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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.)
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.
Whether as a response to discrimination, poverty, injustice, or simply a lost love, traditional blues music has forever been synonymous with melancholy and human misery. You’d think that blues singers were the same; always feeling, well…, blue. If so, then Joey Gilmore is the light that cracks through that stereotype.
See the thing about blues, well, you know that’s what R&B means, rhythm and blues. It’s blues with rhythm to where you can dance.
There was such a stigma about the blues [back in the day]. Blues was mostly considered music for poor people; poor, black and ignorant…
The sad part is that people miss out on so much about the blues because there’s such a terrible misconception about it.
Blues is great music, man.
Gilmore, 68, plays blues with an upbeat. He uses guitar progressions and rhythms that make you feel good, even if [he] used to wake up every morning, to get to work by nine, but then [he] lost his job and now [he] can’t even borrow a dime.
Gilmore was born in Ocala, Florida. By the time he was 5 years old, he was an orphan. His mother passed away and his father ran off, leaving him and 7 brothers and sisters behind. The children moved in with whoever would take them. Aunts, uncles, cousins. Young Joey found solace in music.
I started banging around on tin cans, buckets and barrels and stuff. Whatever I could find a beat on.
He taught himself well enough that he was invited to join the high school band at Lincoln Park High as a drum major. Gilmore also taught himself guitar and started his own band at 14. One afternoon, the band was invited to play a gig at the opening of a gas station in Mascotte, FL. The year was 1959, and small Florida towns like Mascotte were deep into segregation, much like the rest of the south. Gilmore’s band proved to be quite popular at the event. People were dancing, mingling, integrating. And then, from a distance, Gilmore saw a truck. As it approached, he could make out the passenger. It was Fred Thomas, then Mascotte’s mayor and chief of police.
He came stormin’ in… while the party is going on. Rolled in with his foot dragging out the door. The car didn’t hardly stop long enough. In those days they had one of those big long whip antennas and the dirt road wasn’t paved like they are now and he come in with a cloud of dust behind ‘em and the whip antennae just going back and forth…He jumped out the car and came over and said, I ain’t gonna have it, I ain’t gonna have it, I ain’t gonna have these nee-gees and white folk mixing in my town.
He broke the party up and everybody had to go home.
It was funny.
To others, the memory might have had a lasting emotional effect. But to Gilmore, it plays like a comedy. He goes on to say it was no big deal, we got through it. ‘It’ being the ‘it’ that segregated people by the complexion of their skin, the period when whites and blacks stood at diametrically opposite ends of the social ladder. And Gilmore’s reaction, some 50 years later? It was no big deal.
For the most part…, blacks and whites got along better [back then] than they do today.
That’s how Joey Gilmore carries himself. He doesn’t let things make him blue.
And in return, the universe seems to bestow goodness onto him.
In 1962, after graduating from Lincoln Park High, Gilmore was looking for a proper reason to leave his hometown of Groveland (FL). One day, Gilmore received a phone call that would change the course of his life. It came from his brother-in-law who lived in Miami. The call went something like this: Hey Joey, Frank William’s band is looking for a guitarist. Do you want to come down here?
Soon after, he was on a Greyhound bus, one-way ticket stub in hand. Gilmore arrived in Miami on a Sunday. By the following Wednesday, he was performing at Cafe Society in Overtown with Frank Williams & the Rocketeers, one of Miami’s most popular R&B bands of the 1960s. But the progression from Groveland to the Cafe Society stage wasn’t so linear.
After meeting Frank Williams that Sunday, Gilmore learned that the band was actually looking for a bass guitarist, not a lead guitarist. They told him he had three days to learn how to play it. Gilmore got to work.
They had a dressing room upstairs over the stage. That’s where I would go, every day, day and night, and practice on bass.
It turned out Gilmore was no stranger to the bass guitar.
When I was at home, I used to get on my back porch, turn my record player on, get me a stack of records and I would take my amplifier and I’d turn all the treble off the amplifier, nothing but bass. Just turn the bass wide open and turn the volume up high so I can get that punchy sound. And I’d take my guitar and tune the strings down…and I would sit down with the record player and play the bass line on every song.
The Wednesday night performance at the nightclub went smoothly and launched Gilmore’s professional career, one that would figure prominently in Miami’s surging inner city nightclub scene of the 60s and 70s.
Gilmore played bass guitar with the Rocketeers for two consecutive years until 1964 when he joined the Army. When he returned after a two-year stint, Frank Williams had found a replacement, bringing in Arkansas-native guitar virtuoso, Willie (Little Beaver) Hale. No worries. Frank Williams formed a new band for Gilmore and named them The Rocketeers No. 2. And this would be Gilmore’s band. He would play lead guitar and often handle lead vocals. The Rocketeers No. 2 performed at popular nightclubs in Overtown and Liberty City, among them, Double Decker Lounge, Mister James Club, and the Continental Club. This went on for a few years.
Gilmore cut his first ever record as lead. The song was written by Little Beaver and titled, Somebody Done Took My Baby And Gone. It was issued on Frank William’s independent label, SAADIA RECORDS, which was named after one of his twin daughters.
The record was then reissued two months later by the Philadelphia soul label, PHIL-LA-OF SOUL, one of the major soul labels of that time.
It was a national hit record. It was in the top 10 on every soul radio station in the country.
I ask him to tell me about that experience.
Sad to say it but I was green as grass. I didn’t know anything about the business end of it so consequently I never got a dime from none of it.
But I had popularity as far as going to different towns and playing. I had radio play all over the place. I would go to places and it was like wow, this is superstar. But I didn’t know it. I thought I was a band player.
When he says he was green as grass, he means it. Joey Gilmore got ripped off by concert promoters over and over again. He didn’t have a manager to help him with those things. He says all he knew how to do was put a band together and play music.
In 1976, Gilmore signed with the Henry Stone label, BLUE CANDLE, a division of TK Records. He released a few singles and a self-titled (Joey Gilmore) funk album.
He rode that wave for a few years.
Musicians thrive on the whims of the public but that can be risky because things might be roaring today and tomorrow it’s different. That’s the way the music world is, constantly up and down.
Gilmore then turned to blues music. In 1989, he released So Good To Be Bad, a blues album in the style of his hero, B.B. King. The record landed him gigs overseas, including a 12-week tour in Switzerland.
Since then, Gilmore has recorded four additional blues album, the last two titled The Ghosts of Mississippi Meet the Gods of Africa (2006) and Bluesman (2008), both to critical acclaim. A few years ago, he won the prestigious International Blues Challenge awarded by The Blues Foundation of Memphis, TN. These days, he’s still going strong. This summer he’s booked to play blues festivals in Austria, Italy, and Germany. You may occasionally get a glimpse of the man performing at the Sunday Jazz Brunch in Fort Lauderdale. And when you listen to Joey Gilmore play the blues, don’t expect melancholy. Not from him.
Everybody has stories and you want to spend time whining about yours? [No way.] I could be down in the dumps and I turn on the TV or go out and talk to people and man, if you listen for awhile, you say, I ain’t got no problems. Homeless people… and people who don’t have jobs.
Every day I wake up on the green side of the earth is a blessing to me.
I don’t let anything get me down.
… even if somebody done took his baby and gone. Here is Gilmore’s 1971 hit song:
 I checked the Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B Hits, an anthology that covers the period 1942-2004. While Gilmore’s song Somebody Done Took My Baby and Gone does not appear to have cracked the Hot R&B chart in 1971, a reflection more of the times, in the 1940s, there were 2 similarly titled songs that did garner a mention: Somebody Done Changed The Lock On My Door (Louis Jordan, 1945) and Somebody Done Stole My Cherry Red (Eddie Vinson, 1949).
Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami
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.
The 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.
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 Let’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.
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 the 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.
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.
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).
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.
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 record 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.
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 additional 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.
 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.
 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.
 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
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
For three months I tried to schedule this interview but he’d either cancel, fail to show up, or send an excuse through his manager, Tom. So when we finally sat down at the Miami Jai Alai one morning last week, I was keen on not letting him drift away. (At least physically.)
Who is Clarence Reid?
He is credited with co-writing and/or arranging more than 220 songs since 1963 for mostly Miami independent record labels. He also released over 30 albums, singles, or EPs of his own. This makes him arguably the most prominent and prolific contributor to Miami’s 60s and 70s soul music scene.
Reid’s back story begins in Cochran, a rural town spread across 4.2 square miles in the belly of the State of Georgia.
When I was about 6 years old, all the blacks up there, they had this thing that if you’re black you’re supposed to listen to the blues like B.B. King and all of that stuff.
I didn’t like blues. Everything is wrong.
The corn don’t roll, the hen don’t lay… I didn’t like it.
I liked the hillbilly music. I would get [that music] and change them around in my own stuff.
Shittin’ in the morning sun / I’ll be shittin’ till the evening come / watching my turds fall in / then I take them back out again. [parody of Otis Redding classic]
…the blacks [would say]…, you’re disgusting’…, but the white people loved it.
He performed around Cochran and he says the white folks ate it up. He’d get paid for it too, sometimes coming home with as much as 90 or 100 dollars or about 10xs what some of the workers were making in the rural fields.
On the road again / Just can’t wait to get on the road again / the Hershey highway means ass, where all the turds have ever been / I can’t wait to get on the road again. [parody of Willie Nelson classic]
When his grandmother found out how he made the money, she was incensed:
You’re a disgrace to the black race and you ain’t no better than a blow fly.
And I said, ‘what the heck is a blow fly?’
A blow fly is a black and red and green insect, they lay eggs on dead things, they turn into maggots, she’d say.
And so BlowFly was born. (More on that later.)
The interview continues.
When Reid first moved to Miami, he hooked up with a number of local music people: Willie Clarke of Deep City Records, Henry Stone of Tone Distributors (and later TK Productions). In 1963 he recorded Like White on Rice on Stone’s DADE Label, a ballad that was been described as ‘a strong vocal performance backed with a pumping piano and some fine horns’ by at least one soul music enthusiast I found through my research.
In 1969, Reid had his biggest hit, Nobody But You Babe [ALSTON]. The song peaked nationally at #7 on the R&B charts. But after that, commercial success as a frontman (at least as “Clarence Reid”) was hard to come by. Yet he continued to thrive in the songwriting field.
He wrote early hits for Betty Wright, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Gwen McCrae, a trio of artists that dominated the Miami R&B/soul/early disco scene from 1968-1974.
Back in the day, … the wife would tell her daddy, hey daddy, you want me to rock you in my rockin’ chair?
Yeah.. That [song] means fucking.
This thought process is a good segue into what inspired Reid to don a mask and a cape and create an alter ego known as BlowFly. Reid’s Blowfly was a foul-mouth performer of parodied songs like the Otis Redding or Willie Nelson classics mentioned above. He is considered the original dirty rapper predating the likes of Miami’s own 2 Live Crew by more than a decade.
As BlowFly, he released Rap Dirty in 1971, considered the first ever dirty rap recording, and continued with a string of albums throughout the 70s and 80s. They were called ‘party records’ back then because they were only played at house parties. The records were sold clandestinely behind the counter at select record shops because of the profanity not only in the lyrics and song titles but also the cover art which often featured topless women. (BlowFly was featured in the 2010 documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly.)
Yet despite all the profane, misogynist-like rap songs he recorded as BlowFly, Clarence Reid had a deep respect for women. He wanted them to be strong. He appreciated them, protected them, pedestal-ed them. He manifested these emotions in a kinder gentler way through his other compositions.
About the Miami Soul classic Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Can Do (and Still be a Lady) [Betty Wright, ALSTON, 1969]
.. I couldn’t understand. If you had 5 women at 1 time, you was a lover or a Casanova. But if your sister dated two guys, she was a whore. I just couldn’t understand it. So I came up with that record,. …That was big on the charts, top 10.
Or about Don’t Make the Good Girls Go Bad [Della Humphrey, ARCTIC, 1968]
People used to say about this girl or that girl… ‘she’s a whore’ and everything…, I would get mad, ‘you all made her that way’. I remember this boy would take his sister with him on dates. Then he’d say I’ll be right back and had guys give him money to leave his sister there so they can bang her. This was in Georgia back then…All the girls, they weren’t bad, [the guys] would make them go bad. .. that’s when I came up with that song.
I ask him if he’s still in touch with any of the singers he composed for. No, he says, with a little bit of bitterness.
Someone tells them, you’re big enough to go on your own now. What they don’t understand is that I created stuff from scratch. I don’t care how good the other manager was, if you can’t create shit, you’re gone. That’s the way it was.
But Reid doesn’t really have any regrets. In fact, he doesn’t even give me a chance to ask him about regrets. He’s already onto the next topic, a song he wrote that was sung by Vanessa Kendrick.
How can I do what’s right / When what I need is wrong / how can I follow the rules of love / when love won’t let me be strong.
Then he parodies Christmas carols.
Silent night / holy night / your p#ssy’s so loose / were it once so tight.
Then he asks me my astrological sign and then dazzles with a dirty song about being a Libra. He turns around and serenades a woman having a Coke next to us. This is Clarence Reid a/k/a BlowFly and its the show of the day at the Miami Jai Alai.
The previous week at the Ricochet Lounge in Midtown Miami he said he performed in front of a packed house as BlowFly. (I saw him play at The Stage earlier this year. He can still work a crowd.)
At the end of this month he’s headed to Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Portland. He says the crowds are diverse. Young, old, black, white, ‘even the Spanish’ line up to see him perform these days. And one thing is certain…
When they come to my show, they leave happy.
Copyright © 2012 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.