King Records

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
King Records
Logo of the label
Logo of the label
Active years 1943 to 1973
founder Syd Nathan
Seat Cincinnati, Ohio
Genre (s) Country , rockabilly , rock 'n' roll , soul , rhythm and blues

King Records was an American independent label founded by Sydney Nathan in 1944 , whose catalog initially specialized in country and hillbilly music , but also included the music genres of rhythm & blues and doo-wop in its repertoire.



Sydney "Syd" Nathan suffered from asthma and severe poor eyesight at an early age. During the Depression he worked in a wide variety of jobs, such as a jewelry seller, concessionaire for an amusement park or wrestling promoter. When he finally ran a record store, he hit upon the idea of ​​starting a record label.

With the help of the family came together a start-up capital of $ 25,000, with which he founded a record label under the name King Records in August 1944 in the more country-oriented Cincinnati. When the first panels showed a poor material quality, he decided to set up his own press shop. In order to tap into the value chain, he founded the later very successful music publisher Lois Music, where he also had his own compositions registered under the pseudonym Lois Mann. The King label, which is independent of the big record labels, therefore did not have to face the problems that otherwise small labels faced: It was dependent on third-party press shops, distribution networks and incoming payments. Nathan said mockingly: "To start a record company you need a desk, a telephone and a lawyer." The administrative effort at King Records was kept low because almost everything was produced in-house without external companies: They soon had their own recording studio with their own session band, the master tapes were created here; even record covers, packaging and shipping were taken over. There was also no such thing as the usual blanket pressing of minimum quantities, so that pressing had to be done immediately if there was further demand.First, most records had no chance of reaching the higher-selling pop market as crossovers because their lyrics were too risky and therefore from white radio stations were not played.

Other record labels

Nathan was not satisfied with just one label, although he could not overlook whether he would acquire enough artists for other labels. In August 1945 he founded the subsidiary label Queen Records , which was to be devoted exclusively to black music. In September 1945, the first record was released here The Honeydripper of Bull Moose Jackson . But Queen was already discontinued in August 1947 and his catalog of 75 records by Slim Gaillard , Annisteen Allen, Tab Smith and established gospel artists such as The Southern Harps , Wings Over Jordan and The Harmoneers were transferred to King Records (“King Race Series "). The merger with King Records took place on September 1, 1947.

In the same year, Nathan acquired the majority of Deluxe Records in Linden, New Jersey . The versatile label had pop, rhythm and blues, jazz , gospel and country & western in its repertoire. In March 1949, its headquarters were also moved to Cincinnati. In February 1951, DeLuxe finally belonged entirely to Syd Nathan's companies. Many DeLuxe recordings were released on King singles and albums, so that there was no longer a clear demarcation.

In November 1950, Nathan finally founded the subsidiary label Federal Records . It was planned solely for R&B performers. Billy Ward & the Dominoes , Hank Ballard & The Midnighters and James Brown and His Famous Flames came under contract here. In August 1953, Glory Records in Miami , Florida , was acquired, where mainly Country was produced.

The founding years

Delmore Brothers - Hillbilly Boogie
JE Mainer - What'll I Do With the Baby-O

In September 1943, Nathan produced the Sheppard Brothers ( Merle Travis and Grandpa Jones ) belonging to Country & Western in neighboring Dayton . With the catalog number King 500, their new label's first record was You'll Be Lonesome Too / The Stepping Out Kind and # 501 When Mussolini Laid His Pistol Down / Two Time Annie , although the King label was not formally released until August 1944 was officially established. The first early hit parade came with # 505, Cowboy Copas with Filipino Baby / I Don't Blame You , which was created in the label's new recording studio ("King Recording Studio") in April 1945 at 1540 Brewster Avenue, Cincinnati ( Nathan himself was the producer). The single was not released until August 1946 and reached number four on the C&W charts. An instrumental by Hank Penny , the Steel Guitar Stomp (with Merle Travis; # 528), also followed in June 1946 to fourth place. A mix of country, boogie woogie and blues hit the studios in October 1946 when country pianist Moon Mullican recorded with the Cajun piece New Pretty Blonde (New Jole Blon) / When A Soldier Knocks and Finds Nobody Home and in February 1947 climbed to number two in the C&W charts. The song for the growing country boogie market was to become the first million-seller of the still young King label within the next three years.

Now the phase of race music began, as rhythm and blues was still called back then. But the label's own studios were not always used for this. When boogie pianist Ivory Joe Hunter recorded the ballad Don't Be No Fool-Fool on September 6, 1947, a recording studio was in use in New York City . Then they went to Nashville on November 18, 1947 to record In Time with Owen Bradley's guitar work . The Code Song had Morse code incorporated into the text. The December 5, 1947 session was again held in Cincinnati. Here Ivory Joe was accompanied by five musicians from Duke Ellington's orchestra.

A memorable session was scheduled for December 28, 1947 at King Studios. The newly acquired Wynonie Harris played Good Rockin 'Tonight with a talented band, with the B-side Good Morning Mr. Blues (recorded on December 23, 1947 in Cincinnati). The original was from Roy Brown , who had recorded it with the accompaniment of Bob Ogden's Orchestra in Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans studio in July 1947 under DeLuxe # 1093 (now part of King). So then both records belonged to the same record company. Roy Brown's famous Hard Luck Blues was later recorded here on April 19, 1950 (# 1 R&B).

Delmore Brothers - Freight Train Boogie (1964 reissue)

Then came a difficult time for the entire American record industry, as on January 1, 1948, all American recording studios were banned from recording by the "Petrillo Recording Ban", which lasted until December 1948. That is why Wynonie Harris did not record any more records until December 19, 1948. In order to survive, record companies across the US were reliant on getting the as yet unpublished recordings out of their archives.

On May 6, 1949, the Delmore Brothers, who joined King in 1946, recorded a piece in Cincinnati that is considered by many experts to be one of the earliest rock and roll pieces. The song Blues Stay Away from Me hit the C&W charts in September 1949 and was the label's first hit at number one. Ten days later, Wayne Rainey and Lonnie Glosson were in the same studio recording Why Don't You Haul Off and Love Me , another C&W number one and the label's first crossover hit with a number 25 on the pop charts .

Producers and record managers in the 1950s

Little Willie Littlefield - KC Loving

Syd Nathan was very busy and therefore delegated the production work from June 1945 to Henry Glover , a trumpeter from Lucky Millinder's band, who also composed. In December 1950, Nathan brought Ralph Bass to produce for his Federal label . They both got to work quickly. Bass on December 30, 1950 produced for the Dominoes with Sixty Minute Man (Federal # 12022) a lyrically extremely sexually oriented song on the pop charts made it the number one R & B and number 17 and after its publication in the March 1951 total Has been sold 500,000 times. After a year it even exceeded the million mark. On January 10, 1951, the Earl Bostic Orchestra was back in the studio to record the instrumental Flamingo , another number one R&B hit. Bass recorded the obscure boogie woogie pianist Little Willie Littlefield in August 1952 , who took up KC Loving (Federal # 12110), one of the first compositions by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller . The song was not noticed in the charts, but later became one of the most covered rock'n'roll songs under the title Kansas City .

Another sexually risky text included Work With Me, Annie by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, recorded January 14, 1954. That didn't bother the black buyers and made the song a million-seller, which stayed at the top of the R&B charts for 7 weeks. At John Watson, later known as Johnny Guitar Watson , bass pioneered the futuristic. Space Guitar (Federal # 12175) was recorded on February 1, 1954 with reverb and feedback effects from the guitar - anticipating later standard effects in pop and rock music.

Then came what was probably the most memorable day of the label group. On February 4, 1956, Boss Syd Nathan was in the main studio control room when producer Ralph Bass presented his latest discovery: James Brown and The Famous Flames. They began with their often previously rehearsed Please Please Please . "What's this? What the hell are they doing? Stop the tape, that doesn't sound good! ”The label boss interrupted the session. “I hired you to find talent. Nobody wants to hear that noise with just one word, ”Nathan scolded. After further exchanges with his people, the label boss left the studio angry. Undeterred, the song and three other pieces were recorded. The producer was fired a few days later, but Nathan reluctantly agreed to release it on March 3, 1956. By the time the record reached number six on April 11, 1956 and grossed a million, Nathan was reconciled and hired Ralph Bass again. This was the beginning of one of the greatest R&B and soul careers.

On March 1, 1956, a short singer named Little Willie John was in the studio. In an almost 6-hour session, the 12-bar Blues Fever , arranged in a minor key , was recorded with the tenor saxophones by Ray Felder and Rufus “Nose” Gore as well as the jazzy guitar by Bill Jennings and finger snapping, which only marginally loosened the bluesy mood . The song with erotic content had a solid, gospel-like arrangement that was rewarded with the only # 1 R&B for the artist Little Willie John and as a crossover still reached number 24 Pop. The original later achieved million-seller status and became a classic cover template for other artists.

King Records' greatest rock and roll hit was Bill Doggett's instrumental honky tonk , which was based on a fast organ rhythm that formed the basis for staccato solos by tenor saxophonist Clifford Scott, which in turn were linked by fast guitar chords by Billy Butler. Recorded in the label's New York studios on June 16, 1956, the song made it to Pop # 2 in August 1956 and sold over four million copies. It took James Brown 11 singles to hit his first # 1 R&B with Try me , recorded on September 18, 1958 and also his first crossover with a # 48 pop.

The 1960s

Hank Ballard had meanwhile released a number of lyrically unclean pieces when he and his group Midnighters composed the lyrically harmless B-side The Twist for Federal # 12345 in December 1958 . The fast twelve-bar blues used the basic melody of the Drifters hit from 1955 What 'Cha Gonna Do? . The Twist was listed on its B-side as number 16 on the R&B charts. Dick Clark , host of the popular TV pop show American Bandstand , was so fascinated by the song that he sent a certain Ernest Evans to a recording studio with it. Under his stage name Chubby Checker , The Twist came out in July 1960 and shot to the top of the pop charts. Checker's version was so similar to the original that when Hank Ballard listened to the radio, he thought it was his piece. In December 1961, Checkers Twist was released again and again reached the # 1 position - but each for the competing Parkway label.

On August 26, 1960, the Chicago blues guitarist Freddie King recorded the instrumental title Hideaway in his first session for Federal , with which he climbed to number five on the R&B charts in March 1961. Again, against Nathan's will, a live performance by James Brown is recorded on October 24, 1962 at New York's Apollo Theater , for a payment of $ 5,700 to the theater. Nathan felt that no one was interested in a live album with songs already released. The label boss was wrong a second time. When the album was released on June 30, 1963 after only nine months, it reached number two on the LP charts and stayed there for 66 weeks. It developed into the most successful album of all time with million-seller status on King Records.

Important record people leave

Hal Neely, whom Nathan had made vice president and general manager of the record company in January 1958, left the label in June 1964 because of different goals regarding the future positioning of the labels within a rapidly changing record market. Neely went to Nashville as Vice President of Starday Records . Already in 1958 Glover switched to Roulette Records , while in 1959 Ralph Bass was poached by Chess Records .

James Brown remains loyal to the label

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag was released in July 1965 , although Nathan had again raised significant concerns. A song with a lot of rhythm changes that already showed the beginnings of the funky sound that came up later. The general gospel feeling is bridged by jazz licks with a tenor saxophone solo by Maceo Parker. It became Brown's second number one hit, and at number eight it was also acceptable to the pop market and made it known around the world. With I Got You another plate came out in November 1965 that developed yet to a better crossover (# 1 R & B, # 3 Pop). In April 1966 the record world was able to marvel at the extraordinarily soft, violin-dominated arrangement with a clearly chauvinistic text in It's a Man's Man's Man's World for Brown's otherwise usual sound . “The world is a man's world, in which nothing works without men; the world would be nothing without a woman ”. However, the text is not from James Brown, but from Betty Jean Newsome, while the title was a play on the comedy film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World .

Death of the record boss and decline of the group

When Sydney Nathan died on March 5, 1968, there was no one in his record empire - which had now risen to become the sixth largest independent record group in the United States - who could take on his role. Nathan's family sold the entire group on October 9, 1968 to former Nathan's deputy and current vice-president of the Starday label, Hal Neely for $ 1.75 million. In the same month, the LIN Broadcasting Company bought the Starday King group together with King Records for $ 5 million. In order to create liquidity, LIN sold James Brown's record deal with a seven-year term and all master tapes to Polydor Records for $ 1.3 million in July 1971 .

Neely closed the headquarters and studios in Cincinnati and had part of the facility transported to Starday Records. The chain sale continued in 1974. The music publisher Freddie Bienstock, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller sold the company name King with its logo and the master tapes to Moe Lytle from Gusto Records in Nashville. However, the three retained the publishing rights to most of King Records' songs.

Syd Nathan was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 1997 . Despite the many differences of opinion and disputes, James Brown, who alone had almost 100 singles and almost 50 albums for King / Federal in the bestseller charts, had a lot of good words for his sponsor: “Syd Nathan gave this poor country boy from Georgia the vehicle to try everything I've always dreamed of ”. “I would be lying if I said I would have become a global star without the help of Mr. Nathan. He was the first to give me a chance, ”he told Gerri Hirshey.


For Nathan, 202 compositions are registered with BMI under the pseudonym Lois Mann , mostly on his music publisher Lois Music, of which 5 received a BMI award. Henry Glover is represented with 453 titles, Ralph Bass had 171 registrations. While King Records was still selling 6 million records in 1949, by the mid-1950s it was already 20 million records a year. The King Records catalog ultimately consisted of over 10,000 recordings, of which exactly 156 made the R&B charts. The label group around King Records sold around 150 million records, making Nathan one of the largest producers in the American music industry.

Individual evidence

  1. Rick Kennedy and Randy McNutt: Little Labels - Big Sound. 1999, p. 60.
  2. ↑ But that is also the reason why some records from King Records are among the rarities among collectors today
  3. Examples are Hank Ballard and the Midnighters ( Work With Me Annie , Annie Had A Baby and Annie's Aunt Fanny ) or the Dominoes ( Sixty Minute Man )
  4. ^ William Cat Anderson , Frank "Floorshow" Culley (alto saxophone); Hal Singer (tenor saxophone); Elmer Alexander (baritone saxophone); Albert "Birdie" Wallace (piano); Jimmy Butts (bass); Connie Kay (drums)
  5. Jump up ↑ James Petrillo, president of the American Federation of Musicians (AFL), imposed a kind of strike over the payment of the musicians
  6. a b Bruce Tucker, James Brown - The Godfather Of Soul , 1986, p. 78.
  7. Rick Kennedy and Randy McNutt, Little Labels - Big Sound , 1999, p. 67.
  8. ↑ published again in January 1959 on King # 45-5171. A-side was Teardrops On Your Letter
  9. ^ Steven C. Tracy, Going to Cincinnati - A History of the Blues in the Queen City , 1998, p. 151.
  10. John Broven, Record Makers and Breakers , 2009 S. 148th
  11. Bruce Tucker, James Brown - The Godfather Of Soul , 1986, p. 179.
  12. Gerri Hirshey, Nowhere To Run - The Story Of Soul Music , 1985, p. 290.
  13. Sydney Nathan alias Lois Mann  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as broken. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , BMI entry@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  14. Rick Kennedy and Randy McNutt, Little Labels - Big Sound , 1999, p. 66.
  15. Rick Kennedy and Randy McNutt, Little Labels - Big Sound , 1999, p. 59.
  16. Rick Kennedy and Randy McNutt, Little Labels - Big Sound , 1999, p. 71.


  • John Hartley Fox: King Of The Queen City. The History Of King Records . Preface by Dave Alvin. University Of Illinois Press, Chicago / Illinois 2009, ISBN 978-0-252-03468-8 .

Web links

Commons : King Records  - collection of images, videos and audio files