Morris Levy was a complicated, mobbed up, pioneering nightclub boss, indie label head, music publisher, and record store chain owner who after about 40 years of ruling the mean streets of jazz, doo wop, and R&B in NYC got caught up in an FBI racketeering case and died before serving time in prison.
Levy was a close associate of Henry Stone’s going all the way back to the days when both guys were kids in nearby institutions for troubled youths.
Richard Carlin’s new biography of Levy, Godfather of The Music Business, sheds light on the shadowy figure behind so many of the hits that boom through our musical consciousness even today. Carlin has written over twenty books on music, with subjects ranging from jazz, to folk, country, and even Scottish Dance. Here’s what he had to say about Bronx record men, focusing on the outrageous, and the link between Sam&Dave and Miami Bass.
The first South Florida station that Smith worked for was WFEC. His name there was “Fat Daddy,” a moniker he left behind when he was hired by rival station WMBM.
Competition made for great radio and WFEC was invested in knocking out their adversaries with programming the likes of which Miami and Ft Lauderdale had never seen before.
Check out the above 1953 clipping from the Miami Times newspaper where WFEC took out a full page ad to welcome their newest DJ Jockey Jack and also proclaim their being the “First and only all negro program station in Miami.”
This brings up an interesting point. If you look at old radio schedules for stations that offered gospel and r&b programming (like WMBM), they also had shows as diverse as Hungarian Church Service and Schacter’s Y’dish Hour (sic. Yiddish) .
Going to a format where the only target demographic was African-American and Afro-Carribbean was a bold move. And it took a vibrant staff of personalities and shows like Rocky Groce with “The Ebony Express,” Joe Walker and Leona Everett with “Glory Road,” newspaper man Elliot J Pieze with “Local News,” Charles North with “Man On The Street,” and r&b swinger Jockey Jack.
The station had a broadcast studio at 350 NE 71st St not far from Liberty City.
Henry Stone knew all of these DJ’s personally. He cultivated them as ambassadors for the records he sold to jukebox operators, whose routes went through whorehouses, juke joints, saloons, and restaurants from Key West to Pensacola.
Here’s what Stone had to say, “I controlled the radio down here completely man, black radio. I built relationships with Butterball, Ed Cook, and Jockey Jack and all those guys. Give em like $50 or $100 a record. You gotta spend a buck to make a buck. You can’t have it all.”
“I was really really tight with George Goldner. In fact, George came in before Morris Levy; before End Records. Back when I first started in the distributing business here in Florida circa 1948, George came in to see me from Cuba one day.
He was looking for distribution.
He used to go to Cuba a lot. He did a lot of Cuban music. A lot of Latino music, really. Bg influence, but at the time it didn’t really sell much. He had a label I distributed here in Florida called Tico Records.
R.I.P to the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
This is what it sounds like when doves cry, my friend.
He was the Purple Alpha, the Minneapolis Omega, and a son of funk in the same league as James Brown and Little Richard.
Here’s what HenryStoneMusic’s own Joe Stone remembers of the Prince legacy, including a play by play recap from his famous Orange Bowl concert on Easter Sunday in Miami 1985.
“Yknow, I remember leaving the TK Offices, the T.K. building on like a Tuesday afternoon, driving on LeJeune Road past the Miami Airport when the Playboy Club was still over there and for the first time hearing “When Doves Cry” come on the radio. And I was kinda like who the fuck is that? Cause it was so groundbreaking. It was. And it had these different arrangements and the guy was so versatile.”
“Not long before that he had a smash hit with “Little Red Corvette,” and I loved the extended version of that song, and that cool soulful vocal breakdown in the middle. And before that he had “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” and it was completely different. This guy was so incredibly different. A real musical chameleon.
He was really quite an innovator and I think he was misunderstood and probably had some social awkwardness with everyday life and reality because of the depth of his musical intelligence.”
Prince at Glam Slam on South Beach
“And I think we’ll discover more about Prince over the next 20 years than we know today because he was musically very far ahead of his time.
And he was quite the philanthropist at the same time. He did a lot of things without telling people. Without telling everyone, “Hey I did this.” He quietly did a lot of good for a lot of people.
He was also one of the first to have complete creative control over his work with Warner Brothers. I can’t remember his first manager’s name, but his deal with WB was that he had complete creative control of the process.”
Live from the Orange Bowl
“I saw him play live a couple times. I saw him at the Orange Bowl. Must have been 1985. It was a fuckin killer show at the Orange Bowl. He was on tour I’m pretty sure. The Purple Rain tour.
I remember he was running across the stage and he kinda tripped on one of the steps and fell down a little and then disappeared like he was embarrassed until the people started screaming and chanting and he came back out with a little sad face.
I can see it now.
He’s running and went to hit a step and missed it and went shboom! I was like oh shit, I hope he’s alright.
Shit looked like it musta hurt.”
“He was amazing.
He definitely influenced fashion in a lot of ways. And he had this interesting way of introducing new artists and music to us.
He would present them like, these guys have been around. Like Morris Day and The Time. And the broad that was in the movie…..Voluptuous? It was interesting how he introduced artists he was involved in creating and producing. It was like a seamless way that they already existed and we shouldknow them.
I loved Prince. He could get some real poppy stuff going, but he kept it soulful and funky and that’s what I love.
Soul, and funk, r&b. I feel that. And he was always able to keep that going. Even the more rock n rolly stuff.
He shall be missed. He was an amazing musician and amazing artist.”
Miami radio in 1963 was a major force in national playlists for r&b, pop, and dance music not only in the U.S., but the Caribbean as well.
Flowing on the strength of the trade winds, even a tiny AM station like WMBM could be picked up as far away as the Bahamas, Cuba, and Jamaica, where rabid listeners hungry for the newest American hits would go out of their way to position antennas in just such a way as to hear these crucial tunes and entertaining DJ’s, even if they had to wade through some static to do so.
Guys like Milton “Butterball” Smith and Terry Johnson became stars in Miami, but also the island nations where their influence helped shape new genres like Ska, and gave salsa orchestras the latest jazz chops to study and integrate into their sound.
China Valles, who was buds with Duke Ellington, was the jazz man. Rev Ira McCall preached and played gospel. Frank Martin handled news. Louise Griffin was a community specialist. Sam Gyson loved conducting interviews. Terry Johnson was into r&b, and so was the famous Butterball, who upon leaving radio joined Henry Stone’s T.K. Productions as a community liasion.
This classic ad from the pages of the Miami Times newspaper dated October 5th, 1963 is a great piece of history. Today WMBM is still alive and well and playing all gospel, all the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Heavy bass, speaker knock, rearview shake, trunk rattle, these are all components of any true hip hop car audio experience, and fans love it cause it feels good.
And like many great rhythmic forces in music, it came from the Magic City.
Don’t get it twisted, hip hop was invented in NYC. South Bronx to be exact. And a great majority of its early listeners got around on busses and subways. While they surely banged their tunes through big speakers at night clubs, in rec rooms, and at block parties, Miami was the first market where booming hip hop through car stereos became a significant aspect of the culture.
That this city fed the idea bazooka speakers, triple amps, subwoofers, and gutted interiors to make more room for hardware is no surprise, and that its moniker took our city’s name and most salient feature into its own genre is no surprise either.
But Miami Bass, at its thumping core, is true hip hop, and Rolling Stone knows it’s important enough, its stars big enough, their contributions influential enough, for two of its brightest rappers to lead off their 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs of All Time List with it.
And that’s why it’s no surprise that pop-charting duo L’Trimm and their crucial conquest of the charts in “Cars With The Boom” is critically considered one of the greatest of all time.
The track originally dropped on Time-X Records, a division of HOT Productions founded and presided over by the great Henry Stone.
But the group was discovered, named, written for, and recorded by Joe Louis Stone, Henry’s Son, whose myriad contributions to the Miami Bass, electronic dance, and parody genres have been covered pretty extensively in the media.
As Joe says, “I was sittin’ in the studio over by Bird Road and The Palmetto when these two beautiful teenage girls walk in and say they want to record. I called their mothers immediately, signed them to a recording contract, named them L’Trimm, wrote them a hit, released it locally, got the reaction, and got them on Atlantic Records. The rest is history.”