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.
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
One [of] Deep City’s heaviest cuts is Them Two’s “Am I A Good Man.” This is Willie Clarke & Johnny Pearsall’s enduring masterpiece – Numero Group
A few weeks ago, as I was heading home from the office, I made a detour. I went to go look for a guy named Larry.
By my research, Larry was a tall, African-American male in his early 70s who lived in the Miami working class neighborhood of Brownsville near NW 27th Avenue. He’s not listed in the local telephone directory but I did locate an address for him so I figured I’d stop by. When I arrived, an elder Cuban gentleman and his wife were pulling into the driveway. As the motorized gate behind them closed, I jumped out of my car and asked them if they knew the Larry associated with their address. No, they said. I looked down at my notes to make sure I was at the right house. But this is the address, I said. They replied that they’d been living there for a few years and had never heard of him.
Across the street there was a middle-aged woman inside her idle vehicle talking to a young girl leaning against the car. I walked over.
I told her I wanted to interview him for a story. She shrugged her shoulders; Larry?
Yes, I said. Did you know that back in the 60s, he was a popular nightclub singer? Soul man, hit record, the whole thing.
She sat there and I’m no mind reader but I could tell she had images of Larry the Neighbor racing through her mind, trying to place him into a new, celebrity-like context. And as she did this, her mouth opened and she let out a joyful laugh. I know his sister. If you leave me your information, I could reach out for her, she offered.
I handed her a card, thanked her and headed home, knowing that I was quite possibly a step closer to finding Larry.
The aforementioned Larry is Lawrence Mobley, the sole surviving member of the Miami 60s nightclub act Them Two, a deeply talented vocal duo who 46 years ago this month, in July 1967, released Am I A Good Man.
The song is, in my opinion, one of the most profound and soulful tracks to come out of Miami’s soul scene of the 1960s. It was released on Deep City Records, the Miami independent record label co-founded by Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall. And it has enjoyed a recent resurgence of sorts: (1) It was covered by the rock group Band of Horses (Released as a single in February 2008 and now part of their live repertoire.); (2) It’s been featured on a hit television show (the pilot episode of HBO’s “Hung” in June 2009); and, (3) It’s been sampled – for better and for worse – by hip hop artists including 50 Cent and The Game.
That’s an impressive trifecta.
And another beautiful thing is that the song is all Miami, right down to the back-up singers and the session musicians in the studio that day.
Oh yes, Them Two. Do you know how they got their name?
He tells me that one night the duo was hanging out backstage at a local club ready to perform.
The M.C. wanted to know who was up next. So he asked some guy near the back, Hey man, who’s next? The guy looked back, pointed at the duo and said, them two is next.
Then the M.C. introduced them. Something like Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for … Them Two.
They liked the name so much they kept it.
Now about the song – Clarke said he knew he had something special and when he saw Them Two perform a few times, he also knew they’d be ideal for it. But getting them to record took some work.
They were working the nightclubs all the time. They were quite busy.
Clarke managed to convince them to record the song. He says the duo came in, rehearsed it a couple of times, and then nailed the song on the first recording.
I was just amazed at their poise and creativity. How profound they were. Exactly how I wanted it.
They had a style.
And style was most certainly a pre-requisite for this song, as was depth and maturity, with lyrics like:
Am I a good man? / Am I a fool? / Am I weak? / Somebody tell me… Or am I just playing it cool? / I have a woman / And I know she’s no good / Still hold my head up high… trying to do the things a good man should.
Clarke says that at the time he penned those lyrics he was married, with a young child, holding down two jobs (public school teacher and music producer) and pondering what he calls “the first adventures of manhood.”
[The song] is about a man looking in the mirror asking himself questions. It’s about the trials and tribulations of a man growing up into adult life. Are you ready for the challenge? Am I a good man or am I a fool?
After that record, which was released as a single (B side: Love Has Taken Wings), Clarke never worked with Them Two again. He says the duo got busier at the nightclubs and Deep City focused more on their rising female stars, local queen of soul Helene Smith and Deep City’s young starlet, Betty Wright.
Still, he wishes he would have worked with them again.
And then he returns to the song and it’s very essence: the core question that now, 40 years later, Clarke is ready to embrace definitively:
Hey, you know what the answer is? Am I a good man or am I a fool?
No, I said. What’s the answer?
A good man and a fool.
Endnote: I’m still hoping to interview Larry Mobley. I learned last week that he may be living in Tamarac, Florida. [To be continued.]
In the meantime, here’s the Miami soul classic:
**Update: Larry Mobley found and interviewed. Read the story here.**
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.
For the last decade the Chicago-based company, The Numero Group, has been mining the long-ago discarded music recordings of now defunct independent record labels around the United States. Devoted to “dragging brilliant recordings, films, and photography out of unwarranted obscurity,” Numero has found gems in closets, warehouses, crates and bins in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and reissued these funk and soul treasures on their own label, Eccentric Soul.
A few years ago, Numero reached out to the only living partner of Miami’s own Deep City Records, Willie Clarke.
Deep City was started by Clarke and Johnny Pearsall around 1963 in Miami’s Overtown section. Clarke and Pearsall met while attending college in Tallahassee at Florida A&M. Clarke was a drummer in A&M’s Marching 100 Band. He and another local, Arnold “Hoss” Albury, a trumpet player in the same band, brought that big brass sound to the Deep City vision in Miami years later; big horns loom large over many of the tracks they recorded under their label.
Numero’s discussions with Clarke lead to Eccentric Soul, the Deep City Label, the resuscitation of seventeen Deep City originals released on a double album in three formats: vinyl, CD, and MP3. The songs, mostly written and arranged by Clarke and Clarence Reid, featured the vocals of starlets Betty Wright and Helene Smith, or the big soul sound of The Moovers, or Miami #1 soul band at the time, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers.
The Numero Deep City compilation record was released January 31, 2006. NPR chose it for it’s Record of the Year: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6567709
Not long after, as the story goes, Dennis Scholl received a copy of the album from his business partner. After one listen, Scholl was “blown away.”
This is unbelievable, high quality, emotionally resonant music. And I was like: who are these people and how come no one knows about them?
And that was the beginning of the odyssey.
The odyssey he refers to is a film in production now for almost three years: Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound, inspired by the Numero compilation record. Scholl is co-producing the film along with local documentary filmmakers Marlon Johnson and Chad Tingle. It’s their first long feature together. They have previously co-produced short films, two of which have won Emmys. But the Deep City documentary is a big story, says Scholl, speaking from his downtown office at the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation where he serves as Vice President of the Arts. I met with him and Marlon Johnson there last week for a discussion about the upcoming film.
These are big undertakings. They are hard. They are expensive. It is easy to make a film and hard to make a good film.
They knew this was not a film that would receive outside funding initially but they agreed to do it anyway. Tingle and Johnson invested the sweat equity while Scholl covered their hard expenses. They shot with a high-definition camera and did many hours of interviews. In the end, they knew they had something. They acquired footage from the Wolfson Moving Image Archives featuring life in Miami’s Overtown, the predominately black community, the heart and soul of Deep City’s sound. Tingle and Johnson began stitching the film together and prepared an eight-minute teaser to drum up interest in the film.
Scholl said at the beginning they didn’t know what to do with it.
We didn’t want to do it as a commercial enterprise where we were trying to put the film in a theater and make money from it. So we went to our friends at WLRN (Miami’s NPR & PBS member station)… We showed them the trailer… and we played them the music.
And they said, we’re doing this.
WLRN acquired the film but gave Scholl, Johnson and Tingle free reins to make it as they intended and put it on the film festival circuit. Referring to them as “unbelievably good partners,” Scholl says WLRN is the only institution telling Miami stories these days.
People forget that Miami’s history is very, very compressed. The fact that things happened here so quickly is great but it’s a very compressed time frame compared to the rest of the world and even the rest of America.
So we’re now starting to go back as a community and look at our heritage and look at what people accomplished here…That’s what these stories are about. They are stories made my Miamians, about Miamians, for Miamians. And in doing that, we found this story. And these are really special people.
The Deep City film highlights the stories of Willie Clarke, Helene Smith, the late Johnny Pearsall, and singer-songwriter Clarence Reid.
These are people who deserve recognition, and should be paid homage to.
The partnership with WLRN allows them to consider applying to the Sundance Festival, Tribeca Film Festival,Toronto Film Festival and SXSW.
[WLRN] really understands the importance of telling this story nationally. They really want to hold off [on the television broadcast] until we have this festival run.
Fall of 2013 is the deadline to submit the film to the aforementioned festivals and they appear to be on schedule. After that run, PBS will release the film on public television.
But that’s tomorrow. For now, what they have in the works is a love letter to Deep City Records.
We just want to make sure that people know that music comes from artists and the people that made this music are really, really special.
Film screen shots courtesy of Marlon Johnson, Co-Producer.
March 2014 Update:
Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound is complete and has been accepted at SXSW, Cleveland International Film Festival and will have its Florida debut on March 14, 2014 at the Miami International Film Festival.
Music docs are all the rage again since 20 Feet From Stardom won Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars last week and Sugar Man won it the year before.
Here’s wishing similarly good vibes to Deep City.
Link to the film’s trailer is here: https://longplaymiami.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/deep-city-has-arrived/
Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami
Not one but two documentary films are currently in production about Miami, based on the protagonists of the soul music scene of the 60s and 70s. One film, Deep City – The Birth of the Miami Sound, is focused on the first black record company in Florida – Deep City Records – and covers the period from 1964 – 1968 when the Miami-based company produced soul recordings that still resonate today.
The second film, Rock Your Baby – Henry Stone & the Miami Sound, is a broader narrative on the life of Henry Stone, featured here last July, and his record distribution empire TK Records, which spearheaded the soul-turned-disco era of the 70s with the global success of KC & the Sunshine Band and other musical acts culminating in nearly 30 platinum and gold records.
Long Play Miami spoke to the people behind the two documentaries in an effort to raise awareness of the films but also to understand the inner workings of each. It should be noted that while some of the same personalities are either featured or mentioned in both films, there is minimal collaboration between the films, which is a little odd because the Deep City and TK narratives are really inter-connected, kind of like DNA molecules. Deep City Records shut down in 1968 and three of its key members joined Henry Stone’s company. The convergence of talent that included singers, musicians, and songwriters proved to be a blessing for the Deep City-TK collective almost immediately, and lasted well into the late 70s.
Deep City‘s film producers have reached out to Henry Stone but haven’t received a commitment. They say they would like to give Stone the opportunity to tell his side of the story about the break up [of Deep City]” but they will do their film with or without Stone’s input. And its fine, says co-producer Dennis Scholl: “When Henry brought Willie Clarke, Clarence Reid, and Betty Wright with him from Deep City to TK in 1968, that was the end of Deep City and the end of our film.” On the other hand, Joe Stone says his father prefers to do his own thing “so as not to water down the Henry Stone brand” while they’re making their film, Rock Your Baby.
So two films, not one. And its all good.
“I think it’s great that the music in Miami that was so critical to the rest of the world is finally getting some recognition,” said Joe Stone.
Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami
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.