Too Hot to Handle
We Wanna Boogie
Excerpt from Randy McNutt's Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the Twentieth Century.
KING RECORDS STUDIO, 1540 Brewster Avenue, Cincinnati. A neglected American roots-music shrine. King Records, founded in 1943 by record shop owner Sydney Nathan and his investors, was doing well by 1948. The only problem was, the label had to send its artists to other cities to record. That cost money, and Nathan was not happy with spending money. Besides, when King's country and R&B acts recorded in Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major cities, they were too far away from Nathan's control. So he built his own studio on the end of the old King building, a former ice house and molasses factory. When Howard Kessel, King's main investor and a label vice president, returned from a business trip, he found the studio under construction. "It was going up on property that we didn't even own," he said. "We ended up negotiating with the owner of the property." But soon most of King's artists were recording there. The studio became a symbol of diversity in American music: Country, R&B, pop, polka, and whatever else Nathan could find. On one afternoon, country singers Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins would record, followed by Bull Moose Jackson and other black stars. A number of experienced recording engineers worked in the concrete-block studio over the years, including Eddie Smith, also a pianist and King artist; Chuck Seitz, who left to work in RCA's famed Studio B in Nashville; and Dave Harrison, who started his own custom business and created the Harrison console after leaving King in the 1960s. Top producers who worked in the King studio included Henry Glover, who recorded many hits in New York after leaving King; Ray Pennington, who went on to become a staff producer for RCA in Nashville and to lead the independent Step One label there in the 1980s and 1990s; and Gene Redd, a hit R&B producer during and after his King days. King used mainly Ampex recording equipment: A mono recorder in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and later a two-track machine. In 1963, King installeda three-track Ampex recorder, which used quarter inch tape. Vocals were centered. Despite its limitations, the equipment was not necessarily behind most industry technological standards of the time. (But consider that the forward-looking Atlantic Records used eight tracks even earlier.) When Dave Harrison arrived at King in 1967, he started combining Ampex 300 decks with his custom electronics gear to make eight-track equipment. At the time, King still used its excellent four-by-eight-foot echo chamber, hidden in the massive upper floor of the late-19th-century building. Cincinnati engineer Gene Lawson remembers that every so often the echo would go off unexpectedly when a car drove by or some atmospheric disturbance occurred. Inside the studio, the floor was equipped with Neumann microphones and the typical array of instruments, including a Hammond B-3 organ that Bill Doggett used. "In later years," Seitz said, "artists could take a tape around to different studios to add instruments on the multi-track master. But for years we only had two tracks at King. Voice on one side, band on the other. Most of the big King hits were done that way." Lawson , now a Nashville engineer and creator of the Lawson microphone, recalls that for some inexplicable reason the configuration of the King room encouraged soulful recordings with deep bass sounds. When Nathan died in 1968, the company was sold and then sold again. The new owners closed the Cincinnati plant and sold the equipment. In recent years the plant has been used as a warehouse. Rusty York, a former King rockabilly and country singer, bought some of King's echo equipment and microphones for his own Jewel Recording Studios in suburban Mt. Healthy, Ohio. He even bought Nathan's desk chair. "The Neumann tube mics cost $300 new in the early '60s," he said. "I just sold one for $2,800. Like King, quality doesn't go out of style."
STUDIO QUIRKS: An ultraviolet light was installed in the ceiling of the upstairs echo chamber for no apparent reason and a heavy metal door led to the studio. Performers say the door sometimes caused trouble. Fraternity artist Dale Wright claims he can clearly hear that door slam shut on his 1950s chart single "She's Neat," released on Fraternity Records.
A FEW R&B HITS FROM THE KING STUDIO: "Get It," The Royals; "Please, Please, Please," The Famous Flames; "Fever," Little Willie John; "Sexy Ways," "Work With Me, Annie," "It's Love Baby," "The Twist," "Teardrops On My Letter," "Finger Poppin' Time," "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go," and "The Continental Walk," Hank Ballard and the Midnighters; "Good Rockin' Tonight," Wynonie Harris; "Jealous Heart," Ivory Joe Hunter; and "Hearts Of Stone" and "Ivory Tower," The Charms (with Otis Williams).
All Rights Reserved©RandyMcNutt.com/QualitySites.com
Best Viewed at 800X600