King Records Meets “Big Red” – Seymour Stein (Pt. 1)

In May, 2015’s piece about Guitar Crusher, it was pointed out that Seymour Stein, along with fellow Sire Records co-founder, Richard Gottehrer, had done production work on a Columbia recording in 1967, having formed Sire Productions the year before.  As Billboard would note in its chronology of the music industry executive who signed Madonna from his hospital bed while recovering from a heart infection, Stein had served his first music label apprenticeship at Cincinnati’s King Records for two years, beginning in 1957.  Syd Nathan‘s operation would prove to be a “farm league” for a number of other industry notables, as pointed out in Jon Hartley Fox‘s King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records:

King Records was a good training ground where one could get a thorough, hands-on education in all facets of the recording industry.  One of the label’s enduring legacies is the large number of producers, A&R men, and sales or marketing executives who ‘trained’ under Nathan.  Among the King alumni who enjoyed successful careers at other labels are Seymour Stein (Sire, Sire-London, and Elektra), Hal Neely (Starday and Starday-King), Henry Glover (Old Town, Roulette, Starday-King), Ralph Bass (Chess), Jim Wilson (Starday and Sun), Alan Leeds (Paisley Park), Ray Pennington (Step One), and nearly a dozen others.

As it turns out, the same year Seymour Stein produced a Guitar Crusher single for “Big Red,” Stein also organized a 12-inch release for Columbia Records (under the “Sire Productions” name) that consists entirely of country releases from the King Records vault [albeit (groan) “electronically re-channeled for stereo”].  That’s right, 1967 would see the release of a Columbia album (in name only) 18 King Size Country Hits, with extensive liner notes by Stein himself – a former Billboard scribe – that promise the LP to be “one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century.”

Many songs on this LP were million sellers when first issued, according to Stein

King Size County Hits - Seymour Stein LP-a

This album, sadly, would seem to be the only one released — is it fair to presume Columbia had felt sales to be insufficient enough to warrant future volumes?  It’s not for lack of trying though, as Stein very helpfully provides some historical context on the factors that helped King succeed in the marketplace:

Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today.  The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the ‘hillbilly’ world was Midwestern Hayride, the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain.  Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro.  Lloyd ‘Cowboy’ Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati.  With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of ‘Midwestern Hayride’ had achieved any amount of success on records.  Most had never recorded despite their popularity among the Midwest and South.

King Records In the big leagues = On “Big Red” one year before Nathan’s passingKing Size Country Hits II

Billboard reported the following news item in its July 8, 1967 edition:

Col. to Release Two R&B, Country LP’s From King

NEW YORK — Columbia Records will issue two albums of all time best sellers from the catalog of King Records.  One package will contain country material and the other rhythm and blues.  The deal, considered unusual, was okayed by Bill Gallagher, Columbia Records vice-president, after discussions with Seymour Stein of Sire Productions.  Stein, who regards the deal as a tribute to the achievement of Syd Nathan, president of King, produced the packages from masters in the King archives.

Each of the albums contains 18 performances.  The country package, titled 18 King Size Country Hits, includes “Signed Sealed and Delivered” by Cowboy Copas, “Blues Stay Away From Me” by the Delmore Brothers, “Mountain Dew” by Grandpa Jones, “Money, Marbles and Chalk” by the writer Pop Eckler, and sides by the Carlisle Brothers, Jimmy Osbourne, Wayne Raney, Moon Mullican, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Reno and Smiley.

The second package, titled 18 King Size Rhythm and Blues Hits, contains such classics as “Fever” by Little Willie John; “Work With Me Annie” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters; “Hearts of Stone” by Otis Williams and the Charms; “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett; “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and the Dominoes, and additional sides by James Brown and the Flames, Otis Redding, The ‘5’ Royales, Ivory Joe Hunter, Freddy King, Bullmoose Jackson, Wynonie Harris, and Earl Bostic.

The packages will also be distributed by the Columbia Record Club.”

Could the 1949 recording, “Money Marbles and Chalk” – fittingly, the album’s final track – be the only one ever released by Pop Eckler, who wrote songs for Rex Allen, Red Sovine, and Wink Martindale, as well as King labelmates, Grandpa Jones and The Stanley Brothers?

“Money, Marbles and Chalk”     Pop Eckler     1949

Eckler authored “Money, Marbles and Chalk,” also covered at the time by Chet Atkins and Stubby and the Buccaneers, as well as later by Patti Page (1957) and King colleagues, Reno & Smiley (1961), while Link Trotter would give it a go in 1973.Pop Eckler 78Stein would have this to say about Eckler:

Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of “Money, Marbles and Chalk.”   The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.

Seymour Stein’s liner notes for 18 King Size Country Hits belowKing Size County Hits - Seymour Stein LP-rear cover

18 King Size Country Hits
Liner notes by Seymour Stein

This is one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century.  All the tunes, which first appeared on the King Records label under the aegis of Sydney Nathan, its founder and president, are performed by the original singers who made them famous.  Many of the recordings were million sellers when they were first issued.

Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today.  The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the “hillbilly” world was Midwestern Hayride, the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain.  Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro.  Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati.  With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of the Midwestern Hayride had achieved any amount of success on records.  Most had never recorded despite their popularity throughout the Midwest and South.

King’s first artists came from Midwestern Hayride, and one of the first releases, “It’s Raining Here This Morning” by Grandpa Jones [1944], was a substantial hit.  He is still a favorite on records, and on the Grand Ole Opry.  Another of his greatest hits was [1947‘s] “Mountain Dew.”

The end of World War II brought one of King’s biggest early hits, the original “Rainbow at Midnight” by the Carlisle Brothers [1946], which dealt with the joyous feelings of soldiers after the war.

By 1948, Cowboy Copas had emerged as the leading Country and Western singer in America.  His biggest hit was a song written by Sydney Nathan under the pseudonym Lois Mann, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,” [1947] one of the few million-selling Country discs.  Another million seller for him was “Tennessee Waltz” [*first recording of songApril 1947 at King Studios], penned by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart especially for Copas.  The tune was recorded years later by Patti Page and has since become the state song of Tennessee.  Copas became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 and remained with it until his golden voice was forever stilled in 1963.

Also, in the late 1940s a Cajun song sylist and pianist from Houston, Moon Mullican, began recording.  He too had his share of gold records:  “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” [1949] and “”Sweeter Than the Flowers” [1947], both from Nathan’s pen.  The King of the Hillbilly Piano Players, Mullican was forerunner to one of the greatest of all Country artists, Hank Williams, who also sang many Cajun melodies.  Late in 1966, Mullican passed away following a long illness.

In 1947, a young singer, Hawkshaw Hawkins, who had been performing on radio station WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, sent to King Records a “demo” made in a penny arcade for 25¢.  So enthused was Nathan by the voice on the record that he immediately summoned the artist to nearby Cincinnati.  As it turned out, Hawkins’ initial investment paid more than a million fold.  Some of his biggest hits included “Slow Poke” [1951], “Sunny Side of the Mountain” [1947], “Shot Gun Boogie” [live performance + ‘bullwhip act’], “Pan American” [1948], “If I Ever Get Rich Mom” [1953] and “Picking Sweethearts” [1953].  In 1962 he recorded “Lonesome 7-7203.”  It is unfortunate that the record did not reach the number-one position all across the nation until after Hawkins’ tragic death in 1963 [in the plane crash that also claimed the lives of Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas].

Bonnie Lou, a star since 1951 of Midwestern Hayride, heard the pop version of “Seven Lonely Nights” by Georgia Gibbs in 1953.  Nathan immediately rushed Bonnie Lou into the King studios to cut her own enormously successful version of the hit.

The Delmore Brothers, Alton and Rabon, one of the original groups in Country music, date from the late 1920s.  As composers they are famed as writers of “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” popularized by Rosemary Clooney.  Although they recorded for many labels, their biggest hit, “Blues Stay Away From Me” [1949], was recorded during their term with King [and co-written with Wayne Raney and Henry Glover].  Both brothers recently passed away [actually, Rabon in 1952, Alton in 1964].

Clyde Moody recorded another Nathan composition, “Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday” [1947], an immediate smash.  Moody had already been established via his hit recording of “Shenandoah Waltz.”  Like Cowboy Copas, Moody was best known for his waltz recordings.

Jack Cardwell skyrocketed to fame with his recording “Death of Hank Williams” [1953].

Wayne Raney can still be heard over local radio in Cincinnati, playing and singing with his family favorite Country and sacred tunes.  He enjoyed many, many hits, including the number-one hit “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” [1949], also a big pop hit for Rosemary Clooney [backed by Hugo Winterhalter].

Jimmy Osbourne‘s music usually dealt witth morbid, tragic themes.  Biggest of these was “Death of Little Kathy Fiscus” [1949], a number-one record in 1949.  It told the true story of the death by drowning of a young child, and of the futile attempts to rescue her.

Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of “Money, Marbles and Chalk” [1949].  The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.

At present, two big Country and Western acts are the Stanley Brothers (Ralph and Carter) and the team of Don Reno and Red Smiley, both of which are extremely popular both in the Country and folk-bluegrass fields.  One of the Stanleys’ biggest hits is “How Far to Little Rock” [1960]. Carter Stanley passed away in 1966.  Reno and Smiley are represented by their first and biggest hit, “I’m the Talk of the Town” [1953].

Although every selection in the album has been a Top Ten hit, they comprise more than just a collection to past successes.  They are an intrinsic part of the history and development of America’s Country and Western music.

Note:  The following year in 1968, these same songs were repackaged and re-sequenced by King as 18 All Time King Hits Country and Western.