Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

King Records Lore — A Trunkful of Trivia

Chiemi Eri on King Records

In the US & Japan

Chiemi Eri, born Jan. 11, 1937 in Tokyo, was a popular singer and actress in Japan who began her singing career at 14 with her version of “The Tennessee Waltz,” according to Discogs. When you scan her singles discography in Discogs, you will see that every one of these releases to a tee was released on the Japanese King label — except for one 78 on the US King label that was issued (sensibly enough) on its Federal subsidiary!

78 RPM contributor and long-time sleuth mickey rat is startled by Federal’s foray into Asian Pacific culture:

This would have to be the oddest release on Federal. DJ copies indicate recorded in Japan.

Review of Chiemi Eri’s Federal 78

May 23, 1953 issue of Cash Box

Even more intriguing = Years ago I was invited to go through a stack of 78s in a relative’s basement. The one item that stood out among the jazz and pop 78s was a vintage 10-inch King sleeve (“If it’s a King, it’s a hillbilly – if it’s a hillbilly, it’s a King”) that contained a King 78 release from Japan, to my astonishment, and a label bearing a photo of a young Japanese girl whose name I did not recognize until now: Chiemi Eri. The A-side is a version of “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy” arranged by Y. Murayama, with vocals by Chiemi Eri.

Japanese King 78 inside a US King sleeve

At the time of this initial discovery, I learned that this “other” King label from Japan predates the US label by a dozen years or so. Without any information to link the two different King labels, I concluded in my mind that the Japanese 10-inch record in a US King sleeve must have been an oddball coincidence – or was it?

These informational links created especially for you —

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78 courtesy of James Browne

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Murry Wilson & King Records

The “Secret” Link

Murry Wilson – father of Capitol recording artist and Beach Boys bandleader, Brian Wilson – was an aspiring songwriter whose name, curiously enough, appeared on a King 45 in 1966, one year before the release of Wilson’s sole LP The Many Moods of Murry Wilson on Capitol!

(Future Shocktypeface in popular music)

Record World

Nov. 4, 1967

Thanks to 45Cat contributer “philxm who put 2 and 2 together with this comment posted in response to Mary Moultrie’s 45 “They’re Trying to Tear Us Apart” b/w “Last Year, Senior Prom (This Year, Viet Nam)”:

George Faulkner includes this song on George Faulkner Sings Murry Wilson, his labor of love comprising new recordings of known Murry Wilson compositions, but acknowledges in the liner notes that he’s not entirely certain that “Last Year Senior Prom” is by Murry Gage Wilson, the Beach Boys’ dad, as opposed to another writer with a similar name:

Credited to ‘Murray’ Wilson and Thelma M. Parker via copyright in 1966 (that’s a red flag), the song was released on King Records (as was Bonnie Lou’s version of Murry’s hit ‘Two Step, Side Step‘), and it was originally published by Fort Knox and Trio Music, who had published other Murry songs such as ‘Tabarin‘ (originally called ‘Taber Inn’) and ‘I’m Painting With Teardrops Of Blue.’ When contacted, BMI insisted this is the same Murry Gage Wilson (as his name is listed for this song on the BMI site), so this song made the cut. You be the judge.

Another 45Cat contributor “DeadWax” weighs in on the matter:

Amateur songwriters Murray Wilson & Thelma Parker had previously submitted several songs to a songwriting contest sponsored by the shady MG Productions, Inc., of Nashville, Tenn. “From Kris with Love” was selected and issued on the Kris Arden (a song-poem singer) album.

I’m not sure how one of their songs was selected for this King release, possibly via Lee Hazen who handled recording and the mastering department at King Records in 1966. Lee Hazen was previously with Bob Quimby’s National Songwriter’s Guild, a flourishing Florida song-poem company.

Charles Vickers (King 45-6128) and Rayna Leggett (King 45-6026) came to King Records thanks to Lee Hazen.

Written by Thelma Parker and Murr(a)y Wilson

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Kay Armen & The Ray Charles Singers at King Records

Charmin’ Kay Armen

I’m not sure if my dad’s LP collection included the lushly-produced sounds of *The Ray Charles Singers, although it well may have. The group’s 1969 album Slices of Life includes a couple of classic “easy listening” tracks, including their arrangement of Sonny Curtis’s “Straight Life” (which opens the album) and also their rousing version of Bobby Russell’s “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero.”

Imagine my surprise to discover that this “other” Ray Charles is yet another “music name” whose early career included a stint at King Records. In September of 1951, during a period where King made an effort to expand into more mainstream pop, Federal Records released a Kay Armen 45 on which the Armenian-American vocalist is backed by The Ray Charles Singers on one of the tracks. 45Cat contributor, Myles Mendoza posted this comment about Federal #14002:

The A side of this single “Just In Case” is a potent romantic ballad about a broken romance. The American singer/actress Kay Armen delivers it with conviction, and she is joined on the track by the Ray Charles Singers, who are well to the fore.

The Tinkle Song” is fortunately much better than its awful title. It is a joyous quasi-novelty up-tempo paean to life, with smart lyrics which emphasize the importance of always having a positive attitude. Kay Armen’s feisty performance is enhanced by the scintillating and quite unusual arrangement. Either side of this single could have been a sizeable hit, but in the event neither even dented the U.S. Hot 100.

But wait = if you poke around a little further, you discover that Federal’s previous 45 release #14001 was the same Kay Armen A side “Just In Case” although paired with a different-though-equally-quirky flip side, “Come On A My House” – according to Variety, the original version of the song made famous by Rosemary Clooney. Here is an excerpt from Variety’s appreciation of Kay Armen:

Armenuhi Manoogian, known as “Charmin’ Kay Armen” during her career, was born in Chicago to Armenian parents; her father was a professional wrestler known as the Terrible Turk, and her brother became a professional wrestler known as [1941 National Wrestling Association world heavyweight chamption] Bobby Managoff.

On radio, Armen starred on the Bert Parks-hosted hit quiz show “Stop the Music” and on “Life With Luigi.” Playwright William Saroyan and her cousin, Ross Bagdasarian (creator of the Chipmunks), wrote “Come On-a My House” for Armen, and Rosemary Clooney later became identified with the song.

If you poke around some more, you find a couple other King releases with Ray Charles in differently-named configurations, for example The Ray Charles Quintet, also from 1951, or The Ray Charles Choir on this 1952 release.

Come On-A My House

Kay Armen & The Ray Charles Singers

Streaming audio of “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” by The Ray Charles Singers is not yet available on YouTube, though here is a charming live clip of Bing Crosby & Glen Campbell performing the song:

*Historical footnote

*No relation to the legendary composer/singer/musician, Ray Charles, yet another major talent who has a King connection (like John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, and Keter Betts) at the very early stages of his career. via Henry Stone‘s King-distributed Rockin’ label.

Dec. 1952

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Cover Versions & King Records

Riding the Coattails

King Records makes a prominent appearance in the introduction to Cover Me – The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time by Ray Padgett, founder/editor of the blog, Cover Me

Excerpt

The phrase “cover song” came out of this era, just after World War II. The first mention of the phrase in the leading music industry magazine Billboard comes in 1949. In a discussion of current country music hits, Billboard writes, “The original disking of Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me, cut for King by Wayne Raney, has hit 250,000, and versions are now available on all major labels.” They then continue on to another song: “Another King disk, Blues Stay Away From Me by the Delmore Brothers, is close to 125,000 in six weeks, and the other companies have just begun to cover the tune.”

What do they mean by “cover” here? It’s not really what we mean today. We think of musicians, not companies, covering songs. The key comes in the preceding sentence: “versions are now available on all major labels.” In the era when customers were more likely to request something they heard on the radio by song title rather than by artist, labels would rush out song-alike copies of popular hits. These labels tried to hoodwink a listener who heard a hit song on the radio into mistakenly buying a copycat version by their own artist. A “cover” back then was a trick, a con on the listener.

To stick with the Billboard example, within months of Raney releasing his wonderfully titled 1949 hit “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,” his label’s competitors had their own artists record similar versions. They rushed these “covers” onto shelves, and stores would sell whichever version they had in stock. Some big hits could earn the backhanded compliment of up to a dozen copycat covers hitting the market within weeks. The five-and-dime store chain Woolworth’s even had its own record label churning out copycat covers to sell cheaply in its stores. A cover song only existed to ride the coattails of someone else’s hit.

Why is this King 78 parked inside a Varsity Records sleeve?

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Tonni Kalash on King Records:

Pre-Herb Alpert

Curious to learn more about the path that led trumpeter Tonni Kalash (born in San Francisco) to King Records, where he recorded his one and only release as a solo artist in 1962, “The Boss” — a guitar instrumental accented with trumpet flourishes — backed with “Shuckin’,” a Latin-flavored instrumental that would not have sounded out of place on a Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass album (Alpert’s debut LP, in fact, was released that same year).

The Boss

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How fascinating that Kalash would later end up joining Herb Alpert’s outfit as second trumpet. This live review from the Sep 9, 1967 issue of RPM shows what a lonely road it must have been to serve in that capacity:

On the other hand, almost too little attention is given to Tonni Kalash who has the demanding job of matching Alpert on the trumpet note for note in such intricate routines as their ‘Zorba the Greek’ and makes it look effortless.

The musician credits on this 4-cassette Phil Spector anthology says that Tonni Kalash played trumpet on every session for the first three cassettes, a period that covers that late 1950s through the mid-1960s.

Shuckin’

Tonni Kalash

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Hilariously, “The Boss” would be retitled “The Surf” for King’s 1964 LP release Look Who’s Surfin’ Now!.

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Mattie O’Neal & Salty Holmes at King Records

With Jerry Byrd and Tommy Jackson

In the course of poking around the King catalog, I came across a delightful 78 called “Stuck With Love” that features the vocalist Mattie O’Neal trading lines with Salty Holmes and his “talking” harmonica. Backing musicians include Jerry Byrd on steel guitar and Tommy Jackson on fiddle (recently celebrated here). This same Apr 11, 1951 recording session at King Studios (possibly produced by Henry Glover) also yielded “The Hiccough Song” which is not on YouTube, unfortunately.

Stuck With Love

Mattie O’Neal & Salty Holmes

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Later that same year “Mattie, Martha & Minnie” — Mattie O’Neal, Martha Carson & Minnie Amburgey — did a one-off recording session for King that produced three songs (one of them unissued, sitting in the King vaults). Major thanks to the person at the 78 RPM website who contributed this fascinating biographical tidbit:

Here for the only time on record are the three Amburgey sisters, known as The Sunshine Sisters. Mattie (Opal) played banjo, Martha (Irene) played guitar, Minnie (Bertha) played fiddle. Mattie went on to join her husband, Salty Holmes, in a successful duo as Matty & Salty, and as a solo performer Matty O’Neil, subsequently as rockabilly singer Jean Chapel. Martha became Martha Carson, with a long career as a recording and TV star. Minnie, the lone survivor at 94, gave up a musical career to be a mother/wife. Also – the husband of Mattie, i.e., Salty Holmes, was a competent string bass player, as well as being a top harmonicist, and it is his string bass that can be heard on this record.

Backing musicians on this sole King session again include Jerry Byrd and Tommy Jackson. Worth noting that the King recording session notes compiled by Michel Ruppli incorrectly identify “Minnie” as Minnie Pearl, who did a single recording session for King in 1946 with backing from Pee Wee King’s group, the Golden West Cowboys.

Finally, in addition to Salty Holmes and his “talking” harmonica, I also discovered that Teddy Phillips & His Orchestra did a recording session in NYC on Dec. 3, 1951 that included a song called “The Laughing Saxophone” (also likely produced by Henry Glover). This song, too, is not available for preview on YouTube.

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Hank Thompson & Curly Chalker

And The King Records Connection

Steel guitarist Curly Chalker made some of his first recordings during the early rock era. After a couple studio sessions with Lefty Frizzell in 1951, Chalker then joined up with Hank Thompson for a brief stint. You may be wondering, where do Hank Thompson and Curly Chalker intersect with King Records history?

Believe it or not, Hank Thompson recorded the biggest R&B hit of 1951 that was at the same time banned from radio airplay practically everywhere, according to Jon Hartley Fox. Curiously, you won’t find this King cover in any official Hank Thompson release on Capitol or Dot where he spent most of his career. Thanks to the release in 1990 (in the UK) of a set of transcription recordings intended for radio – an album entitled ‘Previously Unreleased 1952 Air Shots’ – we now know that Hank Thompson & His Brazos Valley Boys once recorded a version of “Sixty Minute Man“!

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How fascinating to hear one of R&B’s more risque song lyrics coming out of the mouth of a country singer who is notable for his crisp, clear enunciation (the ‘Dean of Diction‘). Adding an additional layer of mystery and intrigue is the political context that led to these recordings’ very existence, as documented in the liner notes on the rear cover:

Rear cover notes

The selections on this album were recorded in 1952 for the Office of Price Stabilization, an organization set up during World War Two to hold prices constant on consumer goods. It was recommended during the Korean War and was finally vetoed by the Republicans when they returned to power in 1952.

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Slim Redman, The Cackle Sisters &

Other King Custom Pressings

Thanks to the liner notes from an import box set called From Boppin’ Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly, I know that Slim Redman’s one and only 45 was recorded at King Studios in 1953 but released on tiny little Flip, the label’s sole release. 45Cat tells me that Slim Redman’s 45 is a “King custom pressing.”

Look at the bottom of the screen of the Slim Redman record, though, and you will see a link to a special list of over 900 King Records custom pressings compiled by 45Cat contributor “DeadWax”!

The link above organizes the 958 items by date, but you can also re-order the set by artist or label name (see links near the top of the page). The oldest items here include releases on the Glory gospel label that was owned by Henry Stone but distributed by King. This set of 958 items includes other labels distributed by King, such as Willow, Beltone, Fairlane, 4 Star, Bethlehem, and a revamped Queen and DeLuxe.

One artist name that caught my eye = The Cackle Sisters Mary and Cathy, whose 1960 single was a King custom press:

Call My Name” (1960)

The Cackle Sisters Mary & Cathy

Incredibly, The Cackle Sisters are perhaps better known as The DeZurik Sisters, whose “Arizona Yodeler” from 1939 is a yodeling tour de force. One of country music’s early female stars via WLS’s National Barn Dance, the DeZurik Sisters also performed on WLW’s Midwestern Hayride along with Ernie Lee, Judy Perkins, and Kenny Roberts, according to Hillbilly-Music.com:

Arizona Yodeler” (1939)

The DeZurik Sisters

Q = Is it fair to assume that many/most of these 958 singles were work-for-hire jobs done by King under the name Royal Plastics Corporation?

When you pull up Royal Plastics in Discogs and then order the items by date, note that the oldest item is a 1952 single (“Chango”) by Mongo Santamaria’s Afro-Cuban Drum Beaters.

Other King Custom Press 45s that caught my eye —

Tony on GuamTao Tao Guam” (1957)

Tom TweelA Thinking Man’s Song” (1959)

Rusty York and the Kentucky Mountain Boys (1960 EP)

Chickie’s Chicks = Punkin, Peeper & Poochie (1961)

Sonny Flaharty

AUDIO LINK for “Teenage War Chant” (1961)

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Little Woo Woo & the Moroccos

The Big Swim” (1962)

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Buddy [Durham] & Hardrock [Gunter]

Hillbilly Twist” (1962)

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Harvey Hurt

Big Dog Little Dog” (1965)

Included on Great Rockers from Cincinnati

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“Rock Love” vs. “God’s Love”

Secular Song Adapted for Gospel Audiences

Rock Love” – written by Henry Glover for Lula Reed and recorded at King Studios on Nov. 29, 1954 – was subsequently adapted for gospel audiences as “God’s Love” by The Speer Family and released as the A-side of their debut RCA 45 in April 1955. I know it’s not unusual for gospel songs to be retooled for secular audiences, but how often has the reverse happened in the pop marketplace, as in the case of “God’s Love”?

Notes Arnold Shaw in Honkers and Shouters in his chapter about King Records entitled “Record Company in an Icehouse” —

“Rock Love” was another important [Henry] Glover copyright, converted into a pop hit by The Fontaine Sisters on Dot during the period when white artists were ripping off incipient R & B hits.

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Duke Hampton & His Orchestra:

A Family Affair

Too little is known about bandleader/conductor/arranger Duke Hampton, who recorded exactly one session for King Records. The Indiana Historical Society has the following info:

Clarke F.DeaconHampton organized his children into Deacon Hampton’s Family Band while they lived in Ohio. In 1938 the Hamptons settled back in Indianapolis. They later became The Duke Hampton Band and played swing-style music. They disbanded in the late 1940s and formed their own groups or did solo acts. Slide Hampton, playing the trombone, had a prolific career as a composer, arranger, and performer. Sisters Virtue, Aletra, and Carmalita formed a trio.

(image courtesy of The Indiana Historical Society)

Michel Ruppli’s King recording session notes contain the following information —

Duke Hampton & His Orchestra – April 7, 1953 – Cincinnati’s King Studios

The Push” & “Please Be Good To Me” + 5 unreleased songs:

  • Red Riding Hood Blues
  • Nasty Man Blues
  • Stomp Your Feet
  • Sweet Stuff
  • He’s Mine

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Images of this rare King 78 are nearly impossible to find on the web, although thankfully, Archive.org has streaming audio as well as a high-res image. Access on YouTube is a little more cumbersome, as “Please Be Good To Me” is the fourth track on the Rare Blues Girls From King LP, and therefore, the clip must be advanced to the 8:15 mark.

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Musicians credits, according to the Rare Blues Girls From King album —

Alto Saxophone = Aletra Kerley & Thomas Badger
Baritone Saxophone = Carmalita Hampton
Bass = Dawn Hampton
Drums = Calvin Shields
Piano = Virtue Whitted
Tenor Saxophone = MarcusLuckyHampton
Trombone = Harry Bell & Slide Hampton
Trumpet = Billy Brooks, Ild Ferguson, Leo Cornett & Russell Hampton
Vocals = Aletra Hampton
Writer/composer = Duke Hampton

The Push” was included on a special 1961 French compilation of King recordings entitled Ténor Sax Parade that was released on the Odeon label.

Rear cover

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Touched by a Federal 45:

Freddy King‘s Outsized Impact on Eric Whatsisname

A single Federal 45 had a profound effect on 17-year-old Eric Clapton, during his days with Tom McGuinness in a group called The Roostersexcerpt from Clapton’s 2007 autobiography:

The Roosters were a tiny outfit, with virtually no equipment. Guitar, vocals, keyboard all went through one amplifier. We had no proper transport, just Robin [Mason, drummer]’s Morris Oxford convertible, into which we had to pile all our equipment as well as ourselves, ownership of the car giving him a certain amount of power in the band. We met for rehearsals in a room above a pub somewhere in Surbiton. I would come up from Ripley and plug my guitar into Tom’s amplifier, and we would just learn things, mostly blues and R&B covers. We taught ourselves a couple of Chuck Berry songs, ‘Short Fat Fanny’ by Larry Williams, and some stuff by Muddy Waters. The most significant event for me was when Tom one day brought out a record by black artist Freddy King, a 45 rpm instrumental called ‘Hide Away‘ that he was mad about. I’d never heard Freddy King before, and listening to him had an effect on me similar to what I might feel if I were to meet an alien from outer space. It simply blew my mind.

On the B-side of ‘Hide Away’ was ‘I Love the Woman,’ which had a guitar solo in the middle of it that took my breath away. It was like listening to modern jazz, expressive and melodic, a unique kind of playing in which he bent the strings and produced sounds that gave me the shivers. It was absolutely earth-shattering for me, like a new light for me to move toward. Up until that moment I had always thought of guitar playing as little more than an accompaniment to the singing, except in one or two rare cases that I had always noticed and wondered where the players were coming from.

Later, as a member of The Yardbirds, Clapton acquires his dream instrument:

Though The Yardbirds weren’t yet in the big-money league, we were making enough for me to buy my first really serious guitar, a cherry red Gibson ES-335, the instrument of my dreams, of which the Kay had been but a poor imitation. Throughout my life I chose a lot of my guitars because of the other people who played them, and this was like the one Freddy King played. It was the first of a new era of guitars, where were thin and semi-acoustic. They were both a “rock guitar” and a “blues guitar,” which you could play, if necessary, without amplification and still hear them.

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In the UK, “Hide Away” was issued on Parlophone. A contributor on the 45Cat website posted this rather dramatic (and hilarious) review of the “Hideaway” single by future “Shindig” TV show producer, Jack Good, from the 13 May 1961 edition of Disc magazine:

May we have a deafening fanfare of hooting saxophones followed by complete and absolute hush? Thank you. I, Jack Good, have just heard the best record of 1961. It doesn’t appear in either the British or American charts, but it is destined to be number one in both.

If not, I’m definitely, but definitely, going to hang up my rock ‘n’ roll shoes.

To the unsuspecting eye, this disc looks like any other. In fact, I believe its outward appearance is deliberately deceiving. The title on the Parlophone label fails miserably to inspire in me a whoop of wild abandon.

It reads ‘Hide Away‘ – calling to mind Hernando’s rather square establishment – and the artist’s credit goes to ‘Freddy King and His Orchestra.’ Sounds like one of those high society Hawaiian jobs. Very tasteful. This, I say to myself, is going to be a fully paid-up-Nothing.

But Ker-DOI-OI-OI-OI-OI-ING!!!

Readers we are in orbit.

The ‘orchestra‘ turns out to consist of piano, Fender bass, drums, and guitar. No signs of a conductor. But, sisters and brothers, what a sound!

To get the full benefit of the spine-quivering rumble of the bass, play this on a good speaker with a big fat bass response. Guaranteed to rid yourselves of neighbours faster than the plague.

On a juke box that’s in good condition ‘Hide Away’ is the living end. It goes at a medium paced raunchy rocking tempo — great for dancing.

Incorporated in the number are the themes of erstwhile hits ‘The Walk’ and ‘Peter Gunn.’ Guitar lead is out of this world, likewise bass and piano and drums.

But wait! It has another side. I flipped it, and it flipped me.

A slow blues with a vocal – presumably by Mr. Freddy King. On the strength of this one title, this vocalist becomes of my all-time favourites.

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Touched by a Federal 45:

Lou Reed & “The Bells” by Billy Ward & the Dominoes

Anthony DeCurtis‘s 2017 biography Lou Reed – A Life connects the dots in this excerpt from page 263:

The album’s title nicely gets at the extremes Reed was always attempting to bridge. ‘The Bells‘ was a highly dramatic early fifties R&B single by Billy Ward and the Dominoes (with the great Clyde McPhatter on lead vocals) and was later covered by James Brown. Reed doubtless knew both versions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘The Bells’ is also the title of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most wildly obsessional poems.

FYI, Cash Box picked “The Bells” b/w “Pedal Pushin’ Papa” for “Award o’ the Week” on Dec. 20, 1952, making mention of the A-side’s “unusual” sound and potential for the disc to “go crazy in sales and plays.” “The Bells” ended up hitting #3 on Billboard‘s R&B chart, while “Pedal Pushin’ Papa” peaked at #4.

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Touched by a King 78:

Led Zeppelin & “Train Kept A-Rollin’

Excerpt from Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography by Chris Salewicz

The YardbirdsBlow Up sequence was filmed at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, north of London, doubling for Windsor’s hip Ricky-Tick Club, in the week beginning 6 October 1966. The band played “Stroll On“, as it was called in the film’s credits, the lyrics having been rewritten the previous night by Keith Relf for copyright reasons — in other words, so he could snatch the credit. But it was better known by fans who had experienced the song when rivetingly performed by the Johnny Burnette Trio as “Train Kept A-Rollin’” — the same song that the Yardbirds had recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis the previous year. (Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”, a Yardbirds live favourite, had been first choice, but the idea was shelved when [director] Antonioni decided it lacked the relentless pace he needed for the scene.)

“Train Kept A-Rollin'” would be the very first number that Led Zeppelin would play in their initial rehearsal; in Blow Up the Yardbirds essay an angry, explosive version of the song before a consciously static audience, which includes a young Michael Palin and a dancing, silver-coated Janet Street-Porter.

Excerpt from “50 Years Ago, Led Zeppelin Held Its First Rehearsal: ‘The Whole Room Just Exploded” by Jem Aswad, published in the August 13, 2018 edition of Variety

As the new quartet launched into the R&B chestnut “Train Kept a’Rollin’,” a Yardbirds live staple that the group had recorded in 1965, the chemistry, according to all four members, was instantaneous.

“We first played together in a small room on Gerrard Street, a basement room, which is now Chinatown,” Jones recalled in 1990, according to the band’s website. “There was just wall-to-wall amplifiers, and a space for the door — and that was it. Literally, it was everyone looking at each other, ‘What shall we play?’ Me doing sessions, I didn’t know anything at all. There was an old Yardbirds’ number called ‘Train Kept a’Rollin’.’ The whole room just exploded.

“I could feel that something was happening to myself and to everyone else in the room,” Plant remembered. “It felt like we’d found something that we had to be very careful with because we might lose it, but it was remarkable — the power.”

While no recordings from the rehearsal have surfaced, that first song — which would be the group’s live opener for most of its first year of existence as well as its final tour in 1980, yet was never properly recorded — probably sounded a lot like this performance from San Francisco’s Fillmore West the following April. The arrangement hews to the late-period Yardbirds version — with some honking harmonica by Plant and an uncharacteristically brief but blazing solo from Page — albeit turbocharged by the band’s titanium-strength rhythm section.

At the end, we knew that it was really happening, really electrifying,” Page said. “We went from there to start rehearsals for the album.”

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Eddie Smith Talks On The Record:

Highlights From a Three-Hour Interview

Eddie Smith, who is best known as Chief Engineer at King Studios, started out as an arranger/songwriter who also played piano in Lucky Millinder‘s band. Susan Schmidt Horning‘s three-hour interview with Eddie Smith for the Chasing Sound Oral History Project is made available on the University of Kentucky Libraries website via the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

(image courtesy of Discogs)

  • Smith went to work for Lucky Millinder in 1944/45 as an arranger who “could write like Glenn Miller.”
  • Millinder soon invited Smith to go out on tour – the only white musician in Millinder’s band at that time – staying with the group for perhaps three years.
  • Millinder’s trumpet player, Henry Glover, invited Eddie Smith to be an A&R producer for King.
  • Smith says that Syd Nathan loved to tell about his early days as an entrepreneur owning a jewelry store with an adjoining space used to sell second-hand jukebox discs (with a “partition line” between the two spaces).
  • Animosity between Nathan and early partner, Howard Kessel, led to Kessel being bought out – sometime during/after the success of “Honky Tonk,” says Smith.
  • Eddie Smith began working at King in 1951 and stayed for ten years – says they were able to record three country albums in a day at King Studios due to the bands being so well rehearsed.
  • Smith did arrangement work at King for Bettie Clooney – also, while working at King, Smith played as a musician in Barney Rapp And His New Englanders.
  • King Studios:  1 microphone for vocalists (RCA 44 & 77 ribbon microphones before eventually also getting the Neumann U47 microphone), 1 microphone for rhythm section (guitar, bass, et al.), Altec “stick” microphone for the drums – four microphones in all, generally, to mike all the instruments/vocals.  The Ampex 350 two-track recording console at King did not have any left/right panning ability – thus, mono sound, ultimately.  “Multi channels together to get a monaural sound” — four microphones for four inputs with a master fader.
  • Typically would record electric bass plus a couple electric guitars (with both amps facing each other and a microphone running down the middle along with piano.
  • Smith notes that tape machines were not always reliable when it came to maintaining consistent speed, problems with variable pitch when going from one tape machine to another.  Ampex 350, according to Smith, was the only machine at King that ran “on speed” – in terms of consistency and accuracy of pitch.
  • Smith explained the basic process:  After the recording came the mastering.  Smith would then take the master over to the plating department while the labels were being printed in the print shop.  King employed staff to listen to samples of each batch of to the recordings to check for audio quality. King’s pressing department had perhaps 25 vinyl presses, by Smith’s count – styrene pellets.  King also had a department for breaking apart old records and regrinding them as grist for new vinyl.  Second floor offices at night would turn into a photography studio at night for album covers.  Cut the lacquer (Scully), clean it and spray with silver, put into tank with chemicals, electro-plating process.  Pull that off the plate (reverse image, so to speak – that’s called the ‘strike-off’) in order to make stampers that are used for pressing, at which time the labels go on the discs.  Smith says that King refined the plating process down to about 2 ½ – 3 hours.  Reverse the plate yet again in order to produce the ‘mother’ – a copy of the lacquer.
  • Trivia:  Finger snaps on Hank Ballard’s “Finger Poppin’ Time” were provided by Bill Doggett.
  • Trivia:  Syd Nathan played drums on “Down Yonder” by Eddie Smith & the Chiefs – a King hit that was recorded at half speed (7 ½ IPS) and then played back at 15 IPS for a more ‘excited’ sound.
  • Trivia:  Eddie Smith’s wife once worked as a secretary for Morris Levy.
  • When talking about echo chambers versus tape delay, Smith mentions that “all the Earl Bostic records used tape delay” in the mix.
  • After the takeover of Bethlehem Records, Smith helped with the remastering of Bethlehem’s catalog for reissue, says that he helped add echo to goose up the sound and make the mix less dry – per the trend at the time, although, as Smith noted, the East Coast preferred echo unlike the West Coast who preferred their mixes dry, so separate masters were made for each coast!
  • At one point during the interview, Smith goes to retrieve the manual for the Westrex cutterhead that was shipped from Hollywood to 1540 Brewster Ave. (attention “E. Smith”) and purchased for $100 in 1959 (a “piece of crap” in Smith’s estimation – a stereo cutter that consisted of side-by-side mono cutters cutting at a 45-degree angle (“if you can believe it”).  The problem with the Westrex is that the ball was making a groove in the record.  The cutter design utilized by Grampian (an English company), says Smith, was a better design.
  • During Smith’s era, lathes sometimes functioned as recording devices, pre-tape machines.  Presto and Scully disc-cutters were used at King.
  • Smith says that Larry Scully and Dan Cronin at Bell Sound came up with a lathe design where the grooves would automatically expand during passages of deep bass and then retract during less dynamic moments (variable pitch that changes the number of lines per inch).
  • Smith went on to work at NYC’s renowned Bell Sound, which recorded on an Ampex 350 three-track at the time but then bumped up to four-track when piano duo Ferrante and Teicher wanted their pianos on separate tracks.

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King Records Goes to War:

Country Music Goes to Viet Nam by Charlie Moore & Bill Napier

This hard-to-find King LP from c. 1966 by the beloved bluegrass duo includes “Is This a Useless War” plus “A Soldier’s Prayer” — latter tune written by Gene Redd.

King LP 982

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Radio DJs

A Letter From A&R Director, Gene Redd

45Cat allows you to browse King’s 7-inch releases in chronological order and by catalog number (generally speaking – it’s not perfect) beginning in 1951, when 45s were beginning to supplant 78s. Here’s the link — 2,344 US King 45 releases.

Note the other countries listed at the top of this page — for example, you can click on Jamaica to check out 17 different King releases there.

I was browsing the 1968-69 releases on Keith Murphy‘s behalf (trying to identify the last King blue 45 before the new label owners begin labelling them “distributed by Starday-King”) when I came across this open letter to radio DJs that accompanied the Hank Marr “Down in the Bottom” 45 that was released July 1968, several months after Syd Nathan’s passing:

Pre-Internet A Time of Regional Breakouts

This record has been getting tremendous response, sales-wise and airplay-wise, from various areas of the country; namely, Cleveland, Shreveport, San Francisco, Dallas, Columbus, Cincinnati

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Jukebox Operators

We Thank Ye Mightily

Full-page ad published in the “Christmas” issue of Cash Box shortly after the end of the recording ban on Dec. 14, 1948 in connection with the AFM musicians strike. Ad aimed at jukebox operators, a key vinyl market at that time.

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Still Grateful Four Weeks Later

Half-page ad in Cash Box

Jan. 22, 1949

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1954 =

King Records’ Year of Triumph

BillboardNovember 13, 1954 issue

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Using Vinyl to Sell Soap:

King Records & Laundry Detergent

King Records did at least two laundry soap marketing tie-ins = one involving James Brown (1969) and the other Redd Foxx (1970). Were there others?

Redd Foxx’s Punch detergent promo

Courtesy of Colgate-Palmolive

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Whatever Happened to …

James Brown‘s Famous Desk at King Records?

Shad O’Shea‘s one-of-a-kind guide to navigating the music industry Just For the Record contains a chapter about “Sid” (Nathan) and “Harry” (Carlson) that features a concise and funny history of King Records (“the smoke from these cigars made its lethal way down the old rickety stairs from his office on the second floor to his recording studio and pressing plant”) that received research input/assistance from Randy McNutt and Steven Rosen, I recently rediscovered. This King history in miniature made me wonder anew about the status of Nathan’s legendary desk shaped like a 45 cut in half — check out the final sentences from the Shad O’Shea book:

“On March 5, 1969, gruff-talking, gentle-hearted Sid Nathan died in Cincinnati. His legacy was soon in jeopardy for Starday-King overextended itself and had to sell James Brown’s contract and almost all the equipment in Cincinnati. The only thing that was left inside the office that was once Sid’s was a large circular desk. Sid Nathan owned it, it was his pride and joy, but after his death James Brown put a marble top on it, with a large “J.B.” It sat for years in the dusty abandoned upstairs office…a silent tribute to Sid Nathan…the man who made the music of the “Little People.” The man solely responsible for the acceptance of black music in America, and subsequently around the world.

Syd Nathan at his desk

Ronson lighter fluid in the foreground

In March of 1982 James Brown sent two men to the old building on Brewster Avenue…their mission to pick up the desk…like Sid Nathan, it too is now gone.”

Reading that last sentence made me immediately think of Larry Nager‘s 1997 article for The Cincinnati Enquirer “King Visit Soul Shocks Brown” in which James Brown was devastated to discover that Nathan’s famous desk was no longer at the Brewster building. One certainly gets the feeling that James Brown wishes he could turn back time and have transported Nathan’s desk to a safe place when he had the opportunity to do so.

So at some point in the period between 1968 and 1982, according to Shad O’Shea, that desk was taken somewhere. Google pointed me to Xavier University’s nice King-themed exhibit of high-res images, such as this photo titled ‘The Syd Nathan/James Brown Desk‘ which shows filmmaker Henry S. Rosenthal photographed holding an autographed picture of James Brown while seated behind what I am assuming is Syd’s original desk.

Alternate view

Image courtesy of IMDB

Thank you to William E. Wiatt for pointing me to an article written by Steven Rosen that was originally published in the May 25, 1986 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

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Fun With Freeze Frame:

Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore

Opening image from the 2019 film, Dolemite Is My Name

Note: Tip-off that the Eddie Murphy 45 is a reproduction — record label says Rudy Ray Moore vs the original Federal release where his name is simply Rudy Moore.

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Bonus Cincinnati Music History:

The Isley Brothers From Lincoln Heights

This 1966 UK publication frames Cincinnati as the launching point of The Isley Brothers, famous for their “Twist and Shout” that inspired The Beatles:

Excerpt

The Brothers’ story really started when Ronald, the youngest of the three, jumped out of his pram to enter a spiritual singing contest at his local church in Cincinnati, Ohio [technically, Lincoln Heights]. Three years of age at the time, he won the competition and took home a 25 dollar War Bond.

This Isleys article is from the Nov 1966 issue of Beat Instrumental – the one with Keith Moon on the cover

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Final Bit — Radio History!

King Bluegrass on Washington, DC’s WAMU-FM

In 2019 when PBS first aired the Ken Burns “Country” series, WETA, Washington, DC’s PBS affiliate, produced local country music history segments as a way to use the few remaining minutes left in the hour to feature artists and key figures that were not mentioned in the Burns documentary. One of those DC segments celebrated pioneering musicologist Dick Spottswood, who partnered with Gary Henderson to create the “Bluegrass Unlimited” radio show that launched on American University‘s WAMU in 1967. Spottswood would launch his own show in 1985 and be a DC radio fixture for many years (I once saw him spin 78s in the back room of a Baltimore record & bookstore – his first number was by Chick Webb, a Baltimorean by birth). When Spottswood’s show turned 25, his long-time radio colleague Katy Daley toasted him thusly:

He likes to look to the past but he really has been a pioneer in many fields, including broadcasting. Thanks to Dick Spottswood and Gary Henderson for starting WAMU’s first ‘Bluegrass Unlimited’ radio show on Sunday, July 2, 1967. It’s because of their dedication to public broadcasting that listeners in the Metro Washington area are so knowledgeable about bluegrass history.”

Gary Henderson cueing up a King bluegrass LP

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Dick Spottswood and his wall of 78s

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Both images above courtesy of DC‘s WETA

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Listen to Zero to 180 on the Radio!

LINK to Chris Richardson’s 90-minute interview + 21 songs

Courtesy of Robbie White‘s “Forbidden Alliance” program

WOWD FMTakoma Park, MD

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