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Cincinnati's Rich Music History: Local Record Company Was Crowned a King Once Upon a Time... PDF Print E-mail

We remember & salute a  king - (and no we ain't talkin' about Elvis!)



Part I:
King Records' Hawkshaw Hawkins - Eleven and a Half Yards of Personality (A Renewed & Regular Featured Column)


By Joe Gorman

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I’ve been asked to write a column about our own King Records here in Cincinnati. Many of you either have your own story about King, or worked at King, or have known someone who did. Even after its closing over thirty-five years ago, music fans of the blues, R&B, country, honky tonk, gospel, and doo-wop still speak fondly of their memories about King.

This column about King will be from the perspective of the musician-in-the-street, from one who loves some of the finest music ever produced by an independent American recording studio. I hope to jar some of your memories loose from the cobwebs on your turntable by encouraging you to contact me with stories or anecdotes about King Records. Some of you may only associate the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, with King, not knowing that little King Records recorded many other big-time artists in a wide variety of musical categories.

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Mr Syd Nathan - King's head honcho/ pioneer and music business genuis
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King Records began as the “practical” passion of businessman and record label owner Syd Nathan, a big, colorful man who smoked stogies, wore perfectly round glasses, and yelled a lot. Nathan assembled one of the earliest integrated American companies from the late 1940’s to the early 70’s at the 1540 Brewster Avenue location in Cincinnati. You can still see the brown block building from I-71, near the Montgomery/Dana exit, across from Walnut Hills High School.

Nathan was a businessman who crossed over into “race” music and R & B from the traditional country to get maximum return on his copyrights and proving good songs knew no boundaries. Of course, Mr. Nathan was smart enough to hire one of the most competent music producers and artist and repertoire (A&R) professionals by the name of Henry Glover.

R & B artists such as Little Willie John, James Brown, and Freddie King all have spaces in Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Country and Honky Tonk artists Grandpa Jones, Bill Doggett, Merle Travis, Cowboy Copas, and Harold “Hankshaw” Hawkins are in the Grand Old Opry’s Hall of Fame. Doris Day and Mel Torme were in a league of their own. Over thirty doo-wop groups were recorded at King Records. A doo-wop appreciation group remains active today in the Greater Cincinnati area.
 
As a musician, I have performed many of the songs recorded at King Records in a variety of musical ensembles over the years. I have had the privilege of working with or knowing musicians, employees, and fans of King. As a songwriter licensed through Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), I have written songs for TV soap operas, as well as for my own CD's. I played bass guitar for the “Jim Brown and the Brown Boys” country band in the late 70’s, performing in many little hole-in-the-wall bars and VFW Halls to help pay for college.

One such dive was called 'Harold’s Lounge', tucked away under the shadows of the Harrison Viaduct on Spring Grove Avenue in Camp Washington. Jim Brown was a fiery Telecaster guitar player who played the lead melody over our lead singer Hank’s voice.  This was a very cool effect, adding to the reverb and slap-back sound generated by the cinder block walls of the smoky bar.

Unfortunately, Jim liked to alternately drink Little King beers and Peppermint Schnapps and by the second set, his riffs were swirling behind or in the front of the singer. On a night when Jim had several of these drink combinations, a patron was standing nearly, seemingly enthralled, watching the band literally slide in and out of some Hank Williams tunes.

During the break, he requested a country song called 'Lonesome 7-7203' recorded September,1962 by King recording artist Hawkshaw Hawkins (also known as Mr. Eleven and a Half Yards of Personality because he was way over six feet tall and always wore a smile). The patron took me outside to his car, popped the trunk to show me his shotgun. He said, ”I’ll blow your damn head off if you don’t play me that song. Hawkshaw died for your sins, boy!”

What happened next you ask? We played the song! Hank sang his heart out, and Jim got even more drunk. The guy left us a twenty dollar tip!

Sadly, Hawkshaw was one of the men killed in the plane crash that took the life of Patsy Cline in March 1963 (along with Cowboy Copas).

Part II to follow soon...

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* King Records is slated to be a regular feature in future columns here at Altro as the column will continue with new and interesting anecdotes and facts about Cincy’s most colorful and original record company. Joe Gorman is a Cincinnati-based musician as well as music enthusiast.


Further noted, current updates: Altro's editor, Kaitlyn Karol, has included a tribute to King Records in a screenplay she has written "abuot a local musician struggling to make it in the music industry, while paying homage to Cincinnati's music scene, as well as to the daring and innovative pioneer Syd Nathan. Only a subplot, but with a focus on the back story of King Records, sharing strong parallels to the main plot of the fictional story."

 

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