T .K. Productions – The Miami Sound
By A. D. Penchansky
The walls of Miami music mogul Henry Stone’s office are covered with the “stimulated” wood paneling that Archie Bunker dreams of for his den, and decorated with records of platinum and gold. Records like ‘”Funky Nassau'” by The Beginning of the End, “Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright, and George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby.” These medallions are what record producers and musicians dream of. Here where the beat is everything. In the young singer’s dreams Henry and his associates will like what they hear and allow her to record with house production, in T.K.’s attic studio. Then they will release her record on Alston, or Glades, or Cat, or TK. Above all the young hopeful dreams that Stone and his associates will invite her into the family of Miami-based performers who not only record there, but are booked and managed, promoted, published and publicized through T .K. Productions. Performers like Betty Wright, Miami’s 21-year-old contender for the R&B throne left vacant when Aretha Franklin went MOR. And Benny Latimore, veteran of Miami’s black club scene, who after many forgotten sides as singer and session organist is emerging on record as a new master of the baritone blues recitative. And Willie “Little Beaver” Hale. This trio of young musicians averages between them, almost seven years with Stone’s Hialeah operation. Others have been there more than a decade, cutting records that were not to be heard outside the Sunshine State, dreaming of national sales and recognition. Those days are over. At the house in Hialeah that Henry Stone built, dreams are coming true. He had become involved with black music in California after World War II. A street boy from the Bronx, who learned as a musician-a trumpeter–every facet of the music business, Stone arrived in Miami in 1948. “There was a lot of black talent around,” South Florida’s first commercial studio recordings. The artist was Ray Charles, then known, who was singing at the time like Nat King Cole. Henry suggested Charles take a blues direction, he is fond of recalling, and it is there that the blind artist eventually made his mark. In the fifties Stone worked in Miami and around the nation as an r&b producer for labels with names-Federal, Chess, Modem RPM, Deluxe-that speak magic to collectors of R&B. But by the end of the decade he was devoting his time increasingly to the distribution end of the music business, maintaining his studio operation on the side remembers Henry’s old distributorship on 2nd Ave. It was there that Reid first approached Stone with a recording by a local group: Clarence Reid and the Delmiros. Stone liked it and put it out on his Dade label, and thus was begun a relationship that has lasted fifteen years. Reid wrote and sang, produced others, and sometimes labored in the warehouse of Tone Distributors, which Henry established in 1960 in the same building that Tone and T.K. occupy today. Today however, they occupy all of it. At one point in the sixties Tone distributed throughout Florida almost all the major labels except RCA, Columbia. Decca, and Capitol. These giants maintained their own distribution, as they do now. Additionally there were the house labels like Dade and Alston and a fleet of other custom black lines that were and are Tone’s specialty. Then the tenor of the industry changed. Conglomeration and newly established national patterns of distribution put the squeeze on independents like Stone. As a decade before he had focused his attention on one, then-profitable aspect of the business, the time had come again to redistribute his energies, which Stone was apparently flexible enough to do, and thus was born the impetus to what is today T.K. Productions. The firm proper came into being some “three or four years ago”-no one cares to specify-and was named for Tony Kane, a singer remembered less for his recordings than for the fact that he assembled the board in T.K.’s gritty little studio. And now even all that may be forgotten, with new, ground level and comparatively luxurious studios nearing completion. Last year at this time Henry Stone was in no position to finance new studios. T.K. in fact was broke, according to people in the business who know Henry Stone’s operation. Then something happened that filled the coffers and heralded a new era of recognition for the people working out of T.K. That something was ”Rock Your Baby,” a sweet coital lyric set over an insinuating, unvarying discotheque rhythm. that became one of the biggest records of 1974, a bona fide international chart-topper. And not only on the r&b charts where a Number One record is quite all right thank you, but a hit with the white folks too, a cross-over record. The authors, H. W. Casey and Richard Finch, a white Miami song-writing production team, are the nucleus of T .K.’s K.C. and the Sunshine Band, purveyors of a loud, impetuous good-times muzak that is called “party funk.” The singer was George McRae, a native of West Palm Beach whose career had devolved down to little more than managing wife Gwen McRae, she too a T.K. artist. Then came “Rock Your Baby” and with it, the· ascendancy of the “Miami Sound.” A British magazine sends “the city that’s challenging Philly as the soul center of the seventies.” Philadelphia, Memphis, L.A.these city sounds are said to be growing fat and formularized. One critic heralds “an explosive r&b renaissance taking place in Miami,” where, according to others black music has remained in touch with the streets. A source of energy, genius and funk. Writers and record buyers who are increasingly attracted to the “Miami Sound” hear more than unbridled funk raised off the parched streets of an industrial cul de sac in Hialeah. Additionally, they claim. the sound derives from an infusion of Latin elements abundant in Miami, and it is said to bear traces of music from the near islands. A writer for the Village Voice catalogues “Rock Your Baby” as “funkanova,” like bosa nova. and he refers to the “churgling Miami sound” that hints “of West Indian meters.” Some say it “churgles,” some say it “lopes.” Others-a Boston writer who has visited Hialeah hear the Miami Sound most characteristically in the guitar riffs of Little Beaver, a regular feature of T.K. instrumental support. All agree that it is in the rhythm. The rhythm is everything. “Super-Rhythms.” says Henry Stone, “that’s the basis of our sound.” And “Super-Writing,” he is quick to add, “is the beginning of everything. Almost all the T.K. musicians are writers. They write for one another, as they play for one another, behind one another. They are each other’s greatest assets. T.K.’s secret-if it has one-is this: The artists there learned to assist their friends a long time ago. Achieving success individually, they are now that much more able to help.”
From 1946 to 2014, Henry Stone ruled the Florida music industry with an iron fist, a brick of cash, and a warehouse full of vinyl. HSM is the last of over one hundred record labels he personally founded. This record label includes works from every decade in his sixty-five year career right up until today. Licensing available for film, samples, advertising, movies, video games, and more. Family owned and operated.