Who Is Henry Stone?
Henry Stone is the greatest independent record man of all time!
Henry Stone was born in the Bronx, NYC on June 3, 1921 and died in Miami, FL on August 7, 2014.
As a kid during The Great Depression he got sent off to an orphanage in Pleasantville, New York till he was around 15, when he started taking trumpet lessons with Charlie Colin on 48th street in NYC.
He and his buddy Milt Rajonsky used to walk over together.
Later on Milt changed his name to Shorty Rogers and helped found the Cool Jazz movement out in California. They also hung out with a young drummer named Shelly Manne, and Stan Getz who later did “Girl From Ipanema.”
Around 1937 Stone started hustling in the music business as a song plugger with his pal Lyge McKelvey. They worked for big band leader Tommy Tucker getting other orchestras to play sheet music on live radio. This is how songwriters used to make money back then. It’s the origin of the music publishing business.
Around this time Stone said, “One day I had an idea for a new gimmick. When Tommy Tucker had this song out “I Want To Set The World On Fire,” I had him press up records. I took em around to radio stations. The radio stations go “What is this?” cause nobody’d ever brought em’ a record to play. So I said, “Just play the fuckin’ thing.” And they did.”
In the summers, Henry formed his own band, Rocky Stone and His Little Pebbles, and played the Borscht Belt up in the Catskills to make money.
Throughout World War II, Stone served in the U.S. Army’s first racially integrated band as a trumpet player at the embarkation point of Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. When all the soldiers got shipped off to Europe, Stone and his bandmates played them off to sea. Stone said, “I got my feelin’ for the blues playing with these black musicians, yknow.” Afterhours, the Army band would make extra cash at unsanctioned off-base gigs.
At the end of the war, Stone moved to Los Angeles, California where he found work with Ben Pollack of Jewel Records, sweeping up floors, setting up mics, and doing A&R for recording sessions with the likes of Kay Starr and a 17 year old Mel Torme. But it was on the lively Central Ave blues scene where he encountered a cool piano player named Charles Brown that he found more inspiration.
Upon bringing the artist to Jewel Records to get him a recording deal, Ben Pollack said, “Henry, I don’t want a fuckin’ N****r on my label,” and Stone said, “Fuck you, man,” and walked out.
“So I brought Charles Brown to Aladdin Records,” remembers Stone, “And he became a big star over there starting with songs like “Driftin’ Blues” all the way to “Merry Christmas Baby.” That label was run by the Mesner brothers. Eddie, Leo, and Ira Mesner. The Mesner boys. At the time they had a real reccawd shop.”
Captivated by the budding independent label scene in California, Stone began selling R&B records out of the trunk of his car, flipping labels like Aladdin, Modern, Specialty, and Exclusive. One of his stops was always the train station, where he would sell freshly pressed slabs of hot new rhythm and blues to the train porters who would double or triple the price and sell them all over the country in cities like St Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit. Stone called this the beginning of independent distribution.
He would create hype for new releases by getting labels like Aladdin to front the pressing cost of his Indie Index, a list with ordering info for hot new records.
Toward the end of 1947, due to the housing crisis in California, he packed up his family and moved to Miami in 1948.
“Back then, Miami was the asshole of the world,” he said, “There was nothin.”
But it was while climbing the Dade County courthouse steps on Flagler Street, on his way to pick up a drivers license, that Stone heard a familiar voice call his name. It was Mike Collier, who he knew from California saying, “Henry, Henry, hey, Stone! I got beat on a deal. I have a crate of ten thousand records I just shipped here. I need you to sell them for me. Pay me when you get the money.”
In that fortuitous crate were several thousand copies of the Jack McVea Orchestra’s “Open The Door Richard,” a jukebox hit that he had no problem unloading. And with that, Stone founded Seminole Record Distributors and began selling independent music to jukebox operators all over the state of Florida.
From then on, Henry Stone ruled the music business from his Miami headquarters for over 65 years (1948-2014). He founded many record labels such as Rockin’, Glory, Chart, Marlin, Dade, Alston, Glades, Cat, BrownStone (co-founded with James Brown), Dash, Weird World and the world-famous TK Records and T.K. Disco to name but a few. He was instrumental in the formation and development of several recorded musical genres including soul, funk, disco, and dance music, as well as having a big influence in R&B, blues, gospel and the beginning of electronic music (House, etc).
He additionally incubated and exposed the distinct Miami Sound, a bass-heavy, up-tempo, polyrhythmic, Caribbean inflected mutation of American R&B resulting from the region’s unique geographic isolation, Afro-Latin island population, constant influx of great new musical talent, subtropical party atmosphere, and an open door policy that helped discover and foster the talent of the best studio musicians, producers, engineers, songwriters, and performers all under one roof.
As a distributor, label exec, and producer Henry Stone worked directly with many great artists including Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, Otis Williams and The Charms, Sonny Thompson, Johnny Otis, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, James Brown, Wilbert Harrison, Betty Wright, Beginning of The End, Sam and Dave, Timmy Thomas, Blowfly, Tom Petty, KC and The Sunshine Band, The Allman Brothers, Betty Wright, Led Zeppelin, Little Beaver, Al Kooper, Eartha Kitt, Jaco Pastorius, Ralph Macdonald, John Tropea, Phil Upchurch, Solomon Burke, Jimmy “Bo” Horne, Steve Alaimo, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Byrd, Clarence Reid, Little Milton, J. P. Robinson, Roach Thompson, and many, many, many others. He recorded some of the earliest work of Ray Charles and co-founded the BrownStone label with James Brown, in addition to advising him for many years.
He also recorded the first version of “The Twist” with Hank Ballard and The Midnighters at the North Miami Armory, and “Do The Mashed Potato” with James Brown and his band billed as Nat Kendrick and The Swans due to contractual obligations to another label.
In 1955, Stone succeeded in recording and marketing his first million selling record, “Hearts of Stone” by Otis Williams and The Charms. This record came out on the DeLuxe label that he held a 50-50% split with Syd Nathan on. Nathan was the pioneer behind the wholly self contained King Records and several subsidiaries.
Throughout the 1960’s Henry Stone built his Tone Distributors into a tran-shipping powerhouse. As the best of the little indie labels like Atlantic, and Warner Bros that he began working with in the late 40s grew into global hitmakers, Stone’s operation grew too, carrying lines of catalog from new, established, and major labels that necessitated his buying a warehouse the size of a football field to house all his stock in. This was located at 495 SE 10th Court in Hialeah, FL. At the time, Florida was considered a 2.5% percent market in nationwide record sales. But through his connections in urban centers like Chicago, Philly, Detroit, NYC, Newark, and Indianapolis, Stone was able to sell 10-15% of all the independent r&b records in America by undercutting the distributors local to those markets, and shipping his lines of wholesale bulk to his cronies in those cities.
Henry Stone’s influence in the Disco era is quite extensive. He founded one of the best known disco record labels, TK Records, and put out a string of over 25 gold and platinum records. He discovered Harry Wayne Casey, better known as “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band. He recorded many of the great artists of the disco era including Gwen McCrae, Timmy Thomas, T-Connection, Peter Brown, Foxy, George McCrae, Betty Wright, Little Beaver, Bobby Caldwell, and too many more to list right here. Check out the rest of the website, especially the Discogs section for more on that.
His label landed two tracks, “Boogie Shoes,” and “Calypso Breakdown,” on the famous Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, one of the most successful albums of all time.
Stone was also instrumental to the birth of recorded hip hop, providing the seed money and one hundred thousand record pressings from his own Hialeah pressing plant for Joe Robinson and Sylvia Robinson for their Sugar Hill Records label. He also broke their earliest releases in Florida through his distribution network and radio contacts. These cuts include both the 7″ and 12″ singles versions of “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang.
After the T.K. Records bankruptcy in 1981, he founded Sunnyview Records with Morris Levy and they released the electro hip hop hit “Jamm On It” by Newcleus and the freestyle classic “Funky Little Beat,” by Connie.
Later in the 1980’s he broke with Sunnyview and founded HOT Productions, creating dozens of his own new labels as well as signing over fifty labels into manufacturing and distribution deals, as well as creating his own stars such as L’Trimm with “Cars With The Boom,” Company B with “Fascinated,” and The Extra T’s with “I Like It (Cornflakes)” through his own recording studio and in-house roster of producers, artists, musicians, programmers, DJs, and staff.
In 2004, Stone became one of the first record execs to go into digital distribution and upload his entire catalog to iTunes. His works can currently be found in every major streaming and download digital retailer on Earth.
Article by Jake Katel