Overtown, 1950. Henry Stone sits in the lobby of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, a classy joint with a lounge, several bars, and a concert hall. He's chopping it up with his buddy Sam Cooke, whom he's known since his gospel days with the Soul Stirrers. They're sitting at the bar when Cooke says, "I want you to meet Ray Charles."
We'll let Stone tell the rest of this tale in his own words:
"At the time, Ray was just a piano man lookin' for a gig, y'know? So while we're talking, he says, 'I can use some bread, man. Can I come in and cut a couple sides?' I had a little studio back there [on Flagler], a little Ampex machine, piano, set of drums. I didn't know nothin' 'bout microphones or any of that technical shit... We get in there and Ray starts singing like Nat King Cole. I said, 'Ray, I want you to sing some blues, man — I know you can do a blues song.' I cut four sides with Ray Charles in 1950: 'St. Pete Florida Blues,' 'Walkin' and Talkin',' couple of others. None of those records really made it. I put 'em on my Rockin' label first, got a little action, but nothin' much. Ray went back to Overtown and handed the money straight to the dope man, and about 1952, I get a call from Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records, and he says, 'Henry, we're lookin for Ray Charles. Y'know how I can get a hold of him?' I say, 'I know he hangs out in St. Pete with his girlfriend,' so I hooked up Jerry Wexler with Ray Charles, and of course the rest goes beyond history."
Amazing tale, right? Sit down with this music legend, and it's just one of literally thousands of memories Stone can recount about his adventures in the record biz. From recording and distributing the first black R&B song to sell a million-plus copies in white America ("Hearts of Stone" by Otis and the Charms) to running the world's greatest disco empire, TK Records, out of his Hialeah compound, Stone has seen it all.
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Stone is 91 now but still has a razor-sharp mind and remains in the music business, signing new artists and releasing their music through his label and website, HenryStoneMusic.com. He's also working on a book, starring in a movie, and enjoying the recording studio he and his wife, Inez, donated to the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.
Want to live history? Sit down with Stone and let the stories flow.
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