Article ©Jacob Katel
Henry Stone began distributing 78rpm records out of the trunk of his car in Los Angeles after he got out of the Army after WWII. He founded a ratings chart called The Indie Index, and worked with labels like Aladdin, and Modern Records to push their sounds throughout greater L.A. and anywhere he could.
At the time, there were no record stores, let alone ones selling independent music. If you wanted to buy a record, you might find one at a furniture store, but if you wanted some indie r&b like what the popular jump combos were playing in the clubs on Central Ave in downtown L.A., you might try a barbershop or a bus depot. For the most part, r&b records were consumed in public; at bars, restaurants, and any house where hookers timed their clients by the records on the juke. The records were mostly bought and sold between regional distributors and jukebox operators. The jukebox ops were always looking for hot new records to fill up the machines on their routes, and to generate coins in the cash box.
This was the birth of the modern American independent record business.
Henry Stone left L.A. in the late 1940’s and moved his wife and kids to Miami, FL. He was on the steps of the Dade County Courthouse, going to get his drivers license, when his old buddy Mike Collier showed up out of nowhere and asked him to sell a crate of records. Stone obliged, and that’s how he began distributing records in Florida.
Indie label 78rpm records are a crucial piece of history. Here are some of the labels Henry Stone distributed, was involved with, or had dealings with as found in the dustbin of history at Amoeba Records in L.A.
Federal Records was a subsidiary of Syd Nathan’s King Records empire out of Cincinnati, Ohio. King handled its own distribution. Syd Nathan set up regional sales offices all over the country. In Miami, his adopted brother Marvin “Falsie” Novak was the King Records branch manager. Stone was good friends with him and they even had offices next door to each other in the 1950s. Although Stone did not distribute King, they are important to mention because of their ahead-of-its-time vertical integration. King signed and recorded its own artists in its own studios, pressed its own records, printed and assembled its own sleeves, promoted and distributed its own products, and used its own publishing company to reap all forms of public performance royalties possible. Henry Stone called Syd Nathan “An early genius.”
Stone was the original Florida distributor for Chess Records, and brothers Phil and Leonard Chess were good buddies of his.
Old Town Records was owned and operated by NYC brother team Hy and Sam Weiss. They were a rough and tumble take no shit clan who stayed friends with Stone for the rest of their lives.
Aladdin Records out of L.A. was one of Stone’s first and early cohorts in the game. He actually brought Charles Brown to their studio after seeing him perform one night in downtown L.A. in a club on Central Ave.
Imperial Records was an indie label founded by Lew Chudd. He would score big when he signed Fats Domino to a record deal.
Gee Records was founded by Henry Stone’s pal George Goldner, an avid gambler who eventually sold the label and its catalog holdings to Morris Levy, owner of The Birdland jazz club, and later record exec.
The DeLuxe label was founded by the Braun Brothers in New Jersey, then picked up by Syd Nathan. It sat dormant until Nathan reactivated with Henry Stone as 50% owner. Stone signed a doo-wop corner group in Cincinnatti called The Charms, and their “Hearts Of Stone” became King’s first crossover radio hit, a million selling record in 1955.
Exclusive Records was a label that invested in its own 78rpm shellac record pressing facility, but when the 45rpm format eclipsed it, the label was left in the dustbin of history.
Sonny Thompson was a famous bandleader who Stone often worked with while he and Syd Nathan owned DeLuxe together. After Stone and Syd Nathan’s association went down in flames in the acrimony of a lawsuit which was eventually settled, Henry brought Thompson into his next label, Chart Records, as the house bandleader and arranger.
Jubilee Records was founded by Herb Abramson. Later he sold his interest in the company to Jerry Blaine, and then went on to found Atlantic Records with Ahmet Ertegun.
Savoy Records was founded by Herman Lubinsky. His grandson T.J. Lubinsky does music hosting on PBS. Lubinsky was a classic old school cigar chomping record man with a mean streak.
Black & White Records became the foundation of Stone’s Florida distribution business. “Open The Door Richard” is the precise cut which was included in the crate of records Mike Collier had Stone move for him.
Atco was an Atlantic subsidiary which Stone not only distributed but also leased some of his own master recordings from his various labels to. One artist that he landed an Atco deal for was Clarence Reid. Another was Steve Alaimo, later Vice President of T.K. Records.
Vee Jay Record was owned by Viv Carter and run by Ewart Abner. This label famously landed the rights for distributing The Beatles first American release.
Excello was label founded by Ernie Young out of Nashville, Tennessee. Over the years, Stone would often find himself in the region, promoting his own labels, and travelling with Leonard Chess as he did same.
RCA Victor was a major label. They were one of only three majors of that time, the others were Decca, and Columbia.
Nat Tarnopol was the man who ended up with Brunswick Records after an association with Decca. This label is where you can find greats like Jackie Wilson, although the origins of the company go all the way back to 1916.
Tico Records was another label founded by George Goldner that ended up in the hands of Morris Levy. Goldner was a New Yorker involved with the “Mambonik” scene, and would often take trips to Cuba to look for new talent. Tico is also the label where Spanish Harlem’s own Tito Puente also got his start.
These albums at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles hold the secrets of the foundations of indie label music manufacturing and distribution in America. These albums are located on the bottom shelf of the classical music section of the store, which just goes to show you how many people aren’t looking at or for them. Demand may be low for 78rpm records, but they are the most historically valuable product in all Amoeba.