Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Smokey And His Sister: Goodbye Cincinnati

The City of Cincinnati might want to consider a lawsuit – what is the statute of limitations on liner notes from an album released 54 years ago? I understand that Hal Halverstadt was merely playing up the difference between “small town” provincialism and “big city” sophistication for dramatic emphasis, but judge for yourself whether Halverstadt, and his employer, Warner Brothers-Seven Arts, are liable for lost tourism revenue that Cincinnati would have enjoyed had the creator of these liner notes hadn’t depicted “The Queen City” as culturally ossified (and unjustifiably so, some would argue, given that Crosley Field would be the sight of Iggy Pop‘s infamous peanut butter incident just two years after the album’s release).

Released 1968

All selections written by Smokey (a.k.a. Larry Mims)

Rear cover

Liner notes by Hal Halverstadt (below)

1948 and Smokey was born, without fanfare, in the vacuum of stodgy sentimentality and middle-European conservatism that is Cincinnati. His sister, Viki, was already two years old, but she professes no recollection of the event. She does, however, remember well their growing up together — acquiescing to the touted beauties of the Ohio River and the picturesque hills of the city, becoming aware that Cincinnati is noted for a surplus of sausage, attending school, and listening to the radio.
A child of the rock-and-roll boom, Smokey [Mims] was eight years old when Fats Domino tore up the North of America with “I’m In Love Again,” nine when Elvis was “All Shook Up,” ten when The Champs preceded psychedelia by a decade with “Tequila,” eleven when Dee Dee Sharp proclaimed it was “Mashed Potato Time,” twelve when Chubby Checker turned himself out with [his version of the original King hit] “The Twist,” and thirteen when a raggedy-haired Bob Dylan arrived in New York’s Greenwich Village, to germinate … and to send out signals.

Lest there be any doubt

Leaving Cincinnati was on Smokey’s mind almost from the day he heard the Dylan story and was exposed to his music. Preconditioned by the Beatles’ nonconformity (Smokey was going on fifteen when they first appeared on the Sullivan show), he found Dylan reacted on him like the flash of a million strobe lights. When he was seventeen, he met and talked with Dylan after a local concert. The meeting put Smokey’s head together, or, as he puts it, “Dylan just opened up my brain.”
School or a regular job — Smokey had tried working as an assistant clerk in a haberdashery — were no longer possible. The signals were coming in strong: The Kinks jamming with “All Day And All of the Night,” The McCoys imploring Sloopy to “Hang On,” the late Sam Cooke working out on “Shake, Shake, Shake,” The Beatles rolling on with “Eight Days a Week.”
On Christmas Day, 1965, Smokey’s parents gave their son a guitar — nothing special but good enough for Smokey to teach himself the rudiments of chording from Jerry Silverman lesson books, which he discarded after being able to pick out “And I Love Her” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret.” Before long, Smokey discovered that he had a genuine knack for writing, and even though he admits his first tunes weren’t much, he learned from Donovan, Turtles, Sonny and Cher, and The Beach Boys, all exciting Smokey further and giving him fresh insight into his own work. Finally Smokey came up with two songs that he thought were saleable. Saleable, however, meant New York.
New York City is *675 miles from Cincinnati [634 miles by current calculations] — **sixteen and a half hours by bus [today, only 9 hours and change]; a long day hitchhiking, with luck; and in regards to Where It’s At, light years away. Smokey arrived, made a demonstration record of one of his songs, wandered around Times Square, brushed shoulders with the Brill Building, and decided that selling music was not as easy as he had thought. He took a bus back to Cincinnati.

Image courtesy of Discogs

In the next few months, Smokey’s songs came into clear focus, developed into the soft and dreamy, whispered and enveloping style that is his special trademark — often visual lyrics coupled with hauntingly melodic tunes, the whole superimposed over an unusual , almost beatless structure. Now eighteen, he decided to try New York again, this time with Viki, although leaving her behind to finance the trip with a $25-a-week babysitting job. Two months later, after refusing to accept the advice of music publishers that he go back to Cincinnati (“Forget it, kid, you gotta have the Beat!”), Smokey was signed – with Viki – to Columbia Records.
The day after Viki arrived in New York, Smokey And His Sister cut four tunes — Smokey singing lead in his best voice with harmony provided by Viki in her flattish-fullish country alto. One of the songs was their first single, a gentle, lulling tune called “Creators of Rain.” It prompted Crawdaddy magazine to write – “This record is important because it honestly unshrouds another by-product of the [rock] renaissance: the emergence of recording as an artistic medium. Smokey is a Recording Artist, as opposed to being a performer whose work is reproduced on record….”
Cincinnati may still have a surplus of sausage, but it no longer has Smokey and His Sister. At nineteen and twenty-one years of age, they have become children of New York City. They live and work in separate apartments, Smokey writing songs and poetry, and painting; Viki, an addict of paperbacks and late movies on television. Now artists on the Warner Bros.-Seven Arts label, they wait patiently for the release of this, their first album.

James Brown at Cincinnati’s King Studios

Smokey & His Sister left town just as things were starting to heat up

(Image courtesy of Discogs)

It is not hard to spot Smokey and His Sister. You can find them in the shoulder-to-shoulder hubbub of the Village, or rummaging through the patchwork of shops on the Lower East Side, or looking for all the world like Alice and the White Rabbit as they move through the smudged and fingerprinted corridors of the music world, or just hanging around.
They are 675 miles, sixteen and a half hours by bus, a long day hitchhiking, and light years from Cincinnati. But musically and spiritually, they are home free.

– Hal Halverstadt

[Director of Merchandising, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts]

Sausalito Bay

< 2,370 miles from Cincinnati >

Why does this story sound familiar? Oh yes, Scott Walker would sing a similar narrative the following year with the autobiographical “Lights of Cincinnati” (albeit ghost-written by Geoff Stephens and Tony Macaulay), in which the singer tries to sever his relationship with the Queen City in search of a new life, presumably in London [flight distance from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Heathrow Airport: 3,962 miles], and yet, finds the allure of his familiar hometown (“the willows and the pines”) hard to resist.

1969 EP

Singapore

*

If It Pleases The Court:

Cincinnati’s Roots Rock Bona Fides

Billboard, Cash Box & Record World Covers

A steady tenant of The Billboard‘s most played and best selling folk-record charts is Cowboy Copas”

Cowboy Copas flanked here by Syd Nathan and WSM’s Harry Stone — caption text notes that Copas, who just signed ten-year contracts with both King Records and the Grand Ole Opry, stands next to an “80-year-old hunk of hemp” backstage at the Opry theater.

Aug 21, 1948

Cover text references Hank Williams‘ smash hit “Love Sick Blues” as well as his latest single “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” — both songs (along with “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry“) were recorded at Cincinnati’s Herzog Studios at a time before Nashville, the world-famous recording capital, had its music industry in place.

Dec 31, 1949

Little Esther, pictured here with future King Records West Coast A&R producer, Johnny Otis, would be signed the following year to Federal Records — link to Little Esther’s 78s discography.

July 1, 1950

The Dominoes (featuring Billy Ward) were riding high with “Have Mercy Baby,” no doubt helped along the charts by the momentum of the previous year’s smash “Sixty Minute Man” — link to The Dominoes’ 78s discography.

Sep 20, 1952

Just a few months after this photo of The 5Royales with Bess Berman of Apollo Records was taken, the group would be signed to King Records, where its best-known songs (aside from “Baby Don’t Do It“) were recorded — link to The 5 Royales’ 78s discography.

Feb 6, 1954

The Midnighters (featuring Hank Ballard), the group that struck commercial pay dirt for Federal Records with their ‘Annie’ trilogy [“Sexy Ways” + “Work With Me Annie” + “Annie Had a Baby“], were also voted the #1 R&B artist of 1954.

Oct 16, 1954

Bill Doggett Trio (Clifford Scott, Billy Butler & Shep Shepherd) and Syd Nathan, pictured here riding the tailwind of runaway hit “Honky Tonk (Pts. 1 & 2)” a Henry Glover-produced recording that may or may not have sold 4 million copies (a trade secret that remains private, since Nathan refused to join the Record Industry Association of America, who certifies record sales) — more info here.

Nov 24, 1956

Mickey Baker & Sylvia Robinson, whose star first rose with “Love Is Strange” would later enjoy their own King-distributed subsidiary label called Willow in 1961-62 (as well as the solid backing of session drumming legend, Bernard Purdie) — more info here.

Apr 6, 1957

Annual music operators poll issue — cover photos includes Bill Doggett and Little Willie John.

May 25, 1957

Hank Ballard, enjoying success from “Finger Poppin’ Time” and soon-to-be early rock era classic “Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go,” with Syd Nathan.

Sep 24, 1960

James Brown, as the cover story on page three notes, becomes the first solo artist to sell out Madison Square Garden.

Apr 2, 1966

Recipient of the previous year’s Grammy for Best R&B Recording for “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” James Brown keeping the forward momentum with recent recording, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

May 7, 1966

James Brown, having been awarded a Gold Record for his classic funk composition, “Cold Sweat,” is back on the cover.

Oct 28, 1967

Cover story on page thirty-six about James Brown Productions (with offices in New York and Cincinnati, and assets that include four publishing companies and at least one radio station) references Marva Whitney‘s debut recording “Unwind Yourself” and Bobby Byrd‘s recent collaboration with James BrownYou’ve Got to Change Your Mind,” as well as funk instrumental “Bringing Up the Guitar” by a new group called The Dapps.

Feb 24, 1968

Salute to “bubblegum” hit factory, Buddah Records, whose roster at the time included Oxford/Cincinnati band, The Lemon Pipers, whose big hit “Green Tambourine” can be seen in this video clip performed on the set of beloved kiddie show, Uncle Al (broadcast live on Cincinnati’s CBS TV affiliate) where youngsters from the Ohio Valley area experienced the thrill of seeing themselves and their friends on television.

Mar 2, 1968

James Brown shares the cover of the February 18, 1969 issue of Look, which boldly asks, “Is he the important important black man in America?”

Cover story on James Brown, recipient of B’nai B’rith’s Humanitarian Award (and photographed with Burt Bacharach and Hal David) — includes excerpts of letters of support from such notables as Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and newly-elected Congressional representative, Shirley Chisholm.

Jun 7, 1969

King Records’ biggest recording star most likely riding the success of latest hit “Hot Pants” released in June 1971 on King subsidiary label, People, that was established solely for James Brown productions — link to People 45s discography.

Jul 31, 1971

Special Bonus!

Full-Page Ads From Record World

James Brown: 1966-1970

Cincinnati as base of operations

Mar 12, 1966

Two-page ad

April 2, 1966

May 21, 1966

June 4, 1966

August 13, 1966

November 19, 1966

January 21, 1967

March 11, 1967

March 25, 1967

May 13, 1967

August 12, 1967

September 2, 1967

November 4, 1967

December 30, 1967

March 2, 1968

June 1, 1968

Two-page ad

July 20, 1968

July 27, 1968

Two-page ad

December 28, 1968

Two-page ad

May 24, 1969

Multi-page ad

LP features Cincinnati’s Dee Felice Trio

July 19, 1969

Two-page ad

August 16, 1969

Two-page ad

November 29, 1969

January 3, 1970

April 18, 1970

July 25, 1970

August 22, 1970

*

Epilogue

Copyright Conundrum:

ASCAP’s Administrative Blunder?

Smokey and His Sister’s debut single for Columbia “Creators of Rain” (released January 1967) would peak at #121 for its one and only week on the pop chart, despite Columbia’s promotional muscle. Of greater concern, however, lies with the authorship of “Creators of Rain” and the evidence that has been uncovered ten years ago — thanks to the hive mind at 45Cat — indicating that “the ASCAP database erroneously credits the songwriting to Ian and Sylvia Tyson who recorded a cover (on orders from Columbia chief Clive Davis) that was issued as a single in 1971.”

Creators of Rain” = a “breaking-through” hit

Billboard ad – March 25, 1967

Thanks (yet again) to Tom Avazian, who one day pressed an album into my hands.

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