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/
If you missed Part 1, read it here.
Little Beaver’s debut performance at Overtown’s Knight Beat club had just ended. Frank Duboise, a local musician, was watching from nearby. After all, his band, The Chicken Scratchers, was the club’s house band at the time. Duboise approached Beaver afterwards and invited him to join his band on the spot.
We ended up in Coconut Grove at the Tiki Club. Bobby Marshall was the MC. We had B.B. King come there one night. We were the house band and B.B. was the star. And that’s when I first met Sam & Dave…
Beaver remembers playing to a packed house every weekend with the Chicken Scratchers. But they didn’t just play at the black clubs. Duboise had another gig, a “white evening lounge” off of NW 27th Avenue.
Frank liked to play Sinatra… ‘cause he worked for the judges downtown on 12th Street and so he would do little gigs for the judges and lawyers.
Beaver says that whenever Duboise would start with “that stuff” (Sinatra music), he’d ask Beaver to leave the stage.
He would let me go. Go have a drink or something…,
because I play too loud.
He only stuck it out for about a month.
Sure, the gigs were fine and the pay ($75 per night) was pretty good but Beaver says he started to miss Florida City.
I was getting lonesome. I didn’t have many friends in Miami. So I left the band and went back down to Florida City and I played where I always played; at the Lucy Street Bar somewhere back there on Krome Avenue.
One night he happened to cross paths with Frank Williams. Williams and his group The Rocketeers were the ‘it’ band of Miami’s soul scene at the time. They backed up just about every artist that rolled through Miami’s Overtown club scene. They had also cut some records of their own under William’s label, Saadia (named after one of his twin daughters) and were getting local airplay. In other words, their music could be heard day and night from Coconut Grove to Liberty City.
Williams asked Beaver to join his band as lead guitarist (former guitarist Joey Gilmore left the band in 1964 to enlist in the Army). Beaver accepted. It was time to move on from Florida City anyway. The real action was happening in Miami. So one day he had a friend drive him to The Island Club in Overtown where Williams was set to perform that evening.
I didn’t have no attire to wear on stage, you know. And so Frank got one of them porters there or whatever you call them who had a little white outfit and I used one of his little outfits that [first] night.
What a combo. A 19-year old bluesy virtuoso with Miami’s hottest R&B act.
They played behind the likes of Sam & Dave, Teddy Pendergrass, Johnny Taylor, Etta James, Betty Wright and on and on.
Then he pauses and says:
But, Frank exploited me, so to speak.
Whenever the word “exploit” comes up during any of these interviews with past Miami musicians, it makes me cringe a little. So I say, you mean in a good way, right?
Sure, it turned out to be in a good way but I didn’t know it at the time.
I didn’t want to be a vocalist. I was a musician at heart. Still am, you know. I didn’t consider myself no singer. All through my life coming up when I learned to play guitar there was always a vocalist in the group. That was the singer. And we all acknowledged that. I wasn’t no singer. I guess I was kind of like Nat King Cole.
Beaver then tells me a story about Cole, that he never wanted to sing but one day at a club one of those “gangster guys” came in and wanted to hear One For My Baby, One For My Rose. For some reason, which in hindsight seems like a legendary anecdote, the lead vocalist wasn’t there. So the club owner told Cole to either sing the song or find himself another job.
After that, it was history. Nat was a singer, whether he wanted to be or not.
Beaver says Williams wanted him to sing.
Me and Frank had a big discussion about it, brought tears to my eyes. I was so mad. He got mad too. I can get guitar players a dime a dozen, he said. I need someone who can sing and do a little more than just play the guitar.
He kind of twisted my arm ‘cause I was making pretty good money. I didn’t want to leave that job and go back down to [Florida City] ‘cause I figured I kind of wore out my welcome going back down there a second time…, so I was forced to stay and I started to sing.
After that, whenever the Rocketeers played at the Island Club, Beaver had to sing a few numbers too. He didn’t like it but he grew into his new role.
(He sits up in his chair a little.)
Eventually I became the favorite with the people. They enjoyed everybody but they especially came out to hear Little Beaver. Instead of Frank Williams and the Rocketeers on his poster boards he put up, it was Frank Williams and the Rocketeers featuring Little Beaver.
‘Cause Little Beaver was the drawing card.
Beaver acknowledges Frank William’s influence on him.
I give him credit. He got me started.
I had to start somewhere.
The Rocketeers were one of the hardest working bands in Miami at the time, drawing full houses week in and week out, and Little Beaver was a big part of it. From 1964 to around 1968, they were the featured act at the Knight Beat, then Mr. James Club, then Continental Club, then Double Decker Lounge, and finally back at the Knight Beat. They also got into the studio and cut some good sounding soul records including the hit You Got To Be A Man (Phil-LA-of Soul, 1966).
Things were good, for a good little while, he says. Until they weren’t.
Beaver says Frank Williams wanted to run some clubs, manage them like night club impresario Clyde Killens, who at the time ruled over the Overtown club scene.
Killens could get just about anybody to perform at his clubs.
Beaver thinks the two of them partnered up on some things and Williams got in over his head with debts. He eventually stopped paying the band.
Clyde would come in and take all the money.
Everything that came through the door. Every penny.
The Rocketeers were finished. First the horn players left, and later, one by one: bassist Edmund Collins, drummer Robert Ferguson, pianist Louie Howard, and Little Beaver.
We just couldn’t do it no more. I was like four or five months behind in my rent.
Black people were taking their money to [Miami Beach]…, places like the Castaways or the Eden Roc.
They weren’t going to the black clubs.
We had our own clubs, …prestigious black clubs. But we lost clientele.
He goes on.
A lot of people enjoyed the freedom. They wanted to go to the white clubs just to say We Made It. It’s like we needed to find our identity. But we already had an identity.
We talk about this for a few more minutes, about those that have and those that have not and how the haves always want more.
But let’s get back to music history.
During one of Little Beaver’s night club performances, he came to know Willie Clarke, songwriter/producer with TK Studios and former co-founder of Miami’s Deep City Records. Clarke invited Beaver to come out to TK’s Hialeah studios, which at the time was gaining momentum as a player in the national soul music scene.
I went out there and they wanted to hear some of my material. I played one song for them – Joey.
The song is a ripe blend of soul and blues about a man under duress ’cause his baby is calling out another man’s name.
Released under TK’s R&B label (Cat), the record wasn’t a hit right away. But Beaver didn’t just sit around. He formed his own group and started playing “the same little joints as before.”
Then Dave Prater (formerly of Sam & Dave) called.
Prater had just split from Sam Moore and was coming back to Miami. He wanted Beaver and his group to back him up on his solo U.S. tour. After a few dates, the tour turned out to be a disaster.
We were starving…, every place we’d go was canceled because he was booking himself as “Sam & Dave” and he didn’t have Sam. I mean, I sounded good singing with him but I wasn’t Sam. That was crooked. When people got [to the show], they canceled.
He says one day he called from the road over to TK studios. Willie Clarke got on the phone.
He said, Hey man, when you coming home? You got a hit!
With a little help from some friends, mainly local DJs like Butterball from WMBM, Joey (Cat, 1972) broke out and onto the Billboard R&B charts, reaching #48 on the list.
At this point in the interview, Little Beaver pauses to look out the front window. It’s not so much a look but rather a departure from this moment.
In 1974, Beaver blew the doors open on his music career with his biggest hit record.
There was a guy. He was a white fellow, jail bird, I didn’t know it at the time. He had a long rap sheet. But anyway I used to go over his apartment and smoke a little weed and listen to records. And he played this song by a white group and I heard the chord changes and the chord changes stuck. I couldn’t get rid of it. So I started to go home and play those chords changes. And I kept playing them.
And then there was a commercial on TV, one of those island commercials, like Jamaica, Tahiti, you know, with the girl all dressed in a little suit with her hair hanging and it was like ting-tun-ting-tuun… ting-ku-ku-kun ting-tun… just over and over and I said man, that’s soothing.
So I started to put that together with those chord changes. And I came up with Party Down.
Party Down (Cat, 1974) debuted on Billboard’s R&B Charts on September 21, 1974 and raced up to #2. Little Beaver was a household name.
He was even invited to perform the hit song on Soul Train.
Yeah, that was my Ed Sullivan show.
Beaver says the record was so commercial, it’s still selling with each generation that discovers it.
I get more money from royalties now than I did back then when it first came out.
He tells me about the day he learned that Jay Z had used one of his songs from the Party Down album.
I went on WikiPedia one day. You know…, I look at myself once in a while, see what they saying about me.
And I see Jay Z just sampled one of [my] songs. I said, what? I didn’t even know who Jay Z was. There’s so many of them, Jay Z, Smooth E Z, L Cool, Cool Cool, there’s a million of them. I didn’t have a clue who Jay Z was.
Jay Z used Beaver’s song, Get Into The Party Life, for the 2007 film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
I got paid pretty good.
Little Beaver’s recording career after 1974 lost some steam. He had a couple mild hits but the R&B audience had changed as they gravitated more towards disco music. Beaver’s last recording was I Feel Like Crying (Cat, 1978). In 1980, TK, which produced some of the biggest disco hits in the world, folded, as did the Cat record label. Little Beaver put away the guitar and got himself a job.
He worked as a cleaner with Miami-Dade Transit for 30 years until he retired in 2012. Hardly any of his colleagues knew he was Little Beaver. They all knew him as Willie [Hale].
Beaver says he just never had the desire to continue with the music career.
I didn’t want that fame and fortune and Hollywood thing. I wasn’t after that.
He says when he reminisces, it makes him laugh.
I have never tried to do anything but people seek me out. I’m not trying to be famous. But my name keeps poppin’ up. I had a DJ email me from San Diego, California, wants to interview me. He’s into my music. I hate to say I’m not interested so I just pretend I didn’t hear…
He pauses again and looks towards the window.
I don’t want all of that fuss, man.
Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami
It’s the blue house with the maroon van parked out front.
Willie “Little Beaver” Hale is giving me directions to his home three days before our scheduled interview. Beaver, as he prefers to be called, has finally agreed to sit down with Long Play Miami; it took almost a year. Even after this phone call, I have some doubt. He has stood me up in the past.
On the morning of the interview I call him to confirm our appointment but he doesn’t return the call. Rather than wait and lose another opportunity I head over there, to Opa-locka, Florida, to find the blue house with the maroon van.
I arrive at his home about 45 minutes later. A chain link fence along the perimeter of the property stands between me and the blue house. The front gate is secured with a pad lock. There are hurricane shutters (slightly open) on the windows and iron wrought bars over the front door. And while the maroon van is indeed parked out front, there is no indication that he’s home. I stand there outside his gate and as I’m dialing his number on my cell phone I hear the almighty jingling sound of keys.
I look towards the front door and notice the silhouette of a man emerge. The door opens and he walks out wearing a grey t-shirt, blue jeans and a plain white baseball cap. He doesn’t say a word. We shake hands over the chain link gate and then he inserts one of the keys into the padlock, unlocks it and invites me inside.
Save for a couple of his own CDs on the kitchen table and a gold-plated framed portrait from his younger days, you’d never know you were in the presence of Little Beaver, arguably the most important and accomplished R&B guitarist of Miami’s soul scene of the 60s and early 70s.
“I don’t know very much,” he mumbles as he sits down in his favorite chair up against a window. It has hurricane shutters too, letting only a glimmer of daylight slip into the living room. Then he says:
The people that know me ’round here don’t know I’m Little Beaver. There’s one guy on the corner.
And there was an older, white couple across the street. They used to call me Beaver. Their son used to smoke crack with Rick Finch so that might be how they found out I was Little Beaver.
Rick Finch was co-founder, along with Harry Casey, of the Miami super group KC & The Sunshine Band, the disco powerhouse that put out five #1 songs between 1974-1979 and became one of the most commercially successful 70s bands (second only to the Bee Gees). Little Beaver and Finch met way back at Henry Stone’s TK studios in Hialeah in the early 1970s. Beaver was one of the studio’s session musicians.
Beginning around 1963, upon arriving to Miami from Forrest City, Arkansas, Beaver played lead guitar for some of the leading R&B club acts around town. Around 1970, he was invited by local producer Willie Clarke to join TK and record under their funk label, Cat.
Beaver had an impressive, albeit brief, solo career, hitting his peak in 1974 with the funky-soul number Party Down. Beaver also arranged and played the guitar tracks on many of the soul records produced in Miami including Betty Wright’s sensational hit Clean Up Woman (1971).
In fact, Beaver’s guitar, described by Rolling Stone as “delicate” and “oozing,” can be heard on almost every Miami 60s/early 70s soul and funk record that was worth a dime.
Growing up in Forrest City, AR (he was born in nearby Marianna), Little Beaver was known for two things: (1) a pair of front teeth resembling those of a certain semi-aquatic furry animal – which earned him his nickname – and (2) his talent for the guitar.
My step father Clarence Jones Sr…, he bought a box guitar for about 11 bucks. It was while he’d go to church and he had a couple other guys and they like to sing gospel. So he decided he was going to learn to play guitar, strum along while they sing, you know.
But Beaver says his step dad could never find the time to play.
The guitar was just sitting there leaning against the wall.
He says he “plucked on it” for a while, teaching himself how to play a few chords. He immediately began drawing interest around Forrest City.
There was this guy named Anderson that everyone around town called Sarge because he walked like a soldier. He showed me my first fingering on the guitar, how to actually play notes. He showed me how to play traditional blues chords. For about a month I thought I was a master.
Soon after, the first gig opportunities came to him.
There was a keyboard player in Pine Bluff, Arkansas during the time when Bobby Bland was popular. He used to come get me. In fact, a lot of people would come and get me ‘cause I was the only guitar player in Forrest City that they could find available.
He says that on the weekends they’d pick up a drummer and the three of them would head over to “a joint” located in tiny Stuttgart, Arkansas.
Just a wood shed.
Enjoy yourself; drink beer; eat fried chicken, you know.
This was about 1960-61. Beaver was still a teenager.
He looks towards the front window as if he’s expecting someone. But there’s no one there, at least no one I can see.
You know, for a long time I played with a clamp.
A guitar clamp, for those that don’t know, is a small tool or bracket that is clamped onto the neck of the guitar near one of the frets and presses down on the strings. It allows the guitarist to play in a certain key.
You just play [the guitar] straight with a clamp. But the other way, when you are ready to play a chord, you gotta finger it.
That was hard. I didn’t have them big buttermilk fingers like BB King. BB had them big ole’ fingers. I [played] with little bitty fingers… But I couldn’t reach the bass [top chord on a guitar].
Beaver said his index finger didn’t have “enough power.”
It was too short. So I put my brain to work and finally I figured out how to play the bass [chord].
He wiggles his little bitty thumb at me.
When it becomes obvious that I don’t really understand this technique, he gets up from the chair, disappears into a corridor, brings out a black guitar case and lays it on the couch near the chair. There is dust on it. Two white little critters scurry across the top. He wipes them away before they reach their destination. The last time Beaver took out his guitar was when a film crew from PBS stopped by a few months ago to interview him for an upcoming documentary.
Then he pulls out a red Gibson guitar and settles back in his chair.
And that little itty bitty thumb? It disappears behind the neck of the guitar for a second before reappearing above the neck to hold down the top chord.
There’s only a few people that play with their thumb on the bass and most of them came through me.
Then he strums his famous riff from the 1972 Betty Wright Miami soul classic Clean Up Woman.
When he finishes, I take a few photos of him – with his permission.
Beaver moved to Florida in 1963. He says he had a friend named Wilbert that during the high seasons would drive to Florida City to work in the migrant farms and then once the season ended, he’d head back to Arkansas.
He came home one Christmas to see his family. And on his way back to Florida he stopped through Forrest City to say hello to me. And I was laying there. My mom had just slaughtered a hog that we had fed all the summer, fattened up real good. She bought a freezer. It was full of pork chop, bacon. I’m laying there getting fat. Not working.
[Wilbert] said if you was in Miami, Florida you’d get a job just like that (finger snap). That’s where all the big bands come through. He just went on and on.
Beaver told his mother he wanted to go. She suggested he talk to his step dad who was outside and ask him for some money.
I didn’t go that way. I just got in the car with Wilbert and we hit the road coming back to Florida. I might’ve had two pennies in my pocket. Maybe.
But I knew if he ate, I would eat. If he slept, I would sleep. That’s how much trust and confidence I had. People was honest back then. A friend was a real friend.
Friend enough to let you sleep in his car.
They got to Florida City and Wilbert and his wife stayed in a trailer while Beaver took up temporary residence in Wilbert’s car.
I was there in Florida City for a good, little while. Not working, not knowing that many people.
But there were people that befriended me ’cause of my guitar.
People like Willy who would bring him food from time to time; T.C. who took him in a few nights; Junior who worked at “a big old house” and let Beaver stay there too for a while. And then there was “wild, big old guy” Benny who owned a barbershop in Goulds. Beaver says it was Benny who first brought him up to Miami to mix in with the local music scene.
He took me to the Sir John Knight Beat Club one night. Butterball was the M.C. that night…
I give Butterball credit for discovering me.. the great Little Beaver. Because Benny talked Butterball into putting me on the talent show.
Nobody knew me. I didn’t know where I was.
And I sang Please Please Please and rocked the house.
Read Part 2 here.
Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami
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.
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
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.
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.
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: