Amos Larkins II on Learning the Music Biz by Breaking Into TK Records' Studio
Amos Larkins II playing bass in the Sunnyview Records studio.
Photo by Anthony Larkins
"Bass Rock Express" was the first international Miami bass hit, and it opened the floodgates for the rush of quad-heavy records that followed.
The song was produced, engineered, arranged, and vocalized by Amos Larkins II for MC ADE, and executive produced by William "Billy" Hines on 4-Sight Records in 1985. Amos produced it under the pseudonym Leon Green to mask his identity from radio program directors who saw his credits on too many slabs to put on the air. By then, he was already an established regional hitmaker.
But his start in the record business came between stacks of Blowfly's nudie magazines at the TK Records Hialeah compound. Here's what Larkins himself has to say about his earliest days in the industry.
Freddy Stonewall and Amos Larkins II.
Photo by Anthony Larkins
"Before there was Sunnyview records, there was TK Records, that's where artists such as Betty Wright, Gwen McCrae, Timmy Thomas, Benny Latimore, Bobby Caldwell, T-Connection, Foxy, Blowfly, KC and the Sunshine Band, and a lot of other Miami artists recorded and released records.
"My father was a manager for one of the artists there, David Hudson, who did the song 'Honey Honey.' And my father used to take me along with him when he went to work."
"I was a classically trained bass player that studied rock and jazz fusion. During the summers, I attended University of Miami jazz workshops, studying music theory with greats like Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty, Lenny White, and Al Di Meola. In my spare time, I'd play in the neighborhood funk bands with my electric bass. I started playing clubs when I was around 14 years old."
A young Amos Larkins II practicing Miami bass.
Photo by Anthony Larkins
"My dad used to say, 'Son, grab your bass and come with me to the studio. You never know when they might need a bass player for a session.' So I would tag along with my dad to TK Records, and while he was in the back offices or in the studio doing business, I would be in the lobby checkin' out all the recording stars that were coming through. Boy, I saw some crazy shit go on back then at that place. But that's another story altogether."
"That's when I first saw Henry Stone and I'll tell you that muthafucka looked just like Colonel Sanders to me. He looked so much like Colonel Sanders, I used to get hungry and start jonesin' for some Kentucky Fried Chicken original recipe when I saw his ass walk by.
"As time went on, I found out who Henry Stone was: the owner of TK Records. And I used to pray for the chance to talk with him, to ask him directly for a break to work at his studio, to play bass in a session. One day, the opportunity presented itself, Henry was just coming back from lunch and heading to his office. I was directly in his path, and without thinking, I said, 'Hello, Mr. Stone. I am Amos Larkins' son. My father's name is also Amos Larkins. My name is Amos. Can I please have 15 minutes of your time?' Ooooh fuck, I almost peed my pants. I think I almost shitted too.
"Henry paused, smiled, looked at me real funny, and said, "15 minutes? Most people are killin' muthafuckas to get a minute to talk to me, and you want 15 minutes?" He laughed and continued to his office. I was feeling real fucked up and embarrassed, but I said to myself, 'At least he talked to me.'"
"So time went on, and I got in good with one of the young writers at TK. He used to tell me that he thought I should become a recording engineer for the studio and I used to ask him how in the hell was that going to happen when nobody would even let us in the studio to see it, let alone touch the recording console to practice.
"He said to me that he knew a way that I could get all the practice time I wanted on the console. Then he asked me to just make sure that I was there at 4 p.m. before closing time. So I made sure I was there before closing time and we hid into a artist/producer's office by the name of Clarence Reid, also known as Blowfly. Clarence produced and wrote songs for artists like Betty Wright, Sam & Dave, Jimmy Bo Horne, Gwen McCrae, and he also wrote some of the nastiest shit you ever heard. Blowfly's shit made 2 Live Crew's shit sound like it belonged on the Christian channel.
"Anyway, we would hide in Blowfly's office amongst his sticky, slutty, nasty girly books. And when the place was closed and everybody was gone, we'd get in the studio by breaking into the vice presidents of TK Records office; his name was Steve Alaimo, [an American teen idol pop singer in the early 1960s who later became record producer, label owner, and vice president at TK Records, though he is perhaps best known for hosting and co-producing Dick Clark's Where the Action Is in the late 1960s.]
"Micheal and I would climb through the drop ceiling from Steve's office, and that landed us into the studio from the recording tape storage room. Back then, they used two-inch tape to record. I practiced there for three months."
"One day, I met the producer/engineer for the Bobby Caldwell album. Her name was Ann Holloway Masters, and she let me hang out with her and be her assistant on the Bobby Caldwell album What You Won't Do For Love. I asked if she would teach me the recording console and how to engineer, and she agreed to teach me as long as I would save all questions till after the session.
"Unbeknownst to her, I was already practicing. So every night after sitting in with Ann, I would break into the studio and practice what I learned from her. And there I was all night long till the sun came up. I would be practicing on the recording console, not knowing what the fuck I was doing in the beginning. But as the hours and days and weeks went by, and from what I was learning from Ann Holloway, I was getting better and better as a recording engineer."
The week that Amos Larkins II got the keys to TK Studios from Steve Alaimo.
"I'd practice all night, and when the sun came up, I would go back into Blowfly's office and I would fall asleep, As I was sleeping, I could hear the building gradually get busy. First, I would hear the receptionist come in and she would start answering the phones, then music would start up in the studio and people would start moving around. I would creep out of the office and blend right in, as if I was just coming into the studio, saying good morning to everybody.
"One day, I'd learned enough to have the courage to ask Ann to set the mix up for her to begin a session. She thought that was the first time I'd touched the board, and when she heard what I did and saw how I moved around the recording console, she fuckin' freaked. Haha, she thought I was a genius.
"She asked me, 'Is this the first time that you've touched the recording console?' I thought I was in trouble, so I told her, 'Yeah! This is my very first time.' Her mouth dropped and she shouted out, 'Fuck! This kid is a genius!"
"I was 18 years old."
"That day, Ann grabbed my hand and damn near dragged me to the vice president of TK Records' office. She said, 'Steve, you gotta come and hear what this kid just did!'
"Steve heard it and was so impressed that he gave me his personal set of keys and welcomed me to the TK family. I was the very last person to be initiated to TK Records. Not long after that, TK was over, but we did manage to engineer a couple of hits before the TK doors closed.
"I was really sad, not knowing where I would get another break like that again, but one of the young producer/engineers named Freddie Stonewall liked me and liked how my personal productions were coming along. Freddie told me not to worry, Henry had a plan for something new and exciting, and that Henry was including him, and that he would bring me along. The new plan was Sunnyview Records."
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