Henry Stone on Johnny Otis: “He Worked With Me On Chart Records”
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.
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.
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