“This time last year, Henry Stone, president of a famous Florida distribution company and of the extraordinarily successful TK label, remarked of his own organization, “When it comes to what sells in black music and where to sell it, there aren’t many people around who can match our experience.” And nobody is going to argue with that. This year, however, has marked an important change. TK is broadening its musical base, and aiming for a new, extra market some distance in the m-o-r direction on one side, and in the jazz direction on the other. The roster has expanded and for the first time has gained white artists. Coincidentally Stone has put TK into the hands of RCA and UK for the short remaining time that his deal with the company for other world territories (apart from America) has to run.
This streamlining of license deals , bringing the label under the same distribution – with the exception of certain artists, who are put out through other companies – can perhaps also be seen as a step on the way to expansion. The names of the artists most recently signed to TK in themselves are reference points for the scope of the label’s development. Ralph MacDonald, long known as a percussionist in the quality end of jazz/blues, who has made his first solo album for TK; John Tropea, erstwhile lead guitarist on the Deodato hits, and sessions man for Paul Simon; and Phil Upchurch, a legend in the r&b field, and guitar player for George Benson.
Mention of that artist is pertinent here, because all three signings can justifiably be seen as TK’s response to the successful and lucrative spread of Benson’s popularity, one of TK ‘s most recent successful signings, T-Connection is taking the soul/jazz sound across into the pop charts. Another new signing, who represents the biggest step TK has made artistically, is Chi Coltrane, a white lady singer who is m-o-r with good soul connections, and whose time with CBS brought her critical acclaim but did not break her. Another lady singer now on the TK roster is Celi Bee, Brooklyn-born of Puerto Rican parents and with a long background of performance in clubs and theaters, whose first TK album is out next month in Britain. She, however, is far closer to the disco music style of TK to date than is Miss Coltrane.
On a brief visit to England recently, Stone talked about the roster expansion. “We are not getting away from our main TK sound – there will never come a time when people will ask ‘Hey, what happened to TK, they used to be label for black, funky soul?’ This is just expanding. and the only way you can expand in the music business is in music, unless you decide to go into real estate.” He added that TK is “getting ready to sign British acts”. His change of license and distribution arrangements in Britain, he said, had been a way of “regrouping my forces for the growth of TK, because at this time it makes more sense to keep everything in one family, while trying to build the image of TK.”
The label already has a great image, and it is associated most readily with commercial success in the US – where several singles from the TK stable can be found in the chart each week. But, Stone pointed out, along with the consistently successful, established sellers, like K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Timmy Thomas, George McCrae, Belly Wright and Latimore. TK has artists who bring the roster up to around 30, and who are being built by TK. “We do build artists; we have to, because it is very difficult to compete in the States with CBS, Warner Brothers, MCA and the other giants.
They can throw these elephant dollars around for established artists – so we build our own. And our artists do not leave us for other labels: we have in fact just re-signed K.C. for another five years.” TK product is gaining ground in this country, but only K.C., McCrae, Wright and Thomas have had significant hits here, and many others in the TK family are still unfamiliar names to most of the British punters. Stone himself felt that the time had come for a big event, and a concentrated personal campaign by TK artists to win the UK market. To this end a TK concert package is very soon to be put together for a tour here. Stone would probably agree.”