James Brown makes history at King Records in Cincinnati | Area History


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was initially revealed on Oct. 25, 2021 by the Ohio History Connection. Richland Source has entered right into a collaborative settlement with the Ohio History Connection to share content material throughout our websites.

Several years in the past, a colleague and I have been speaking to a patron in the Archives Library of the Ohio History Center. She was telling us about rising up in the course of the Sixties in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Evanston, close to the place King Records was positioned on Brewster Avenue.

As a bit woman, she might see staff working in the King file urgent plant, and on one event, was invited in to look at as James Brown was recording together with his band in the studio.

Of course, being a really younger woman at the time, the patron couldn’t bear in mind a lot about her expertise, however the story nonetheless fired my creativeness. As a fan of rhythm and blues and a little bit of a fanatic in relation to soul music, I couldn’t assist however surprise what that should’ve been like, being in that recording studio, watching a genius of contemporary American music at the peak of his inventive powers.

Now, to most individuals, a single recording session won’t really feel just like the stuff of history, however I really feel that even to be there for only a second, to get solely the briefest of glimpses, I’d nonetheless rely it as an incredible expertise, and sure, a real history making second. I’ve one such second in thoughts, one temporary recording session that modified common music endlessly.

A son of the deep South, James Brown maybe doesn’t look like an apparent option to be included in a weblog devoted to Ohio history, however by means of King Records, an unbiased file firm primarily based in Cincinnati, James Brown will endlessly be part of Ohio’s wealthy musical history.

Started in 1943, King Records was the creation of 1 man, Syd Nathan. A local of Cincinnati, Nathan was a real character: all at as soon as abrasive and abusive, charismatic and charming. A loud, shrewd and generally crude businessman whose coarseness was leveled by his humorousness, Nathan might encourage frustration and fury, love and loyalty, all seemingly in equal components.

James Brown is proven right here at King Records in Cincinnati in 1968.

Born in 1903, Syd Nathan was cursed since childhood with unhealthy well being, together with failing eyesight and bronchial asthma, however he by no means let his bodily shortcomings maintain him again, and he pursued potential enterprise alternatives relentlessly.

In 1938, Nathan was nonetheless discovering his manner as a enterprise man when he determined to attempt his hand at promoting data. At his retailer on Central Avenue, Nathan initially catered to the Black residents of the neighborhood, stocking blues, jazz, and gospel data. When he started promoting hillbilly and nation data, the shop attracted white clients with the identical Southern roots because the Black group.

Through his nation music clients, a few of whom have been musicians employed at native radio station WLW, Nathan was impressed to make data himself. In 1943, he recorded up-and coming nation stars Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis at a small studio in Dayton. The data didn’t promote, however Nathan was dedicated. King Records was right here to remain.

In 1944, Nathan moved his nonetheless largely aspirational operation to 1540 Brewster Avenue. It was at this location that he would construct up one of the profitable, influential and progressive file firms of the post-war years.


Syd Nathan – King Records founder at the peak of his success.

While King Records began with white nation and western acts, Syd Nathan embraced what creator Peter Guralnick referred to as “musically integrationist insurance policies” and wasted no time including Black rhythm and blues-based acts to his roster.

This was in conserving with Nathan’s progressive views on race: King Records was a quietly non-segregated firm, with white and Black employees working collectively equally all through the group.

Throughout the late Nineteen Forties and Nineteen Fifties, the corporate launched not solely nation and rhythm and blues data, but in addition bluegrass and western swing, blues, jazz, gospel and pop.

Many of those artists and the music they recorded for King would affect and alter the course of American common music, together with The Delmore Brothers, Homer and Jethro, Ohioan Cowboy Copas, Moon Mullican, Tiny Bradshaw, Little Willie John, Wynonie Harris, The “5” Royales, Billy Ward and The Dominos, Freddie King, and Hank Ballard and The Midnighters.

And then there was James Brown.

In January of 1956, James Brown and his vocal group The Famous Flames signed to Federal Records, a subsidiary of King arrange in 1950 to launch primarily rhythm and blues data. In February the group entered King’s studio on Brewster Avenue for his or her first recording session.

However, the temper soured as Syd Nathan loudly and profanely made it clear that he hated the primary music, titled “Please, Please, Please.” He solely allowed it to be recorded after an offended argument with producer Ralph Bass.

The music went on to be successful when it was launched in March, however Nathan remained unconvinced of Brown’s potential. It wasn’t till 1958 when Brown had his subsequent hit with the ballad “Try Me” that he would start to earn Nathan’s respect.

From that, the 2 males would go on to forge a deep friendship, regardless of an more and more irritating and bitter enterprise relationship.

In the Nineteen Fifties, most of Brown’s songs stayed throughout the musical framework of the period’s R&B sound. But slowly, his musical imaginative and prescient got here into sharper focus. His 1960 hit “Think” is an effective instance of this. Setting apart the extra relaxed sound of the unique model by his label mates, the “5” Royales, Brown revved the music up with a propulsive and insistent beat, pushed by hard-hitting drums and punctuated by wild saxophone.

His association was principally the beginning of his deconstruction of Nineteen Fifties R&B, taking the important items and hardening them right into a radically completely different sound. The sound of James Brown.

James Brown’s star was ascendant from 1958 onwards, pushed by a relentless touring and recording schedule. From 1958 to 1967, over fifty singles can be launched below his title, most of them on the King label, and fifteen albums, together with the legendary 1963 album The James Brown Show Live at The Apollo.

Emerging as a star at the identical time that soul music, a wealthy melding of blues, rhythm and blues and gospel, turned the dominant sound of Black America, James Brown was an plain power in the style, together with his progressive music and thrilling reside performances main the best way.

In the mid-Sixties, Brown launched a sequence of singles that proved he was an explosive and thrilling musical visionary, an artist decided to push past boundaries. They would set up the template for James Brown’s altering musical type, which positioned the general rhythm of the music over melody or chord modifications. The first of those, “Out of Sight,” launched in 1964, was a daring declarative musical assertion of Brown’s intentions.

This was music born in half from his reside performances, the place the band would “vamp” on a chord, holding a sample as Brown labored his patented dance strikes throughout the stage. “Out of Sight” launched this daring new sound, bringing the “vamp” to the radio. This sound would quickly have a reputation of its personal.

But for now, it was merely James Brown music. “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and “I Feel Good (I Got You),” each launched in 1965, turned his greatest hits but and arguably stay the songs most recognized with him. Again, they’re placing examples of Brown’s stressed musical imaginative and prescient: they intensified the sound heard on “Out of Sight,” “Brand New Bag,” in explicit.

By 1967, James Brown was a celebrity, with a number of high ten data, a Grammy award, appearances in movie and tv. He was busily establishing himself as an entrepreneur and was seen as a spokesman for the rising Black Pride motion. At King Records, Brown was the highest vendor and plain star.

Earlier in 1964, he and Syd Nathan had a falling out and Brown refused to file for King. The authorized standoff ended in 1965, in time for “Brand New Bag” to return out on King. Since then, James Brown seemingly dominated the label as he racked up the hits and gross sales. He moved his firm, James Brown Productions, into the King buildings on Brewster Avenue, and settled again into an uneasy alliance with Nathan.

Throughout 1967, Brown stored up the touring schedule that pushed himself, his band and his audiences to the restrict. Life on the highway meant that Brown and his band usually recorded whereas touring, utilizing studios positioned in whichever metropolis they discovered themselves in.

This was true for many of his hits in the Sixties: “Out of Sight” was recorded in New York City, “Brand New Bag” in Charlotte, NC and “I Got You” in Miami, FL. It was a relentless schedule which had them recording rapidly earlier than getting again on the highway to get to the following present. Occasionally, that schedule had them again in Cincinnati and so they might file in the studio of their house base, King Records.

So, when James Brown and his band arrived at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati that day in May of 1967, after another all-night journey on the tour bus getting back from the most recent gig (in this case, New York), perhaps it didn’t register as something extra than simply one other recording session, simply one other music to get down on tape. It in all probability didn’t really feel like history in the making. But it was.

The music to be recorded was titled “Cold Sweat,” and had been labored up by Brown and saxophonist Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, partially in a backstage dressing room. According to Ellis, Brown “grunted a rhythm and a bass line” and instructed Ellis to take it from there. Ellis wrote out the horn chart on the bus the evening earlier than the recording session.

Brown took a number of the lyrics from his 1962 music “I Don’t Care” and Ellis referenced Miles Davis’ “So What” with the horn association, however when all of it got here collectively, James Brown’s imaginative and prescient mixed with Ellis’ association and the band’s really feel for the music created a music in contrast to something that got here earlier than.

The band that assembled in the recording studio consisted of a few of James Brown’s most-legendary and gifted sidemen of the Sixties, together with Maceo Parker on saxophone, guitarist Jimmy Nolan, bassist Bernard Odum and Clyde Stubblefield on drums. Ellis stated that the band arrange and went over the music, engaged on their components.

When James Brown arrived, he made a number of modifications, and so they have been prepared. According to recording engineer Ron Lenhoff, Brown and the band make fast work of “Cold Sweat,” recording the seven-and-a-half-minute music reside in simply two takes, with no overdubs.

Released as a two-part single in June, and reaching primary on the R&B chart and quantity seven on the pop chart, the impression of “Cold Sweat” was virtually fast. If “Out of Sight” was the sound of James Brown placing a match and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” the sound of James Brown igniting a fireplace, then “Cold Sweat” was James Brown throwing gasoline on to the blaze.

Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler stated the music “deeply affected the musicians I knew … for a time, nobody might get a deal with on what to do subsequent.” Writer Alan Leeds referred to as it the “sound of a rhythmic revolution.”

And it was. On “Cold Sweat,” Brown lastly introduced the funk absolutely to the fore. Funk wasn’t new to Black American music; the phrase had been used in music earlier than, nevertheless it was extra about feeling than sound. Brown turned funk into a brand new musical style. By specializing in the rhythm and making a groove pushed by the downbeat, he made funk an identifiable sound.

Melody and chord modifications have been stored to a naked minimal. Every instrument was locked in and devoted to the rhythmic really feel: the jazz-influenced drums and repetitive percolating bass strains, the percussive guitar components and stabbing declarative horn strains. And then there was that voice, the voice of a seemingly possessed James Brown, filling the areas with grunts, shouts, screams, exclamations and instructions, sounding at occasions much less like a lead singer and extra like one other instrument.

Maybe nobody might get a deal with on “Cold Sweat” as a result of no one had heard something prefer it. It was as distinctive an inventive assertion as a music might be.

With “Cold Sweat,” Brown created the proper distillation of the musical imaginative and prescient that he first glimpsed in 1964; it was the ultimate basis stone of funk music and as such it could reverberate by means of American common music for many years, influencing soul, jazz, rock, rap and hip hop.

In the music’s fast wake, newer bands like Sly & The Family Stone and Funkadelic have been fast to choose up on the brand new sound James Brown was laying down, and extra established artists akin to Wilson Pickett, Miles Davis and the Temptations integrated funk into their music. In the early Seventies, funk turned the dominant sound in Black American music.

In Ohio, fittingly, funk would flourish in the land of King Records. Dayton, in explicit, turned identified for its funk bands, like The Ohio Players, who got here to exemplify that Ohio funk sound with hit data “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster.” In Cincinnati, The Collins brothers “Bootsy” and “Catfish” joined James Brown’s band in 1970 and went on to turn out to be extremely influential artists and stars in their very own proper.

For James Brown, “Cold Sweat’ accelerated his stardom, and he continued to refine the funk sound he created, scoring hits in the late Sixties’ with such songs as “I’ve Got the Feeling,” “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud”) and “Let A Man Come in (And Do the Popcorn).” In 1969, he launched “Funky Drummer” which included an iconic drum break by Clyde Stubblefield that went on to turn out to be one of many constructing blocks of rap music, having been sampled hundreds of occasions.

His hits continued into the Seventies, together with “Get Up (I Feel like Being a Sex Machine”) “Super Bad” and “Get On the Good Foot.”

Unfortunately, the funk music success for James Brown got here throughout tough occasions for King Records. Syd Nathan handed away after a protracted sickness on March 5, 1968, and his firm was offered off to Starday Records in Nashville. The King Records facility on Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati was shut down in 1970, and James Brown left the label for Polydor Records in 1971.

Today, a historic marker put in by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame stands at the King Records website in Cincinnati, as preservation efforts to save lots of the buildings and plans to put in a museum devoted to King Records proceed, supported by native historians and followers and promoted by musicians like Bootsy Collins.

James Brown handed away on Christmas Day, 2006, forsaking a very astonishing musical legacy that can proceed to affect common music for years to return, a legacy that began and was formed in the small recording studio of an unbiased file firm positioned in Cincinnati, Ohio: King Records.

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