oldies

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original streamline moderne storefront on nearby Thayer St. (demolished)

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This is the 5th piece tagged as Pickwick Records

Gene Rosenthal & Adelphi Records: Ahead of the Curve

I suspect Gene Rosenthal will roll his eyes at the obviousness and artlessness of this observation, but let history officially note:   In 1966, when Eric Clapton and company were reviving Skip James‘ “I’m So Glad” for Cream’s debut album (which enjoyed worldwide distribution – even Saudi Arabia, unofficially), Rosenthal had already recorded the pioneering blues guitarist two years prior — James’ first recordings since the Depression — at his parents’ house in Silver Spring, Maryland!

Adelphi Studios – 516 E. Indian Spring Drive – Silver Spring, MD
(since equipped with solar panels, but still awaiting historical plaque)

adelphi-studios-aThus, Gene’s Adelphi Studios helped to put Silver Spring on the world’s musical map before Track Recorders had even opened its doors, while Rosenthal’s audio engineering skills would help draw attention to such other “rediscovered” blues artists as Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Johnny Shines, DavidHoneyboyEdwards, Big Joe Williams, Furry Lewis, and Gus Cannon, as well as emerging local guitarist, “Takoma” John Fahey.

Rosenthal, as some blues enthusiasts might tell you, was part of a so-called “East Coast Blues Mafia” of non-conformists and free-thinking types who took an activist approach toward revitalizing the careers of forgotten American blues artists.  This group of renegades would include Fahey and Bill Barth (who tracked down Skip James), Ed Denson (who relocated Bukka White, with assistance from Fahey), Dick Spottswood and Tom Hoskins (who used the lyrics of “Avalon Blues” to locate Mississippi John Hurt), along with Michael Stewart, Henry VestineMax Ochs, Stefan Grossman, Nick Perls, and others who collectively sought out blues, country, folk and other “primitive” sounds (i.e., simple, therefore “unsophisticated”) decades before the rest of America would catch on to the notion that ‘simple’ can convey a power that often eludes more athletically-gifted musics with fancy time signatures and such.

Gene Rosenthal – Adelphi Studios c. 1963gene-rosenthal-aa

“Beloved abroad, but underappreciated at home” is a common theme that runs through the history of the arts and one that would ring true to some extent, at least initially, for Adelphi Records.  As Billboard would note nearly 40 years ago in its December 24, 1977 edition, “The label is another example of small American record manufacturers finding a greater response for its artists abroad.”

And yet Adelphi Records is still very much a vital concern some 48 years later, having signed a new artist — Ken Swartz & the Palace of Sin, who recorded an album in New Orleans, Smile Away the Blues — and inked a major deal with respected Oxford, Mississippi-based indie label Fat Possum to acquire Rosenthal’s vaunted “Blues Vault,” from which it has assembled Worried Blues, a ten-album series that features rare and previously out-of-print recordings on vinyl, CD, and digital download (released July 21).

Zero to 180 notes an independence of spirit in Rosenthal, whose label remains one of the last of the original postwar independent labels (having entered the business initially as a distribution point for Takoma and Arhoolie as early as 1964) that brings to mind another notable “indie” – Syd Nathan – whose King Records would inspire Seymour Stein (and Richard Gottehrer) to create Sire Productions, thus sowing the seeds of today’s contemporary “indie” scene.  Rosenthal, in fact, would help organize his fellow music entrepreneurs into a national association of independent record distributors (known initially as the National Association of Independent Record Distributors, or NAIRD) just a few years after forming Adelphi Records.

Gene Rosenthal:  The Track Years

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This historian-in-training would arrive in the DC area just as Track Recorders was closing its doors, thus making my attempt to piece together the studio’s history feel somewhat like groping in the dark.  Let me first express much appreciation to all the participants who helped “crowd source” this work-in-progress and fill in the historical gaps, particularly Rosenthal, who helped me understand his unsung supporting role, as it relates to the Track Recorders story:

“Adelphi made a (zero-dollar) deal with Track’s then engineer, Obie O’Brien, and loaned Track Adelphi’s Spectrasonic 16x4x2 Mixing & Recording console, along with their Scully 280-2/4, which is clearly visible [in this photo] as the 2nd Scully in the main studio, as well our Sony ES 22T studio transport machine which was used in Studio ‘B.’  When Obie left, he couldn’t guarantee the safety of Adelphi’s equipment any longer, so it was removed at the same time as his departure.”

Adelphi - Scully 280-24 machadelphi-sony-es-22t-machine

[Adelphi’s Scully 280-2/4]                                [Adelphi’s Sony ES 22T]

.

Ah, the truth is starting to become clear!

In the earlier Track Recorders history piece, do you recall the Billboard snippet from the June 17, 1972 issue that noted Track’s having “two rooms” – albeit the second one “incomplete” and thus not fully operational?  Rosenthal, consequently, endowed Track with equipment that helped transform “Studio B” into a secondary room that could be used for playback and editing, as well as a place for conducting auditions.

Unsurprisingly, Silver Spring’s Track studio — with its futuristic Neve 8036 console (and its motorized mechanical faders), not to mention 3M 16-track tape machine — would be the recording facility of choice for a handful of Adelphi artists in the mid-to-late 1970s on the following LP releases:

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Liz Meyer was – as noted in Richard (“music writer”) Thompson’s 2011 obituary for Bluegrass Today – “one of Europe’s adopted American bluegrassers” who was a “very pro-active and vocal promoter of the European World of Bluegrass (EWoB) and European bluegrass music in general.”

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  • Bill Holland & Rent’s DueIf It Ain’t One Thing…
    Recorded and mixed substantially at Track between 1974/75 — released 1975 (Adelphi AD 4104).  Reviewed by none other than Robert Christgau (“Dean of American rock critics”), who bestowed the album with a B+.

Bill Holland LP

Phred A. Heutte, in the April,1980 edition of DC arts monthly Unicorn Times, would observe If It Ain’t One Thing to be “one of the first Adelphi rock albums,” as well as “one of the only local albums in a barren period for DC vinyl,” noting that it “was well recorded by the standards of the day, and received positive notices from all quarters, particularly for Bill’s solid, quietly humorous and intelligent lyrics.”    Holland would inform Heutte that “Gene Rosenthal somehow sold 2000 Bill Holland records – before anybody outside my close family knew who that was – simply because they heard it on the air, or saw it in a store, or somehow told them about me,” adding that he “had worked very closely with Adelphi on all phases of the first LP, from recording to mastering to stuffing publicity packages himself.  ‘I could have written that article in the March issue [about manufacturing records],’ he laughs.’”

[Unicorn Times]

Bill Holland - promo ad

  • Stephen SpanoEye to Eye
    Recorded in 1975 at Track’s main studio, as well as Adelphi Studios & Bethesda’s Urban Recordings (Adelphi AD 4103).  Rosenthal would perform engineering and production responsibilities.

Eye to Eye’s trippy photo-montage and “textured” album cover

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This “kaleidoscope of folk, rock, and jazz” (as described by Adelphi) is well demonstrated on album opener “Love Is the Sound,” with its inventive bass work.   Music blogger Play It Again, Max (who profiles “out-of-print LPs never issued on CD”) declares Eye to Eye to be “a great record” and “well worth the listen.”

  • The Reuben Brown Trio Featuring Richie ColeStarburst
    Recorded completely at Track 1975 and released 1976 — featuring the DC jazz group, The Reuben Brown Trio:   Reuben Brown, Marshall Hawkins, Bernard Sweetney. (Adelphi AD 5001 — also re-released on CD – GCD 5001).

U.S. cover (left) designed by Dick Bangham vs. JAPANESE cover (right)

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Cole has worked with such artists as Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Art Pepper, Sonny Stitt, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Crawford, Boots Randolph, Phil Woods, Eddie Jefferson, Bobby Enriquez, Nancy Wilson, Tom Waits, and Manhattan Transfer.

  • The Nighthawks:  Several Nighthawks LP releases were recorded at Track =
    Open All Nite [Adelphi AD 4105, noted below in Adelphi Album Releases of the 1970s] engineered by Obie O’Brien in 1976; as well as Side Pocket Shot, its ‘progressive’ and wider-ranging follow-up (Adelphi AD 4115), engineered and mixed by Gerry Wyckoff & (Cap’n) Jon Curlin in 1977 [noted below in Dick Bangham Historical Spotlight]; Jacks & Kings (Adelphi AD 4120) from 1978, which was recorded with members of The Muddy Waters BandPinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Guitar Jr. & Calvin Jones — plus Dave Maxwell “in the wee wee hours of Summer & Fall 1977”; and the live album, Times Four (venue: El Mocambe, Toronto – c. 1979), with studio sessions recorded 1977-78 at Track, plus a live set hosted by John Hall at Georgetown’s radical radio station, WGTB — released in 1982 (Adelphi 2-LP AD 4130/35).

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Gerald Herzhaft in the Encyclopedia of the Blues says Pinetop Perkins “is at his best on the collections Living Chicago Blues (Alligator) and Jacks and Kings (Adelphi); the latter was recorded with the Nighthawks.”  Brawner Smoot, meanwhile, would write in his review for Unicorn Times‘ October, 1982 edition — “The previously unreleased material is a representation of the broad range of influences the Nighthawks have absorbed during their ten year, ten album trek around the States”  (check out highlight “How Many More Years” with Guitar Jr.).

  • Bill Blue Band — Two Adelphi LP releases recorded and mixed at Track:
    Sing Like Thunder — Recorded 1978, released 1979  (Adelphi LP – AD 4109).
    Givin’ Good Boys A Bad Name — Recorded 1979, released 1980 (AD 4118), and “produced by [Cap’n Jon] for Adelphi,” according to Unicorn Times in their April, 1980 edition.

adelphi-blue-bill-band-thunder-lpadelphi-blue-bill-band-bad-name-lp

Says one 60s/70s rock blogger — “After releasing two albums Indian Summer Blues and Street Preacher on the Richmond, Va. based Feather Records, Bill signed with the prestigious Adelphi Records, one of the best blues labels in the US with worldwide distribution releasing Sing Like Thunder and Givin’ Good Boy’s A Bad Name. This gave [Blue] the exposure to play venues all over Europe and the US.”

Bill Blue Band - Unicorn Times (Jul 79)

[Thanks to Bill Hanke Music Research Archives for vintage unicorn times access]

+                         +                         +                         +                         +

However, there is a built-in structural problem in trying to tell the history of Gene Rosenthal and Adelphi Records in a linear fashion for, at any point in the story, a number of vectors may be in play, as Gene has worn many hats over the years:  musicologist, audio engineer, photographer, producer, label owner, distributor, political organizer and activist (who spoke out, for instance, against the strict segregation policy of DC’s Glen Echo amusement park).

Using Takoma Records as the source of inspiration as Washington City Paper’s David Dunlap, Jr. noted in 2006 – Rosenthal would launch Adelphi Records in 1968 (“I named it after a Fahey song, ‘The Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill,’”), and only four years hence be one of the principal forces behind the creation of the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD, to evolve into AFIM, or the Association for Independent Music), along with Dennis Bursh and Gary Seibert. The following year, 1973, Rosenthal – along with Takoma’s Charlie Mitchell and Bob Koester of Chicago’s Delmark Records – would serve on the Steering Committee when the NAIRD officially established itself (the same year, incidentally, Adelphi would release the first solo album by one of pop music’s all-time songwriters, Gerry Goffin).

Adelphi - Backwards Sam Firk-bAdelphi - Backwards Sam Firk-c

The Original Adelphi Studios:
516 East Indian Spring Drive

Prior to the studio’s construction, Rosenthal – as Billboard‘s Chris Morris would note – had been a “discophile” who used his reel-to-reel equipment to copy rare, expensive blues 78s (likely from Joe Bussard, who was influential to other blues scholars in making his 78s collection available to people like John Fahey).  “The only way to make copies of early 78s, because you couldn’t afford to buy them,” Rosenthal pointed out, “was to have a tape recorder.  Most of us couldn’t afford brand-new equipment, but very good second-hand semi-professional gear.  Shortly after that, as my friends actually started going out and doing the first round of rediscoveries, the only thing to add was microphones.  I had an early interest in audio, anyway, so it was just a natural progression.”

Construction efforts to turn the basement of 516 East Indian Spring Drive into a proper functioning recording studio began in late 1962 and were completed by mid-1964.  Adelphi Studio’s inaugural recording — John Fahey’s third album, Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites — would take place on August 22, 1964, with DC’s new “beltway” (i.e.,Interstate 495) but a stone’s throw away, having officially opened five days prior.

“Contemporary Guitar” – recorded at Adelphi Studios

John Fahey - Dance of Death LP

The following month or so, Rosenthal would record Skip James within days of his being rediscovered and brought back to the DC area by Fahey, Bill Barth and Henry Vestine. Gene Rosenthal fills in the details via the Adelphi Records website:

Skip [James] was found in the Tunica County, Mississippi, hospital by John Fahey and Bill Barth, young guitarists who were acting on a tip from Ishmon Bracey.  Like James, Bracey had recorded blues 78s during the late 20s/early 30s heyday, but, as a sanctified preacher, Bracey had no interest in returning to the Devil’s music.  According to Barth, age and infirmity had put James at the bottom of the plantation hierarchy, responsible for such mindless tasks as overseeing the sowing of cotton seeds into furrows, and Skip was both delighted and anxious to leave Mississippi farm life.  The two young men paid the modest hospital bill and whisked Skip away to the thriving East Coast folk scene.  After rehearsals and several performances, including a brief but memorable appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, Skip was ready to record again.  Fahey, Barth and partner Ed Denson arranged for sessions with sound engineer Gene Rosenthal in the basement studio of the Rosenthal home in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Those sessions, supplemented with live performance tapes made by Rosenthal at the Ontario Place Coffee House.

These 1964 recordings for Takoma would not see release, however, until 1993, after Rosenthal had the opportunity to buy back his own recordings.

adelphi-skip-james-lpLater in 1964, perhaps November or December, Rosenthal would record Mississippi John Hurt at the Ontario Place Coffee House for Dick Spottswood’s Piedmont label (Gene would also engineer Pete Seeger’s interview of Hurt at a house in DC’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood around that same time).  Toward the end of 1964, or possibly early 1965, Rosenthal would also record blues guitarists Archie Edwards and Frank Mizell, at Adelphi Studios.

Rosenthal – who met Michael Stewart while attending George Washington University from 1960-62, where he co-founded GW’s Folk Music Club (incorporated later as the Folklore Society of Greater Washington) – would work for Project Hope between the years 1962-1964, before recording Mississippi John Hurt in late 1964.

Gene would return to his studies, first locally for one year (Montgomery College, 1964) then in St. Louis for a couple more (Washington University, 1966-1967), before deciding to take the big plunge — via Adelphi’s founding in 1968 — to commit himself fully to music.

Soon after the label’s formation, Rosenthal — along with sister Carol and Mike Stewart — would take to the road.  As noted in in The Guardian‘s 2007 obituary for Stewart:

Adelphi conducted several field trips to blues locales to trace and record half-forgotten musicians.  Stewart was always on hand, whether to jog the performers’ memories by playing them their own music, learned from rare 78rpm discs, or to provide accompaniment.  In Memphis he played with guitarist RichardHacksawHarney; in Chicago with Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards and Big Joe Williams [the latter serving as talent scout]; and in St Louis with pianist Henry Brown and singer-guitarist Henry Townsend.

[Memphis Piano Red, with Stewart, visiting Sleepy John Estes AT HOME IN TENN.]

Mike Stewart & friends

Adelphi’s inaugural release, meanwhile, would be the 1968 debut album by a fellow member of the so-called East Coast Blues Mafia member, Mike Stewart, under the nom de guerre “Backwards Sam Firk” (now available as a digital download — GCD 1001).  As it turns out, Stewart had been the first to lay down tracks at Adelphi in 1963, before construction had been completed on the studio. 

adelphi-backwards-sam-firk-lp-i-xFirk would team up with Stephan Michelson (i.e., “Delta X“) for 1969’s Deadly Duo (on which the pair would be joined by Tom Hoskins on “Nineteen Fifty-One Blues”) and also blues musician and singer, Henry Townsend (whose earliest recording “Henry’s Worry Blues”  was released by Columbia in 1930) for Henry T. Music Man., a collection of recordings made between the years 1969-1974 — including 1971 sessions at Adelphi.

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Little Brother Montgomery’s Long Road toFolsom Prison Blues
… and Adelphi Records:
Historical Spotlight

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Zero to 180 previously examined the issue of Johnny Cash having to pay restitution to Gordon Jenkins over the misuse of a song “Crescent City Blues” that Cash essentially adapted for “Folsom Prison Blues.”   Clearly, Zero to 180 did not examine closely enough, as Jenkins himself had appropriated the title as well as melody of Little Brother Montgomery‘s 1930s instrumental of the same name (as noted by Jonathan Silverman in Nine Choices: Johnny Cash & American Culture from 2010).

Little Brother Montgomery would later record No Special Rider – with Jeanne Carroll – for Adelphi in 1969, the label’s third album release.

1971 would see the beginning of additional new recordings of Adelphi artists previously recorded on the road in 1969, facilitated in part by these same artists visiting the Washington, DC area for musical engagements, such as Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival.

Adelphi’s early releases would embrace African-American “roots” music — Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus Cannon, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Johnny Shines (one-time touring mate of Robert Johnson), and George & Ethel McCoy (niece and nephew, by the way, of Memphis Minnie [McCoy]) — at a time when many (white) Americans were still getting their blues distilled through a British sensibility — if at all.

1972 letter from renowned photographer David Gahr to Gene Rosenthal

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Suni McGrath, whose Cornflower Suite would be Adelphi’s second full-length release, would note his primary musical influences on the album’s cover notes:

“The music on this record is my attempt to explore and further the American acoustic guitar.  I have four sources for the musics here presented:  Bulgarian music for rhythmic modes and ideas, also modulation of melodic modes and harmonies; Hindustani for subtle melodic graces and ideas of variation; Fahey for the conception of the art; Bartok for modal harmonies analogous to conventional western harmony, and treatment of themes.”

Featured song:   “Cornflower Suite” by Suni McGrath (1969)

[Pssst:  click on triangle above to play the entire “Cornflower Suite” by Suni McGrath]

1969’s Cornflower Suite (currently out of print and trading on Ebay for $19-$87, though soon to be re-released) was recorded at Silver Spring’s Adelphi Studios, as well as the following albums bulleted below:

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  • Suni McGrath‘s 1972 album, Childgrove received engineering and production assistance from Gene Rosenthal (who also served as photographer).
  • Paul Geremia‘s Hard Life Rockin’ Chair from 1973 would also be produced and engineered by Rosenthal at Adelphi Studios.

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  • Stephen Spano would record the backing track for “Pam’s Song” from 1975’s s Eye to Eye at Adelphi Studios.(while the song would be further embellished at Track Recorders — see album history above)
  • Harmonica Frank FloydHarmonica Frank Floyd (Swamp Root) — full-length release from one-time “medicine show” performer of songs that were recorded 1972-74 and issued in 1976.

Letter to Creem Magazine – Feb. 1974 editionadelphi-harmonica-frank-creem-letter

Cover design & illustration by Dick Bangham — Liner notes by Frank Floyd

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< = = = Historical Spotlight on Dick Bangham = = = >

DC-area artist Dick Bangham — most famously associated with his front cover image for Root Boy Slim‘s Zoom album of 1979 — has enjoyed working with Gene Rosenthal on a number of album releases over the years, in terms of cover design, illustration and/or art direction (most recently, he and wife Linda did the art & design work on the new album by Ken Swartz & the Palace of Sin noted above):

Bangham’s earliest Adelphi commission would be to provide the ink illustration for DC-area “hippie” ensemble Beverly Pureheart’s (now rather rare) EP from 1969: Continue reading

Seymour Stein & King Records II

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.

[L to R] George & Susan Goldner, Syd Nathan & Seymour SteinSyd Nathan, Seymour Stein & George and Susan Goldner

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

Seymour Stein & MadonnaStein’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, The Royal Crescent Mob, 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 also composed text to accompany a corresponding compilation of King rhythm & blues hits that likewise would 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

King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits-cover-aCover also available in lemon custardKing Size Rhythm & Blues Hits - french vanilla cover

This album would be reconstituted the following year as Soul Fever: 16 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits and marketed overseas to the UK, Germany, Israel, and India.

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’sHonky 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 Bamalamafrom 1961 – that shows the influence of fellow Macon artist, Little Richard.

Also finding its way into 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits is “Another Womans 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):

Vocals:  Joe Tex
Electric Guitar:  Mickey Baker
Piano:  Andy Gibson
Tenor Sax:  Dave Van Dyke
Bass:  Unknown
Drums:  Specs Powell

“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).

Joe Tex LP-bKing Rhythm & Blues - All Time King Hits-b

*

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.”

Seymour Stein would later acknowledge Sire as a tribute to “Syd Nathan and King Records,” as reported by Kevin Stapleford in 1998 for Album Network‘s “120 Influential People As Chosen By a Panel of Their Peers.”  

Q:   Why do these Canadian early Beatles 45s look so peculiar to the american eye?
Beatles 45 Canada-aaBeatles 45 Canada-bb

A:   Capitol US – incredible as it might seem – passed on the Beatles’ first Four 45s!

*

The Beatles on King Records?!

As far-fetched and fantastical as it may sound, had Syd Nathan’s negotiations with EMI’s Len Wood gone the other way, the first four Beatle singles could have all been released on King rather than Tollie (“Love Me Do“), Vee Jay (“Please Please Me” & “From Me to You“), and Swan (“She Loves You“).  As Seymour Stein recounted in a piece that he penned for Cash Box‘s March 15, 1980 edition entitled “Sire Records Expands Through Its Lengthy Involvement With the British Music Scene” —

Moving on from Billboard to King Records, the Cincinnati-based home of James Brown and other R&B greats, I came in contact with Len Wood, then managing director of EMI, King’s UK licensee.  At one meeting, he and Syd Nathan, King’s fiery founder, were heatedly debating King’s attempt to secure an option on all EMI repertoire it it was passed on by Capitol.  Nathan did not succeed, but it was not until several years later that I realized how important this option could have been.

When I heard the Beatles’ first Parlophone record, “Love Me Do,” I was not overly impressed.  Their follow-up, “Please Please Me,” was one of the most exciting records I had heard during the early part of 1963.  I was really surprised, months later, to see the record released on Vee Jay, as I felt certain Capitol would see the potential for America, especially since by that time, “From Me to You” and “She Loves You” had followed it to #1 in Britain.

It was only Vee Jay’s subsequent bankruptcy and EMI’s wisdom in licensing “She Loves You” to Swan Records as a one-off that eventually secured the Beatles for Capitol.  But Capitol was to continue passing on acts even after the Beatles breakthrough.  They basically released those artists from the Brian Epstein stable like Cilla Black and Peter and Gordon, allowing the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies, and the Animals to go elsewhere.  Decca, having virtual control of its American company, saw to it that London released product by the Rolling Stones, Zombies, Moody Blues and the remainder of its roster.  Pye, having no U.S. company of their own, would send their releases each week to the various labels they represented.  At that time (1964), I was working with George Goldner, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at Red Bird, and I remembered their scrambling with Warner Brothers for rights to Petula Clark’s “Downtown.”  

Gathering organized by EMI during King’s April 1961 European licensing tour

[L to R:  Richard Dawes, Hal Neely, Syd Nathan & Leonard George Wood]

 

Stein elaborated further in a 2016 interview with Music Ally:

I had built up a relationship with EMI when I worked for King. EMI distributed King in most territories outside of America – or licensed the music. I met one of the heads of the company, LG Wood. He told me that if I ever needed anything I could always come to him.

The Beatles were turned down twice by Capitol. They would have been gone forever if it hadn’t been for EMI’s American lawyer who was very smart. Vee-Jay had it first and they had it for three or five years.

They put out ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’. And they didn’t pay any royalties. There were very few royalties to pay but they didn’t pay them. When EMI heard ‘She Loves You’, the third record, they said this would be the smash that broke them.

Capitol, believe it or not, turned it down again even though ‘Please Please Me’ had been a hit in England – which ‘Love Me Do’ was not. Their lawyer, a guy called Paul Marshall, was one of the smartest men I ever knew and he told them to let him handle it. He took it away from VJ as they were bad and didn’t pay royalties.

He called up Dick Clark in Philadelphia who owned pieces of labels and had his own label called Swan Records. He said, “I’ll give you this record without an advance and a low royalty – but no follow ups. In exchange, you can break the band.” That’s exactly what happened. Capitol got them back from ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ onwards.

Is it ironic that Syd Nathan’s former intern – rather than Nathan himself – found a way, ultimately, to cash in on the Beatles’ early success (see Seed Money for Sire above)? 

It is also curious that an indie label notable for helping to birth rock ‘n’ roll released, paradoxically, few examples of 60’s-style “beat group” rock records, aside from the odd release by The Beehives, The Exports, The Impacs, The Viceroys, Tonni Kalash, Mickey Baker, Them, and Keith Murphy & the Daze, one of King’s last signings while Syd Nathan was still alive, according to Murphy.

One that got away — King’s closest link to The Beatles

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Worrell’s Arrangement For a King

I love that Bernie Worrell played with the National Symphony Orchestra at the age of 10.

Twenty-two years or so later, Worrell would arrange “Call My Job” for the mighty bluesman, Albert King.  Curiously, Worrell’s contribution to King’s 1978 album King Albert might have faded into history’s background had not this particular detail been noted on the 45 release “Love Shock” b/w “Call My Job,” given that Worrell’s name is otherwise missing from the album credits: (or misspelled):

“Call My Job”     Albert King     1978

Text beneath “Albert King” – when magnified – identifies Bernie Worrell as arranger

Albert King 45

Albert King:  Guitar & Vocals
Aaron Willis & Ray Tini, Jr.:  Guitar
Anthony Willis:  Bass
Dwayne Lomax:  Drums
Barbara Huby & Larry Fratangelo:  Percussion
Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns:  Horns
Rudy Robinson:  Keyboards

Albert King’s 1977 LP ‘King Albert’Albert King LP-a

Is it fair to assume that Bernie Worrell’s arrangement responsibilities extended to the horns?  Album produced by Don Davis, whose name you will see once more in the very near future.

Bernie Worrell (courtesy of Discogs)

 Bernie Worrell

Detroit Junior would record the original version in 1965.

“Ham ‘N Grits”: LP Track Only

Check out the opening “fuzz bass” lines on this tasty album selection – “Ham N Grits” – that never got singled out for release on a Les Paul 45:

“Ham ‘n Grits”     Les Paul & Mary Ford     1963

Issued on 1963 Columbia album, Swingin’ South – and nowhere else.  Recorded in early 1963 in Mahwah, NJ, with Les Paul at the helm.  So little has been written about this instrumental, although happy to see that “Ham ‘N Grits” was deemed fit for inclusion in the highly-selective 6-CD box set, Only the Best of Les Paul and Mary Ford.

“Ham ‘N Grits” would enjoy reissue on this two-fer

Les Paul & Mary Ford CDIn 2001, Collectables would pair Swingin’ South with 1961’s Warm and Wonderful album on one CD — available right now for only $7.49 (half of its suggested retail price)..

Ham & Grits with Red-Eye Gravy                       Grits with Tasso Ham

Ham and Grits-a [ham & grits w red-eye gravy]Ham and Grits-b [grits w tasso ham]

 Cheesy Grits with Sauteed Ham & Kale     Ham & Grits at Nashville’s Silver Sands

Ham and Grits-c [cheesy grits w sauteed ham & kale]Ham and Grits-d [ham & grits w butter at Nashville's Silver Sands]

“Ham ‘N Grits” is the 3rd installment in Zero to 180’s musical homage to almighty hominy.

Now I Wanna Mosrite 45 Record

I love the Mosrite ‘guitarslinger’ tradition that links Joe Maphis, Larry Collins, The Ventures, Johnny Ramone, and Kurt Cobain.

Mosrite Guitar-aaMosrite Guitar-bbMosrite Guitar-ccMosrite Guitar-ddKurt Cobain playing concert

Zero to 180 recently stumbled upon the fact that Mosrite had a short-lived record label — Mosrite Records – for which Joe & Rose Lee Maphis would record a couple singles, including “Tunin Up for the Blues” in 1967 (most likely):

“Tunin’ Up for the Blues”     Joe & Rose Lee Maphis     1967

Joe & Rose Lee had preceded this 45 with debut Mosrite release “Write Him a Letter” b/w “Send Me Your Love A.P.O.”   Mosrite would issue one more 45 – albeit a promo – featuring one track by Rose Lee, “Country Girl Courtship,” and one by Joe suitably titled, “Pickin’ & Guitin’.”

She gets the A-side                                 He gets the B-side

Mosrite Records-aMosrite Records-b

Mosrite Corrects the Record (so to speak)

Billboard – in its September 3, 1966 edition – would run a correction for Mosrite Records that reads as follows:

A Correction:  Mosrite Records Full Page Ad in Buyer’s Guide should have read ‘Music Capital of the West’ rather than ‘Music Capital of the World’  Mosrite Records – Bakersfield, California.”

Joe & Larry-aJoe & Larry-b

Twin Doubleneck Mosrite Guitars:  Joe Maphis & Larry Collins – Live!

“Flying Fingers”     Joe Maphis & Larry Collins     195?


“Bilbo Is Dead”: Not the Hobbit

Joe’s Record Paradise – thankfully – is only moving up Georgia Avenue a few blocks.

Joe’s Record Paradise at dusk

Joe's Record Paradise-bb

On my last visit to Joe’s I picked up The Record Men:  The Chess Brothers and the Birth of Rock & Roll – the lone music history title in W.W. Norton’s Enterprise series that celebrates the virtues and achievements of Capitalism and Free Enterprise.  Rich Cohen, consequently, focuses on Leonard and Phil Chess and the immigrant experience in post-WWII America, as the two brothers carved out an entrepreneurial niche at a time when Chicago electrified the blues during the Second Great Migration.

The success of the Macomba Lounge and its reputation as an after-hours music hot spot (that drew the likes of Max Roach and Ella Fitzgerald) would give Leonard Chess the inspiration to try his hand at recording this new blues sound as a music label proprietor.  In 1947, Chess would buy a minority ownership stake in Aristocrat Records, the label that would become Chess three years later when Leonard and Phil acquired sole ownership of this independent musical enterprise.

Given the renown of Chess, surprisingly little seems to be known about the controversy around Leonard Chess’s first recording foray in September, 1947 with Andrew Tibbs.  Writes Cohen:

“The Tibbs record is a cautionary tale–it shows how everything can go wrong.  A few thousand were pressed.  Side A was ‘Union [Man] Blues,’ a song about the life of a union man, a flat song to everyone but the Teamsters, truckers, and box handlers, who found it offensive, and so–or so the story goes–refused to ship it, letting the records pile up in the warehouses.  Side B was “Bilbo Is Dead,” an attack on segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo, who had just died.  In those parts of the South where the Teamsters let the record through, it was smashed by angry white mobs.  So started Leonard Chess in the music business:  he sent his record out into the whirlwind–and these things are really no more than totems of the people who make them–and it came back smashed up, and spat upon, and undelivered.”

Note:  1101A means that “Bilbo Is Dead” is the A-side, not “union Man Blues”

Andrew Tibbs 78-aAndrew Tibbs 78-b

Francis Davis in The History of the Blues additionally notes that “Union Man Blues” was a song “that voiced disgust over the exclusion of blacks from labor unions.  Angry truck drivers, upon hearing the content of the lyrics, destroyed mass quantities of this record.”  John Collis in The Story of Chess Records would refer to ‘the Tibbs record’ as the controversial release “which almost killed off Chess before it had even started.”

“Bilbo Is Dead”     Andrew Tibbs     1947

Andrew Tibbs (vocals)
with Dave Youngs Orchestra:
–  Dave Young (tenor sax)
–  AndrewGoonGardner (alto sax)
–  Pee Wee Jackson (trumpet)
–  Rudy Martin (piano)
–  Bill Settles (bass)
–  Curtis Walker (drums)

Robert L. Campbell (et al.)’s history of the Aristocrat label points out that “some of the composer credits on Aristocrat labels are demonstrably bogus.  For instance, ‘Bilbo Is Dead’ was co-written by Andrew Tibbs and Tom Archia.  But the label claimed credit for Chess-Aleta-Archia—whoever Aleta was.  Meanwhile the copyright records at the Library of Congress give Evelyn Aron and Mildred Brount as the copyright owners!”

2120 South Michigan Avenue – Chicago, IL

2120 South Michigan AveAn original copy of the “Bilbo Is Dead” 78 would fetch just under $100 in 2013.

Fifth Zero to 180 item tagged as Labor in Song.

Troy & Bloomfield’s Gospel Blues

One other Roger Troy highlight, confirms Dave Widow, is “Sweet Soul Music,” the lead-off track for The Electric Flag’s 1974 reunion album The Band Kept Playing.  Fortunately, this song is available for preview on YouTube:

“Sweet Soul Music”     The Electric Flag     1974

“Sweet Soul Music” is not a cover of the big Arthur Conley hit but rather an original song by Roger Troy & Mike Bloomfield, with Troy and Buddy Miles on co-lead vocals.  Troy, in fact,  would have a hand in writing the first three tracks on The Band Kept Playing.

Musical personnel on this album:

Roger Troy:  Bass
Buddy Miles:  Drums
Barry Goldberg:  Keyboards
Nick Gravenites:  Rhythm guitar
Michael Bloomfield:  Lead guitar
Roger Troy, Buddy Miles & Nick Gravenites:  Lead vocals

The Bonnaroo Horns under the direction of Peter Graves.
Horns arranged by Peter Graves & The Electric Flag
The Muscle Shoals Horns under the direction of Barry Beckett.
Horns arranged by Barry Beckett, Roger (Jellyroll) Troy & Jerry Wexler
Guests artists would also include Richard Tee (keyboards), RichardKing Biscuit Boy” Newell (harp), Nick Marerro (percussion) & Barry Beckett (mellotron & moog)

Recorded at Criteria Studios – Miami
Mastered By: George Piros
Producer: Jerry Wexler
Production assistance:  Roger (Jellyroll) Troy

(L to R:  Buddy Miles, Roger Troy, Nick Gravenites, Barry Goldberg & Mike Bloomfield)

Electric Flag - back cover photoThe Band Kept Playing – which enjoyed release in US, UK, Canada, Germany & Japan – would be reissued on compact disc in 2002 by Wounded Bird.

Japanese Pressing – 1974

Electric Flag - Japanese Pressing

Guitar Crusher: Baby Hit the #’s

Guitar Crusher, I’m happy to report, is still very vital and, judging from his Facebook posts, appears to be based in Germany, where he performs much of the time.

I first learned of Guitar Crusher by browsing the index of Ruppli’s King Labels discography, where I was immediately taken with his name.  King Records’ Syd Nathan would initially lease a set of four Guitar Crusher recordings (“with orchestra”) from another label and release them as two 45s on the Bethlehem imprint in late 1962, early 1963.

Guitar Crusher - Bethlehem aGuitar Crusher - Bethlehem b

But then, Ruppli’s discography states that Guitar Crusher – intriguingly – made four recordings at King’s Cincinnati studios on April 6, 1963 that were then released as two King singles.

Guitar Crusher - King aGuitar Crusher - King b

Guitar Crusher’s next release would be on almighty Columbia in 1967 with – get this – Sire Records co-founders, Richard Gottehrer and Seymour Stein, jointly producing the 45 (and writing the flip side).

1969 would see the release of “Since My Baby Hit the Numbers” – but only in Europe.  The A-side would be a collaboration with the Jimmy Spruill Orchestra — love the jaunty horns that echo through the fadeout of this brief blast of rocking blues:

“Since My Baby Hit the Numbers” + “Hambone Blues”     Guitar Crusher     1969

Guitar Crusher would re-engage musically in the 1990s after sitting out much of the 1970s & 80s. Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee and Guitar Crusher, for instance, would jointly release an album, 1995’s Message to Man.  Check Guitar Crusher’s website for tour info & music.

Click here for the trailer to the recent Guitar Crusher documentary.

The Ax-Wielding Barbara Lynn

Barbara Lynn released a whole slew of singles in the 60s & 70s – how come I only just became aware of her?  Yeah, what’s my problem?

Her 1962 debut single for Jamie was a #8 Pop & #1 R&B hit “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.”  Lynn would hit the Billboard Top 100 and R&B Top 40 a couple handfuls of times between 1962-1971.

Barbara Lynn and her guitars

0928lynn.jpgBarbara Lynn-ccBarbara Lynn-dd

In 1966 Barbara Lynn would appear on TV’s The !!!! Beat  hosted by Bill “Hoss” Allen (who wrote the liner notes for “Queenie” Lyons’ Soul Fever LP) – for a live performance of 1965 Jamie A-side, “It’s Better to Have It”:

“It’s Better to Have It”     Barbara Lynn     1966 TV Performance

Lynn would also gain renown for having recorded the original “You Left the Water Running” in 1966.  Am I the first to be tickled by the discovery that only the year prior, King Records would release a 45 by Wayne Cochran bearing the same song title!

“You Left the Water Running”     Wayne Cochran     1965

Wayne Cochran King 45MTV has a surprisingly decent biographical profile of Barbara Lynn that begins thusly:

“Singer/guitarist Barbara Lynn was a rare commodity during her heyday.  Not only was she a female instrumentalist (one of the very first to hit the charts), but she also played left-handed — quite well at that — and even wrote some of her own material.  Lynn’s music often straddled the line between blues and Southern R&B, and since much of her early work – including the number one R&B hit ‘You’ll Lose a Good Thing’ – was recorded in New Orleans, it bore the sonic imprint of the Crescent City.”

Wikipedia points out that Moby sampled Lynn’s “I’m A Good Woman” on his album 18.

What’s up with the typo on this EP (“Jaime”) – is this record for real?

Barbara Lynn EP