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Dec 162014
 
DJ Milton Butterball Smith

DJ Milton Butterball Smith in Billboard Magazine 1965

DJ Milton “Butterball” Smith was a pioneering Miami radio DJ of such epic proportions that his effect on the music industry is still felt strongly to this day. In tribute to this great man, who was also a great business associate, friend, and practically family with Henry Stone, here are some of the essential facts that you must know about Milton “Butterball” Smith.

– Butterball was born in Richmond, VA, and received a B.S. from Tennessee State College, served in the Korean War for the U.S. Marines, and moved to Miami in 1952.

– He started out on WFEC, a South Florida based AM radio station which was one of the earliest regional stations to play rhythm & blues. They combined this format with gospel, news, jazz, and foreign language programming.

– He worked at WFEC under the name Fat Daddy.

Butterball Fat Daddy

Milton Smith in Billboard Magazine 1956

– He was hired away from WFEC by WMBM, a tiny AM station headquartered on an island between Miami Beach and the mainland.

– When he moved to WMBM he changed his name to Butterball because WFEC claimed ownership over the name Fat Daddy.

– He worked out of a street facing sub-station in the heart of Overtown in front of a big window. All the passersby could see and hear Butterball through the window and a speaker that was set up and he could see them too.

butrterball and king coleman

Article about Butterball in the Miami Times 1958

– Butterball broke all the hot independent records.

– Butterball was known for his signature catch phrases, slogans, and specific ways he started and ended show. He wuld say things like, “This is Mrs. Smith’s 300 pound boy.”

– Milton Smith was such a popular DJ that he would go to the Bahamas and play for 10,000 people. He was one of the world’s original superstar DJ’s.

– He was great friends with Steve Alimo and even appeared in a few locally shot films with him that are today considered cult classics such as “The Hooked Generation,” “Stanley,” and “Mako: Jaws of Death”

– Smith was well known for the community programs he participated in to give back to those who loved him. This included food giveaways, appearances, and cash donations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterball at WMBM

– When he retired from the radio, he became a TK Records head of Community Outreach.

Blowfly on Butterball

Clarence Reid aka Blowfly tells VIBE Magazine about Butterball in a 1989 magazine feature

 

– He was the official TK Records bbq chef and was extremely well known for his special babyback ribs.

 

– The radio DJ and personality King Coleman was also hired away from WFEC by WMBM and they became a very powerful duo for breaking records on a nationwide basis based on their clout in the southeast.

– Was great friends with Clarence “Blowfly” Reid, with whom he recorded the earliest version of “Rapp Dirty” in about 1962, making them the first innovators of hip hop.

– Butterball passed away in 1990. Milton “Butterball” Smith, rest in peace.

 

Butterball death notice in the Miami Times 1990

Butterball death notice in the Miami Times 1990


Nov 262014
 

Johnny Otis not only discovered Etta James, played on the original Big Momma Thornton song “Hound Dog” (made famous by Elvis), and produced early cuts by Little Richard; he also worked as a writer and arranger with Henry Stone for his 1950’s doo wop label, Chart Records.

The two first met around 1946 in Los Angeles in the thriving world of rhythm & blues clubs on Central Avenue.

Evidence of the two’s working relationship exists on their collaboration for the song “Guitar Player,” by The Evergreens, which they co-wrote (see above video starting at 2:38.

At the time, jukebox operators ruled the record industry not as manufacturers, but as consumers of the great commodity known as music. Jukeboxes were most prevalent in African-American and recent immigrant neighborhoods, and every week or two they were looking for the best new music being produced.

As a record distributor, nay, The record distributor of Florida, Stone was intimately familiar with what records the audience was looking for and why, before they even knew themselves. This was not a scientific formula, but rather a combination of gut instinct, knowledge of his market, experience, and trained musical ears that led him through life.

Stone formed Chart Records after a bitter fallout with Syd Nathan of King Records, over royalties due on a label partnership they formed for DeLuxe Records. As part of the eventual settlement, Nathan agreed to manufacture records at his own pressing plant for whatever Stone came up with.

Upon his return to Miami after dealing with lawyers in NYC, Stone founded Chart Records and got into the hottest genre on the market, doo wop.

Chart Records released a great variety of records by the likes of The Evergreens, The Champions, The Tru-Tones, and The Charms, some of which saw airplay as far away as New York City, with warm introductions by pioneering radio DJ Alan Freed, a close compadre of Stone’s since his days on regional radio in Cincinnati.

john lee hooker chart records

Chart produced a few nominal hits like “Mexico Bound” by The Champions. Additionally, it served as a launchpad for a guitar playing bluesman by the name of John Lee Hooker who recorded “Wobbling Baby,” and “Goin’ South” for the label in 1955.

Ultimately, Chart paved the way for Stone’s inimitable run of global independent domination in the 1970s. And it was with the help of amazing musicians like Johnny Otis that he had the wherewithal, knowledge, and experience to do so.

Otis died in 2012. He was inducted into the rock n roll hall of fame in 1994

Nov 182014
 

King Records was the Ohio based pioneering independent American record company who first signed James Brown. They also recorded and manufactured music by Earl Bostic, Bill Doggett, The 5 Royales, and Little Willie John, to name a few. And they were just as prolific and ahead of the pack in their “hillbilly records,” early country taht they wre just as excited by as rhythm and blues.

The incredible thing about King is that they did absolutely everything in-house. They didn’t just record in their own studio, they also had their own pressing plant for cranking out product, their own printing press to make labels, they even manufactured their own boxes and sleeves. Suffice to say, they also had their own distribuotrs and promotion men stationed in various markets throughout the country.

They didn’t need to go through independent distributors because they built their own network using their own people. Later, the overhead on doing business that way got to be too mich. But for a long time it worked extremely well.

The Miami branch of King Records was run by Marvin Novak, who became a close friend of Henry Stone.

here’s what Henry had to say about King Records in Miami:

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Via Billboard Magazine August 28, 1954

“Marvin Novak, Marvin Novak, Marvin Novak, hahaha, quite a character, man. I spent a lot of time with him. His nickname was Falsie.  That was a name I guess he picked up growing up with Syd Nathan and his clan. He was Syd Nathan’s boy.

The actual story is that Syd Nathan’s family sort of adopted him in Cinncinnatti, and he ended upp like working for Syd. I was associated with him because my De Luxe label was part of King Records.

The last time I saw him was about ten years ago at the track. I don’t know if he’s still alive.”

 

via Billboard Magazine January 16, 1954

via Billboard Magazine January 16, 1954

 

“We actually had our offices next door to each other when I was on SW 8th street and 12th Avenue. The King Records branch was right next door to me.

I started working with King records in 1954. I had a huge hit record on the DeLuxe label through King. I don’t know if youre familiar with that, Hearts of Stone, well that was me, that was the first million selling record that crossed over into the pop charts from the r&b charts on Billboard.”

Nov 172014
 

charlesbrownatpiano

Charles Brown is an incredible artist whose music has lasted since 1946 till today. “Merry Christmas Baby” may be his biggest hit, but his catalog is chock full of smooth American jazz and blues. Also known as “Good Time Charlie Brown” he recorded for labels like Aladdin, King, Imperial, Jewel, and many more.

And it all started for him with Aladdin Records. Here is how he ended up there:

Henry Stone served in WWII as a trumpet player in the army’s first racially integrated band at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

After the war ended he moved out to Los Angeles and joined the music business, working with the earliest pioneering labels in American independent records.

Stone said, “If you wanna go back to 1946 when I was in California when I got out of the army I ended up with Ben Pollack. He was an old bandleader. He hired me as a&r man, sweeping the floor, whatever had to be done. The first artist I worked with was Mel Torme. He was a little bit of a jazz artist, 17 years old, and I was setting the mic up for him to sing into. I liked his music and I worked with him til one day I was down at Central Ave in Los Angeles.

I heard Johnny Moore with a singer by the name of Charles Brown, which I though was fantastic

I brought him into Ben to record, but he was a real old, retired band leader that had this Jewel Label that I was working with him on. And when I brought Charles Brown in, he said to me, “Henry, I dont want any nigger in my label.” I said “Fine! Im leaving too,” and I brought him over to Aladdin Records. At the time the Messner boys had a Reccawd store.

And I brought him to them and they started recording and Charles Brown made hits.”

Nov 112014
 
Henry Stone, Dave Benjamin, and Milt Oshins at Ceasars Palace

Henry Stone, Dave Benjamin, and Milt Oshins at Ceasars Palace

Most music listeners don’t know how the music business actually works. It’s not complicated, but it’s a little bit tricky to understand the concepts of masters, writers, and publishing. Essentially, artists are usually advanced a sum of money by their label to pay for their own recording sessions. The record label is ostensibly paid back through the sale of the product they manufacture. If the artist writes the song, they are entitled to credit and royalties for doing so through a performing arts organization such as BMI. Obviously, many times in the history of the music business, unscrupulous parties have used artist’s lack of  knowledge on the subject to give themselves a business advantage. On the other hand, people ought to pay close attention to documents before they sign them.

Henry Stone was always known to drive a hard bargain, but when it came time to pay his artists, he always had cold cash, cars, and checks when it came time to pay the piper. Here are some of his memories about how the record business works:

“I wasnt basically that heavy in the manufacturing business until the 1970s.

I was a distributor and also making records because I dug em’, because that was my passion. I always loved to make records, yknow. Some people play golf, I made records.

But I wasn’t like Art Rupe from Specialty who that’s all he did. Lew Chudd from Imperial, that’s all he did. All they did was make records all day, and they paid the artists very little. Even Motown paid their artists not too much, whatever the deal was at the time. Half a cent on a million sold is $5,000, and then the artists wouldn’t get the money cause it took that money to record. Every artist until this day has gotta pay for their own recording. You advance them the money. And if you spend $10,000 on the recording, that was charged to the artist.

Otis Williams and The Charms, I think I had them on a 3 cent royalty or somethin like that. They worked too and did a lot of gigs. They had their gigs. If a group had a couple hit records, they went out and did gigs and had a lot of shows and thats how they really made their money. Cause most of the money that hit records would generate, the record companies recouped yaknow…

art rupe specialty

Art Rupe from Specialty Records, who founded his label in Los Angeles in 1944

Art Rupe from Specialty had a whole guide that he gave his people on how to find an artist in the street, sign em’ to a deal, and cut a record. In those papers, he’s offering a half cent royalty contract. For every record sold, he’s offering the artist half a cent royalty.

So if a guy had a million selling record and had could have $5,000 or $10,000 comin to him, whatever the deal was, a half a cent was very unusual, that was unusuallly low, it was usually 2 or 3 cents a record for an artist if I rememeber correctly. But half a cent? Art Rupe from Specialy was a real tough tough wheeler and dealer so he coulda had it, if he said so thats what he did.

But that’s not what I did. Ask any of my artists to this day. If anybody lost money, it was me, cause I was always putting it back into the company to make more records.”

Nov 062014
 
Steve Alaimo and Henry Stone

Steve Alaimo and Henry Stone

Steve Alaimo and Henry Stone were trusted pals of James Brown. Stone met him when he first started recording, and Steve knew James as a sort of musical father figure. They all had many interactions over the years, both friendly and professional. In fact, James was even a fan of Alaimo’s music.

stevalaimo003

Here’s what Steve had to say about the time that Brown left an arena to check him out at a club.  “I went to work in Washington and stayed at the same hotel as James Brown did. He was playing a show at the arena of course, Ben Bartt was his manager then, and I was at this little club. And James came in to see me at this club and the people there just couldn’t believe it. Yknow it was downtown DC. I’m sittin’ there singin’ and it’s like a little neighborhood club, y’know like a small club. James Brown was at the Collisseum that same night and then came over to my place, everybody went apeshit, that he was in there to see me, watchin’ me.”

But when Brown was starting out in the 1950s he spent years as the hardest working man in show business coming up on the Chitlin Circuit.

stevalaimo002

Steve says, “He’d work the Million Dollar Palms, he’d work the Harlem Square, he’d work the old Miami Marlins baseball stadium, and he used to pack the joint. I opened a show for him there once with his band backing me. And I was so good that James got pissed. One of his cronies, Charles Bobbit came up and said, “Mr. Brown would like to see you.”

Steve continues, “James had thses special moves, like if one of the guys in the band fucked up a note or made a mistake, he’d do a turn like and point his hand and that meant you were fined a certain amount of money. SO I was messing around and doing that move cause I knew what he did. I knew everything about him.”

stevalaimo001

“So I walk in there to see him and James Brown said, “Steve I hear you were out there makin fun of me.”

I sez, “No Mr Brown, I was just having fun. I was singin’.”

And he’d say, in his raspy voice, “Oh, ha, that’s pretty good.” And he’d laugh. He was puttin’ me on. He got excited. He was appreciating that I was teasing him. But I was scared shitless. He was always Mr. Brown, but he called me Steve.”

 

 

Nov 052014
 

James Brown was a real Georgia guy, but he also spent a lot of time in Miami. It’s where he came to chill out, talk records with Henry Stone, and drink Cognac with his posse.

It’s also where he got to know a fella by the name of Steve Alaimo, who later became Vice President of TK Productions. Back in the 60s, he was still pursuing his solo music career when he got a call from his buddy Dick Clark to host a musical entertainment and variety show out in California.

Steve Alaimo’s “Where The Action Is,” aired nationally 5 days a week to a rabid audience of teenage music fans with disposable incomes for buying records.

Steve was a real clean cut pop-music looking guy, but he also had a deep love of rhythm and blues from gigging at clubs in Overtown, and generally coming of age around Henry Stone in Miami’s music scene.

So it’s no surprise that Alaimo, who had total control in booking musical acts for the show, would give many great r&b artists their first national tv exposure.

Steve says, “I was very very close with the black community. When I did “Where The Action Is” in California, I brought all the black talent on the show. And that’s where some of the first exposure for Smokey Robinson, and Wilson Pickett came from. The Temptations and Diana Ross got on Ed Sullivan. But you ain’t gonna see Sam and Dave on there. You aint gonna see James Brown on there. James Brown told people  till the day that he died that I was a big reason for his success, cause I put him on that show a bunch of time. And I also gave him a half hour special.”

It all started when Henry Stone says that he convinced James Brown to do it.

Henry remembers, “I said, James, you’re goin’ to California in about 2 weeks. You gotta call Steve cause Steve has got this show out there, and James sez “What does it pay, whats the scale, what does it pay?” I said, “It pays scale.”

He said, “Henry, you know I dont work for scale”

I sez, “James fuhgettaboutit man, it’s exposure, you’re gonna be in California would you do me a personal favor and go and see Steve and do it. ”

So he went out and did the show, and of course when he did that show it was also the first time that black kids got to see him. They had never seen James Brown cause he only worked the chitlin circuit and you had to be 18 or 21 to go into a black nightclub so the kids had never seen him. They might have heard a few songs through their parents but they never saw him do his whole act, and boy I could not give him off the show. He went California every two weeks to do that show yknow cause that show really busted James Brown wide open to the black and white kids. It’s one thing to hear him sing, but to see him perform it, forget it, he’s the greatest performer out there. Or one of the greatest. Ask Michael Jackson, he’ll tell ya. he copied his moonwalk from him.”

Oct 282014
 
Jimmy Bo Horne

Jimmy “Bo” Horne signs a superfan’s record backstage at Charlie Rodriguez TK Disco reunion concert in Hialeah at Milander Auditorium, 2013

Jimmy “Bo” Horne’s “Dance Across The Floor” is still regarded as one of the most danceable tracks of the entire disco era, and DJ’s around the world still play it to get the party people moving to this day. Just wanted to share this great photo pf Jimmy “Bo” backstage at a TK Disco reunion concert at Hiealeah’s Milander Auditorium. Hialeah is of course the great city where TK Disco was headquartered in a 20,000 square foot warehouse that share space with Henry Stone’s Tone Distribution company.

Oct 282014
 
henry stone

Henry Stone in a still from the documentary about his life and work.

Henry Stone’s TK Disco empire was a conglomeration of over 15 of his own record labels independently producing thousands of singles, EP’s, and LP’s that sold hundreds of millions of copies throughout the 1970’s.

But it may have never happened if not for a conversation he had with good friend Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records about the future of their companies.

See, Henry Stone’s bread and butter was working as a distributor, and it had been since 1948. Making records was a hobby that he loved. Here’s what Stone had to say about the birth of the biggest independent record label in the world (for it’s era), TK Productions, the world’s leading progenitor of disco, r&b, funk, and soul.

Henry says, “Jerry Wexler moved here to Florida, him and Tom Dowd. And they were recording out of Criteria with Eric Clapton and living down here.

So i used to go out to lunch with Jerry almost every day, we used to hang out and go out to lunch. So one day he says “I got some good news and some bad news.”

I say “Give me the bad news man, good news I can always handle.”

jerry wexler and aretha franklin

Jerry Wexler in the studio with Aretha Franklin, both friends of Henry Stone.

He says, “In about 6 months time….and you gotta keep this quiet, cause nobody knows, but….in 6 months time, Atlantic, Warner Bros, and Elektra are gonna form their own distributing company and pull away from all the independednt distributors.”

I said, “Changes, man.”

I did have a lot of labels, but I didn’t like the idea, cause I did a lot of businss with Atlantic and Warner Brothers, but I had a lot of labels, so it wasnt gonna cripple me as a distributor.

Then, along comes my next hit record, Timmy Thomas, with “Why Can’t We Live Together.”

I was on my way to New York to make a deal with Atlantic to put out “Why Cant We Live Together,” and as I’m on the plane I’m thinkin, “Why am I gonna give em’ this record and I’m not gonna distribute it? Thats not gonna make too much sense for Henry Stone yaknow.”

So I  said “Look, I’m gonna form my own record comapny, TK.” And I released “Why Can’t We Live Together” on TK and not Atlantic. And that was the big hit that really started it.”

Oct 242014
 

SolomonBurke_Label_b

Henry Stone was the biggest independent distributor in Florida from the vinyl to the CD age. So he knew the bosses of all the great early indie labels throughout history.

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Here’s what Henry had to say about New York City’s Apollo Records, who were not only responsible for early greats by Southern soul powerhouse Solomon Burke, but also Mahalia Jackson and The 5 Royales.

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“Apollo Records were one of the first independents out of New York City. I distributed them. It was one of the first r&b labels in the late 40s and 50s, and it was run by Bess Berman. Bess and Ike Berman.

bessbermanapollorecordssolomon-burke

They were married but she was the boss. I think they originally had, he just passed away too, oh god, big fat guy, and later on, if I can think of his name, later on, I know when I went to California, he ended up with a Limo service. I remember him calling me he said anytime you come to California Ill pick you up in my limo. He was a big R&B artist who ended up on Atlantic Records, but I think he started on Apollo. Solomon Burke. Yeah he was on Apollo Records originally, way back when they first started, then he ended up with some pretty big hits on Atlantic and ended up having a limo service in LA.”

Oct 222014
 

“Cosmic Funk” by the Mad Dog Fire Department is one of the distinguished few last records put out on the historic TK Disco label before it went bankrupt.

The distinct funky soul of the era that birthed it shines like the mirrors on a disco ball. But the track is just as at home as a backyard bbq in Miami with everybody dancing, ribs on the grill, cold drinks in a cooler, and purple smoke in the air.

It’s a track that Henry Stone picked up in a deal at the time with some other record heads and now appears on his “Twelve Inch Disco Classics from the 70s, Vol. 7,” which is full of deep and classic grooves you can’t find just anywhere.

Who were Mad Dog Fire Department? Well, it’s hard to say really. In 1979 they saw release on the Shield Records label, a TK subsidiary. Their track “Cosmic Funk,” sounds like what Martians might listen to in the Bahamas.

There is a distinct island groove in the choppy guitars, perfect syncopation, thumping bass lines, tribal calls, and use of repetition in the groove.

It is a distinctly futuristic sound even today.

Oct 222014
 


King Sporty, aka Noel Williams, is one of the greatest mostly unknown figures in Jamaican music history. As a cult figure in ska, dub, reggae, funk, soul, Miami bass, and electronic music, he does have an active and growing fan base, but he is not a household name by any means.

However, despite the lack of fame, he has been a vital force in shaping the country’s musical identity.

Rising from the streets of Kingston, where he was an early mobile ska soundsystem DJ, Sporty has scaled the heights of immortality as the co-writer of the Bob Marley hit “Buffalo Soldier,” which was written and composed in Henry STone’s TK studios in Hialeah.

Suffice it to say, Sporty’s biggest contributions will never be forgotten. But his lesser known cuts are just as excellent!

Some of these deep and funky dance grooves are available thanks to the relationship Sporty forged with Miami independent music pioneer Henry Stone. King Sporty moved to Miami and became closely acquainted with Stone, and his various record labels, and they made many deals for distribution and even recording.

One of the products of this amazing partnership is “Get On Down,” which was released by TK Disco in 1979.

Henry Stone had this to say about Sporty:
“Sporty was a Rastafarian who made some records for us on the Konduko label, he had his own little label. He’s been around quite a while. He was married to Betty Wright. He also was involved with Bob Marley, he brought Bob Marley into the studio sometimes, in fact that’s where he wrote “Buffalo Soldier” with Bob Marley. At the time they were doin’ it I thought it was a good idea, but nothin was nothin. Nothin is nothin until it happens. And Sporty, he’s down here still.”

So be sure to check out the Henry Stone Music release “Twelve Inch Disco Classics from the 70s, Vol. 7