Lonnie Mack at King Records

Lonnie Mack‘s most famous recordings might be associated with Cincinnati’s other notable indie label from the roots rock era — Fraternity — but the hugely influential guitarist from Southeast Indiana also made a number of recordings at King Studios.  Ace UK’s Lonnie Mack anthology CD From Nashville to Memphis includes a “Lonnie Mack Discography on Fraternity Records” (compiled by John Broven & Stuart Colman) whose contents reveal that all of Lonnie’s recording sessions between 1963 and 1965 (except for one session at RCA Nashville) took place at Cincinnati’s King Records.  Lonnie would return to King in 1967 for one final Fraternity session that produced two songs — “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “Omaha” (a.k.a., “Down in the Dumps”).

Note:  Click on each of the 3 images below to view in high resolution

Intrigued to learn from the discography above that (a) Gene Lawson – of Lawson Microphones fame – played drums on legendary recording “Memphis” and (b) Cincinnati tenor saxophonist Jimmy McGary played on a handful of tracks, including “Coastin’” and “Tonky Go Go.”   Randy McNutt also notes in The Cincinnati Sound that Lonnie Mack recorded two of his seminal 1960s albums for Elektra at Jewel Recording Studios (in nearby Mt. Healthy, Ohio), founded by one-time King recording artist, Rusty York.

Ben Sandmel’s liner notes in Alligator’s reissue of 1963 album The Wham of That Memphis Man! point out that Lonnie Mack was working as a King session guitarist at the time of that album’s release.  Lonnie Mack’s 1960s session work at King would involve James Brown [“Tell Me That You Love Me“], Hank Ballard, and Freddy King, with whom Mack recorded four songs at King’s final session for the label on September 14, 1966:  “You’ve Got Me Licked“; “Double Eyed Whammy“; “Use What You’ve Got“; [click on each song title above] and today’s featured track, Girl From Kookamunga:

“Girl From Kookamunga”     Freddy King     1966

Ruppli’s King recording sessionography notes that “Tell Me That You Love Me” — flip side of “Don’t Be a Drop Out” — was recorded live at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa, Florida on April 24, 1966.  2007’s release of James Brown:  The Singles Volume 4:  1966-1967 by Hip-O Select identifies Lonnie Mack as the guitarist on this track (sure sounds like him), even though Ruppli’s detailed listing of musicians, strangely, fails to include him.  Zero to 180 is still trying, unsuccessfully, to find out which Hank Ballard recordings feature Mack’s guitar playing.

45 picture sleeve releases from Sweden (left) and Italy (right)

Just three years after his final 1967 King recording session, Mack would return to Cincinnati’s (newly-renamed) “Starday-King” Studio to accompany Albert Washington and his band, you might recall, on at least eight songs that got released as three 45s on Rusty York’s Jewel label, while the fourth 45 came out on Starday-King subsidiary label, DeLuxe, curiously enough..

What a pleasant surprise to learn that the Grammy Foundation produced a video clip in 2015 that features former King session musician and funk innovator Bootsy Collins reflecting on his experience “meeting his musical idol” Lonnie Mack:

Many of the obituaries for Lonnie Mack note that the Bigsby tremolo bar was unofficially dubbed the “Whammy” bar in recognition of Mack’s influential Top Five hit instrumental. Danny Sandrik‘s excellent tribute piece – “Blue-Eyed Soul and the Cincinnati Sound” – notes that Lonnie Mack, along with Beau Dollar, “was” the Cincinnati Sound and reveals that it was Chuck Sullivan, not Mack (as indicated in the discography above), who played the signature guitar lines on Beau’s classic version of “Soul Serenade.”  Sullivan would also relate the details of that famous recording session of 7 February 1966 to Brian Powers in a special radio program James Brown Productions, Part One that aired on Cincinnati’s WVXU during 2018’s King Records 75th Anniversary Celebration.

Mack’s 1960s recordings laid down at King Records would enjoy release overseas in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as Canada.

Recorded at King – released in the Netherlands

Ditto – Japan – 1963

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“Lonesome Whistle Blues”: Train = Pain

Unnamed vocalists perfectly evoke a lonely late night train whistle on Freddy King‘s mournfully swinging “Lonesome Whistle Blues“:

“Lonesome Whistle Blues”     Freddy King     1961

This song was catchy enough (#8 R&B) to cross over into the Pop Top 100 (#88) when released in April of 1961 on Federal, a subsidiary of King Records.

“Lonesome Whistle Blues” was recorded on January 17, 1961 in Cincinnati using local talent:  Philip Paul (who still plays Saturdays with his jazz trio at The Cincinnatian Hotel) on drums, along with Sonny Thompson on piano, Bill Willis on bass, and (of course) Freddy on lead vocal and guitar.

Freddy or Freddie?  Not sure even his mother knows

“Lonesome Whistle Blues” would end up being included on 1961 LP, Freddy King Sings.  1962 album, Freddy King Goes Surfin’, however, would inspire a rather funny set of comments from the fine folks at Sundazed/Rhino when reissued on vinyl in 2013:

“Syd Nathan, impresario of Cincinatti’s [sic] King Records, was the epitome of the old-school indie record label owner.  Always hustling, Nathan regularly beat the odds to release hit after hit in multiple genres.  He’d try anything if he thought it might work, or more precisely, if he thought it would make money.  After Chess Records turned down guitarist/vocalist Freddy King several times for sounding too much like B.B, King, Nathan thought that sound might actually be sellable and took a chance, signing Freddy to his Federal subsidiary label.  They hit paydirt with an instrumental titled “Hide Away,” which reached #5 on the R&B Chart and #29 on the Pop Singles Chart.

“Encouraged by the single’s success, Nathan released a full album of King’s instrumentals, Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away with Freddy King. (See what Nathan did there with the title, slipping in a reference to Freddy’s big hit single?  Always be closing, my friends, always be closing.)  The album sold well and helped make Freddy a bankable touring act.  While others would have been satisfied to move on to the next project, Syd sensed untapped potential in the LP.

“Meanwhile, several artists on the West Coast were making noise in the brand new surf music scene (and by “making noise,” I mean selling records).  Syd didn’t have any surf music artists under contract, but he DID have Freddy King.  Surely, Syd surmised, if the kid’s went nuts for Dick Dale’s guitar instrumental workouts, they could do the same for Freddy’s.  All he needed was a little marketing magic…GET A NEW COVER WITH SOME SURF KIDS! THROW SOME CROWD NOISE OVER TRACKS SO IT SOUNDS ‘LIVE’!  CALL IT…ERR…FREDDY KING GOES SURFIN’! PRESS IT AND HAVE IT ON THE SHELVES BY NEXT WEEK!!!

“While it may not have happened EXACTLY like that, King Records did release Freddy King Goes Surfin‘, an album containing the very same songs (in precisely the same running order) as Let’s Hide Away… with crowd noise dubbed over the music. Did the ruse work?  Though it didn’t sell as well as the original, Freddy King Goes Surfin’ did find an audience. Like Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, the album’s title is such a preposterous premise that it surely snagged many buyers on that fact alone.”
“Lonesome Whistle Blues,” written by Rudy Toombs, Elson Teat & James Moore (a.k.a., Slim Harpo), would also be included, oddly enough, in 1964 King compilation LP Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs — the only recording on this album that was not an R&B makeover of a honky tonk hit.

Tore Up vs. Tore Down? Musical Retort, Possibly

On March 12, 1956 drummer and vocalist, Billy Gayles, recorded “I’m Tore Up” in Cincinnati at the King Records studio backed by Ike Turner and His Rhythm Rockers:

“I’m Tore Up”     Billy Gayles     1956

      Note songwriting credits:  Ike Turner & Ralph Bass

I'm Tore Up 45

Nearly five years later on January 18, 1961, guitarist and singer, Freddy King, recorded  “I’m Tore Down” in the same location, with Sonny Thompson on piano, Bill Willis on bass, two (possibly three) tenor hornsmen — and drummer, Philip Paul (whose jazz trio plays a standing gig at the Cincinnatian Hotel every Saturday night):

“I’m Tore Down”     Freddy King     1961

Raise your hand if you hear Eric Clapton every time Freddy sings one of those high notes.

Did King (actually, Sonny Thompson) write his song as a playful riposte to Gayles?      How likely is that he had simply been unaware of the work of a fellow King recording artist?

Goodbye 78s:  The Slow Death of the 10-Inch Record

Interesting to note that the Gayles song from 1956 had also been issued as a 78, but the same cannot be said for King’s 1961 single.

I'm Tore Up 78