Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


KING label

Country and R&B record label complex including Queen, Federal, and De Luxe, established in 1945 in Cincinnati by Syd Nathan, who left the department store business, built a music factory in a disused icehouse that did everything from recording and pressing to printing the sleeves for LPs. The Boone County Jamboree on local WLW radio became Midwestern Hayride '45; the town was a regional centre for country music, also a gateway to the steel mills of the north, with a black population and a local Cotton Club that booked big-name black bands.

Nathan signed Lucky Millinder vocalist Bull Moose Jackson (b Benjamin Clarence Jackson, 1919, Cleveland OH; d there 31 July 1989), and hired Millinder's arranger Henry Glover as producer/writer. Jackson had R&B hits (on Queen initially, to keep R&B and C&W separate) with 'I Love You, Yes I Do' (remade on Seven Arts '61, top ten again), 'All My Love Belongs To You', 'I Can't Go On Without You' '47-8, written by Glover with Nathan grabbing a credit (as 'Sally Nix' or 'Lois Mann', his wife's maiden name); 'Little Girl, Don't Cry' '49, co-written by Millinder. Jackson was a crooner; the King R&B sound was different from the West Coast style (though Jackson also recorded 'Ten-Inch Record', 'I Want A Bow-Legged Woman', etc).

Country acts included the Delmore Brothers (recorded 'Blues, Stay Away From Me' during 'hillbilly boogie' craze), Grandpa Jones, Bradley Kincaid, later Moon Mullican, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins; a number 1 country hit in 1949 'Why Don't You Haul Off And Love Me' was co-written and sung by Wayne Raney. Long before Sun Records in Memphis combined black and country music, Nathan gave country songs to black artists and vice-versa; he owned the songs (published by Lois Music) and sold them twice: blacks did not buy country records, but bought (e.g.) Raney's hit covered by Jackson '49 for a number 2 R&B hit. Wynonie Harris, Lonnie Johnson, Ivory Joe Hunter, Little Willie John were King R&B artists (Harris recorded the country tune 'Bloodshot Eyes').

Glover brought Millinder and Tiny Bradshaw to the label and jump bands did even better than solo singers: Earl Bostic had an R&B number 1 '50 with 'Flamingo' (a hit for Duke Ellington with Herb Jeffries in 1941) but the milestone was 'Honky Tonk' by Bill Doggett, number 1 R&B and 2 pop in 1956. Ralph Bass joined the group in 1951 with his Federal label, including Billy Ward and his Dominoes (lead singer Clyde McPhatter): 'Sixty-Minute Man' and 'Have Mercy, Baby' were number 1 R&B hits. Nathan bought the De Luxe label from New Jersey; the Charms ('Hearts Of Stone' number 1 '54) became Otis Williams and the Charms for more hits. The Five Royales and Hank Ballard's Midnighters recorded for King; Joe Tex, the Platters, Otis Redding started there.

Music changed and Nathan's judgement was not always good: he refused to record James Brown's 'Do The Mashed Potatoes', it came out on a Dade (Florida) label as by Nat Kendrick (the drummer) and the Swans for a top ten R&B hit, but Nathan still didn't know who he was dealing with: Brown went on strike in 1964 when he was the hottest black artist in the country; his live act set audiences on fire but he did nothing for Nathan until Brown got his own way in 1965, and his Live At The Apollo was a huge hit and one of the first live albums in black pop. From then on Brown chose his own material and published his own music. Glover went to Roulette in 1956 and recorded Joey Dee's 'Peppermint Twist'; Gene Redd was R&B A&R at King and recorded early James Brown hits; Glover came back to King and went with it to Starday after Nathan died. Many reissues and compilations were available on King, Starday, Polydor, other labels as well as Charly UK: The King R&B Box Set '96 was four CDs, 85 classics covering '45-65, and there should have been another one for the country side.