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King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records (Music in American Life) Hardcover – September 8, 2009


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From Publishers Weekly

Fox first made his case for Cincinnati-based King Records as the most important record company in the United States between the years of 1945 and 1960 in a series of public radio documentaries in 1986; those original interviews are an important foundation of this history, with much supplementary research added. There's much to be said for the label's legacy: in addition to introducing James Brown to listeners, King had stars in several popular genres, pioneered the introduction of R&B songs to the country music repertoire before Sam Phillips at Sun and may even have released the first rock and roll record (Wynonie Harris's Good Rockin' Tonight) in 1948. Unfortunately, though loaded with great stories, Fox has some difficulty getting into gear. Instead of telling a straight chronological account, he organizes the King story around personalities, beginning with the company's founder, Syd Nathan; each subject's history is then tracked forward past their King years, forcing Fox to continually circle back and pick things up again. Some repetition creeps in—a story about how much Nathan hated Brown's first single is told on three separate occasions. Still, his account gives us a much needed glimpse of an underappreciated pop culture institution. 23 photos. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Fascinating biography on Syd Nathan's King Records. 4 stars."--MOJO


"Fox and the University of Illinois Press have given us an important book about a very important operation. Thank you."--Oxford American

"As entertaining and dynamic a story as the music that inspired it."--Metro Times

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Music in American Life
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252034686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252034688
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,350,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James P. Ronan on October 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I could almost smell Syd's cheap cigar and hear his raspy voice while reading this very informative and entertaining book ! While immersing myself in every chapter , I would listen to one of King's recording artists on my turntable and pretend I was in the studio with Freddie, Ralph, Grampa and others.. Would recommend this to any lover of true American music...! Absolutely.. ! ! " Shameless' James
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By ziggy on December 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here are some of the DEEP roots of American music. Any label that can present both the Stanley Brothers and James Brown deserves a serious look and JHF has done a good job at explaining the story of King Records and the one man behind it - Syd Nathan. Now, Syd had a lot of help, as Fox explains, but he was the foundation of it all and one of the great characters in a business full of eccentrics. There are some chapters that are stronger than others, but the last one detailing the Meaning of King Records is some of the best and most informative writing about the music business that you'll find anywhere. This chapter should be excerpted for any serious anthology of music writing. A very entertaining book and one that would be perfect for anyone looking to discover the roots of Americana. Highly Recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Pawpaw Bruce on January 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Shame on the big boys for not having the guts to give music lovers what they wanted. The major recording labels tried to pretend that whites weren't listening to black oriented music back in the forties and early fifties. Most music fans know Sam Phillips proved them wrong with his Sun Records in Memphis since that's what launched Elvis Presley on the road to stardom. Far fewer ever heard of Syd Nathan whose King Records in Cincinnati played a major role in the growth of rhythm and blues into a widely accepted genre and also recorded major country stars on the day. King later was noted its two awesome bluegrass groups, the Stanley Brothers and Don Reno and Red Smiley. Besides the music, this book offers a look at a company whose behind the scenes workers were fully integrated in a city long known for its southern biases. Like many successful people, Syd Nathan was successful because of his keen sense of public taste and his hard work. His individualism also led to mistakes that held King and its artists back. The most important player in the King game was Henry Glover, an African-American who produced some of the outstanding country artists at a time when that was unheard of. His involvement in the recording of the Delmore Brothers classic "Blues Stay Away From Me" warned us that change was coming and rock'n'roll was just around the corner whether the establishment liked it or not. It's good that the King story has finally been told. I think old Syd would like it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eddie Landsberg VINE VOICE on November 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though the King and Federal labels changed American culture and music in ways that many of us barely realize, I find it fascinating how rare it is to hear their names actually dropped these days... say in comparison to Chess and Stax... The reason perhaps, is alluded to in the book, when we realize that no matter how big the label got, really it was a one man operation - - the brain child of the flamboyant Syd Nathan... the label died with him, but a great deal of its stars, artists, producers and behind the scenes people when on to greater heights... at best, as hall-of-fame inductees, and at... well, most surprising to me... cast of Hee Haw membership (KING also produced "hillbilly" music.) - - Needless to say, as far as I'm concerned KING will forever be best remembered for: James Brown, Hank Ballard, Billy Ward and The Dominos, Earl Bostic and Bill "Honky Tonk" Doggett (without whom, I and any other Hammond player wouldn't be playing the Hammond today, even with Jimmy Smith!)

As for my key criticisms of the book... it would have been great if the publisher got together with COLLECTIBLES (the folks who now have the rights to the King Catalogue) and issued a CD with listening material as well as interview excerpts (fancy thinking though) and although the writing is very good, the book is often repetitive and the narrative is fascinating and draws you in, but sometimes more has the tone of an enthusiastic collector who's done his research and is simply walking you through his collection, rattling out informed facts in the process...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Wall on March 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
King is a very important label. That's for sure. Not only was it pioneering both blues/R&B and country, it was getting their artists to mix up both. Some of the highlights on the label:

Moon Mullican: along with Jerry Lee Lewis, my favorite artist of all time. His work on King is arguably his best. Classics range from out and out blues like "Trouble trouble" and "Triflin' woman blues" to tender ballads like "There's a chill on the hill tonight" and "I was sorta wondering" to gospel ("Bye & Bye") to rock 'n' roll ("7 nights to rock", "I'm mad with you"). Indeed,some tracks like the R&B "Rocket to the moon" can be considered among the first rock 'n' roll records - before the rock 'n' roll conscious "7 nights" was done. Also, the 1946 unissued "Let me rock you baby" says a lot. Moon's classic hits, though, were squarely country - "Sweeter than the flowers" (the only successful bluegrass song on the label - Moon had another bluegrass local hit with "The leaves mustn't fall" though "Flowers" was the only national one) and "I'll sail my ship alone".

James Brown: Way before Brown became the commercial King of Funk/1st discoman with one-liner songs like "Get up offa that thang dance and you'll feel better", he was on King and other small labels cutting classic gospel-R&B hybrids - and it is this what people should remember. His Federal material like "Please please please", "Think" and "Try me" and his "Live at the Appollo" concert would not have been possible without his initial King work. James Brown's 1950s and early 1960s work is excellent and his King material is where it all started.

R&B: Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, Bullmoose, all these were excellent.
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