King Records

King Records was founded by Syd Nathan and located at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati. Its first recordings were done in Dayton, in a studio on the second floor of the Wurlitzer Building, an art deco structure on the east side of South Ludlow Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets (still standing in 2016). Nathan brought Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis to Dayton to record under fictitious names because their employer, WLW, didn’t allow its artists to make records. They did a duet as the Sheppard Brothers and Merle recorded solo as Bob McCarthy. Grandpa eventually became one of King’s biggest selling artists under his own name, and, also on King, he and Merle along with the Delmore Brothers made the famous Brown’s Ferry Four records. Two of the best first-generation bluegrass bands helped keep King afloat during some of its lean years. The Stanley Brothers and Don Reno and Red Smiley recorded literally hundreds of songs for King. Other bluegrass artists who recorded for King included Tommy Magness, Jimmy Martin and Bob Osborne, Wade and J.E. Mainer, Mac O’Dell, Leon Jackson, Charlie Moore and Bill Napier, Bill Duncan, the Easter Brothers, Shannon Grayson, and Ralph Stanley. Recently the owner of the buildings that housed King Records has applied to demolish them. Efforts have been mounted to preserve the buildings as an important part of Cincinnati and music history. The Cincinnati City Council has granted Local Historic Landmark status to the site, which the owners are contesting, so no final decision has been made as of early 2016. There is also a plan to build a new King Studios Learning Center on Montgomery Road about three blocks from the old studios. With the renewed interest in the label, there have been three books about King in recent years; A King Records Scrapbook by Brian F.X. Powers, published by Terra Incognita Press in 2008; King Records of Cincinnati by Randy McNutt, published by Arcadia Publishing in 2009; and King of the Queen City, by Jon Hartley Fox, published by University of Illinois Press in 2009.

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