Ann Jones & Her “All-Girl” Band

Is it really true, as Country Music Archive asserts, that Ann Jones And Her Western Sweethearts “was probably the first all-girl band in C & W music”?  Bill Sachs, in his “Folk Talent and Tunes” column for Billboard, would report in the November 13, 1960 edition

Ann Jones, King recording veteran, and hubby Hughie, have their five-piece, all-girl band playing military installations in the 50 States on a 52-week-a-year basis.  Combo makes the jump in a sleeper bus.

KCLX disc jockey, Mary Wilson, in that same Billboard column would “type in” from Palouse, Washington in their January 1, 1955 edition “that Ann Jones and her all-girl band from Vancouver, B.C., toured thru there recently and guested on her ‘Far West Jamboree.’  In the band, which played the Riverside Park there the same night, are Blanche Emerson, steel guitar, Yvonne Fritchie, vocalist and guitarist, who records for Abbott Records; De Lore Nelson, accordion, and Mariam Saylor.”

Photo courtesy of Discogs

Ruppli’s King Labels discography reports March 29, 1951 to be the date of Jones’ first recording session at King’s Cincinnati studio (having left Capitol, her first label, for King).  “Hi-Ballin’ Daddy” – one of four songs captured on tape at that first session – would be her first 78 release for King:

 “Hi-Ballin’ Daddy”     Ann Jones     1951

Another recording session would take place eight months later at the King studio on November 9, 1951, and again, four songs would be committed to tape, including “Too Old to Cut the Mustard.”   The next recording session at the King studio would take place on June 6, 1952 (including “Smart Aleck“), while two more sessions would take place in Los Angeles the following year in May (“If I Was a Cat” & “A Big Fat Gal Like Me“).  The final entry in the Ruppli discography indicates Jones’ last session for King to have taken place April 11-12, 1961 at the Cincinnati studio, with fifteen songs recorded, including “Hit and Run” and “Pieces of My Heart.”

78 RPM/45 World reveals King to have issued eleven 78 releases by Ann Jones, plus two LPs on King subsidiary, Audio Lab:  1959’s Ann Jones And Her American Sweethearts (highlights from her early 50s recordings) and 1961’s Hit and Run from Ann Jones And Her Western Sweethearts (14 of the 15 tracks laid down in April, 1961).

1959 LP — modernist backdrop         vs.          1961 LP — more traditional backdrop

From King’s 78 “biodiscs” (thanks, Randy McNutt!) we have learned the following information about Ann Jones:

  • Altho(ugh) all her kin are still in Kentucky, Ann was born in Kansas and attended school there.
  • Ann’s biggest seller was “Give Me a Hundred Reasons” [1949 debut single on Capitol] – she says that what success she has enjoyed to date is due primarily to the disc jockeys, who have been almost completely responsible.
  • Ann Jones, besides being the favorite girl hillbilly singer of thousands of fans, is also an athlete.  She was a star softball player in California before devoting all her time to music.
  • When Ann is free to relax and enjoy her hobbies, you can find her at the best fishing spot in the neighborhood, or else at the ball park watching her favorite baseball team.
  • Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, Ann Jones has blue eyes and is 5’6″ tall.  Fishing is her main hobby when she isn’t busy singing or composing songs.  She has written over 150 original compositions.
  • Besides fishing, Ann loves baseball.  She used to play softball before she devoted full-time to music.  She seldom goes to baseball games anymore because she always yells herself hoarse.

Randy McNutt notes in King Records of Cincinnati: that Ann Jones “once said that she started writing songs because so many were written for men singers.”

Robert K. Oermann, in his entry for Ann Jones in The Encyclopedia of Country Music –  Compiled by the Staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, observes that “much of her material was self-penned, making her one of country’s trailblazing female composers.”

The JB’s Debut: Polydor not King

The debut album by The JB’sJames Brown‘s backing band that included a group of Cincinnati musicians who would soon join forces with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and later form the core of Bootsy’s Rubber Band — was originally scheduled for release in July, 1971 on the King label (SLP 1126), as noted on Discogs.  Starday-King even issued a test pressing, with Ron Lenhoff overseeing the engineering and editing of this four-song LP, half of which (“The Grunt” and “These Are the J.B.’s”) was recorded at King’s Cincinnati studios on May 19, 1970, and the other half (“I’ll Ze” and “When You Feel It Grunt If You Can”) recorded at Starday Studios in Nashville on June 30, 1970.

But alas, it was not meant to be** — as one Discogs contributor wryly observes:

Mmm. I wonder how many people have one of these [test pressings] … other than James Brown himself, Hal Neely, Dave Matthews, Charles Bobbit and anybody directly involved in King Records (as in office staff), most of the members of the band probably never got a copy of this TP, as this was at the precise point when JB’s catalogue got bought out by Polydor and the JB’s (Mk.1) had already exited stage left.  Probably 25-50 made max.

The original These Are the J.B.’s LP comprised just four tracks (click on audio links):

“These Are the J.B.’s”     The J.B.’s     recorded in Cincinnati – May 19, 1970

Bass: WilliamBootsyCollins
Guitar:  PhelpsCatfishCollins
Drums:  Clyde Stubblefield (A1 & B2)
Drums:  FrankKashWaddy (A2 & B1)
Congas:  Johnny Griggs
Flute & Baritone Sax:  St-Clair Pinckney (A1)
Tenor Sax:  Robert McCullough
Trumpet:  ClaytonChickenGunnels & DarrylHasaanJamison
Organ:  James Brown (A2)
Piano: Bobby Byrd (B1)
Engineer:  Ron Lenhoff
Producer: James Brown

James Brown would describe the band in his 1986 autobiography thusly:

They were called the Pacesetters and were all from Cincinnati.  They’d hung around King for awhile and then started doing session work there.  I had used them myself on several things.  Bootsy Collins (who later went on to become a big star with the Parliament-Funkadelic Thang and his own Rubber Band) was the bass player; his older brother, Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins played guitar; Frank ‘Kash’ Waddy played drums; Robert McCullough played sax; a fella called Clayton ‘Chicken’ Gunnels played trumpet.

“These Are the J.B.’s” – songwriting credits per Discogs

Written by Phelps CollinsClayton Isiah GunnelsClyde StubblefieldDarrell JamisonFrank Clifford WaddyJohn W. GriggsRobert McCollough and William Earl Collins

“The Grunt” – songwriting credits per Discogs

Written by – Phelps Collins, Clayton Isiah Gunnels, Clyde Stubblefield, Darrell Jamison, Frank Clifford Waddy, James Brown, John W. Griggs, Robert McCollough, and William Earl Collins

“Medley: When You Feel It Grunt If You Can” – songwriting credits per Discogs

Written by – Art Neville, Gene Redd*, George Porter Jr.*, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Joseph Modeliste, Kool & The Gang, and Leo Nocentelli

Note:  “When You Feel It Grunt If You Can” includes portions of “Let The Music Take Your Mind,” written by Kool & The Gang and Gene Redd Jr.; “Chicken Strut,” written by The Meters; and “Power Of Soul,” written by Jimi Hendrix.

The following year in 1972, when Polydor released what would be known as the debut album by The J.B.’s, a much different collection of songs would would end up in the marketplace, as Food For Thought comprised ten songs [“The Grunt” & “These Are the J.B.’s (Pt. 1)” being the only overlapping tracks] vs. the four song set as mixed and sequenced by Ron Lenhoff.

Funk fans worldwide rejoiced in 2014 when the original four-song mix enjoyed release on vinyl (as well as digital download) for the first time, with a 12-page booklet of liner notes by Alan Leeds stating that, in fact, only two test pressings are known to have existed (so says a Discogs contributor).  Worth pointing out that “the originally scheduled issue of this album included overdubbed crowd noise — for this issue of the album, the original, undubbed two-track stereo mix was used as source.”

Given the variant titles and track listings in various markets worldwide, Discogs advises caution:

Different original editions and reissues have different titles and artwork, including Food For Thought; Pass The Peas; and Food For Thought – Pass The Peas – I Mean Gimme Some More.

Main cover (US, Canada, Spain)

Alternate cover (UK, Germany, France, Turkey)

Cover – Japan

“The Grunt” – famously sampled for 1987’s “Rebel Without a Pause” by Public Enemy – would enjoy single release on King in August of 1970, just three months after being recorded.  Billboard would select the single in the August 8, 1970 edition for its Top 20 Soul Spotlights “predicted to reach the Top 20 of the top-selling R&B Singles chart.”

King 45 + UK 45 on Mojo + Test Pressing of “The Grunt” – a steal at $120

A second single – “These Are the J.B.’s” (Pts. 1&2)” – followed in November, 1970Billboard‘s Ed Ochs would select the 45 for his “picks and plays” for the week of October 24, 1970 in his ‘Soul Sauce’ column.  Interesting to point out that the same Billboard November 21, 1970 issue that mentions Starday-King release of “These Are the J.B.’s” also notes that “the James Brown Show played Fargo, N.D. recently – the good response was particularly encouraging because this was the first time his show had ever played that state.”

Obituary for Phelps ‘Catfish’ Collins
Billboard — August 10, 2010

R&B guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, a veteran of James Brown’s J.B.’s, Parliament-Funkadelic and his younger brother William “Bootsy” Collins‘ Rubber Band, passed away at his home in Cincinnati on Aug. 6 at the age of 66, following a long battle with cancer.

Bootsy Collins issued a statement saying that “my world will never be the same” without his brother.  “Be happy for him, he certainly is now and always has been the happiest young fellow I ever met on this planet.”

Bootsy’s wife, Patti Collins, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that Catfish “was a father figure to my husband.  He’s the reason why Bootsy is who he is.”

Catfish, eight years Bootsy’s senior, was the one who suggested his brother put bass strings on an old guitar, and the two were part of a Cincinnati group called The Pacemakers that became the rhythm section for the city’s famed King Records label.  James Brown recruited the Collins brothers, and starting in 1968 they played on Brown classics such as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose,” “Super Bad” and “Soul Power” as the J.B.’s.

By 1971 they had left Brown’s employ, going on to form The House Guests and then joining Funkadelic in 1972 for albums such as America Eats Its Young and Cosmic Slop.  Catfish remained with the group — which also lost guitarist Garry Shider to cancer in June — until the mid-’80s.

“(Catfish) was a hell of a musician,” keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who played with the guitarist in Funkadelic, told the Enquirer.  “People seem to forget that the rhythm guitar behind James Brown was Catfish’s creative genius, and that was the rhythm besides Bootsy’s bass.”

George Clinton alumnus Dumine DePorres seconded that notion, telling Billboard.com that Catfish’s particular niche was playing “the subliminal stuff, those inferred parts that you might not be able to hear right out front but without it there’s a big hole.  It’s like the glue that holds the glue together.”

After Funkadelic, Catfish went on to play in Bootsy’s Rubber Band and also recorded with Deee-Lite, Freekbass and H-Bomb [Ferguson].  In 2007 he reunited with Bootsy, Worrell, Clyde Stubblefield and others for the soundtrack to the Judd Apatow comedy “Superbad.”  A number of Cincinnati musicians gathered to play a tribute show for Catfish during July at a club in Roselawn, Ohio [Celebrities night club in the Valley Shopping Center on Reading Road, just a mile down the road from the Carrousel Inn].

Funeral arrangements have not been announced for Catfish, who had two children.

Bootsy’s Brother Succumbs to Cancer
Cincinnati Enquirer — August 6, 2010

KENNEDY HEIGHTS – Before there was Bootsy, there was Catfish.

The older brother of Cincinnati’s legendary funk icon, Phelps “Catfish” Collins was a jovial guitar player with a huge smile, a mentor who helped shape his brother’s musical career as well as his life.

“He was a father figure to my husband,” said Patti Collins, William “Bootsy” Collins’ wife. “He’s the reason why Bootsy is who he is.”

Phelps Collins died Friday after a long battle with cancer. He was 66.

Mr. Collins was a lifelong musician and Cincinnati resident. He was born eight years before Bootsy, who gave him the nickname “Catfish” because he thought he looked like one.  He was fiercely protective of his family, once threatening to kill his father with a butcher knife if he saw him hurt their mother again, Bootsy told the Enquirer in an interview last year.

In 1968, Phelps and Bootsy Collins helped form local R&B band the Pacemakers, which became the rhythm section at the renowned King Records in Evanston.  They played with James Brown, backing him on such songs as “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” as part of a group that became known as the J.B.’s.

James Brown & the J.B.’s – Bologna, Italy – April, 1971

In 1971, the brothers formed a flashy funk group called the House
Guests with band mates including drummer Frankie “Kash” Waddy and
former Pacemakers singer Philippé Wynne.  Wynne went on to lead a group
called the Spinners, and the rest joined the free-wheeling Parliament-
Funkadelic.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame keyboardist Bernie Worrell played with the
Collins brothers in Parliament-Funkadelic.  Worrell said he and Catfish
were the elders of the group.

“He was a loving, caring person, but at the same time, he wouldn’t
take any bullcrap when it came to business,” Worrell said.  “He was a
hell of a musician.  He taught me a lot about rhythms.  People seem to
forget that the rhythm guitar behind James Brown was Catfish’s
creative genius, and that was the rhythm besides Bootsy’s bass.”

Phelps Collins later joined Bootsy’s Rubber Band and would go on to
play rhythm guitar on albums by Deee-Lite, Freekbass and H-Bomb [Ferguson].  He also performed on the soundtrack to the 2007 Judd Apatow comedy
“Superbad” with Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and other original
members of the J.B.’s.

“He was one of probably the most underrated musicians in R&B and funk
history,” said Cincinnati bassist Chris “Freekbass” Sherman, who cites
both Collins brothers as influences.  “He’s such an amazing guitar
player.  No one did it like him.”

Patti Collins said her brother-in-law, a father of two who lived in
Kennedy Heights, made a life of music and continued to collaborate
with Bootsy as the brothers grew older.

About a month ago, local musicians gathered at Celebrities in Roselawn
to perform a tribute to Catfish, said Lincoln Ware, who hosts a daily
radio show on WDBZ-1230 AM.

Ware said Mr. Collins, always a boisterous and smiling presence,
clearly wasn’t feeling his best that night.  But he sat back anyway,
soaking in the music that had always meant so much to him.

Services are pending.

Fall, 1971 – “What So Never the Dance (pts. 1 & 2)”

The Other Lost King Album With the JBs

As it turns out, more than one planned project got shelved when James Brown made the big decision to leave Starday-King and sign on the dotted line with Polydor, to wit:

**TONIGHT – One Night Only!

Friday, September 28, 2018 from 6-8 PM | James Brown’s Lost King Album.

In August 1971, James Brown planned to release a triple vinyl album of his electrifying March 1971 concert at the Olympia in Paris, backed by the original JB’s, featuring Bootsy and Catfish Collins.  Sequenced and mixed by Brown himself for a King Records release, he considered it among his best work.  However, when Brown’s contract was sold to Polydor Records, the masters were shelved and the album was not released.  The complete concert recording would not be heard until 43 years later when Sundazed Records released it on “tri-fold” vinyl in July 2014.  Join Bootsy Collins protege, Freekbass, as he plays the album on his own Funk Radio show = streaming on Radio Artifact, and simulcast on Cincinnati’s WVXU FM (listen here).

Note:  Cincinnati music history fans will be interested to know that Kenny Poole (guitar) and arranger, David Matthews (organ) join The JB’s on one song — “Who Am I” — a tune on which James Brown plays on drums (assuming that Zero to 180 is correctly reading the musician credits).

King’s Budget Subsidiary Label

According to Both Sides Now Publications:

“In late 1958, Audio Lab was formed as a budget label subsidiary to Cincinnati-based King Records.  From 1959 -1962, Audio Lab released a lot of material that had never appeared in album form, including rare albums by Bullmoose Jackson, Annie Laurie, April Stevens, Lattie Moore, [Hank] Penny, the Light Crust Doughboys, Bob Newman, H-Bomb Ferguson, Sticks McGhee and John Lee Hooker.”

One track that enjoyed a second lease on life via Audio Lab was the first (non-45) album appearance of a song that would become a part of the American cultural fabric years later when used as a recurring skit on TV’s “Hee Haw” – link to related Zero to 180 history piece.  As Both Sides Now observes, “The original version of [‘Pfft! You Were Gone‘] made its first (only?) LP appearance on [the Kentucky Colonel] Audio Lab album” (Bear Family’s 20-track CD compilation from 1984 Hangover Boogie doesn’t count).

Another great example of King material previously not available on LP —

1962 Audio Lab LP attributed to Moon Mullican entitled Instrumentals (that also, oddly, includes two tracks by Hank Penny and one song each by Mel Cox & Cowboy Copas).

All of these instrumentals are fairly obscure, especially the 1947 Cowboy Copas B-side “Jamboree” that got much better buzz in Billboard ‘s Dec. 13, 1947 edition compared to its A-side “I’m Tired of Playing Santa Claus to You”:  “Plenty of good hill country guitar and fiddle in an instrumental potpourri of folk melodies” [streaming audio for “Jamboree” not yet available on YouTube, unfortunately].

Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s early 1954 Los Angeles sessions for Federal and King – including “Mambo Mexicana” – would be reissued five years later on an Audio Lab LP entitled Big Band Modern, a reminder of the mambo mania that had gripped the nation at the time this song (today’s featured track) was released:

“Mambo Mexicano”     Gerald Wilson Orchestra     1954

Based on available discographical information, these 1954 recordings would appear to be among the earliest in a career that would span well into the new century, as NPR’s 2011 piece “The Gerald Wilson Orchestra:  A Living Legacy” affirms (Wilson, as it turns out, is one of many famous jazz musicians who “did time” in Earl Bostic’s band — in this case, one of four trumpeters who played on a December 4, 1958 Los Angeles recording session (six tracks, including “My Reverie” and “All the Things You Are“).

Today’s featured artist:  Gerald Wilson & HIs Orchestra

Kicking off our rogue’s gallery of Classic Audio Lab LP Covers is this modernist gem:

Grammar maven in me cannot allow disparity in song titles below go unremarked:

For more info on Audio Lab

Link to Audio Lab Discography c/o Discogs

Link to Audio Lab EPs Discography c/o 45Cat

Link to Audio Lab Album Discography c/o Both Sides Now

Link to auction prices of Audio Lab LPs & EPs c/o Popsike

1969: Bethlehem’s Last Session?

As noted in Zero to 180’s recent history of Bethlehem Records in the “Post-Syd Nathan” era (i.e., starting in 1958, when Nathan acquired 50% of the label), Ruppli’s King recording sessionography indicates that some new recording had taken place at King’s Cincinnati studios in a few instances connected to the Bethlehem label, most seeming to take place 1962/63: The Mighty Faith Increasers; The Wilson Sisters; Jean Dee; Beverly Buff; The Guitar Crusher & The Vice-Roys.

Both Sides Now Publications documents the final years of Bethlehem in Part 4 of its informative Bethlehem Records Story:

By 1969, King had long since abandoned Bethlehem and its jazz catalog.  The last of those albums was released in 1965.  Syd Nathan himself had died in 1968, and the label was sold to Starday Records, now operating as Starday/King.  After four years of owning the imprint but releasing no product, Starday/King decided it would revive Bethlehem for a mixture of albums that didn’t seem to fit with their regular country (Starday) or soul (King) series.  So Bethlehem became the home of (1) a jazzy soul band (Dee Felice Trio) that was one of James Brown’s projects, (2) a saloon sing-along/ragtime/novelty band (The Saloonatics), (3) Wayne Cochran, a well-known rockabilly artist, (4) the Oscar Brandenburg Orchestra, a big band swing “orchestra” that was really Neil Richardson, Alan Moorehouse, and Johnny Pearson recording music to be used behind BBC test patterns for TV, (5) Azie Mortimer, a female jazz singer, and (6) to cap off the label, a reissue of a 1955 Dick Stabile studio album recorded in New York and advertised as recorded at a swanky New Orleans hotel.  Not the first time King pulled this trick, however.  The album had previously been issued on King 623 as Dancing on Sunset Strip.

The last Bethlehem-related session in Ruppli’s sessionography — The Saloonatics, who recorded their one and only album on April 29, 1969, Crazy World Crazy Tunes, which features country blues weeper, “I Get the Blues When It Rains” as the A-side of a 1969 single:

“I Get the Blues When It Rains”     The Saloonatics      1969

Note the 1929 Cadillac Dual Cowl Phaeton on the LP cover…

… while the rear cover features liner notes from none other than Mr. Dick Clark

Dick Clark’s liner notes:

The Saloonatics are a group of musicians and singers who entertain each night, and as a result of this daily contact with the people, they seem to know what the people like.  It is just that element, what the people like – that is reproduced here.

The story behind the Saloonatics and this album goes much further.  This recording is the accomplishment of an ambition for two men who have been in all phases of the music industry for many years.

Paul Striks plays piano and sings, Ralph Guenther plays bass and banjo and also sings.  They are the nucleus of the group presented here.  Saul was with a group called Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads from 1947 to 1960 and was on all the hit records produced by that group during those years.  Ralph was a recording musician for King Records in Cincinnati for many years, and participated in the recording of many hits.

Saul and Ralph knew each other but never worked together.  After a severe injury to Saul, which forced him to stop traveling, friends brought Saul and Ralph together again and insisted that they should work together.  The group, which began as an experiment, soon became an outstanding attraction in Cincinnati. 

The next step was recording:  the reasoning behind this was that Saul and Ralph had been on hit records before, but had never received credit for what they did on the records. They were anonymous.

Here are two experienced professionals finally getting the recognition they deserve.  The musicianship obvious in the piano and banjo playing is enhanced by the unique singing of both men.  Saul plays the piano and Ralph plays the banjo.  Saul sings “Me and My Shadow,” “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby” and “Red Silk Stockings.”  Ralph sings “Vo Da Dee O Do,” “I Get the Blues When It Rains,” “Just Because,” “Lock My Heart,” “San Francisco Bay Blues,” “Columbus Stockade Blues,” and the original song with the improbable title, “If My Baby Cooks as Good as She Looks, I’ll Be Happy All the Time.”

To this comination of musicians, another element was added – O.B. Marshall, a great arranger with many hits to his credits, was brought in to be the musical framework in which the talents of Saul Striks and Ralph Guenther would best be shown.  O.B. added a band of all-star recording musicians, and conducted the sessions as well as writing the arrangements.

That’s the crew:  Saul Striks, Ralph Guenther, and O.B. Marshall.  The result is this album.  We hope you enjoy it.  We did.

Bill Sachs, Cincinnati reporter in Billboard‘s ‘From the Music Capitals of the World’ column the week of June 10, 1972, notes that “The Saloonatics, namely Saul Striks, piano, and Ralph Guenther, banjo and bass, set for up an indefinite stay in the Terrace Hilton Hotel.  Striks was for many years with Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads.”

We know that Wayne Cochran and others had album releases on Bethlehem that followed The Saloonatics, so the big question that runs through this piece: Were the Saloonatics the last Bethlehem act to record at King’s Cincinnati studio — versus the Nashville studio used by the new consolidated Starday-King label (e.g., the JB’s featuring Bootsy & Catfish Collins and other CIncinnati musicians)?  And who exactly was the last artist to record at the King Studios – do we know?

Jazz Misrepresented As Surf?

The Australian All-Stars‘s 1959 album – Jazz for Beach-Niks – was originally released on Columbia Australia and picked up for US release four years later by King subsidiary label, Bethlehem (and reissued 2013 in Japan), subject of the previous history piece.  One can only presume Syd Nathan was trying to capitalize on the burgeoning surf sound via the misleading cover photo (strictly jazz – not a trace of surf).

Volume 1 = US release on Bethlehem in 1963

Billboard would deem Jazz for Beach-Niks “three stars” (indicating moderate sales potential) in the jazz section of the album reviews for its May 11, 1963 edition.

volume 2 = US release on Bethlehem in 1960

+Australian All-Stars = Beach-Nik Jazz LP

Vexingly, Bethlehem had already issued the Australian All-Stars sophomore album in 1960, three years prior to the US release of their first album.  Are you confused?

“Decidedly”     The Australian All-Stars     1960

Ruppli’s 2-volume King Labels recording sessions discography, sadly, is bereft of any information (“details not known”) about this release by The Australian All-Stars.  Fortunately, Discogs has the musician credits, with the following players listed on both albums:

Freddy Logan:   Bass
Ron Webber:      Drums
Terry Wilkinson: Piano
Don Burrows:     Saxes, Flutes & Clarinet
Dave Rutledge:   Tenor Sax & Flute

Bethlehem Records: Post-Syd

Syd Nathan would end up acquiring jazz label, Bethlehem Records, in a series of strategic moves over the course of years — so when exactly can Syd Nathan take credit for shaping the music released on that label?  Unfortunately, that’s a question that each person has to answer for him/herself.  I can, however, put forth some relevant information.

Gus Wildi, a Swiss immigrant, founded Bethlehem in 1954, as Billboard reports in its February 27, 1954 edition.  By 1958, however, Wildi – in a desperate bid to stay liquid – would give Syd Nathan half ownership of the label for distribution.  As Cash Box reports in its August 2, 1958 edition:

King Takes Over Bethlehem Distribution

CINCINNATI — Sydney Nathan, President of King Records, and Gus Wilde [sic], President of Bethlehem Records, jointly announced last week the conclusion of an agreement whereby King will take over the exclusive world-wide distribution of all the Bethlehem product. The agreement is effective immediately, but the distribution does not take place until the near future.

In discussing the take over of Bethlehem by King, Nathan pointed out that this is only the first of several deals now in negotiation whereby King is getting a new look and expanding its product line by agreements with other labels.

Wilde [sic] will continue as President of Bethlehem and will supervise the operation from his New York headquarters. A big program of regular monthly new releases is scheduled, starting in August with new albums by Mel Torme, and The Australian Jazz Quartet. In addition Wilde has concluded contracts for a new heavy recording schedule which kicks off.

This deal, on its surface, would seem to connote a 50/50 partnership, but as Both Sides Now Publications points out in their Bethlehem Records history piece, Syd Nathan immediately took charge, once this new relationship was established:

From the time King Records essentially took over, Bethlehem slowly wound down. Nathan incessantly mined the back catalog for various artists compilations, and fewer and fewer new recordings were done…

Bethlehem continued to fade, and in 1962, Gus Wildi sold the remaining 50% of the company to Syd Nathan. By 1965, Nathan had just let the label fade away.

Around this period of time, Otis Redding, interestingly enough, would enter the picture when his debut single – “Fat Girl” b/w “Shout Bamalama” – needed a little extra help launching off the ground.  The debut 45 by Otis Redding and the Pinetoppers was originally released in 1962 on the Confederate label.  The single would find a new home that same year on tiny Orbit before enjoying wider distribution on Bethlehem two years later in 1964.

45Cat contributors Dead Wax and Ort. Carlton (among others) have the back story:

[Dead Wax] According to Peter Guralnik (Sweet Soul Music) the record was first issued on Confederate. The record enjoyed some local success, but not before Bobby (Confederate owner) was forced to change the name of the label to get airplay on r&b stations.  Also later re-issued on Conco, a Confederate related label, possibly co-owned by Wayne Cochran.

[Ort. Carlton] When several influential disc jockeys, including Big Saul at WOIC in Columbia, S. C. and John “R.” Richbourg at WLAC in Nashville heard the disc, they knew it was a hit, but both suggested a label name change. Apparently Bobby [Smith] and (to a lesser degree) Phil Walden put Orbit in business for this purpose only.

Bobby Smith Studios, according to Discogs, is a Macon, Georgia recording and production facility that was founded when Syd Nathan “commissioned the engineer and producer Bobby Smith to build a studio in the adopted hometown of the James Brown, the star of the King labels.”   45Cat contributor “mickey rat” – with the discerning eye – speculates aloud about Bobby Smith and his business relationship with Syd Nathan:

For years I’ve wondered who was involved in Boblo Music. I’ve always had it listed with that clutch of half a dozen imprints that Syd Nathan of King Records shared with his favourite producers (e.g. Men-Lo = Fred Mendelsohn & Syd Nathan and Son-Lo = Sonny Thompson & Syd Nathan, where the “Lo” bit was short for Nathan’s flagship publishing imprint Lois Music). Anyway after reading the current comments on the initial releases of this Otis Redding record on Confederate and Orbit it’s dawned on me that the “Bob” bit is probably Bobby Smith in Macon, GA. Looking quickly at other Boblo discs on King by James Duncan, Bobby Leeds, Billy Soul and Fabulous Denos, they all have a “BS” prefix on matrix numbers. Can anyone confirm this is indeed Bobby Smith? Interesting too that Boblo’s big hit was Wayne Cochran’s composition “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson. Nathan missed the actual record but would have done very well from the publishing royalties. Boblo seems to have evolved later into Macon Music, also a King related imprint I think.

Dead Wax staunchly refutes others’ assertions about the date of the Otis Redding recording session (Ruppli’s sessionography, for instance, says September, 1960) while also revealing the back story behind future Bethlehem recording artists, The Rockin’ Capris:

Recorded in March 1962 in Athens, GA, in the studios of WGTV, the public television station affiliated with the University of Georgia. Otis was backed by members of Wayne Cochran’s group, the Rockin’ Capris.

“Shout Bamalama”     Otis Redding & the Pinetoppers     1962

Ruppli’s King Labels recording sessionography indicates that some new recording did take place at King’s Cincinnati studios in a few instances related to the Bethlehem label, most seeming to take place 1962-63 (The Mighty Faith Increasers; The Wilson Sisters; Jean Dee; Beverly Buff; The Guitar Crusher; & The Vice-Roys), with a few faint stirrings up until 1969.

What’s In a Name?
From the Pen of Syd Nathan

Chief among Syd Nathan’s contributions to Freddy King’s musical legacy, notes Jon Hartley Fox in King of the Queen City, were the nonsensical titles he gave to the legendary blues musician’s original tunes:

As Freddie remembered, “‘Hide Away’ and ‘Just Pickin’,’ I think those are the only two I named.  I made ’em all, you know, wrote all the tunes, but the studio put the names to ’em.  Some of them, I don’t even know … They said ‘Swooshy,’ you know.  I’d listen to it and not even know what he’s talkin’ about.  They got some heck of a names in there.”

There seems to be a common thread running through “The Bossa Nova Watusi Twist,” “San-Ho-Zay” and some of the nuttier album titles coming out on the Bethlehem label post-Syd Nathan, as Jon Hartley Fox observes:

During King’s involvement with Bethlehem, King tried to broaden the audience for Bethlehem’s artists by releasing a series of multiple-artist compilation LPs with such cornball titles as Nothing Cheesy About This Jazz; We Cut This Album for Bread; Jazz Music for People Who Don’t Care About Money; A Lot of Yarn But A Well Knitted Jazz Album, and No Sour Grapes, Just Pure Jazz.

“El” Pauling & the Royalton

Lowman Pauling (a.k.a., “El Pauling“) exchanges vocal lines with Royal Abbit (i.e., “The Royalton“), while also taking the time to squeeze off some stinging guitar licks on “Solid Rock” — recorded June 9, 1960 in Cincinnati at the King Studios:.

“Solid Rock”     El Pauling & the Royalton     1960

Lowman Pauling — in a solo stint from The ‘5’ Royales, following their great run with King — teams up with Royal Abbit, “who would become the group’s pianist and replacement vocalist for any of the group members when sick,” according to 45Cat.  Over 50 years later, someone would pay $295 for an original copy of this Federal 45 described by The Houndblog as “rockin’ gospel” (check out the prices paid for other singles attributed to El Pauling).

The two vocalists would team up for three more Federal 45s of their own creation [streaming audio by clicking on song titles below]:

Billboard would praise the flip side as “heartfelt warbling stint on emotion-packed rockaballad” in their March 20, 1961 edition.

Billboard‘s October 23, 1961 edition would deem this single release four stars, indicating “strong sales potential.”

Billboard‘s review in its June 16, 1952 edition would rated the final 45 three stars, indicating “moderate sales potential.”

King Cash-In Surf LP #2

Zero to 180’s sprawling history trawl “Rare & Unreleased King” made passing reference to another surf-ploitation LP issued by King Records – 1963’s Surfin’ on Wave Nine – and even threatened to make that album the focus of a future history piece … whose time has come today.

Compared to Look Who’s Surfin’ Now (King LP previously celebrated hereSurfin’ on Wave Nine is a bit more of an organic affair, with only a modest amount of jiggery pokery involved.

Track Listing

  •                                 A1  The Vice-Roys – “Seagreen
  •                                 A2  The Nu-Trons – “Malibu Mal
  •                                 A3  The Tramps – “Maharadja
  •                                 A4  The Nu-Trons – “Tension
  •                                 A5  The Vice-Roys – “The Fox
  •                                 A6  Mickey Baker – “Gone
  •                                 B1  Mickey Baker – “Zanzie
  •                                 B2  The Vice-Roys – “Moasin’
  •                                 B3  The Nu-Trons – “Wild Side
  •                                 B4  The Wobblers – “The Wobble
  •                                 B5  The Nu-Trons – “Ninth Wave Out
  •                                 B6  The Vice-Roys – “Buzz Bomb

According to Ruppli’s 2-volume Kings recording sessionography, we can only be certain that two of these songs — “The Fox” and “Buzz Bomb” by The Vice-Roys — were recorded in Cincinnati.

The Vice-Roys would record their songs for King in three sessions:  c. Nov/Dec 1961 (“Moasin'”); c. September, 1962 (“Seagreen”); and April, 1963 (“The Fox” & “Buzz Bomb”).  Worth noting that King would issue a split single in 1963 with “Seagreen” by The Vice-Roys chosen as the flip side for “That Low Down Move” by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters.  But, as Discogs notes, “Seagreen” actually began life as an A-side issued on Bethlehem with the title “Seagram’s” – ostensibly a salute to the whiskey brand.  Both Sides Now Publications recounts the controversy:

In 1960, an instrumental rock band called the Viceroys brought Bethlehem an instrumental master they called “Seagrams,” apparently thinking the name of a hard liquor brand would be hip for teens.  Bethlehem liked the tune and released it. Unfortunately, Seagrams Corporation didn’t think it was funny and threatened to sue for trademark infringement, and some stations refused to play a song with the name of a commercial product without being paid for advertising time.  A sheepish notice in Billboard on March 23, 1960, said, “We Goofed!” and explained that “Seagrams” was now changed to “Seagreen.”

Worth noting that in that same March 23, 1960 edition of Billboard along with the official industry notice from King Records saying “We Goofed!” was this wink-wink news item:

Just Call This a Real Loaded Idea

SAN FRANCISCO— A novel record promotion originated by Bob Earl, San Francisco branch manager for King Records, has been picked up by the national record distributor and will be repeated in Cincinnati, Chicago and New York.

Bethlehem’s new recording of “Seagram,” sung by the Vice-roys, prompted Earl to include a half pint of Seagram’s VO whiskey and a package of Vice-roy cigarettes when delivery the disk, all wrapped up in gay “Mardi Gras” gift paper. Uniformed messenger delivery personnel called upon local deejays in the four top r & b and rock and roll stations in San Francisco and Oakland — KSAN, KEWB, KDIA and KYA.

The Nu-Trons would record two sessions for King — the first (“Tension” and “Wild Side”) in May, 1963 (possibly in Cincinnati — Ruppli is uncertain) and the second (“Malibu Mal” and “Ninth Wave Out” in June, 1963.

The Tramps‘s sole contribution “Maharadja” is the earliest contribution to this various artists compilation (August, 1961), but alas — the recording is leased from another label.

Mickey Baker‘s guitar instrumental classic “Zanzie” (previously celebrated here) was recorded – along with “Gone” – June, 1962 in Paris.

Without a doubt, the song most likely to grab your attention is “The Wobbler” which likely was recorded late (November?) in 1961 by The Wobblers:

“The Wobble”     The Wobblers     1961

Listen to King Surf Albums on the Radio!

This Saturday – September 8, 2018 from 6-8 PM – there will be a King Surf Party!  In 1963, King Records released several surf albums, Surfin’ on Wave NineLook Who Surfin’ Now and Freddie King Goes Surfin’, in response to the California craze.  Join WAIF FM radio hosts, Rock-it Rick, Midwest Surf Guy and Handsome Dan, as they play tracks from these King compilations on the legendary “Rockin’ & Surfin’ Show.”  Those who live outside Cincinnati can tune in on the web – click on the link to WAIF 88.3 FM.

King Cash-In Surf LP #1

In the course of sleuthing, I stumbled upon a King surf cash-in compilation from 1964 that, upon closer inspection, revealed a trio of “mystery bands” — The Surf Jumpers, The Wild Kats and The King Surfers — that are mysteriously absent from Ruppli’s otherwise fairly comprehensive 2-volume discography of King Records and its associated labels.  Further examination revealed the curious fact that every song title can only be found on this one King album with the one exception being “Low Tide” by Freddy King.

Track Listing

  •                          A1  James Brown – “Surfin’ Along”
  •                          A2  The Surf Jumpers – “Surfin’ Party”
  •                          A3  Albert King – Surfin’ the Blues Away
  •                          A4  Gene Redd – Surfin’ Beat
  •                          A5  The King Surfers – Surfin’ in the Far East
  •                          A6  The Wild Kats – Wild Surfin’
  •                          B1  Freddy King – Low Tide
  •                          B2  Little Willie John – High Tide
  •                          B3  King Curtis – Surfin’ in Blue
  •                          B4  Hank Moore – Cool Feet
  •                          B5  Johnny Otis – Let’s Surf Awhile
  •                          B6  Tonni Kalash – The Surf

Given what we’ve learned from the Philip Paul history piece about Gene Redd‘s 1959 recording “Zeen Beat” getting re-branded as “Surfin’ Beat,” I suspect that Syd Nathan simply re-titled 9 instrumentals from the King catalog that might possibly be mistaken for “surf beat” to go with the three new spiffy original surf-flavored tracks hastily thrown together by The Surf Jumpers, The Wild Kats, and especially The King Surfers.  One Discogs contributor even entreats:  “If anyone knows the original track names of these tracks which were re-titled for this release .. it would be very helpful.”

For example, I would bet big money that “Joggin’ Along” – from 1962’s James Brown and His Famous Flames Tour the U.S.A. – is the recording used for “Surfin’ Along,” a James Brown song title found nowhere else but here.

“Joggin’ [i.e., Surfin’] Along”     James Brown & His Famous Flames     1962

Ruppli’s discography indicates the Albert King recording to have taken place in St. Louis sometime in 1961 and even notes the song title as “Surfin’ the Blues Away.”  Nevertheless, I feel burned by Ruppli having titled the 1959 Gene Redd track as “Surfin’ Beat,” plus I’m highly dubious that Albert King was moved by the earliest surf strains of 1961 while located in the Midwest.

Ace UK, meanwhile, helped me figure out that 1961’s “Let’s Rock” by Johnny Otis (recorded in Los Angeles, with Johnny Guitar Watson) is the original recording used for “Let’s Surf Awhile” (which Ruppli notes as the title, not “Let’s Rock”).

I’m just guessing that “The Boss” by Tonni Kalash is plausibly surf sounding to pass as “The Surf” to less discerning ears.

Ruppli’s discography indicates the King Curtis track (“Surfin’ in Blue”) to be a 1957 blues instrumental recorded in NYC that originally bore the title “Wicky Wacky” (and, alternatively, “King Curtis Stomp”).

Dying to know whether “Katanga” – an instrumental attributed to Little Willie John from December, 1961 that was laid down in King’s Cincinnati studios – is the recording that was renamed “High Tide” for this album.  Can’t imagine King included many instrumentals (if any) on a Little Willie John LP or 45.

Tenor saxophonist session player Hank Moore stepped out as bandleader on a few tracks that were recorded in Cincinnati.  “Cool Feet” is one such track from March 9, 1961 that appears, miraculously, to have retained its original title – although, it figures that this instrumental would appear on Look Who’s Surfin’ Now and nowhere else.

Listen to King Surf Albums on the Radio!

This Saturday – September 8, 2018 from 6-8 PM – there will be a King Surf Party!  In 1963, King Records released several surf albums, Surfin’ on Wave Nine, Look Who Surfin’ Now and Freddie King Goes Surfin’, in response to the California craze.  Join WAIF FM radio hosts, Rock-it Rick, Midwest Surf Guy and Handsome Dan, as they play tracks from these King compilations on the legendary “Rockin’ & Surfin’ Show.”  Those who live outside Cincinnati can tune in on the web – click on the link to WAIF 88.3 FM.

“Atomic Telephone”: King 78

Folks who do not have enough dough (or shelf space) for Bear Family’s undoubtedly meticulous and wide-ranging box set of popular music from the original Atomic Age, can nevertheless simulate the experience by (1) keyword searching 78 RPM using the wordatomic” (also “atom“) and then (2) listening to desired tracks via YouTube streaming audio.

Bear Family’s Atomic Platters 5 CD/1 DVD Box Set from 2005atomic-platters-box-set

I especially like that the search results from 78 RPM are in chronological order.  Note that the earliest songs in the first search (“atomic”) are from 1946, however the second search (“atom”) yields a song from 1945 that is not in the Bear Family box set and competes with Slim Gaillard’s “Atomic Cocktail” (not published until 1946, according to this site) for earliest song about atom splitting — “Atom Boogie” by Sammy Franklin (sadly, not yet uploaded onto YouTube).

The box set would also include King Records‘ big contribution to the national conversation: 1947’s “When They Found the Atomic Power” by Hawkshaw Hawkins and, four years later, The Spirit of Memphis Quartet‘s “The Atomic Telephone” – a song credited to Henry Glover, Lois Mann (i.e., Syd Nathan) and Eddie Smith.

“The Atomic Telephone”     The Spirit of Memphis Quartet     1951

The Spirit of Memphis Quartet – Jethro Bledsoe (lead vocals), Silas Steele, Willmer “Little Axe” Broadnax and others (supporting vocals) — recorded the original version of “Atomic Telephone” on August 14, 1951 at the King Studios in Cincinnati.  1951 would also see “The Atomic Telephone” covered by The Harlan County Four –recorded in Cincinnati on October 29, 1951, according to Ruppli’s King Labels sessionography — yet another early example of Syd Nathan putting one of “his” songs (published by Lois Music) to work in more than one “market.”

Johnny Sippel, Billboard‘s man on the “Folk Talent and Tunes” beat, would report in the May 3, 1952 edition that KMA disk jockey Lee Sutton of Shenandoah, Iowa “conducted a contest, asking listeners to guess the names of the Harlan County Four, new King artists” [i.e., Alton and Rabon Delmore, plus Zeke and Ulysses (“Red“) Turner, as affirmed by PragueFrankBillboard‘s record review of The Harlan County Four version in the February 9, 1952 edition would note that this “fast-tempo spiritual shows off the nice blend of the group and their sincere vocalizing.”]

The song would get name-checked in Bob Groom’s essay “Beyond the Mushroom Cloud:  A Decade of Disillusion in Black Blues and Gospel Song” [included in 2008’s Ramblin’ On My Mind:  New Perspectives on the Blues, edited by David Evans]:

Many of [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur’s supporters had favored “nuking” the enemy out of existence, failing to understand the consequences if Russia retaliated on behalf of China.  The lethal power of the nuclear weapon was not readily apparent from recordings like “Atom and Evil,” a humorous parody recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet on June 5, 1946 (Columbia 37236), and the Spirit of Memphis Quartet’s “The Atomic Telephone” (King 4521), recorded August 14, 1951.  It was hard to imagine the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki happening in America, and the government promoted among the population the naive belief that fall-out shelters would protect most people from harm.  The development of the hydrogen bomb offered an even speedier path to annihilation, but even this weapon could become a macho image.  Certainly, singer Bob Ferguson used it to stress his power as a performer when he adopted his nom-de-disque “H-Bomb” Ferguson in 1951.

The original 1951 King 78 release “Atomic Telephone b/w “He Never Let Go My Hand” sells for two figures at auction.

On a Related Note   

Check out bless-this-soul.com‘s King & Queen Gospel Discography