39 ago this week the City of Miami hosted Super Bowl X. The game matched the defending champions Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
It was a classic.
Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw connected with Lynn Swann for a 64 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to take a 21-10 lead. Less than two minutes later, Roger Staubach lead a Cowboys touchdown drive to pull within four points with less than two minutes to go in regulation. Then the Cowboys recovered a fumble and with 18 seconds left, the ball at the Steelers 38 yard line, Staubach tried to pass it to Drew Pearson for the win. But the ball was intercepted at the 2 yard line by safety Glen Edwards.
Game over. Steelers won 21-17. Later than night, approximately 20 miles north, a party took place.
Sunny Isles, a town located in North Miami Beach known then for its beach front hotels and steady mix of wise guys, tourists, and rock stars (e.g, occasional visitors included Eric Clapton and Jim Morrison), was home to The Swinger Nite (sic) Club inside the Marco Polo Hotel. The Swinger opened in 1971 and had no trouble living up to its swanky name. Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Chubby Checker, Sister Sledge were just a few of the artists to play gigs there.
On Monday, January 19, 1976, Miami soul singer Betty Wright aka Miami’s First Lady of Soul, fresh off her fourth album, performed at The Swinger.
Discovered by Deep City Records co-founders Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall at the age of 15, Wright’s career took off fast. She had her first hit in 1968 (“Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do”), her first chart topper in 1971 (“Clean Up Woman”) and by the mid 1970s, she was global, so her coming back home to play at a club in Sunny Isles was as rare as seeing Steeler fans doing the Hustle.
Below is a news clipping from the Miami Herald that was published 39 years ago today about this Betty Wright performance that brought together an unlikely yet fortunate “overflow crowd of disco freaks and Steeler fans.”
Disco freaks and hardcore football fans? Only Betty Wright could manage this.
This is the hit song that Betty Wright closed with that January night. The song won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1976:
End Note: The Marco Polo survived. Today its a condo-hotel known as the Aventura Beach Club with the hotel operation managed by Ramada (Ramada Plaza Marco Polo Beach Resort.)
A couple of award-winning documentary filmmakers and an avid art collector & philanthropist have teamed up to produce a very charming documentary about the first black-owned record production company in Florida: Deep City Records. Deep City operated in Miami from about 1964 to 1968. It was founded by two friends who first got the idea to make records when they were college mates at Florida A&M. Willie Clarke was the creative; Johnny Pearsall was the entrepreneur. They enlisted the multi-talented Clarence Reid and the three of them set the course for Miami’s special contribution to the soul music landscape of the 1960s.
Deep City recorded local musicians, many of them native Miamians culled from the churches of Liberty City and the night clubs of Overtown, while others were transplants from Jacksonville, Georgia, Arkansas, and other far away places. The record label released songs by Helene Smith, Betty Wright, Them Two, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers, Freda Gray, and Johnny Killens & The Dynamites, to name a few. Local R&B legend Little Beaver played guitar on some of Deep City’s deepest cuts.
The film, titled Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound, had its world premiere last night at the SXSW [South by Southwest] Festival in Austin, Texas.
Next stop on the festival circuit is Miami where this Friday, March 14th, the movie will have its Florida debut at the Miami International Film Festival (8:30 PM, Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center). Tickets for the film can be purchased here.
Long Play Miami is honored to be among the first to receive a copy of the movie’s trailer, and, with the filmmakers’ permission, shares it here for all music and film fans to enjoy.
Read the previous Long Play Miami post on the making of the film from January 2013.
A few weeks ago Little Beaver agreed to let me take some photos of him for this site. This was our second meeting.
During our first meeting back in December, when I asked if I could invite my friend Joe to photograph our interview, he refused. Next time, he promised.
So when he agreed, he was simply honoring his word.
I headed to his home in Opa-locka on a Friday afternoon in January with my wife’s Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, a swivel desk lamp with a 60 watt light bulb, and an extension cord.
In his living room I set up the lamp on his coffee table, connected it to a nearby socket, and swivel-aimed the light towards him while he sat down on his bar stool.
Do you want me to wear my Little Beaver glasses?
Before I could say yes, he was already reaching for a pair of shades folded on top of the bar.
And so began the first-ever Long Play Miami photo shoot.
I then asked him if he could get his guitar.
You mean, Katie Pearl?
I thought you’d want me to.
I’ll be right back.
Little Beaver strummed the guitar for a bit. And then, the strumming flowed into a familiar tune as he began playing his famous guitar track from the 1971 Betty Wright classic, Clean Up Woman.
After he put away his guitar, I sat down on the couch and we talked for awhile, about mundane things like the weather (“I was a little nippy this morning… 39 degrees.”) to far less mundane things like whether he’d ever play in public again (“You know, when you don’t play, you get rusty…”).
Then he remembered something he wanted to show me. He left the room for a minute and returned with a photograph that was mailed to him by his friend Lawrence Watson from Forrest City, Arkansas, where he grew up.
I was maybe 15-16 yrs old.
[That was] Some juke… some little hole in the wall. See the snare drum sitting on the chair?
We were ‘wood-sheddin.’
(That’s Watson on the far left with the bass guitar and of course, that’s Beaver – with the shades.)
As the daylight began to fade, I asked if I could take a couple of photos of him outside. This idea didn’t seem to sit well. There was a moment of hesitation in the way he remained on the bar stool.
But then he just said yes and we walked out the front door.
In the late afternoon sun, Little Beaver stood in the space between the corner of the façade and a half-shuttered window. Occasionally he’d look to either side of him. He wanted to make sure none of the neighbors were watching.
Because, as he has told me before,…
Willie “Little Beaver” Hale doesn’t like ‘all that fuss.’
Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami
It’s the blue house with the maroon van parked out front.
Willie “Little Beaver” Hale is giving me directions to his home three days before our scheduled interview. Beaver, as he prefers to be called, has finally agreed to sit down with Long Play Miami; it took almost a year. Even after this phone call, I have some doubt. He has stood me up in the past.
On the morning of the interview I call him to confirm our appointment but he doesn’t return the call. Rather than wait and lose another opportunity I head over there, to Opa-locka, Florida, to find the blue house with the maroon van.
I arrive at his home about 45 minutes later. A chain link fence along the perimeter of the property stands between me and the blue house. The front gate is secured with a pad lock. There are hurricane shutters (slightly open) on the windows and iron wrought bars over the front door. And while the maroon van is indeed parked out front, there is no indication that he’s home. I stand there outside his gate and as I’m dialing his number on my cell phone I hear the almighty jingling sound of keys.
I look towards the front door and notice the silhouette of a man emerge. The door opens and he walks out wearing a grey t-shirt, blue jeans and a plain white baseball cap. He doesn’t say a word. We shake hands over the chain link gate and then he inserts one of the keys into the padlock, unlocks it and invites me inside.
Save for a couple of his own CDs on the kitchen table and a gold-plated framed portrait from his younger days, you’d never know you were in the presence of Little Beaver, arguably the most important and accomplished R&B guitarist of Miami’s soul scene of the 60s and early 70s.
“I don’t know very much,” he mumbles as he sits down in his favorite chair up against a window. It has hurricane shutters too, letting only a glimmer of daylight slip into the living room. Then he says:
The people that know me ’round here don’t know I’m Little Beaver. There’s one guy on the corner.
And there was an older, white couple across the street. They used to call me Beaver. Their son used to smoke crack with Rick Finch so that might be how they found out I was Little Beaver.
Rick Finch was co-founder, along with Harry Casey, of the Miami super group KC & The Sunshine Band, the disco powerhouse that put out five #1 songs between 1974-1979 and became one of the most commercially successful 70s bands (second only to the Bee Gees). Little Beaver and Finch met way back at Henry Stone’s TK studios in Hialeah in the early 1970s. Beaver was one of the studio’s session musicians.
Beginning around 1963, upon arriving to Miami from Forrest City, Arkansas, Beaver played lead guitar for some of the leading R&B club acts around town. Around 1970, he was invited by local producer Willie Clarke to join TK and record under their funk label, Cat.
Beaver had an impressive, albeit brief, solo career, hitting his peak in 1974 with the funky-soul number Party Down. Beaver also arranged and played the guitar tracks on many of the soul records produced in Miami including Betty Wright’s sensational hit Clean Up Woman (1971).
In fact, Beaver’s guitar, described by Rolling Stone as “delicate” and “oozing,” can be heard on almost every Miami 60s/early 70s soul and funk record that was worth a dime.
Growing up in Forrest City, AR (he was born in nearby Marianna), Little Beaver was known for two things: (1) a pair of front teeth resembling those of a certain semi-aquatic furry animal – which earned him his nickname – and (2) his talent for the guitar.
My step father Clarence Jones Sr…, he bought a box guitar for about 11 bucks. It was while he’d go to church and he had a couple other guys and they like to sing gospel. So he decided he was going to learn to play guitar, strum along while they sing, you know.
But Beaver says his step dad could never find the time to play.
The guitar was just sitting there leaning against the wall.
He says he “plucked on it” for a while, teaching himself how to play a few chords. He immediately began drawing interest around Forrest City.
There was this guy named Anderson that everyone around town called Sarge because he walked like a soldier. He showed me my first fingering on the guitar, how to actually play notes. He showed me how to play traditional blues chords. For about a month I thought I was a master.
Soon after, the first gig opportunities came to him.
There was a keyboard player in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the time when Bobby Bland was popular. He used to come get me. In fact, a lot of people would come and get me ‘cause I was the only guitar player in Forrest City that they could find available.
He says that on the weekends they’d pick up a drummer and the three of them would head over to “a joint” located in tiny Stuttgart, Arkansas.
Just a wood shed.
Enjoy yourself; drink beer; eat fried chicken, you know.
This was about 1960-61. Beaver was still a teenager.
He looks towards the front window as if he’s expecting someone. But there’s no one there, at least no one I can see.
You know, for a long time I played with a clamp.
A guitar clamp, for those that don’t know, is a small tool or bracket that is clamped onto the neck of the guitar near one of the frets and presses down on the strings. It allows the guitarist to play in a certain key.
You just play [the guitar] straight with a clamp. But the other way, when you are ready to play a chord, you gotta finger it.
That was hard. I didn’t have them big buttermilk fingers like BB King. BB had them big ole’ fingers. I [played] with little bitty fingers… But I couldn’t reach the bass [top chord on a guitar].
Beaver said his index finger didn’t have “enough power.”
It was too short. So I put my brain to work and finally I figured out how to play the bass [chord].
He wiggles his little bitty thumb at me.
When it becomes obvious that I don’t really understand this technique, he gets up from the chair, disappears into a corridor, brings out a black guitar case and lays it on the couch near the chair. There is dust on it. Two white little critters scurry across the top. He wipes them away before they reach their destination. The last time Beaver took out his guitar was when a film crew from PBS stopped by a few months ago to interview him for an upcoming documentary.
Then he pulls out a red Gibson guitar and settles back in his chair.
And that little itty bitty thumb? It disappears behind the neck of the guitar for a second before reappearing above the neck to hold down the top chord.
There’s only a few people that play with their thumb on the bass and most of them came through me.
Then he strums his famous riff from the 1972 Betty Wright Miami soul classic Clean Up Woman.
When he finishes, I take a few photos of him – with his permission.
Beaver moved to Florida in 1963. He says he had a friend named Wilbert that during the high seasons would drive to Florida City to work in the migrant farms and then once the season ended, he’d head back to Arkansas.
He came home one Christmas to see his family. And on his way back to Florida he stopped through Forrest City to say hello to me. And I was laying there. My mom had just slaughtered a hog that we had fed all the summer, fattened up real good. She bought a freezer. It was full of pork chop, bacon. I’m laying there getting fat. Not working.
[Wilbert] said if you was in Miami, Florida you’d get a job just like that (finger snap). That’s where all the big bands come through. He just went on and on.
Beaver told his mother he wanted to go. She suggested he talk to his step dad who was outside and ask him for some money.
I didn’t go that way. I just got in the car with Wilbert and we hit the road coming back to Florida. I might’ve had two pennies in my pocket. Maybe.
But I knew if he ate, I would eat. If he slept, I would sleep. That’s how much trust and confidence I had. People was honest back then. A friend was a real friend.
Friend enough to let you sleep in his car.
They got to Florida City and Wilbert and his wife stayed in a trailer while Beaver took up temporary residence in Wilbert’s car.
I was there in Florida City for a good, little while. Not working, not knowing that many people.
But there were people that befriended me ’cause of my guitar.
People like Willy who would bring him food from time to time; T.C. who took him in a few nights; Junior who worked at “a big old house” and let Beaver stay there too for a while. And then there was “wild, big old guy” Benny who owned a barbershop in Goulds. Beaver says it was Benny who first brought him up to Miami to mix in with the local music scene.
He took me to the Sir John Knight Beat Club one night. Butterball was the M.C. that night…
I give Butterball credit for discovering me.. the great Little Beaver. Because Benny talked Butterball into putting me on the talent show.
Nobody knew me. I didn’t know where I was.
And I sang Please Please Please and rocked the house.
Read Part 2 here.
Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami
Let’s flash back to a couple of noteworthy Miami soul classics from 45 years ago this month.
He’s Bad, Bad, Bad – Betty Wright
Local soul singer Betty Wright was fresh off her first hit record, “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do” and rolling into the fall of 1968. But momentum doesn’t last long in the music business. ALSTON Records, the Miami record label run by Steve Alaimo and Henry Stone which had released Wright’s first single, was clamoring for another hit song by the 14-year old up-and-comer. Clarence Reid, the composer behind her first hit, suggested a song titled “Don’t Make the Good Girls Go Bad” as a natural follow-up, a kind of sequel in the same style and narrative of the first song. But Alaimo reportedly rejected it for those very reasons.
So Reid and his writing partner, Willie Clarke, composed “He’s Bad, Bad, Bad” for Wright. In this track, Wright shows off her Aretha-like chops and swag. And backed up by a trio of girls, a couple of horns, and a bluesy guitarist, she earned herself another hit record.
By November 1968, “He’s Bad, Bad, Bad” had climbed into the top ten singles charts at Miami’s leading soul station WAME “Whammy” Radio. While the track is not one of Wright’s more widely recognized singles, it nevertheless showed the music world that this Miami teenager was not to be taken lightly.
Flash Forward: Betty Wright is still doing her thing. At last check, she had released a soul revival album in 2011 in association with The Roots.
She lives in Miami.
Don’t Make the Good Girls Go Bad – Della Humphrey
The second song from November 1968 is in my humble but informed opinion the more notable of the Soul Flashback hits not only due to its back story but because it gave rise to yet another 14 year old star – Della Humphrey.
The legend goes that when Clarence Reid’s initial follow up song for Betty Wright was rejected by ALSTON, he took the lyrics to Ms. Humphrey, a Miami teenager who until then had sung in her Overtown church choir and had won a few singing contests around town.
“Don’t Make the Good Girls Go Bad” was released not on any Miami label (due to Reid’s disdain for ALSTON’s response to it), but instead by a Philadelphia record label he had connections to. The song reached #1 with local radio stations and bumped aside Betty Wright momentarily from the top of the charts.
Humphrey reached her musical peak with that song and sadly, her career floundered after that. But the song remains a soul classic.
Flash Forward: Della Humphrey lives in a town north of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, Bill. She has a small music studio set up in her home for whenever she feels like laying down a few vocal tracks.
(For the full story on Della Humphrey, read “The Della Humphrey Experience,” which was featured in a prominent post here in December 2012.)
You know we never got one penny for that record.
Larry Mobley is on the line. He’s called my office to follow up on a conversation we had yesterday. He wants to know again where I had heard that the rapper 50 Cent had sampled Am I a Good Man, the classic Miami soul song that he and his partner, Larry Greene, recorded more than 45 years ago.
The original record was released by the Miami label DEEP CITY RECORDS in July of 1967. According to the website, www.whosampled.com, the song has been sampled at least 14 times including by the rapper pictured here on his 2012 track Money.
50 Cent, oh Lord.
It’s a shame that me and Larry [Greene] didn’t profit at all from any of that. I’m not talking about millions. I’m talking about hundreds, you know.
Larry Mobley met Larry Greene around 1955 when they were both in junior high school in St. Petersburg, Florida and immediately bonded. After all, they both liked to sing. Greene preferred a high pitch (“like Curtis Mayfield”) while Mobley sang in a low, almost baritone pitch. They’d practice their harmonizing night after night.
People were so surprised that two voices could sound so blended together and make a sound that sounded as if it were 3 or 4 voices. That was back from sitting behind the community center in St. Pete at 11 and 12 o’clock at night, just rehearsing, just singing.
Mobley and Green would join up with three other singers and win a few talent contests at St. Petersburg’s old Royal Theater. They called themselves the El Quintos back then.
In 1962, Mobley was drafted into the Army. Two years later, he returned to St. Petersburg and reconnected with his old friend Greene. The two of them started up again, this time as a duo. After a few performances around town, they learned that Miami was the place to be.
There was a lady that was from Miami in St. Pete. She heard us sing and told us about the talent show at the Knight Beat club.
The Knight Beat was located inside the Sir John Hotel in Miami’s Overtown district. The club’s host was local legendary music promoter Clyde Killens who made the Knight Beat the epicenter of Miami rhythm & blues during the 1960s. Mobley and Greene decided to make their way to Overtown. They hitched a ride from a friend named Clifford and arrived in Miami one afternoon in 1964, heading straight to where the action was: the Sir John Hotel.
We just went down for the talent show and we were gonna come back, but people accepted us and applauded us. So we decided to stay in Miami.
Mobley and Green, who called themselves Them Two, were offered a slot on the club’s popular weekend show known as the Fabulous Sir John Revue.
They had the dancers, and they had Willena Mack…, and then me and Larry came on right before the featured artists came on. All the stars that came into Miami to sing at the Knight Beat, we opened the shows for those singers.
Clyde Killens’ club attracted the crème de la crème of black entertainment: Sam Cooke, Count Basie, Jerry Butler, Sam & Dave, Etta James.
And then there was Joe Tex.
You know he really got mad at us because the crowd…, oh man, when me and Larry got on the stage and started singing, the crowd just ate us up, you know. And Joe
Tex got a little aggravated that he had to follow us.
But he was known for that. He always wanted to be the one who brought down the house.
Mobley says Them Two didn’t perform in the hard soul, church-like style of Miami’s reigning duo Sam & Dave that was popular at the time. Them Two were more classic R&B.
We didn’t do any outrageous dances on the stage. Whenever we came on, our voices had women doing a thing in the audience.
We sang, and women loved our songs.
During the year 1967 came Them Two’s big break. Willie Clarke, co-owner of the local record label DEEP CITY RECORDS wanted their voices on a track. The music track to Am I a Good Man had already been recorded and arranged by Clarke and his collaborator Clarence Reid. Mobley and Green were brought into the studio, rehearsed it a couple of times and then once the recording light was on, they sang the hell out of it.
I’m telling you that was the only time that we had ever been to the studio. It was a nice recording and we liked it.
In July 1967, the record was released. The song has been described by music lovers as one of the “enduring masterpieces” of Miami’s soul music scene of the 1960s. But it wasn’t all that well received at the time of its release. Actually, it wasn’t well played by DJs and without radio play there was no other way of generating mass appeal.
You know disc jockeys back in those days, … payola, you know. They got money under the table to play things.
Me and Larry used to go to different radio stations and talk with the DJs and while we were there they would play it. We went down to W.F.U.N. which is a white station down in South Miami and we talked with one of the disc jockeys and he played it a couple of times on the radio.
DJs back in those days were money crazy. A lot of money was being put under the table to play songs, you know.
Mobley implies they were doomed from the outset.
Sam & Dave was the group that was out from Miami at that time. And then came Betty Wright, and after that, you know, Henry Stone, … he was a Jewish guy that had a lot of money and they had their agendas with the musicians that they catered to. So I don’t know. Me and Larry never did get on board.
Incidentally, Henry Stone has admitted to his involvement in paying DJs off in a book recently published titled “The Stone Cold Truth on Payola in the Music Biz.” Payola happened back in those days. DJs got money, girls, booze, coke. Whatever they wanted, and in return, they’d play the records. Its no secret that this was a common method to promote a black artist’s music to a white DJ in the 1960s. Some artists got their due. Others missed out.
Am I a Good Man was one of those that missed when it was first released. But artists like 50 Cent, or the Showtime series Hung (which used the song in its premier episode), or any number of creative outlets and outliers have resurrected the song for a new generation.
Mobley didn’t know any of this, at least not until our most recent conversation.
In today’s world, a multi-millionaire rap artist can use the music of an original Miami soul classic, lay down a rhyming lyrical vocal track and the video can draw 3.7 million views on YouTube. On the other side of that soul classic, there’s a man who sang the original vocal track on the song and he doesn’t even own a computer.
In 2007, Mobley and his wife relocated to a retirement community in Tamarac, Florida after a bank foreclosed on their Miami home. Every month, he receives two checks in the mail: one from the Social Security Administration and a second one from Miami-Dade County (he’s been a retired Veteran Service officer since 1991). On Thursdays, Mobley picks up groceries from the local church near his home. I’m not ashamed to say it, he tells me.
Am I a Good Man never amounted to much for Larry Mobley. Yet it remains close to him, literally. He has an original copy of the 45 RPM record in his home. He keeps it inside a book where its been stored for a while, untarnished by dust or decay, like a lasting memory.
The last time he heard the record was a few years ago when he was still living in Miami.
I used to sit and just play it over and over, turn it up loud because we had this huge Florida room and we had these big 15-inch speakers and I used to play it, over and over.
The other member of Them Two, Larry Greene, was killed in an automobile accident more than 20 years ago. Mobley was one of the pallbearers.
Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami
46 years ago this month, Miami-made soul music was hitting its stride. It was the year before the scene would break nationally with a couple of big hits in 1968 from local teen sensations Betty Wright and Della Humphrey. Here are 5 very solid tracks all recorded in Miami that debuted in May 1967, a sample of what was just around the corner for Miami Soul.
Sweet Sweet Lovin’ – Paul Kelly
Released on the Philips label, this song became a local hit by July 1967. Paul Kelly was a Miami-born vocalist who enjoyed an extensive career well through the 1980s. His biggest hit was Stealing in the Name of the Lord, which reportedly created a stir among some black communities because it exposed the hypocrisies of some church leaders. But controversy sells; the song reached #14 on Billboard’s R&B chart in July 1970. Three years earlier, Kelly released the song featured here, Sweet Sweet Lovin’. There was no controversy about this very upbeat song, which was produced by Buddy Killen, a music producer from Alabama who made his bones in country music but also had slightly comparable success with R&B hits.
Girl I Got News For You – Benny Latimore
Benny Latimore is a keyboardist from Charleston, TN who moved to Miami and became an integral part of Henry Stone’s TK Records as a session musician and singer-songwriter. He had 2 national hit records of his own in the mid 1970s with Let’s Straighten It Out (#1 in R&B, #31 in Top 40) and Something ‘Bout Cha (#7 in R&B). Girl I Got News For You, issued on one of Stone’s first R&B record labels (Dade), was released in May 1967. One month later, this catchy, pre-disco track was one of the top songs jamming on local soul stations, and probably would have been a bigger hit if it had been (re)released during TK’s impressive disco run a few years later.
Willie “Little Beaver” Hale moved to Miami as a teenager from Forrest City, AR. He joined the Miami nightclub band, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers as lead guitarist in 1964 and later recorded a few tracks as a solo artist including this one, which was released on Octavia Records. Beaver later joined up with Henry Stone’s TK Records and had five hit songs including the 1974 Party Down which reached #2 on Billboard’s R&B chart. He is considered the grand master of Miami Soul guitarists and is most revered for, among many of his musical accomplishments, playing all three guitar tracks on Betty Wright’s exceptional gold record Clean Up Woman (1971).
I Love You Baby – The Moovers
The Moovers recorded their first 2 songs, including this one, with Deep City Records, Miami’s first black-owned independent label which was run by partners Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall. The Moovers later changed their name to The Prolifics and released the song If Only I Could Fly in December 1968. They later recorded under the band name Living Proof in the 1970s. The song featured here was written and arranged by Willie Clarke, Johnny Pearsall, and Arnold Albury. The song has a Delfonics’ flavor to it (and incidentally would have been suitable for the soundtrack of Tarantino’s 1997 film, Jackie Brown). Favorite lyric? “With you, I’m a king, without you, I’m not a dog-gone thing.”
True Love Don’t Grow on Trees – Helene Smith
Widely considered among people in the know as Miami’s first queen of soul, Helene Smith recorded more than 20 songs between 1966 and 1969, mostly with the aforementioned Deep City, and then a couple with Phil-LA-of Soul out of Philadelphia, after Deep City’s partners split in 1968. Smith released True Love Don’t Grow on Trees in May 1967, a modest hit. But her big break would come three months later with A Woman Will Do Wrong, which reached #20 on Billboard’s R&B and #128 on the crossover pop singles charts. Today, she is a public school teacher in Miami-Dade County.
Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami
NOTE: “Soul Flashback” will be an ongoing feature on this site. Check back periodically for updates or sign up for email alerts (see Sidebar). Also follow Long Play Miami on Twitter & Facebook.
So much has been published about Henry Stone that by now, at the age of 92, you’d think he’d be tired of talking about it. And you’d be wrong. Last week, during a delightful and energetic phone interview that lasted about an hour, he waxed poetic on his iconic past and his undeniable influence on the music industry.
I’m getting people from over the world calling me saying, ‘Henry Stone, you’re still alive? My God, what you did for me and my music…’
What he did for music, in general, is remarkable. And Miami should be forever grateful for that whole putting-this-city-on-the-map thing.
I like to think that the long and storied legend of Henry Stone started with what he described as a chance meeting that occurred here around 1950. Stone had just recently relocated his small record distribution business to Miami from Los Angeles. He moved the business into a warehouse on West Flagler Street. He also purchased a recording machine.
I always had a studio in my back pocket.
Stone quickly found a niche selling to local jukebox operators the controversial “race” records that wouldn’t (couldn’t) be played at mainstream venues. He sold to nightclubs, lounges, brothels and other underground venues. One night he was at a club in Overtown when he witnessed a young and up & coming Ray Charles perform. After the show, the two got to talking.
[Ray] said, ‘I heard you make records, man. I need some bread. Could you cut some sides with me?’
I said, sure. So I made a deal to cut 4 sides, which we did.
Back at Stone’s warehouse, Ray Charles recorded four original tracks: Walkin’ and Talkin’, Why Did You Go, I’m Wondering and Wondering, and St. Pete Florida Blues. It was one of Ray Charles’ first recording sessions and arguably paved the way for him to get noticed by national labels such as Atlantic Records.
Stone would continue to grow his record distribution company [Tone Distributors], eventually moving to Hialeah, FL, and becoming the most successful independent distribution company over the last half century. Stone had connections with all the major labels and independent labels so they’d go to him to get their records out to the DJs. Getting records played was one of his biggest assets, he said. He built rapport with all the DJs.
It was easy really. The DJs came to me.
We had all the hits. The majors [labels] had maybe 3 or 4 hits. Elvis Presley, maybe Tony Bennett or something. That was it. The other 90 percent of the charts were all independents. When the DJs needed a record, especially R&B records, they had to come to me.
Like this, he went on for years, amassing a record distribution empire.
His first big record came in 1959 when he recorded James Brown’s band, Nat Kendrick & the Swans with “(Do the) Mashed Potatoes”. James Brown sang back-up on the original track but it wasn’t supposed to go down like that.
I had to take him off [the track] because he was under contract to King Records.
I said, James, I can’t use your voice, we’ll end up in a lawsuit.
Stone removed Brown’s vocal track from the original recording and replaced it with King Coleman, an R&B singer from Tampa. The final record – sans James Brown – was released on Stone’s “Dade” label and went very big on the R&B charts.
Meanwhile, literally on the other side of the train tracks, Miami homegrown soul cuts were taking off in the mid 1960s under labels like Deep City Records and Lloyd Records out of Overtown. Stone saw an opportunity.
I used to distribute [Deep City] records. I saw when I put their records on the radio I’d get a terrific reaction. So I said why don’t you guys come and record for me.
Those “guys” he’s referring to included Willie Clarke, Betty Wright, and Clarence Reid. They, along with the session musicians, ultimately joined Stone in 1968 and immediately began putting out hit songs. Betty Wright’s “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do” was #1 on the local R&B station in July 1968, and reached #33 on Billboard’s National Top 40.
In 1969, Stone combined his music production business under one entity, TK Productions, and started creating record labels such as TK Records and others that from 1971 – 1979 produced R&B and Pop Chart hits the world over. They had a major breakout hit in 1971 with Clean Up Woman by Betty Wright. Written by locals Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke, with guitar licks provided by bluesman Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, Stone knew he had something special.
I saw that record was going to be a big record. I wanted to get national distribution so I made a deal with Atlantic.
The song reached #1 on the national R&B charts and peaked at #6 on the Top 40.
The predominant, distinguishable element in Miami soul music of that time was the horn section. And Stone was no stranger to brass.
I used to be a horn player [trumpet]. I loved the horn licks. Mike Lewis (who arranged his horn sections at TK) had some great horn licks. I used a lot of them [in the records]. It was all planned out.
Motown had their their sound, Stax had their sound, Philly had their sound.
We had our own Miami Sound.
He says the “Miami Sound” really took off in the 1970s when local R&B, soul, and Latin beats converged and crossed over to influence the burgeoning disco craze.
This was the Miami Sound. Not Gloria and Emilio [Estefan], that’s not the Miami Sound. That’s a Latin sound, a good Cuban sound, …
The Miami Sound was in the 70s when we had almost 30 platinum and gold records…
which I’m looking at my wall right now.
Today, if one goes to his website, you can find his entire catalog of music. Ray Charles, Nat Kendrick, KC & The Sunshine Band, Foxy, Anita Ward, all the hits, all the B-sides.
I wanted a lot of different sounds. I always kept my original sound but I had to progress, which I did. Our sound was heard all over the world at that time. TK was so hot. I didn’t realize how big we were. Every country… our records were #1. Hit after hit.
And, the 1970s were king.
I had the 70s. The 70s was me…
I remember Berry Gordy [of Motown] calling me and saying ‘Henry, what the fuck are you doing, man?’
I said, ‘I’m doing what I’m doing, man….you had yours, now this is mine.’
Those were good times, right? But Stone has a different take.
They were just normal times to me. This is what I did. I didn’t know anything else.
When I got up in the morning after breakfast I went to work. I worked 24/7 if I had to to keep the studio going.
And out of a good ole’ fashion thing called hard work, this is what came about through all the years.
Here is Henry Stone’s first hit song from 1959.
[TK photos courtesy of Jeff Lemlich]
Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami
Update: Henry Stone passed away on August 7, 2014. Rest in Peace, Henry.