RIP Henry Stone, King of Independent Records, Dead at 93
Henry Stone, dancing his ass off at age 92, high above Biscayne Bay at Henry Stone Music headquarters, 2013
Henry Stone, king of the record business, passed away peacefully August 7, 2014, in Miami.
Throughout almost 80 years of wildly prolific musical activity, the 93-year-old had a hand in every aspect of the music business and was a true pioneer of independent manufacturing, promotion, and distribution.
In the 1970s, he ran the biggest independent record company in the world, TK Productions, responsible for the world's first global disco hit, George McCrae's genre-defining "Rock Your Baby," penned by the leaders of his biggest act ever, KC & the Sunshine Band. And lest anyone say otherwise, he made many artists very rich, always paid what he owed, and is held in high esteem by 90 percent of everybody who ever worked with him.
Henry Stone working a Latimore album he put out in 2013.
At the same time, he ran one of the biggest distribution networks in the country, his own Tone Distributors. At its height, his organization occupied a full city block and and 18,000-square-foot warehouse in Hialeah and employed more than a hundred people at a time, from shipping clerks to radio promoters, engineers, producers, songwriters, and many more.
Henry Stone watching Blowfly interviewed in the rough cut of the upcoming documentary about his life and work, titled Rock Your Baby.
His life was dedicated to destroying color lines in music by making so called "black records" popular with white audiences. And he was among the first in the American music business to market directly to Latin American youths with the freestyle genre of the early 1980s.
Million-seller plaque for Peter Brown's "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me?"
He founded more than 100 labels, manufactured thousands of releases, and sold more than 100 million records around the world. It sounds made up, but it's true.
Miami Herald article about Henry Stone on the wall of his headquarters.
He was a friend, associate, and confidante to some of the biggest names in music, including James Brown and Isaac Hayes.
James Brown in Hialeah at Henry Stone's TK Disco office, where he and his posse would drink cognac and talk records.
Photo via Henry Stone Music
Henry Stone's Sherlyn Publishing catalog is currently held by EMI and generates millions of dollars yearly.
He was the prototypical "record man," a charismatic, fast-talking, quick-thinking hustler who took no guff and always knew a way to make a buck.
One of Henry Stone's favorite DJs of all time was Milton "Butterball" Smith, a longtime associate who Stone used to say would "sit in the glass radio booth for WMBM in Overtown and watch the pretty little hairy-leg girls walk by."
Via Miami Times newspaper
He was not a royalty-thieving ne'er-do-well, but he was an acute businessman who always made sure that contracts and publishing agreements were written in his favor.
Henry Stone Tone Distributing clip in Billboard magazine, 1962.
If artists came in angrily demanding their royalties due, he'd been known to toss them a wad of bills and the keys to a beautiful new car. A rental car.
Henry gets an authentic Bahamian Junkanoo headdress at a Miami Disco Fever party in Hialeah.
He was loved, respected, and admired by artists around the country, because as a distributor, he was directly responsible for breaking and selling their records, a process that necessitated his getting them radio play through control of the local airwaves and its effect on other stations around the country.
KC & the Sunshine Band
Sam Cooke used to call him for a drink at the bar every time he played Miami. They'd known each other since Cooke's days as a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers. Stone was that group's Florida distributor. Cooke introduced him to Ray Charles. Stone's Rockin' label was the second company ever to record him.
Stone and wife Inez with Diana Ross.
He sold the Bee Gees the building on Miami Beach where they built their Middle Ear Recording Studios.
via Henry Stone Music
He worked with, for, alongside, and sometimes against the best in the industry, rising with labels like Atlantic, Modern, Specialty, Scepter, Wand, Savoy, Brunswick, and just about every other independent label in the country from their founding and as they became bigger and more powerful.
Via Henry Stone Music Music
Starting as a 15-year-old kid hustling sheet music for big bands on the streets of New York City, he always had a quick mind for the business.
BB King promo for a Miami show in 1963. Henry Stone had been distributing his records since they were on the Modern label.
via Miami Times Newspaper
He grew up in the Bronx and was sent to a Jewish reform school upstate in Pleasantville for stealing some food from a street vendor during the Great Depression.
Here's a list of even more amazing facts about Henry Stone and his globally influential contributions to independent music. These little-known exploits are barely realized outside of industry and hardcore vinyl collecting circles, but they pertain to the genesis of hit records that have been enjoyed by millions.
Henry Stone used to say, "When I tell people about all the things I done, they don't believe me. But I know I did these things. I was there."
Jimmie Bo Horne and Henry Stone
Stone had a razor-sharp memory with photographic total recall. He was also a master of human psychology and could hold a conversation with anyone about anything. Especially music.
Till his last day on Earth, Henry Stone could remember which artists were on what labels on every week of the Top 10 R&B charts in trade publications dating back to 1949.
Latimore and Steve Alaimo with Willie Clarke
His first big hit on his own label was "Hearts of Stone" by Otis Williams and the Charms on DeLuxe Records, a million seller in 1955 and one of the earliest R&B records to hit the pop charts. It was a cover of a Jewel Records song out of California performed by a group of kids he found doo-wopping on a street corner in Cincinnati.
He wrote the followup record, Two Hearts, Two Kisses, himself while in Memphis and based it on the melody of "One Shot, One Bourbon, One Beer." It has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra among many others.
He recorded the original version of "The Twist" with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters in the North Miami Armory with Mac Emmerman engineering. It was to be a slow number, but Stone suggested to guitar player Cal Green as he was tuning up that it be recorded as a dance record. Later, when Chubby Checker played a teen dance he booked him for in Miami, Stone suggested Chubby Checker cover it.
He was a poker player at the round table of a jukebox convention alongside other early industry heavyweights like Hy Weiss, Don Robey, Leonard Chess, Ewart Abner, and George Goldner when they decided to form their own manufacturers and distributor's convention. They called the group ARMADA, it still exists today (under a different name).
click for full size
He helped smuggle Jerry Wexler out of a tense situation with the black mafia at an infamous Miami record convention where they aimed to retake control of contracts for black artists.
Aretha Franklin used to fly down to Miami and cry her heart out over his piano.
Stone's group FOXY were one of the first Latino bands to break mainstream in America.
Florida was only a 2% market for American record sales, so when he knew he had a national hit, he would order extra from the manufacturers, and send them to Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Detroit, and Chicago, where he had contacts to sell them for him. He called this technique trans-shipping, and it allowed him to sell at 15% rate of market share. Whereas on a million selling record he should have sold 20,000 records by staying in his region of Florida, he'd sell 150,000. This angered some, but he was so well respected and connected there was nothing anyone could do about it. He was just too good at it.
Stone's specialty in R&B records, and trans-shipping technique fed crucial vinyl into the hands of the earliest underground gay/black/hispanic dance clubs in Chicago, New York City, and Detroit, thus helping him found the disco movement even before it had a name.
He drank, smoked and partied with Elvis Presley. He invented payola. He ruled the Billboard pop and R&B charts, tying the Beatles with his KC & The Sunhine Band hit streak of five #1's in a row. He recorded Ray Charles before he was Ray Charles, and then told Atlantic Records where to find him when they wanted to sign him.
He put up the original seed money for the founding of Sugar Hill Records by Joe and Sylvia Robinson, and then sold his stake to Morris Levy when he decided to take over. He pressed early hip-hop records by Spoonie G, the Treacherous 3, and Grandmaster Flash at his own pressing plant in Hialeah, Florida.
He had two of his artists on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album, KC & The Sunshine Band with "Boogie Shoes," and Ralph MacDonald with "Calypso Breakdown."
James Brown and Henry Stone out on the town
He first met James Brown in 1955 when King Record's Syd Nathan pit Henry in a race against Ralph Bass to get to Macon, Georgia and sign Brown to a recording contract based on an acetate for the song "Please, Please, Please." Bass beat him there by a day, but James and Henry became friends for life anyway.
He released the first 12" record to sell over a million copies, Peter Brown's "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me?"
He was the first record exec to break a group out of the Bahamas. That band was Beginning Of The End with the song "Funky Nassau"
Alaimo and Stone
One time when his mobbed up buddy Morris Levy tried to include gangsters into Stone's organization, Henry quickly said, "Gee, I'd love to Moishe, but the IRS are coming now to look at my books...." Morris hung up immediately and never brought it up again.
He and Steve Alaimo signed Sam & Dave to a recording contract with Alston Records, and then got them a deal with Roulette Records. They didn't create any hits, but Ahmet Ertegun caught their act at the King Of Hearts Club in Liberty City and decided to make an offer. Stone thought it was a great idea, but suggested to Jerry Wexler that they be recorded at STAX in Memphis by a couple of young producers named Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
Isaac Hayes introduced Stone to his "Hot Buttered Soul Album," by having him sit in a big recliner in Memphis and putting a pair of headphones on him while he relaxed and enjoyed it.
Duane and Gregg Allman slept in their van in Stone's studio parking lot while they recorded there as the 31st of February well before becoming the Allman Brothers Band.
Tom Petty spent time there recording with his band Mudcrutch before he ever had the Heartbreakers.
He once planned to host a Black Woodstock on an island in The Bahamas before a politican screwed up the deal and absconded with the money.
He began workin with Betty Wright when she was only 13 years old. She became a million seller with Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke penned tune "Cleanup Woman," with an unforgettable guitar hook by Little Beaver.
He broke Latimore's "Stormy Monday" so big in Chicago that it was on every South Side jukebox on repeat for months.
He shaped the career of Steve Alaimo, a former teen crooner who became his VP at TK.
He had a bodyguard named Rico who always carried a pistol.
He had a carphone while most people were still dialing on rotary telephones in their houses and offices.
He brokered the deal for James Brown to get a private jet to renew his contract with Polygram records.
Jaco Pastroius used to hang out at his studio just to watch Little Beaver play guitar.
Stone looked so much like Colonel Sanders, that while taking platinum recording artist Timmy Thomas on a promo tour through the UK, the Brits thought he was there to sell Kentucky Fried Chicken
He testified in front of a grand jury in such a way that he told no lies, but also got James Brown's manager Charles Bobbit off the hook for a payola scandal he became embroiled in.
Bob Marley co-wrote "Buffalo Soldier" with King Sporty in Stone's TK Records studio in Hialeah.
He brought techno to America through licensing deals with European producers at a time when there was no commercial market for it in America.
TK reunion, documentary filming
He helped pioneer freestyle, and Miami Bass through his Hot Productions label, one of the biggest independents in the country throughout the 1980s and '90s. Through his IRD distribution company he helped Pretty Tony and Luke Skyywalker go around the world.
His TK Productions went bankrupt as a result of the "Disco Sucks" movement even as his group KC & The Sunshine Band had the number one song on the pop charts, "Please Don't Go."
His artist Timmy Thomas and song "Why Can't We Live Together" was the official anthem of the election of Nelson Mandela as the President of South Africa.
He helped bring ska to America by hiring the Blues Busters as the backing band for a Steve Alaimo album.
He's the reason high powered entertainment lawyer Allen Grubman left a prestigious firm to go into business for himself. Stone convinced him to make the move, and then became his first client when he hit with George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby."
He'd take chitlin circuit promotion trips with Leonard Chess, driving through Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and every backwater town in between giving radio DJs $50 handshakes to play their records.
He bought Allan Freed $100 worth of groceries to play his records when he was still a small DJ in Ohio, maintained a relationship with him when he became the biggest jockey in New York, and put him up in a Miami Beach apartment when he took the fall for the payola scandal of the 1950s.
He passed up an opportunity to sign Pitbull, instead going with an artist named Blac Haze.
He had complete control of Miami R&B radio play, and some pop stations as well.
During World War II he was assigned to the army's first integrated band, where he played trumpet for the soldiers leaving port from Camp Kilmer in New Brunswick, New Jersey. "That's where I got my feel for the blues," he'd always say, "playing with the black musicians."
After the war, he moved to California, setting up the microphone for a Mel Torme session at Ben Pollock's Jewel recording studio. He quit the job after Ben Pollock said, "I ain't recording no nig&$rs on my label," when Henry brought in Charles Brown fresh from downtown L.A.'s Central Avenue nightlife. He walked out on the job and took Brown to Aladdin Records where he scored ten top-10 hits in 3 years.
In 1948, he moved to Miami, Florida and started from scratch, creating a small distribution company and corollary recording company in a small warehouse on Flagler Street in Downtown Miami.
His newest label Henry Stone Music Inc. is alive and well and issuing first time ever digital releases of classics in his catalog. Search for Henry Stone anywhere good music is sold online or visit his website at henrystonemusic.com.
Henry Stone, king among men, forever a legend in the world of music, and a hero for all independents may he RIP, rest in party, with all his friends, on the other side, till the record flips again.
Crossfade's Top Blogs
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.