Henry Stone talks to DiscoMusic.com about TK Records, the Miami Soul and Disco scene and KC and the Sunshine Band. (b. June 3, 1921 - d. August 7, 2014)
Interview conducted and written by Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
DiscoMusic.com is proud to present another one-on-one interview with none other than Henry Stone who is the founder of TK Records, promoter of the Miami Sound or Sunshine Sound and the one who gave KC and the Sunshine Band their first recording contract in 1973.
While Stone was a pivotal figure in the development of Disco and soul music during the 1960s and 1970s, his involvement in the music industry stretches back to the 1940s with his R & B recordings and distribution of what were then called "race records."
My conversation with him was both fascinating and very educational. Henry Stone's involvement in many pivotal Soul, R & B and Disco tracks over the decades is a testament to his promotions talent and staying power. Stone's recall of dates and events was a welcome surprise. He has done it all from selling 78 RPM records and recording Ray Charles in 1951 to signing Boris Midney in 1977 and making the move to the internet.
The Early Henry Stone Years
Henry Stone was born and raised on Jackson Avenue in the New York City borough of the Bronx on June 3, 1921. His family stayed in the Bronx until their move to Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood. Henry remained in Manhattan till the age of eight before going away to an orphanage in Pleasantville, New York after his father passed away. He remained at the orphanage until the age of fourteen.
When Stone is asked if music played a major part in his life at this time he said, "Yes, it did because while I was away at Pleasantville I started a little band and I picked up the trumpet. I stayed with the trumpet and continued taking lessons until I went into the Army."
It was 1943 when Stone joined the U. S. Army. He was stationed at Camp Kilmore in New Brunswick, New Jersey for three years. He played in the first racially integrated Army Band and recalls, "I spent a lot of time with Black musicians and that's where I got a lot of my Blues background."
After Stone's discharge he made a major decision to drop the trumpet and move to California, "I wasn't as good as the great trumpet players I worked with such as Shorty Rogers. I was good, but not good enough. When I got out of the Army I hooked up with an old band leader by the name of Ben Pollock." Pollock was running Jewel Records and handling people like Benny Goodman… Henry Stone became their A & R man. Stone later moved to Modern Records and worked with the Bihari Brothers selling and promoting records. Since Stone was selling 78 RPM "race records" and there weren't many radio stations or record stores at the time he mostly sold and promoted to jukebox operators.
Henry Stone: Godfather of the Miami and Sunshine Sound
Henry Stone stayed in California till about late 1947, then decided to move to Miami, Florida. There he continued distributing records for Modern, Black & White, Apollo and many other record labels. Stone found Miami to be a great area for R & B music and says,
It was sort of a specialized thing at the time cause I didn't get into hillbilly music. R & B or race music at the time was sort of my niche because I liked and enjoyed it.
While selling records under the name Seminole Records Distributing, he always dabbled in recording some of the artists he encountered along the way. As he puts it, " I always had a little recording studio in my back pocket cause I like to make records. Instead of playing golf or shooting pool I liked to make records." He used an Ampex reel to reel tape machine for those impromptu recording sessions. I asked Stone if any of those recording became hits or collectible later on and he replied, "Ray Charles came to Miami n 1951 and I ran across him and he told me he needed to do a gig… I invited him to my recording studio and we cut four sides." The 78-RPM recording of St. Pete Florida Blues ended up selling fairly well in the South and is considered highly collectible today.
Since he has seen all the various recording formats come and go it was interesting to hear his feelings on this. "When you do these things you do them… You don't see it (the changes and new formats) you do–you don't have time to see it. When you think back you can." He does say that he was happy to see 78 RPM records go away since they were fragile and difficult to transport.
During the 1950s Henry kept busy by building his distribution company and recording local artists. He says,
I always liked to make records (produce and record them). That was my hobby. I did a lot of Blues stuff with Earl Hooker, John Lee Hooker… These appeared as singles. The singles business was the record business. The LP business didn't come into play until a little later.
Listen to Please, Please, Please by James Brown
Around 1955, Henry Stone stopped distributing records to work briefly with King Records where he co-owned a label with them called Deluxe Records. One of Stone's first big hits at Deluxe was Hearts of Stone by the Charms. It is at King where he would meet and later record James Brown with songs like Please, Please, Please. Leaving King Records Stone went back to record distribution and formed a new company called Tru-Tone later to become simply Tone Distributors. He would distribute records for Atlantic Records, Motown Records, Stax Records and many more independent labels right up through the 1960s and 1970s.
Listen to Hearts of Stone by The Charms
Although he returned to distribution during the 1960s and 1970s, Stone continued recording R & B artists at his recording studio and then leasing the rights to larger record companies such as Atlantic Records. The most notable of these being the 1971 smash hit Clean Up Woman by Betty Wright and later the Junkanoo and pop hybrid Funky Nassau by The Beginning of the End. Stone also set his sites on the publishing aspect of the music and set up corporations for that as well. The most notable being Sherlyn, which can be seen in small print on the label of many of his records including TK.
Listen to Clean Up Woman by Betty Wright.
Here's a brief list of record labels that Henry Stone had an interest in:
- Alston (in partnership with Steve Alaimo)
- Blue Candle
- Deep City
- Deluxe (in partnership with King Records)
- Hot Productions
- Kayvette (partnership with Brad Shapiro)
- Reid's World
- Silver Blue
- Sunnyview (in partnership with Morris Levy)
- Sunshine Sound Disco (label meant to spotlight KC & Finch productions)
- T. K. Records / T. K. Productions
Although labels such as Malaco and Juana are erroneously credited as being owned by Henry Stone, they were not. They were only distributed by TK Records.
TK Records and the Disco Beat of the 1970s
As big a contribution as Henry Stone made to the history of Rhythm and Blues, the one that we will concentrate on is Disco music via his TK Records label. The story told is that he had a killer track ready to go out, which he was considering leasing to Atlantic Records. However, six months prior Henry Stone got word from Jerry Wexler of Atlantic that they were going to merge with Warner and do their own distribution through the newly formed WEA (Warner - Elektra - Atlantic) conglomerate. Stone made the decision to distribute it himself and that record was the million selling hit Why Can't We Live Together by Miami Beach lounge owner Timmy Thomas. This, he claims was the first TK Records release. He clarifies this by saying, "This was the first national record that I distributed myself under the TK Corporation. It was released under the Glades label, but distributed by TK Records."
The "TK" in TK Records stands for Terry Kane who built the recording studio above Henry Stone's office at 495 SE 10th Court in Hialeah, which is just outside Miami. Stone wanted another corporation that was separate from his distribution company so when he needed a name for his new corporation he chose Terry's initials. Viola, TK Records, or as is sometimes printed, T.K. Records or even TK Productions, was born.
Listen to Why Can't We Live Together by Timmy Thomas
When Henry was asked why he had so many record labels he responded, "One of the reasons that came about is that I was a record distributor. As a major record distributor in Florida I distributed every independent label in the 1950s, 60s, 70s… and then when I decided to get into the record manufacturing business I found out it was easier to get records played if they were on different record labels. Like if you had five hits as an independent on TK Records you were in trouble with the radio stations." When asked why was that his reply was, "Because they thought that I wasn't doing the right thing by having five hits. It's a little concept that I came up with and it worked. Then I started putting things on different record labels like I kept KC and the Sunshine Band under the TK Records label…" Henry Stone was spreading the wealth amongst his record labels.
K.C. and the Sunshine Band
Harry Wayne Casey and Rick Finch formed KC and the Sunshine Band around 1973 while they both worked at TK Records. KC (Casey) was originally a self appointed intern who swept the floors and helped pack the records in the warehouse while Finch was a student engineer and bass player in the house band. As teenagers working together at TK Records the two began collaborating on writing and performing songs. Stone says,
I put KC and Finch together since KC made it known to me that he liked to write music. They would hang around and work in the studio after everybody left at midnight. They went upstairs in the studio to make tracks so one day they came down with a track to my office. They played this track for me and said it was a song for KC, but KC couldn't sing it cause it was a little too high. Sitting in my office was George McCrae who I knew had a high voice and was married to Gwen (McCrae). George came up to the studio and cut the record and brought the finished product downstairs and it was a smash hit of course, Rock Your Baby (1974).
The story goes that George McCrae cut Rock Your Baby in two takes.
Listen to Rock Your Baby by George McCrae
Listen to Queen of Clubs by K.C. and the Sunshine Band
Although KC and the Sunshine Band released Blow Your Whistle in 1973 and Sound Your Funky Horn in 1974, Stone claims their first hit was Queen of Clubs, which went in the Top 10 in the United Kingdom. Although not doing much in the U. S., KC and the Sunshine Band's next hit, Get Down Tonight, from 1975 is what broke everything wide open.
In the book, That's the Way I Like it: the Harry Wayne Casey Story, Craig MacInnis wrote, "Much has been written about Get Down Tonight, which became the band's first number one hit in the summer of 1975, setting in motion a prolific cycle that would eventually see the group chart four number one pop singles in a year, tying a record set by The Beatles."
KC and Finch produced songs for Jimmy "Bo" Horne such as Gimme Some and the all time Disco classic, Spank (Sunshine TKD 206), which all appeared on Sunshine Sounds Records-another Henry Stone label. In addition, Margaret Reynolds, who was one of the backing ladies in KC and the Sunshine Band had a sizeable club record in 1979 with All Day, All Night (Sunshine Sound TKD S-4213). To add to their resume Henry Stone put Boogie Shoes on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Listen to Spank by Jimmy "e;Bo"e; Horne
The T. K. 12 Inch Disco Single
Around 1975-76 a new vinyl record format was taking the Disco DJ world by storm. It was the new 12-inch Disco single, which offered better dynamics, deeper bass and extended play capabilities that simply weren't available from the 7 inch 45 RPM record or the standard 33 1/3 album.
Even the early TK 12 inch Disco singles boast high quality sound so when Henry Stone is asked if sound quality was a major concern he replies, "Absolutely, if you listen to all my records-to this day even the first Ray Charles record in 1951… it is unbelievable. I was very involved with my sound. That's a very important thing with me. All my twenty-one hits were live recordings. None of that technical or digital stuff."
The first 12 inch single on TK Records was At the Top of the Stairs by Wild Honey (TK TKD 1) in 1976. It was produced by keyboardist Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey of the legendary Trammps (Disco Inferno) and countless other Philly Sound productions. While this may seem an odd choice Stone mentions, "The Philadelphia sound was always one of my favorites." Other releases that support this are Bobby Eli's tracks on Silver Blue Records like Love Chant, which could easily be mistaken for a Salsoul Orchestra production
Listen to At the Top of the Stairs by Wild Honey
The ubiquitous yellow label and the tropical looking record jacket with TK Disco spelled out in bamboo would become a staple in every Disco DJ's crate. It garnered such a strong following among DJs that Stone chose to release every 12 inch single under the TK label regardless of whether the artist / LP originally appeared on his other labels such as Marlin, Dash, Drive, Silver Blue and Cat. Stone adds, "We directed all our promotional records initially to the clubs and when we sent out that TK jacket it got played immediately. That TK jacket was a valuable asset…"
While Henry oversaw and ran almost every aspect of TK Records, he wisely assembled a team of individuals who helped promote and operate the rapidly expanding label. Steve Alaimo, who once hosted a 1960s ABC television show called Where the Action Is, was the head A & R man for TK. He also was the "A-L" in Alston Records where he recorded a single called Every Day I Have To Cry. Stone later goes on to say that he opened an office in New York and had a very good promotions man early on at TK by the name of Ray Caviano. Caviano eventually left TK after landing a big contract with Warner / Atlantic along with his own label called RFC Records, which was best known for Gino Soccio and later Change.
While KC and the Sunshine Band is the best known and arguably the initial driving force behind TK Record's popularity, other Disco artists share the credit. Ralph MacDonald who was best known as a Jazz musician scored big with Calypso Breakdown in 1976. Chicago native Peter Brown gave TK Records their first 12 inch gold record with Do You Want To Get Funky With Me from 1977 and later went to co-write Material Girl for Madonna.
Even Gregg Diamond, best known for producing Andrea True's More, More, More, had his Star Cruiser Band, which yielded the hit Star Cruisin' and also produced George McCrae's Love In Motion. The group Foxy best known for Get Off and Hot Number, had Tito Puente's son Richie Puente in their lineup. Other Disco artists that put TK Records in the limelight were the French group Voyage with their Euro-Disco smash Souvenirs and Russian born musician Boris Midney with his USA / European Connection and Beautiful Bend studio groups. Anita Ward had a huge hit with Ring My Bell, which was originally written with Stacy Lattisaw in mind. Even James Brown, the so-called Godfather of Soul, released a few singles at TK including 1980's Rapp Payback (Where Iz Moses) as well as TK house songwriter/musician Clarence Reid using the moniker Blowfly for his X-rated lyrics.
All told, TK Records released about 200 12-inch Disco singles, starting with TK TKD 1 through TKD 158, then skipping to the 400 series with Latimore's Goodbye Heartache release. Stone says he does not recall the reason for the numbering change, but approved the changeover at the request of the promotion team.
TK Records and the Saturday Night Fever Connection
A little earlier Henry Stone had mentioned that he had given permission for RSO Records to use KC and the Sunshine Band's Boogie Shoes in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. In addition, he gave RSO Records Ralph MacDonald's number one Disco hit, Calypso Breakdown. I asked Stone if he had any idea how big Saturday Night Fever was to become and his response was, "Not even an inkling–not even a little bit. I just did somebody a favor over at Polygram. Ah, you throw them a couple of tracks, ha, ha." Thinking about it now he wishes he had given them more tracks to use. When asked what else he would have given to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack he remarks, "I don't know. I guess I would have given them more KC and maybe Foxy's Get Off, just some good dance records."
The Disco Backlash
In 1978 and 1979 TK Records was flying high with Disco. Disco music was everywhere and Stone enjoyed the sound that his label was helping to spread. Did Stone envision the Disco backlash and its repercussions? "You have to remember (practically) every Disco record that I put out whether you want to call them Disco or dance-I put on the Pop charts. I crossed every one of those records over including Voyage and Boris Midney. Even some of the Blues type records by Latimore and Gwen McCrae-they all crossed over. Quite a few number ones… That happened (the Disco backlash) like in 1979/80-I was going along strong. TK was strong, going along with hit after hit. Then came the anti-Disco movement over in Chicago and that spread around the country. Then the CBS television news program 60 Minutes picked up on it and said Disco is dead and mentioned my company (TK Records) and Casablanca… The Wall Street Journal has a headline, ‘Disco Is Dead…" It was terrible really. At that time I had the number one record in the world with KC's first ballad Please Don't Go. I was just freaking out cause the feedback came financially-it hurt my company-every company. The whole industry collapsed. When you are sitting there with all those great records and doing a lot of business you don't think about that."
Henry Stone Today
TK Records ceased operating by 1981 with some of its final releases being Another One Rides the Bus by "Weird Al" Yankovic and James Brown doing a rehash of Mashed Potatoes.
Despite having to close TK Records, Henry Stone went into partnership with Morris Levy of Roulette Records to form Sunnyview Records. Throughout the 1980s, Sunnyview would usher in the Electro Funk sound with tracks such as Jam On It by Newcleus as well as reissues from the TK and Roulette catalogue like Touch and Go by Barbara Roy and Ecstasy, Passion and Pain. Stone would later have a hand in making Company B's Fascinated a major record in the late 1980s.
In 1990, all the assets, including the entire TK and associated labels record catalogue, had been sold to the reissue specialist Rhino Records. Stone later became involved with Hot Productions in reissuing Disco and dance classics on CD. He is no longer with Hot and now spends his time working on writing a book about his years in the music industry. He is about a quarter of the way through. Stone recently put out, Hearts of Stone, a double CD compilation of tracks he was involved with from the 1950s onwards, which is available at his new web site called Henry Stone Music. It was a pleasure to hear his story and I would like to thank Henry Stone for being generous with his time and for giving us the Disco soundtrack to our lives. I would also like to thank Marty Angelo of Disco Step By Step (TM) and Ron "Nicky" Nicholson for their assistance with this piece.
Henry Stone Update: December 2004
Henry Stone sent me an e-mail referencing a Miami Herald article that describes how he is involved in a legal battle with the estate of the late Ray Charles over the ownership of master tapes in Stone's possession. Ray Charles, a Florida native and then unknown musician, travelled to Miami back in 1951 and recorded four songs for Henry Stone's Rockin' Records for which Stone paid about $100.00 a song. Stone has since released the songs on a compilation two disc CD called Heart of Stone: The Henry Stone Story. Charles' estate had threatened to sue if Stone did not turn over the masters to which Stone reacted by suing in a pre-emptive effort to retain the rights.
On August 7, 2014, Henry Stone passed away at the age of 93 from natural circumstances as reported in the Miami Herald. Condolences go out to Mr. Stone's wife Inez, family and friends. Rest in peace.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez (July 18, 2003)
Copyright © 2003 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved
Henry Stone Recommended Listening and Reading
- Amant - The Best of Amant: If There's Love
- Beautiful Bend - Boris Midney
- Best of TK Disco Singles - All Day / All Night
- Best of the Sound of Sunshine
- Get Down Tonight - The Best of TK Records
- Henry Stone Presents... The Best of T. K. Soul Singles
- KC and the Sunshine Band - Greatest Hits
- Miami Sound - Rare Funk & Soul From Miami, Florida 1967-1974
- TK Disco 45 Collection Vol 1 1976-1978
- USA - European Connection
- That's the Way I Like it: the Harry Wayne Casey Story by Craig MacInnis (Book)