Tagged: KC & The Sunshine Band

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/

Little Beaver – Part 1

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It’s the blue house with the maroon van parked out front.

Willie “Little Beaver” Hale is giving me directions to his home three days before our scheduled interview.  Beaver, as he prefers to be called, has finally agreed to sit down with Long Play Miami; it took almost a year. Even after this phone call, I have some doubt. He has stood me up in the past.

On the morning of the interview I call him to confirm our appointment but he doesn’t return the call. Rather than wait and lose another opportunity I head over there, to Opa-locka, Florida, to find the blue house with the maroon van.

I arrive at his home about 45 minutes later. A chain link fence along the perimeter of the property stands between me and the blue house. The front gate is secured with a pad lock. There are hurricane shutters (slightly open) on the windows and iron wrought bars over the front door. And while the maroon van is indeed parked out front, there is no indication that he’s home. I stand there outside his gate and as I’m dialing his number on my cell phone I hear the almighty jingling sound of keys.

I look towards the front door and notice the silhouette of a man emerge. The door opens and he walks out wearing a grey t-shirt, blue jeans and a plain white baseball cap. He doesn’t say a 2013-12-05 13.31.41word. We shake hands over the chain link gate and then he inserts one of the keys into the padlock, unlocks it and invites me inside.

Save for a couple of his own CDs on the kitchen table and a gold-plated framed portrait from his younger days, you’d never know you were in the presence of Little Beaver, arguably the most important and accomplished R&B guitarist of Miami’s soul scene of the 60s and early 70s.

“I don’t know very much,” he mumbles as he sits down in his favorite chair up against a window. It has hurricane shutters too, letting only a glimmer of daylight slip into the living room. Then he says:

The people that know me ’round here don’t know I’m Little Beaver. There’s one guy on the corner.

And there was an older, white couple across the street. They used to call me Beaver. Their son used to smoke crack with Rick Finch so that might be how they found out I was Little Beaver.

Rick Finch was co-founder, along with Harry Casey, of the Miami super group KC & The Sunshine Band, the disco powerhouse that put out five #1 songs between 1974-1979 and became one of the most commercially successful 70s bands (second only to the Bee Gees). Little Beaver and Finch met way back at Henry Stone’s TK studios in Hialeah in the early 1970s. Beaver was one of the studio’s session musicians.

Beginning around 1963, upon arriving to Miami from Forrest City, Arkansas, Beaver played lead guitar for some of the leading R&B club acts around town. Around 1970, he was invited by local producer Willie Clarke to join TK and record under their funk label, Cat.

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Beaver had an impressive, albeit brief, solo career, hitting his peak in 1974 with the funky-soul number Party Down. Beaver also arranged and played the guitar tracks on many of the soul records produced in Miami including Betty Wright’s sensational hit Clean Up Woman (1971).

In fact, Beaver’s guitar, described by Rolling Stone as “delicate” and “oozing,” can be heard on almost every Miami 60s/early 70s soul and funk record that was worth a dime.

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Growing up in Forrest City, AR (he was born in nearby Marianna), Little Beaver was known for two things: (1) a pair of front 2013-12-05 15.17.43teeth resembling those of a certain semi-aquatic furry animal – which earned him his nickname – and (2) his talent for the guitar.

My step father Clarence Jones Sr…, he bought a box guitar for about 11 bucks. It was while he’d go to church and he had a couple other guys and they like to sing gospel. So he decided he was going to learn to play guitar, strum along while they sing, you know.

But Beaver says his step dad could never find the time to play.

The guitar was just sitting there leaning against the wall.

He says he “plucked on it” for a while, teaching himself how to play a few chords. He immediately began drawing interest around Forrest City.

There was this guy named Anderson that everyone around town called Sarge because he walked like a soldier. He showed me my first fingering on the guitar, how to actually play notes. He showed me how to play traditional blues chords. For about a month I thought I was a master.

Soon after, the first gig opportunities came to him.

There was a keyboard player in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the time when Bobby Bland was popular. He used to come get me. In fact, a lot of people would come and get me ‘cause I was the only guitar player in Forrest City that they could find available.

He says that on the weekends they’d pick up a drummer and the three of them would head over to “a joint” located in tiny Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Tiny place.

Just a wood shed.

Enjoy yourself; drink beer; eat fried chicken, you know.

This was about 1960-61. Beaver was still a teenager.

He looks towards the front window as if he’s expecting someone. But there’s no one there, at least no one I can see.

You know, for a long time I played with a clamp.

A guitar clamp, for those that don’t know, is a small tool or bracket that is clamped onto the neck of the guitar near one of the frets and presses down on the strings. It allows the guitarist to play in a certain key.

You just play [the guitar] straight with a clamp. But the other way, when you are ready to play a chord, you gotta finger it.

That was hard. I didn’t have them big buttermilk fingers like BB King. BB had them big ole’ fingers. I [played] with little bitty fingers… But I couldn’t reach the bass [top chord on a guitar].

Beaver said his index finger didn’t have “enough power.”

It was too short. So I put my brain to work and finally I figured out how to play the bass [chord].

He wiggles his little bitty thumb at me.

When it becomes obvious that I don’t really understand this technique, he gets up from the chair, disappears into a corridor, brings out a black guitar case and lays it on the couch near the chair. There is dust on it. Two white little critters scurry across the top. He wipes them away before they reach their destination.  The last time Beaver took out his guitar was when a film crew from PBS stopped by a few months ago to interview him for an upcoming documentary.

Then he pulls out a red Gibson guitar and settles back in his chair.

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And that little itty bitty thumb? It disappears behind the neck of the guitar for a second before reappearing above the neck to hold down the top chord.

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There’s only a few people that play with their thumb on the bass and most of them came through me. 

Then he strums his famous riff from the 1972 Betty Wright Miami soul classic Clean Up Woman.

When he finishes, I take a few photos of him – with his permission.

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Beaver moved to Florida in 1963. He says he had a friend named Wilbert that during the high seasons would drive to Florida City to work in the migrant farms and then once the season ended, he’d head back to Arkansas.

He came home one Christmas to see his family. And on his way back to Florida he stopped through Forrest City to say hello to me. And I was laying there. My mom had just slaughtered a hog that we had fed all the summer, fattened up real good. She bought a freezer. It was full of pork chop, bacon. I’m laying there getting fat. Not working.

[Wilbert] said if you was in Miami, Florida you’d get a job just like that (finger snap). That’s where all the big bands come through. He just went on and on.

Beaver told his mother he wanted to go.  She suggested he talk to his step dad who was outside and ask him for some money.

I didn’t go that way. I just got in the car with Wilbert and we hit the road coming back to Florida. I might’ve had two pennies in my pocket. Maybe.

But I knew if he ate, I would eat. If he slept, I would sleep. That’s how much trust and confidence I had. People was honest back then. A friend was a real friend.

Friend enough to let you sleep in his car.

They got to Florida City and Wilbert and his wife stayed in a trailer while Beaver took up temporary residence in Wilbert’s car.

I was there in Florida City for a good, little while. Not working, not knowing that many people.

But there were people that befriended me ’cause of my guitar.

People like Willy who would bring him food from time to time; T.C. who took him in a few nights; Junior who worked at “a big old house” and let Beaver stay there too for a while. And then there was “wild, big old guy” Benny who owned a barbershop in Goulds. Beaver says it was Benny who first brought him up to Miami to mix in with the local music scene.

He took me to the Sir John Knight Beat Club one night. Butterball was the M.C. that night…

Butterball

Butterball

I give Butterball credit for discovering me.. the great Little Beaver. Because Benny talked Butterball into putting me on the talent show.

Nobody knew me. I didn’t know where I was.

And I sang Please Please Please and rocked the house.

 

Read Part 2 here.

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Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami

 

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

The Legend of Henry Stone

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.

But his “real love” was making records. The Ray Charles tracks are treasured gems today but they didn’t exactly burn up the charts back then. 

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

 

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Update: Henry Stone passed away on August 7, 2014. Rest in Peace, Henry.