King Records (United States)

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King Records
Founded 1943 (1943)
Founder Syd Nathan
Defunct 1975 (1975)
Status Defunct
Distributor(s) Gusto Records
Genre Various
Country of origin U.S.
Official website

King Records was an American leading independent record company and label founded in 1943 by Syd Nathan in Cincinnati, Ohio. The label owned several divisions, including Federal Records, which launched the career of James Brown, it operated until 1975, and now operates as a reissue label.


In the beginning, King specialized in country music, at the time known as hillbilly music. King advertised, "If it's a King, It's a Hillbilly – If it's a Hillbilly, it's a King."[1] One of the label's hits was "I'm Using My Bible for a Road Map" by Reno and Smiley.[citation needed] Important recordings in this field were done by the Delmore Brothers and Wayne Raney. The Delmores and Moon Mullican played a country-boogie style that was similar to rockabilly. Several King artists, such as Bill Beach, are in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.[citation needed] Beach's song "Peg Pants" was popular during the European resurgence of rockabilly in the late 1980s.[citation needed] Popular songs on the label included "I'll Sail My Ship Alone", "Blues Stay Away from Me", "Chew Tobacco Rag", "Eight More Miles to Louisville", "Sweeter Than the Flowers", and "Cherokee Boogie".

King owned race records label Queen Records, which was folded into King, and Federal Records, which launched the career of James Brown. The label hired Ralph Bass and recorded rhythm-and-blues ([R&B) musicians such as Hank Ballard, Roy Brown, Valerie Carr, Champion Jack Dupree, Ivory Joe Hunter, Joe Tex, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and Otis Williams and the Charms.[2] King also had a long legal battle with James Brown after he repeatedly violated his contract with the company.[3] King bought De Luxe Records (in 1952) and Bethlehem Records. In 1951, Federal Records made the first significant crossover of an R&B record into the white pop music charts with Billy Ward and the Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man" (Federal 12022).[citation needed] It reached number 17 on the Billboard pop chart and number 1 in the R&B chart, although it was banned on many white radio stations because of its "dirty" lyrics.[citation needed] It helped pave the way for future R&B artists and record labels to get their music heard on white radio, which was not easy in those days. The significance of this event cannot be overrated, as it was a turning point in the evolution of music and crossed racial barriers at that time.[citation needed]

Logo from 78-rpm record sleeve

King mixed the country and R&B sides of the label. Many of its country singers, such as Moon Mullican, the Delmore Brothers, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Zeb Turner, covered the label's R&B songs, such as "Grandpa Stole My Baby", "Rocket to the Moon", "Bloodshot Eyes", and "I Got Loaded". R&B artists recorded country songs, such as Bubber Johnson's "Keep a Light in the Window for Me".[citation needed]

During the 1950s, King distributed portable phonographs.[4] King Records was unique among the independent labels because the entire production process was done in-house: recording, mastering, printing, pressing and shipping. This gave Nathan complete control, and a record could be recorded one day and shipped to radio stations the next day in quantities as small as 50. For that reason, King records that did not sell well are now rare.[5]

Seymour Stein, a co-founder of Sire Records, interned at King Records as a high school student in 1957 and 1958 and worked for King from 1961 to 1963.[6]

When Nathan died in 1968, King was acquired by Hal Neely's Starday Records and restarted as Starday and King Records. The songwriting duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller bought the label in 1970 but sold it soon afterwards to LIN Broadcasting, which in turn sold it to Tennessee Recording & Publishing (owned by Freddy Bienstock, Hal Neely, Leiber and Stoller), which sold it to Gusto Records in 1974. In 1971, James Brown's recording contract and back catalogue were sold to Polydor Records.[5] Since 2001, Collectables Records has been remastering and reissuing the King Records catalogue.

The former King Records headquarters, at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati, is still standing. A historical marker was placed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.[7][8]


Labels associated with King Records[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "King Records". 1904-04-27. Retrieved 2013-07-13. 
  2. ^ See Joe Tex discography; King was a major singles release label for Tex during the early part of his career.
  3. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "James Brown Biography". Retrieved 2006-11-22. 
  4. ^ Billboard - Google Books. 1955-09-17. Retrieved 2013-07-13. 
  5. ^ a b Edwards, David; Callahan, Mike (1998-01-10). "King/Federal/DeLuxe Story". Both Sides Now Publications. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  6. ^ Bronson, Fred (21 January 2012). "Seymour Stein: A Chronology". Billboard. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "King Records, Cincinnati | RCR | American Roots Music". 2009-12-20. Retrieved 2013-07-13. 
  8. ^ "Music » CEA 2008 - King Records Dedication". Retrieved 2013-07-13. 
  9. ^ "Legendary blues singer Piney Brown dies". 2009-02-18. Retrieved 2016-10-04. 
  10. ^ Brown's Ferry Four were Merle Travis, Grandpa Jones and the two Delmore Brothers. Eder, Bruce. "Brown's Ferry Four - Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-12-28. 
  11. ^ The Sheppard Brothers were Merle Travis and Grandpa Jones.

External links[edit]