Tagged: disco

The Record Man Spins Again

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In 1978, at the apex of Disco, there were two record companies that soared above the rest: Casablanca and TK.casablanca-main-sp

Casablanca had New York City, Donna Summer, The Village People, and was backed by Warner Brothers.

TK was in Hialeah, Florida, started from the trunk of a car, and went on to produce 27 gold records, operate more than twenty different labels, and become the largest independent record company in the world.

TK was the brainchild of the late Henry Stone, innovator of record distribution, king of record promotion, pioneer of Disco music.

Now a new documentary film on Henry Stone titled THE RECORD MAN is set to premiere Tuesday, March 10th at the Miami International Film Festival.

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The film was directed by rock-doc veteran Mark Moormann and produced by first-timers Mitch and Debra Egber of Beacon Films. I interviewed Moorman by phone recently. We talked TK. We talked Henry Stone.  He said this film embodies much more.

This is the history of Miami music.

Stone cut his teeth selling early R&B records in Los Angeles around 1946 from the trunk of his car. Two years later he was in Miami. When Stone arrived here in 1948 the local record industry was non-existent, nothing but mob-owned jukeboxes turning over 45s in dive bars, juke joints, and brothels.

Legend goes that someone recognized him in the street, told him he had boxes of records to unload and offered them to Stone. Stone bought them all, stored them in a warehouse near downtown Miami, and, voila! he was in the record distribution business. Stone started Tone Distributors and got to work.  With the emergence of television, radio programming in the late 40s/early 50s was shifting away from variety shows and soap operas towards more news, talk, and music. So Stone befriended a few local DJs and would nudge them to play his records.  When nudging was ineffective, he’d slip a hundred dollar bill or two inside the record, whatever it took, because once that record hit with local listeners, Stone would sit back and take orders from retailers. The next day he’d be phoning the record company to place an order for 10,000 copies of the record, say, Sam Cooke’s 1958 classic, You Send Me.

He eventually struck deals with Atlantic Records, Chess Records, Motown, and others to distribute their product in South Florida. Within a few years, records did not get sniffed in Miami unless they passed through Henry Stone’s hands. But he didn’t stop there.

Distributing records for all the large companies is one thing, but he made real impact when he opened his own recording studio. The record distributor turned record maker:

In the 50s he recorded Ray Charles.

In the 60s he recorded James Brown.

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In the 70s, he moved the production to an 18,000 square foot warehouse in Hialeah, changed the name from Tone Distibutors to TK Productions (TK was named after Terry Kane, a sound engineer he poached from North Miami’s Criteria Recording Studio), and made music history.

Soul, R&B, funk, disco, even early rap music – TK composed it, produced it, and sold it. TK had more than 20 different record labels. Often they’d have multiple records burning up the charts at the same time. Moormann said this strategy illustrated Stone’s business acumen.

So the radio stations wouldn’t get wise and see that it was the same company that was making all the records and getting on the air.

Left to Right: Willie Clarke, Betty Wright, Clarence Reid, Steve Alaimo, Henry Stone

Left to Right: Willie Clarke, Betty Wright, Clarence Reid, Steve Alaimo, Henry Stone

Moormann recognized during the making of the film that Miami’s music history is inspired by its geography, its fluidity, and its diversity.

There’s a legacy here [Miami] of great music and people making their own music.

Moormann interviewed dozens of musicians and music people for the film. He said everyone was very accommodating. These included Harry Wayne Casey (KC of KC & The Sunshine Band), Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), and R&B singers George McCrae (Rock Your Baby) and Anita Ward (Ring My Bell).

They wanted to tell their story.

But this is not all feel-good stuff.  There were lots of business deals that went awry. The record industry has always had a seedy side and Stone was no angel. Stone had many rifts. Moormann said from the beginning he was always looking for the edgier story.

[The film] is not a black and white thing. There are lots of gray areas. But that was the record business.

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Moormann said the hardest interview was Stone.

Henry lived in the moment and was always thinking forward.

It took a lot of interviews. He didn’t come clean on some business stuff. But the last interview in his place, he just delivered.

Selling out to the mob, payola, …

Not long after Disco died in 1980, TK crashed and filed for bankruptcy.  It was epic, said Moormann. Stone sold whatever catalog of music he had remaining for a fraction of its value today.  But soon after, he was back in the game producing and promoting Miami Freestyle records. He remained in the fading spotlight till the very end (Stone passed away in August 2014 at the age of 93).

Henry Stone did many things right. And sure, he did many things wrong. But he was a scrapper who did things his way.

That’s kind of who he was.

He was a record man.

Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami


For additional information about the film including available tickets, visit this link: http://www.miamiff-tickets.com/films/the-record-man/

Vinyl Love

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Last Saturday was Record Store Day, a day to pay homage to the vinyl record and the independent record shop. The idea for Record Store Day (or RSD) was born in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners in Baltimore, Maryland: their mission was simple – maximize awareness towards an industry and culture that was racing towards extinction. According to www.recordstoreday.com, RSD is a day “for the people who make up the world of the record store — the staff, the customers, and the artists — to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.” Guess what? Its worked. This year marked the 7th consecutive year for RSD. Approximately 2,000 record shops from around the world celebrated with parties and concerts and opened their shops to larger-than-normal crowds of record enthusiasts looking for new releases or re-issues. Miami’s finest record shop – Sweat Records – reported on Twitter witnessing “MADNESS” this past weekend (the vibe, not the London band with the 1982 hit single “Our House”); hundreds of record fans stood in line and braved the early morning showers to get their vinyl fix. Similar RSD enthusiasm was documented in cities across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Vinyl record sales have been trending upwards each year. Its very common today for musicians to once again include vinyl record releases of their music. And demand is growing. Record sales figures are projected to reach $9 MM this year, up from $6 MM in 2013, and $4.5 MM in 2012. Yes, those are small figures compared to the number of iTunes downloads but nevertheless a remarkable and impressive achievement in this digital age.

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Nostalgia aside, plain and simple, there has always been something unique about record buying and record playing that far exceeds the joy one gets (or I get) from the CD or iTunes.  I’m talking vinyl love here; real, tangible love.

Back when I was a kid, this is how I spent the best parts of most Saturday afternoons at the mall, while my mother shopped at the woman’s clothing store next door:

Maybe you have a similar memory.

Flipping through the latest albums on display at the record shop, pulling one out to view the cover art or the song list before placing it back and flipping some more until the next one catches your attention. Finding the one or two albums that made all the sense in your little world.

On the car ride home, new record on your lap, you tell your mom to drive faster. You secretly curse every red light along the way.

At home, you remove the plastic wrapping, pull out the record sleeve, study it – the graphics, the liner notes – and when you’re ready to hear the music, you tilt the sleeve to let the record slide out onto your hands. You hold it firmly but with care from the sides so as not to tarnish it with fingerprints. You might even inspect the record for any dust particles still hanging on to it.

You turn the record player on and gently place the disc on the platter fitting the center over the spindle so that it pokes through and secures it for what’s next. The turntable is ready. You press the spin button, turn the volume way up, place the needle on the record, and await the bull-rush sensation when the needle comes in contact with the first sonic groove.

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I love vinyls. Around 1997, I began a deliberate effort to ‘collect’ records and curate my own collection for years to come. I thought the days of LPs and 45s were numbered. So I began a buying spree. Local libraries, garage sales, estate sales, and small record shops from as far away as Toronto. I made it a point that every business trip include a visit to a neighborhood record store.

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However, today the majority of my collection is comprised of three separate private collections that I acquired from previous owners who either passed on or just wanted to move on. I have given each collection a name as a tribute and token of my appreciation to its previous owner. They are:

1. The Steve
2. The Lourdes
3. The Raul

As an ode to Record Store Day and vinyl love, in general, I will be posting a story about each of these collections in the coming weeks.

The first post will feature the most recently acquired.

 

The Raul Collection

[New York club DJ/record producer 1978-1988]

Principal Genres: Disco, Freestyle, Soul

COMING SOON

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The Making of “Rock Your Baby”

I came up with this song that really didn’t fit what my idea of what KC & the Sunshine Band was. But I knew it was magic. I mean it was just magic.  – Harry Wayne Casey (KC) in the upcoming documentary, Rock Your Baby.

tk grp2The 1970s got off to a little shaky start for Henry Stone, head of Tone Distribution in Hialeah, Florida.  For years, Stone was king of the independent record distribution business. All the major labels, Atlantic Records, Motown, Stax, came to him. He had the contacts with jukebox operators, record stores, and radio stations.  Then in 1972, he was informed by Atlantic Records that they were done outsourcing their record distribution and were merging with Warner Brothers and Elektra Records to distribute their product on their own.

So what did Stone do?  Well if you can’t join them, beat them.bettywright1

He had already begun amassing a small group of talented music people to ‘cut’ records at his Hialeah location where he had built a studio on the second floor.  Mostly local acts.  The records were issued on his own independent labels. And he had some success. For example, under the labels Alston and Glades, Stone had four songs that reached the upper echelon of the Billboard charts: Clean Up Woman (1971), Funky Nassau (1971), Why Can’t We Live Together (1972), and timmy-thomas-why-cant-we-live-together-gladesLet’s Straighten It Out (1974). These songs had soul and were each exceptional in their own way.  Stone was now all-in in the record-making business.

But Miami soul music, as a whole, was beginning to lose steam.  Vinyls, once limited to establishment jukeboxes or weekend house parties, were replacing live musicians in night clubs.  Paying a disc jockey to play records was a lot cheaper than paying a 5-piece R&B group.  Then in 1973, the drinking age in Florida was lowered to 18 years old. Kids were able to get into the clubs. They wanted to party and they weren’t too keen on mom and dad’s soul music.

At Stone’s Hialeah studio, Harry Wayne Casey (KC) and Rick Finch, two of his young protegés, had been experimenting with some of their own music, mostly after hours.  They had a different sound in mind: a re-invention of the Miami soul sound, one that had crossover appeal for the tenor of the times.

KC and Finch wrote a song called Rock Your Baby. This one song captured the soul of Miami but added a groove that was catchy, simple, repetitive, and just felt good.  The signature open hi-hat drum beat produced a chi-kee-chi-kee rhythm that would become a staple of dance music from Madonna to 90s house music.

George Mc Crae - Rock Your Baby1KC and Finch asked one of TK’s singers, George McCrae, to sing lead vocal.  McCrae hadn’t recorded anything in two years but he gave it a shot. And he delivered, even going falsetto on some notes.[1]

Released in the spring of 1974, the song simmered in the U.S. but across the pond it shot to the top of the charts in the U.K. (and France). By July 1974, the song slipped back into thehsmccrae States and peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard 100 chart.  The first chart topper for Henry Stone and TK, and overall, one of the biggest hits that year. Rock Your Baby remained on the charts for about 4 months and sold 11 million copies.  It’s widely considered to be the first American-made disco hit record.[2]

With the success of Rock Your Baby, Henry Stone found himself on the crest of a disco wave that was about to wash over the music business for the remainder of that decade.k_c#

A few months ago, I spoke to Stone and he still relishes in the memory of the nearly 30 platinum and gold records that TK produced in the 70s:

TK was so hot. I didn’t realize how big we were. Every country our records were #1. Hit after hit.

I had the 70s. The 70s was me… TK. 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.

Now a new film will tell Stone’s life story as it spans across five decades of Miami’s music history. It’s called Rock Your Baby – Henry Stone & the Miami Sound.

Henry @ Eden Roc

This is the second of two films currently in production that is using Miami’s 60s-70s soul/disco scene (aka Miami Sound) as the backdrop.  (The first one was featured in a Long Play article recently).

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Henry Stone’s son, Joe, told me that this film is an idea they’ve been kicking for years but they could never find the right director or  producer. Then they were introduced to Mark Moormann, a documentary filmmaker who’s last film was nominated for a Grammy and garnered buzz at several film festivals in 2011.

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Joe Stone says he liked Moormann’s approach from the outset.hs2 shot

Mark has a certain way of telling a story, allowing the different people to speak. He doesn’t use a general narrator.  It’s a really unique style. 

I spoke to Moormann this week about the upcoming film.  He describes it as an “epic kind of story.”

The Henry Stone story is really the story of the history of music making in Miami.  This guy’s career really parallels the whole history.  And it’s also the history of record distribution. You’ll learn how records have been distributed from the very beginning.

When Henry came down here there were no record stores in Miami. There were just jukebox operators playing music. That’s who Henry distributed the music to. Then Willie Clarkerecord stores came to be and 45s and LPs. And that story has never really been told.

Moormann says there are many other “characters” in this film.  KC & the Sunshine Band, The Allman Brothers, etc.[3]

With this film…, there are parallel story lines; Henry’s life story, the music business in Miami, and the history of record distribution. So these are sort of interwoven and then along the way you meet these people that are part of each scene.

Moormann said he started shooting the film a year ago with initial interviews. He’ll need another 4-6 months for KCadditional interviews.  But don’t expect to see it on the big screen this year.  Moormann said he doesn’t want to rush it.  These things take time, he says.

We plan on making something great. Go to Sundance, or Toronto, or SXSW and play at that level. That’s the intent here. .. If you make something great, everything just sort of takes care of itself. 

Here’s George McCrae performing Rock Your Baby.

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Notes

[1] A male voice in an upper register beyond its normal range.  If you bumped into George McCrae on the streets, you would never expect him to be able to sing falsetto.

[2] Rock the Boat by the Hues Corporation may also claim this distinction. It topped the Billboard charts on July 6, 1974, one week before Rock Your Baby. But its sales paled in comparison to the McCrae song.

[3] Duane and Greg Allman made some demo recordings at TK’s studio in 1968 with a local rock band called The 31st of February. The album was never completed and was released as demos 4 years later by another Florida label, Bold Records.

To view additional information regarding this film, including an extended trailer, please “Like” the Long Play Miami page on Facebook (see sidebar).

Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami

Miami Twice

deepcity#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 & TKmiamisound#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

Miami Sound Reissued

Before a young and visionary Emilio Estefan usurped “Miami Sound” for his Latin crossover band of the late 1970s, the term had existed for about a decade as a nationally recognized musical style and genre.

In the mid 1960s, while the country spiraled towards a long and painful war in Vietnam, a group of local talented musicians, writers, producers and arrangers came together under the genius of TK Records and its founder, Henry Stone, an independent record distributor who had settled in Miami after making records for years in California.  Stone set up shop in a warehouse in Hialeah just a few blocks east of LeJuene Road.  He recruited local producers Willie Clarke and Clarence Reid (“BlowFly”) who ran their own small record label – Deep City Records – and had laid solid groundwork for what was to come.

Clarke, a former member of the Florida A&M (“FAMU”) 100 Band, recalled during a recent panel discussion one of the key and fundamental elements of this unique sound:

Every time we came home [from college] for spring break or Christmas holidays, we’d get together and walk the streets of Overtown from club to club and the horn players would go and sit in with groups like Dizzy Jones and Frank Williams & the Rocketeers… We developed a style of playing that was almost equal to: you gotta march when you hear the song. We developed this big brass sound with horns… which was traditional in the FAMU sound.

The TK Group combined the songwriting talents of Clarke and Reid, and Stone’s connections to national record labels and distribution skills, and under TK, they recorded funk and R&B influenced by Miami’s cultural dynamic at the time.  According to Clarke:

We had hillbillies, Gospel singers, Bahamian guitar players,… The Miami Sound came from a real integration of different styles of music and we blended it together.

Big horns, deep bass grooves, tight guitar riffs, sometimes a piano, sometimes an organ, always soul.

Early contributors to the Miami Sound included James Knight and the Butlers, the aforementioned Frank Williams, Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, Joey Gilmore, and Timmy Thomas.  And the women – strong, no-nonsense, in-your-face. There was Helene Smith, considered Miami’s first lady of soul, Betty Wright, Gwen McCrae.  Smith and Wright were holdovers from the Deep City days. McCrae would become a star in her own right with the top ten hit Rockin’ Chair in 1974.

For a while Miami Sound was comparable with some of the biggest R&B music labels of that time: Motown (Detroit), Stax Records (Memphis), “Sweet” Philly (Philadelphia).

So what happened?

Well, TK’s music would evolve and cross over into dance and specifically disco in the mid 1970s. Harry Casey (aka KC) and Richard Finch were two aspiring musicians who started working at the TK studio packing records. Soon they were writing music for Gwen’s husband, George McCrae (Rock Your Baby, a #1 hit in 1974) and others before they formed their own group and exploded onto the disco scene as KC & The Sunshine Band scoring TK Records a string of #1 hits that became iconic with the era. A great run indeed but disco quickly floundered in the early 1980s, and TK, facing financial difficulties from a severe drop in record sales, filed for bankruptcy.

Soul Jazz Records, a reissue label in London, has reprinted copies of a compilation record,  Miami Sound: Rare Funk & Soul from 1967-1974 [http://www.souljazzrecords.co.uk/index.php] featuring a wonderful sampling of the early pre-disco funk, soul and R&B that made music history in Miami.

Here’s a taste: