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So Cincinnati: King Records ... Legendary Studio

Updated: Wednesday, November 27 2013, 04:38 PM EST
What do soul artists like James Brown and Hank Ballard have in common with country recording stars like Grandpa Jones and The Stanley Brothers?
They were all recording artists for King Records, a legendary studio right here in Cincinnati. Next month, there are lots of activities to note the 70th anniversary of King.

Local 12's John Lomax shows us why this groundbreaking studio is So Cincinnati.

About the only thing you hear on Brewster Avenue in Evanston nowadays is traffic, but there was a time...

Future Hall of Famers recorded on Brewster ... James Brown, Hank Ballard, The Stanley Brothers and The Delmore Brothers ... all artists at King Records.

The building is still here, but the only sign of King Records is this plaque from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ... recognized for its historic contributions to the music industry ... a record company started in 1943 by Syd Nathan.

Music historian Brian Powers says Nathan started country and soon added R&B ... and more.

Brian Powers, Music Historian: "They weren't just focused on one type of music.  They were doing R&B, they were doing country, they were doing polka ... just about anything ... anything."

Otis Williams recorded big hits at King Records in the 1950's, as part of Otis Williams and The Charms, a doo-wop group.

"We were lucky that the kids were looking for something to do at that time, a different music, not their parent's music, jazz and the big band, and we happened to come up with something they liked."

Williams and other artists at King Records, like James Brown, became chart toppers. Local musician Bootsy Collins remembers as a fifteen year old with stars in his eyes, hanging out in King's parking lot, waiting to see his idols.

Bootsy Collins, Musician: "It was one of those things, like it was a highlight every day.  It was like we were in Disneyworld every day in that parking lot at King Records, just waiting for the next ride."

Early on, Nathan pushed radio stations with segregated playlists to play black artists and Powers says he had an integration policy in the 1940's.
That was different, another innovation, sort of a recording one stop shopping.

Brian Powers: "Syd was a bit of a control freak.  And he wanted to sell his stuff with his own salesmen, so he had his own national distributing system which made him completely unique. And he also made his own records, made his own record labels ... he did everything there in Evanston on Brewster Avenue."

There have been proposals for years now for something more substantial than a plaque to remember King Records. The late James Brown even talked about it on a visit here in 1997.
The calls are still there.

Otis Williams: "It started right there at King Records. It's a Cincinnati legacy. The city should be so proud of the fact that it was done right here."

Bootsy Collins: "Why are we not taking our history and putting it up like the rest of  ... you know, Motown, Stax ... I mean we got it here, and we're just throwing it away."

Brian Powers: "The music is still around.  You can still listen to that.  That's his legacy, I think."

…A legacy that is So Cincinnati.
John Lomax, Local 12 News.    

There are events to mark the anniversary of King Records all September.  It kicks off today at a reception at the Evanston Recreation Center. That goes until seven o'clock tonight.

Also this evening, MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine unveils an exhibit of vintage King Record album covers.   

So Cincinnati: King Records ... Legendary Studio

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