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Friday, January 30, 2009

A Cartoon History of King Records

While cruising around the 45 RPM Records site, I came across this delightful graphic history of King Records, first published in September 2000. Click on the graphic or link for the full cartoon. It's too large to reproduce on Dreamtime.

Any regular listener to Theme Time Radio Hour will be familiar with Syd Nathan's voice and his recorded rants on everything from how to make (and sell) a hit record to the perils of overseas travel. In the early `40's, Syd Nathan was successful enough selling used records out of his downtown Cincinnati dry goods store that in 19 and 43 he decided to try his hand at his own record label. He set up shop in an old icehouse on Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati and released the first records on the King label. King liked to target niche audiences, country western and hillbilly for the whites and rhythm and blues for the blacks. But Syd Nathan's real genius was having his black acts take a turn at covering country western tunes and vice versa. In some ways, Syd Nathan was the real godfather of rock-n'-roll.

As well as Hank (and Jimmy) Ballard, the roster of artists who recorded for King and its affiliate labels included Little Willie John, Billy Ward and the Dominos, Bill Doggett, Earl Bostic, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Wynonie Harris, Bullmoose Jackson, the Delmore Brothers, Moon Mullican, Grandpa Jones and Cowboy Copas. Indeed, as we mentioned in an earlier Dreamtime, Cowboy Copas was one of Nathan's talent scouts who scoured the South for new songs, and missed the chance to buy The Tennessee Waltz for all of $50.

As you'll read in the cartoon, the biggest King star of all was James Brown, who was brought to the label by A&R man Ralph Bass in early 1956. “I would be telling a lie if I said I would be a world star without the help of men like Mr. Nathan. He was the first one willing to take a chance on me.” Brown once said.

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