Skip to main content

King Records And The Beginning Of Bootsy Collins

Funk bassist and psychedelic soulster Bootsy Collins is known for his solid grooves and flashy style. Collins got his start at Cincinnati's famed King Records, where he began as a session musician before joining James Brown's band, The JBs.

11:03

Other segments from the episode on October 15, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 15, 2009: Interviews with Bootsy Collins; Interview with John Hartley Fox; Interview with Seymour Stein; Review of a documentary “Monty Python: Almost the Truth…

Transcript

*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20091015
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Beginning Of Bootsy Collins

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Today, the story is King Records.

(Soundbite of song, “The Twist”)

Mr. HANK BALLARD (Singer): (Singing) Come on, baby, let’s do the twist. Come
on, baby…

GROSS: That’s Hank Ballard, with the original record of “The Twist,” a song
later made famous by Chubby Checker. Ballard’s version was on King Records, an
influential, independent label that was founded by Syd Nathan, who ran it from
1943 until 1971. King also recorded the original versions of “Fever” and “Good
Rockin’ Tonight,” not the most famous label, but this Cincinnati-based label
was very influential. It launched the careers of James Brown, Hank Ballard,
Cowboy Copas and Freddie King.

In a time of racial segregation, it recorded country, blues and rhythm-and-
blues performers, including The Delmore Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, Earl
Bostic and Ike Turner.

Today, we’re going to hear the story of King Records from Jon Fox, the author
of a new book about the label, Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records who
learned the music business at King, and Bootsy Collins, who was a studio
musician at King, where he joined James Brown’s band.

We’ll start with an excerpt of our James Brown interview. Brown not only got
his start at King, where he became their biggest seller, his first single,
“Please, Please, Please,” was released in 1956 on King’s subsidiary label,
Federal Records. In our 2005 interview, I asked James Brown about “Please,
Please, Please.”

Now, I understand this record almost didn’t get released. You know, your new
book says that the owner of King Records, Syd Nathan, didn’t want you to
release this. What didn’t he like about “Please, Please, Please”?

Mr. JAMES BROWN (Musician): Well, the repetition, because I continue to say
please, please, please. And he let me say please, please 26 times, and didn’t
ever, you know, have that kind of concept of that kind of music. It was that
gospel ballad, you know, and he couldn’t understand the pulsating bam, bam,
bam, please, please, please. He couldn’t understand that, but that was a new
arising by him, totally different from he’d heard before.

GROSS: Well, I guess they made a mistake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So…

Mr. BROWN: I’m glad they did.

(Soundbite of song, “Please, Please, Please”)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Please, please, please, please.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Please, please, please.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Darling, please. Oh. Oh, yeah. Oh, I love you so.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Baby, you did me wrong.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) You know you got (unintelligible).

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Whoa, whoa, you’ve done me wrong.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) You know you’ve done me wrong.

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) So you done, done me wrong. Oh, yeah, took my love, and
now you’re gone.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Please, please, please, please, please, please, please,
please, please, please, honey, please. Oh, oh, yeah. Love, I love you so.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) I just want to hear you say I, I, I, I, I, I…

GROSS: “Please, Please, Please” on the King Record label. King launched James
Brown’s career, and that’s where bass player Bootsy Collins got his start at
the age of 15. He was a King studio musician, and then joined James Brown’s
band. He later formed his own group, Bootsy’s Rubber Band. I asked Bootsy to
share some King memories.

Bootsy Collins, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So you grew up in Cincinnati, where
you still live and where King Records was based. So before you ever started
playing at King, did you buy King Records?

Mr. BOOTSY COLLINS (Musician): Yeah. Well, actually, I probably didn’t buy them
because at that time, we had a couple of friends over at King Records who
actually kind of slid us a 45 or two.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLINS: You know, so anything we kind of wanted, you know, we kind of, you
know, asked him, and, you know, he knew we didn’t have any money. We was a band
playing around Cincinnati. You know, nobody really had any money at that time.
So he kind of, you know, gave us this, that and the other, whatever we asked
for.

GROSS: Now, before you started playing with James Brown for King Records, you
became part of the King house band.

Mr. COLLINS: Yeah.

GROSS: So how did you do that? How did you get that job?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, actually, we were like pests over at King Records. We were
always there. We were always wanting to see who was going into King Records.
Who were…

GROSS: We being you and the members of your band, including your brother?

Mr. COLLINS: Yes, my brother and Frankie(ph), the drummer. And actually later
on it became Robert McCullough(ph) and a guy named Chicken that played the
horn. They came in later, but the rhythm section was the ones that started off,
and that was the three of us.

And so we started just kind of hanging around over there and just to see the
artists coming in. We had no idea we was going to actually get a chance to go
in King, you know, because they never let nobody in unless you were an artist
and that you were performing and you were doing something, recording.

So we were just kind of like fans, I guess you would call. And then we met this
guy, Charles Spurling, who was an A&R guy over there at King Records, and he
had heard about us, and he wanted to come and see us play.

We had talked about it, talked about ourselves so much, you know, and he wanted
to come and see us. So he came to see us at a club, and he thought that we were
great. He thought that we was, like, we would bring a lot of energy to the new
rhythm section that he was looking for. So he invited us over to King Records,
and that was the first time we got in King Records.

GROSS: So what was it like when you got inside?

Mr. COLLINS: Oh, man. Oh, man. I mean, you from, from all that fighting to get
in, you know, it was like, wow, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, you
know. It was pretty amazing. I mean, it was one thing to see an artist going
into the studio, but to actually be in the studio, and you see them, and you
hear them recording and putting songs together - it just took a whole other
level for us. We were in heaven.

GROSS: So when you were in the house band and you were playing with different
performers, what were some of the things that you learned musically by watching
different kinds of performers record and by having to follow them, you know,
backing them up?

Mr. COLLINS: Well, you know, I would have to say the main thing, I guess, was
we went over there. I’ve got to tell you a little story, since you asked that
question. We went over there, and they didn’t really know how much we knew as
far as recording and - because, you know, they liked our energy so much, and
they liked the fact of how we made the records feel. So I think that king of
helped override what we really knew. So at some point, they was going to test
us. So the big test was, okay, let’s put some music in front of these boys and
see how they do.

So one of the guys, one of the arrangers over there who actually became James
Brown’s string and horn arranger, Dave Matthews, he actually put some music in
front of us. Because before that, we were just kind of winging it, meaning that
we were playing what we felt to the song that they were doing. But I think they
wanted to see, okay, can these boys really read, or how advanced are they?

So they put music in front of us, and we kind of sit there, me and my brother.
I never will forget. We looked at each other, because we was saying to
ourselves, how in the heck are we going to get out of this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLINS: Because, you know, neither one of us could read music. I mean, you
know - and they sit it in front of us, and we had Henry Glover there, who was
like the top producer, and all of them was looking at us. We had this big
orchestra in there, horns, strings, and we were the rhythm section. So it was,
like, oh my God.

So we were on the spot. And I said come on, cat, we can do this, and I said,
Dave, can you run it down one time so we can see how it goes? So he ran it down
with the whole band, you know, without us, and I said give it to us one more
time so we can get a real good feel for it because we want to do this right. He

ran it again, we said we got it.

We played that sucker one time, and they took it, and it was a take, and they
loved it. And about two or three weeks later, after, you know, grueling
sessions like that, two or three weeks later, Dave pulled me to the side. He
said: You know I know you can’t read. And I kind of looked at him and started
cracking up, and he started laughing. And he said I understood that you
couldn’t read in the – you know, the very first time you played that first
song. He said I knew you couldn’t read. He said but I liked what you did so
well that it didn’t even matter.

He said: Now, I want to spend some time with you. I want to at least teach you
some chord changes and how to read chord changes, you and your brother. And
that way, we can get through this a lot easier, and you won’t have to feel so
crushed in these sessions. I said okay, cool.

So he pulled us - he took us to the side and started teaching us how to read
chord changes. And that’s how we made it through, you know, those sessions.

GROSS: Well, Bootsy Collins, thank you so much.

Mr. COLLINS: Oh, this was awesome.

GROSS: Bootsy Collins got his start at King Records. We’ll talk with the author
of a new book about the label after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
113824955
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20091015
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
The Whole Story Of The 'King Of The Queen City'

TERRY GROSS, host:

We’re talking about King Records, one of the most important independent labels
of the 1950s. It launched James Brown’s career and recorded a mix of country,
blues and rhythm and blues performers, including The Stanley Brothers, The
Delmore Brothers, Lonnie Johnson, Hank Ballard and Earl Bostic.

My guest, Jon Fox, is the author of a new book about the Cincinnati-based label
called “King of the Queen City.”

Jon Fox, welcome to FRESH AIR. You describe King Records as helping to
integrate America through music. So what do you mean by that?

Mr. JON FOX (Author, “King of the Queen City”): Well, King, from the – pretty
much from the very beginning of the company in the mid-1940s, had a relatively
colorblind approach to music. Syd Nathan, the founder of the label, always said
that he made music for the little man, and he felt that he was an outsider to
mainstream society. So he was very conscious of trying to do the music, trying
to satisfy the musical consumers that the major record labels weren’t doing.

One of the ways, or one of the things that he found out doing that was that
black and white music, which was kept pretty segregated by record companies and
record stores and consumers, was essentially the same thing. If you peeled back
one label, country music and blues and rhythm and blues was essentially the
same thing.

Once he realized that, he began to encourage country artists to record blues
and rhythm and blues songs to which he held the copyrights and vice versa,
blues and rhythm and blues artists record country songs.

So that was one way that he helped to break down a barrier. A more important
way was King had probably the first integrated staff of any record company in
the country, primarily through the hiring of Henry Glover. In the mid-1940s,
Henry was a black musician, song writer, record producer, arranger, and in the
early years of King, he was essentially the number two man, second only to Syd
Nathan. And Henry produced the blue and rhythm and blues that he might have
been expected to, but he also produced a lot of country recordings.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned that what Syd Nathan, the founder of King Records,
would do, since he had rhythm-and-blues artists and country musicians signed to
the label, he would take songs that he held the copyright to and have both a
rhythm and blues performer and a country group recorded. And I want to play an
example of that, and this was – this is Hank Ballard doing “Finger Poppin’
Time,” which was a pretty big hit for him, and then the Stanley Brothers’
version of the same song. I’m assuming the Hank Ballard came first.

Mr. FOX: Yes, yes it did. It’s a Hank Ballard original.

GROSS: He wrote it.

Mr. FOX: Yes.

GROSS: Okay, so do I have anything to say? Do you have anything to say about
this pairing before we hear it?

Mr. FOX: It’s one of my favorite Stanley Brothers songs. It’s kind of an odd
duck in their catalog. They were among the most traditional bluegrass artists
of the time, but they also hadn’t had a hit in a long time, and bluegrass was
kind of on life support in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when they were making

these records for King.

Syd Nathan asked them to do this song, and they really had no reason to refuse
him. So they did it.

GROSS: Okay, so here’s Hank Ballard, followed by the Stanley Brothers, doing
the Hank Ballard song, “Finger Poppin’ Time.”

(Soundbite of song, “Finger Poppin’ Time”)

Mr. HANK BALLARD (Musician): (Singing) Hey now, hey now, hey now, hey now, it's
finger pop poppin' time, finger poppin' poppin' time. I feel so good, and
that's a real good sign.

Hey now, hey now, hey now, hey now, hey, baby, come along with me. Hey, hey,
hey baby, come along home with me. We’re going to sing it to the brink, just
wait and see.

(Soundbite of song, “Finger Poppin’ Time”)

THE STANLEY BROTHERS (Music Group): (Singing) Hey now, hey now, hey now, hey
now, it's finger pop poppin' time, finger poppin' poppin' time. I feel so good,
and that's a real good sign.

Here comes a Mary, here comes Sue. Here come Johnny and a Bobby, too. It's
finger pop poppin' time. I feel so good, and that's a real good sign. Hey now,
hey now, hey now, hey now, hey baby…

GROSS: We just heard the Stanley Brothers’ version of “Finger Poppin’ Time,”
which was originated by Hank Ballard, whose version we first heard. They were
both recorded in 1960, both for King Records, and one of the things King
Records specialized in was having country and rhythm and blues artists on the
same label. My guest, Jon Hartley Fox, has just written a new book about that
record label, which is called “King of the Queen City.”

Well, it’s really fun to hear those back to back. Now, another record that you
write about in your book about King Records is the song “Good Rocking Tonight,”
originally recorded by Wynonie Harris in 1948. You make the case that this King
record was actually the first rock and roll record. And as you concede, many
people would make the case that Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” was really the first
rock and roll record that came a few years later. Why do you consider Wynonie
Harris’ “Good Rocking Tonight” the first rock and roll record?

Mr. FOX: That was kind of a goofball claim I made in the book because it’s
obviously something that is open to endless debate. But it had the right
attitude, and the key was it crossed over to white record buyers, not as much
as later King records in the early ‘50s did, but this was one of the first, I
think, that was heard by white teenagers in fairly large numbers. Evidence of
that is Elvis Presley. This is one of Elvis’ favorite songs and one of the
first ones he recorded.

GROSS: Is there a story behind how Wynonie Harris ended up recording this for
King?

Mr. FOX: Yeah, the song was written by Roy Brown, who recorded for DeLuxe,
which was a King subsidiary after a while. And Roy wrote this song and
approached Wynonie Harris at one of Wynonie’s gigs and tried to sell him the
song for I believe $50, and Wynonie blew Roy Brown off.

So Roy was broke. He needed some money. So he recorded it himself for DeLuxe
Records. A man named Cecil Gant, a singer who had had some success on DeLuxe,
intervened for him with the Braun Brothers, who owned the label, and got Roy a
quick contract on DeLuxe.

He recorded the song and was beginning to have a hit with it, certainly a
regional hit down around New Orleans, and working its way across country. When
Wynonie Harris saw that Roy was beginning to have a hit with the song, he
remembered blowing it off and realized his mistake. So he hustled into the King
studios in Cincinnati and cut pretty much an exact copy of Roy Brown’s version.
But because of King’s far superior distribution and marketing, Wynonie got the
hit on the record. So he made an initial mistake, but he corrected it.

GROSS: We’ll talk more about King Records and hear more music in the second
half of the show. Jon Fox is the author of “King of the Queen City: The Story
of King Records.” I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Jon Fox, the author of the
new book, "King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records." The Cincinnati-
based label was founded in 1943 by Syd Nathan, who ran it until 1971.

King recorded country, blues, and rhythm and blues, launched the career of
James Brown, and released the original versions of "Fever," "The Twist" and
"Good Rockin' Tonight."

Now King Records also had a reputation for recording some songs with sexual
overtones or double entendres. One of the big examples would be The Dominoes
recording of "Sixty Minute Man." So was there - were there problems with either
radio stations not wanting to play it or parental negative reaction? Like, what
was the response to these sexual innuendo kind of songs?

Mr. FOX: Well, those songs were pretty universally banned from radio airplay
and were condemned from every pulpit - public and secular. But kids loved it.
Syd Nathan was not the first to find that controversy doesn’t hurt record sales
in the slightest, and this was one of the first big crossovers, and that white
kids bought by the thousands. And I think that that was the real reason for the
controversy was it came really to the first time of the attention of a lot of
moral arbiters of the country.

GROSS: So from the early 1950s, here's The Dominoes recording of "Sixty Minute
Man."

(Soundbite of song, "Sixty Minute Man")

THE DOMINOES (Rhythm and blues group): (Singing) Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh,
ooh, ooh, ooh. Sixty minute man. Sixty minute man. Look here, girls, I'm
telling you now. They call me loving Dan, I'll rock 'em, roll 'em all night
long. I'm a sixty minute man. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. If you don't believe I'm all I
say, come up and take my hand. Ooh, hoo, hoo, hoo. When I let you go, you'll
cry, oh yes, he’s a sixty-minute man. There'll be fifteen minutes of kissing,
then you'll holler, please don't stop. Don’t stop. There'll be fifteen minutes
of teasing, fifteen minutes of pleasing, and fifteen minutes of blowing my top.
Mop. Mop. Mop.

GROSS: That's The Dominoes recording of "Sixty Minute Man" on the King Records
label and the King label is the subject of the new book "King of the Queen
City" - the Queen City being Cincinnati. My guest is the author of the book,
Jon Hartley Fox.

GROSS: Of all the performers signed by King, probably the most successful, the
most famous, the most groundbreaking - was James Brown. How did King Records
end up signing James Brown?

Mr. FOX: Ralph Bass was a producer and talent scout for King Records. He ran
Federal Records, which was one of their subsidiaries. And he for most of each
year, traveled the country looking for talent. He ran across a demo tape of
James Brown at an Atlanta radio station, found that they were in Macon, went
there, finally made connection with a mover and shaker named Clint Brantley,
and then went to hear James, and Ralph was blown away them - Ralph Bass was.

He offered them an immediate contract to come up to Cincinnati and record -
there was a song on the demo that Ralph was particular impressed by called
"Please, Please Please." And that was the main song he wanted, so he went after
him, heard him at a club in Macon, Georgia and signed him on the spot - beating
Chess Records to the punch.

GROSS: And "Please, Please, Please" was the first record that James Brown
released on the King label.

Mr. FOX: Yes.

GROSS: And it was a big hit?

Mr. FOX: It was a big regional hit. It wasn’t really a national hit, but it was
a big enough hit that it got some national notice.

GROSS: Now the way you tell the story in the book, Syd Nathan - the owner of
the label, the founder of the label - didn’t like this record and didn’t like
the idea of releasing it.

Mr. FOX: He hated the record. He had several caustic comments about it and
actually interrupted the recording studio, yelling at Ralph Bass that nobody
wanted to hear this kind of music. And he threw a big tantrum and Ralph Bass
finally just challenged him and said look, I know what this is. I know that
I've got a hit here. You just put the record out in Atlanta, Georgia and if
it’s not a hit there, I'll quit. I'll just quit. You don’t have to fire me. I
quit. Ralph was that sure of it and that mollified Syd enough that he went back
into the control room and after everybody got their composure regained, they
went ahead and recorded that song.

GROSS: So did Syd Nathan, who didn’t like this record very much and founded the
record company, end up making peace with James Brown when he realized how
popular and how lucrative it was to be affiliated with James Brown?

Mr. FOX: There's was an uneasy peace. They basically went through the same and
dance every record. James wanting to do what - James road tested his material
before he recorded it, so he had a pretty good idea what was working at the
band's appearances, what really shook up the audience and what they didn’t care
for.

Syd, on the other hand usually viewed all of James ideas as terrible and all of
the music as just unreleaseable. And they fought that battle and James
outsmarted various ways, worked around him various, and the records were always
successful, like the "Live at the Apollo," James had to pay to record that
himself, but then once Syd Nathan realized how good it was and what he had, he
bought it from James.

GROSS: Now Syd Nathan eventually own a piece of every aspect of the record
business. Correct me if I'm wrong here. He had studios; he had a pressing
plant, a distribution company, a trucking business. Am I missing anything?

Mr. FOX: Yeah. He actually made turntables for a while.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, all right.

Mr. FOX: They sold King - well, he didn't make them, but they sold King
turntables - King record players.

GROSS: So...

Mr. FOX: So you could actually get the whole thing under one roof.

GROSS: I think we’ve probably done a better job in showcasing a little bit of
the rhythm and blues that King recorded than the country. Would choose one of
your favorite country recordings that came out of King?

Mr. FOX: "Blues Stay Away From Me," by the Delmore Brothers.

GROSS: And why are you choosing that?

Mr. FOX: Well, I think it's a great song, first of all. That's what Syd Nathan
would want me to say. It's a great song...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FOX: ...that it stood the test time. But it also in one song recorded in
one day at the recording studio in Cincinnati, it kind of demonstrates the King
model at work. It was an in-studio collaboration between the two Delmore
Brothers, Alton and Rabon, who were from North, Alabama; Wayne Raney, a
harmonica player from Arkansas - those three were white, from the South, and
them Henry Glover, the producer of the song - the producer of the recording
session and the co-writer of the song.

The four of them in the studio worked up the song from ideas that Alton Delmore
and Henry Glover brought to the table and the entire process was an equal
collaboration between those four men. And I think that that just kind of
illustrates the way that King let their artists do what they wanted to do but
also helped introduce them to different things, like Syd Nathan wanting the
Stanley Brothers to record "Finger Poppin' Time" or wanting some of these other
country artists to record these black songs that he or these R&B and blues
songs that he had the control of that he thought were good songs. This was -
just sort of in one song - it was the distillation of the King model at work.

GROSS: Well, Jon Fox, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FOX: Thank you very much for having me, Terry.

GROSS: Jon Hartley Fox is the author of the new book "King of the Queen City:
The Story of King Records."

(Soundbite of song, "Blues Stay Away From Me")

THE DELMORE BROTHERS (Country band): (Singing) Blues, stay away from me. Blues,
why don't you let me be? Don't know why you keep on haunting me. Love, was
never meant for me. True love was never meant for me. Seems somehow we never
can agree.

GROSS: Coming up, Seymour Stein, a founder of Sire Records talks about getting
his start at King Records.

This is FRESH AIR.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
113826003
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20091015
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Seymour Stein, From King To Sire Records

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

My guest, Seymour Stein founded Sire Records and signed Madonna, The Ramones
and Talking Heads, launching their careers. Stein learned the record business
at King Records where founder, Syd Nathan became his mentor. At Nathan's
funeral, Stein was one of the pallbearers. When Nathan was inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Seymour Stein was the presenter.

Stein was only 14 when he met Syd Nathan. At the time, the young Stein was
working at Billboard magazine. Billboard used to host listening sessions where
record company owners would play their recordings and try to persuade Billboard
to give them a good review. Stein met Syd Nathan at one of those sessions.

Mr. SEYMOUR STEIN (Entrepreneur, vice president of Warner Brother Records): I
remember that session, you know, like it was yesterday, and it was over 50
years ago. Syd was there and another record man was there as well. What I
remember very clearly was there were a large amount of records to listen to and
the last two or three were on the Jubilee label and one of the reporters said
on, I hear Jubilee Records is going out of business. Why should we even bother
with these records? He said I'm sure, you know, Syd is getting a little bored
here. And Syd said, in the way he spoke and he said what if I wasn’t here?
Would you talk that way about me? Listen to these records. And so, the person
said boy, Jerry Blaine, who was the owner of Jubilee Records, he said, he must
be a good friend of yours. And he said, oh no, I'm suing the son of a bitch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEIN: And he said but what's right is right, you know, and one of the
records actually became a hit. I can't remember. It might've been "White Silver
Sands" By Don Rondo or something like that. So...

GROSS: So how did you get to work for Syd Nathan?

Mr. STEIN: He invited me out to spend the summer with him. I was still in high
school. I was 15 and I said yeah, wow. And my parents were a bit, you know - my
father was an Orthodox Jew and, you know, and just didn’t understand all of
this. And I brought them up to Billboard and an appointment was made, which I
didn’t talk to my parents for a couple of weeks. I was so embarrassed that they
would, you know, question something that was so wonderful. And just as they
walked into Syd's office he put out his - my father's cheap cigar and Sydney
immediately reached into his pocket and gave him a Havana, which my father was
not use to and he had my father in his pocket.

And he said well, he said Seymour here, he's got shellac in his veins, and what
a compliment. It meant that, you know, I was a record man. You know, because
shellac was the main ingredient in old '78. And then he explained that to my
father. He said if you don’t let him do what he wants to do he's going to wind
up doing nothing and you'll have to buy him a newspaper route because that's
all he'll be good for. And this was April. And my parents rushed home and when
I got home, everything was packed. I wasn’t supposed to leave until the end of
June when high school was up.

GROSS: So how old were you when you went to work with Syd Nathan at King
Records full time?

Mr. STEIN: Full time was 1961, ‘62. So, I would have been 19 or just turning
20.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now, one of the things that Syd Nathan did for you after you
said working with him at King Records was tell you to change your name. Your
real last name was?

Mr. STEIN: Oh, I was born with the name Steinbeagle(ph), Seymour Steinbeagle.

GROSS: And what was wrong with that in Syd Nathan’s eyes?

Mr. STEIN: It was too long. And he kept asking me to change it and I didn’t
want to hurt my father’s feelings. My father was the eldest son and both his
brothers had changed their name, had shortened it. But he felt, out of respect
to his father, he should keep it.

GROSS: So - but you did change it?

Mr. STEIN: Well, yes. Not everybody had phones at King Records. People shared
phones, as much as three or four people could share a phone at one time. But
there was a paging system and the switchboard operator had one microphone and
Syd had the other one on his desk. And I was being paged, an incoming call -
Seymour Steinbeagle, pick up the closest phone, Seymour Steinbeagle, there’s a
call. And she was repeating it over and over again. And all of the sudden,
Syd’s voice came on, he said, oh, no, it’s Stein or Beagle or back to New York.
And I was…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEIN: I almost started to cry, I was so embarrassed. And I changed my name
and I’m very glad that I did.

GROSS: So, you got started at Billboard Magazine. Do you ever miss the
importance of the charts, the days when, like, top 40 really meant something?

Mr. STEIN: I miss it a lot.

GROSS: What do you miss about it?

Mr. STEIN: I miss all the excitement. I mean, that’s how I heard about
Billboard. There was this disc jockey, long before rock and roll, Martin Block.

GROSS: WNEW in New York.

Mr. STEIN: Yes.

GROSS: Make believe ballroom.

Mr. STEIN: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEIN: It’s make believe ballroom time and free to everyone. Well, I would
come back on Saturday mornings from the synagogue and have the - my radio sort
of under the pillow, so my father couldn’t hear it when he came home, listening
to Martin Block play the top 25 off the Billboard chart and later he started
playing, in addition, the top five R&B and the top five country and western.
And that’s how I got introduced to Johnny Cash and Ray Price and Hank Williams,
on the one hand, and to some of the R&B records, to my idol, Fats Domino, as
well. Radio was very important and the charts - and they played the Billboard
charts. That was what Martin Block played off of and that’s how I knew to go up
to Billboard.

GROSS: So, you miss it, you miss those days of the charts?

Mr. STEIN: Oh, I sure do. Oh, yes.

GROSS: Seymour Stein, a pleasure to talk with you, thank you so much.

Mr. STEIN: You’re very welcome.

GROSS: Seymour Stein founded Sire Records and got his start at King Records
with King’s founder Syd Nathan. The new book about King Records, “King Of The
Queen City,” was written by Jon Hartley Fox. We want to thank Brian Powers for
all his help with our show about King. He’s the music librarian at the Public
Library of Cincinnati and has done extensive research on King.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
113826637
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
20091015
..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
12:00-13:00 PM
..NIEL:
N/A
..NTWK:
NPR
..SGMT:
Monty Python 40 Years Later: ‘The Lawyer’s Cut’

TERRY GROSS, host:

Beginning Sunday, IFC - the Independent Film Channel - presents a six evening,
six-hour documentary about “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” timed to commemorate
the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking British TV series and comedy troupe.
It’s called “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut)” and our TV
critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI: It’s good to know after all these years that the surviving
members of Monty Python still can’t even take themselves seriously. Oh, they
have the best of intentions with this new mega documentary called “Monty
Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut).” They really do want to explain
where their peculiar sense of humor came from and how the six of them met and
the inspirations for their most famous sketches, record albums, movies and
stage shows.

But just as the original “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” poked fun at the
stiffness of the BBC when it premiered on the BBC back in 1969, this new
documentary can’t help but send up the documentary form a little. Its
individual hours sport such titles as “The Not-So-Interesting Beginnings” and
“The Much Funnier Second Episode.” And for the theme song of this new
production, the Pythons not only resurrected the main title music from “The
Life of Brian,” but a dead ringer for the original vocalist as well.

(Soundbite of “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut)” theme song)

Unidentified Woman (Singer): (Singing) Python, the brand-new documentary of
Python. It’s a new documentary. It’s about Monty Python. Unlike other Monty
Python documentaries, this is brand new. It’s a new documentary. It’s not
complimentary, but it’s better than a hysterectomy. It’s Monty Python.

BIANCULLI: There’s an added joke, in that each hour has its own theme song,
which is sung with increased frustration over how endless the documentary is,
and how familiar the material. Obviously, the Pythons are sensitive enough to
this charge to make a pre-emptive strike. After all, there was a 30th
anniversary Monty Python TV special a decade ago, and a 20th anniversary one a
decade before that. And home-video collectors have had more than one
opportunity to buy a “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” mega set on DVD.

But for such familiar terrain and such an old comedy group, there’s a lot of
new insight here, enough to please hardcore Python fans, and intriguing enough
to turn new viewers into probable converts. My favorite installment is the
first one, which is generous with its clip from the early radio and TV shows
that influenced or featured the future members of Monty Python. Peter Sellers
and his infamously unstructured “The Goon Show” was one clear inspiration, the
satiric stage revue “Beyond the Fringe,” with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and
Jonathan Miller, was another. And the British version of the topical variety
series, “That Was the Week That Was,” which like “The Office,” was Americanized
with a new cast, was a third.

Some of the Pythons came from Cambridge, some from Oxford, and American Terry
Gilliam came seemingly out of nowhere. But eventually, the six of them:
Gilliam, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman,
found their own styles and voices. They presented a TV show where sketches were
absurd and unpredictable, and where comedy targets ranged from little old
ladies and dead philosophers to the Spanish Inquisition.

Insanely imaginative animation linked one sketch to another. Or as an
alternative, John Cleese would simply stare into the camera and intone, with
the deep seriousness of a BBC announcer: And now for something completely
different. And all of it was completely different, then and now, from the
“Ministry of Silly Walks” and the “Fish-Slapping Dance” to the “Dead Parrot
Sketch.” Here’s John Cleese returning a recent purchase to pet store owner,
Michael Palin.

(Soundbite of TV Show, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”)

Mr. JOHN CLEESE (Actor): (As Mr. Praline) I wish to make a complaint.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MICHAEL PALIN (Actor): (As Shop Owner) Sorry, we’re closing for lunch.

Mr. CLEESE: (As Mr. Praline) Never mind that my lad, I wish to complain about
this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

Mr. PALIN: (As Shop Owner) Oh, yes, the Norwegian Blue. What’s wrong with it?

Mr. CLEESE: (As Mr. Praline) I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s dead,
that’s what’s wrong with it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Except for Graham Chapman who died 20 years ago, all the other
Pythons are alive and well, and contribute fresh interviews to this
documentary. There also are such well-chosen ingredients as clips from a
British TV talk show back when Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” was released.
John Cleese and Michael Palin appeared on the talk show to debate an angry
bishop and, in these exchanges, Malcolm Muggeridge, a former satirist and
author, who had just converted to Christianity. He found the Python’s biblical
humor positively sacrilegious. In this clip, Cleese and Palin take on
Muggeridge, then Cleese in a new interview for the documentary, recalls Palin’s
atypically biting reaction, which we then hear.

(Soundbite of TV documentary, “Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s
Cut”)

Mr. CLEESE: You keep making the basic assumption that we are ridiculing Christ
and Christ’s teaching and I say that we are not.

Mr. MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE (British Journalist; Satirist; Author): But you imagine
that your scene, for instance, of the sermon on the mount. The scene in this -
in your film of the sermon on the mount is not ridiculing one of the most
sublime utterances that any human being has ever spoken on this earth. Course
it is.

Mr. PALIN: Absolutely not.

Mr. CLEESE: No, no. It’s making fun of the guy who’s remembered it wrong and of
the people who don’t understand it and miss the point.

Mr. MUGGERIDGE: Well, I think…

Mr. PALIN: I think that’s really unfair because I think that a lot of people
looking in will think we have actually ridiculed Christ…

Mr. MUGGERIDGE: Yes.

Mr. PALIN: …physically. Christ is played by an actor, Ken Colley, he speaks the
words from the sermon on the mount. It’s treated absolutely respectfully. The
camera then pans away, we go right to the back of the crowd to someone who
shouts speak up because they cannot hear him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PALIN: Now I mean if that utterly…

Mr. MUGGERIDGE: No, no.

Mr. PALIN: …if that utterly undermines their faith in Christ then…

Mr. MUGGERIDGE: No, no.

Mr. CLEESE: That was kind of fun. What was particularly fun, it was the
crossest I’ve ever seen Michael Palin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLEESE: Not a man who’s easily upset. He’s almost apoplectic.

Mr. MUGGERIDGE: I started off by saying that this is such a tenth rate film
that I don’t believe that it would disturb…

Mr. PALIN: Yes, I know you’ve started with an open mind, I realize that.

Mr. MUGGERIDGE: …anybody’s faith.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: If I have a complaint about this six-hour documentary, it’s that it
could have been longer. Eric Idle’s recent musical stage triumph, in which he
turned the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” into the Broadway hit
“Spamalot,” is covered but we don’t hear from David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria or
other members of that show, including Sara Ramirez, now on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
And if “Spamalot” gets its due, why not other Python solo ventures, like Eric
Idle’s “The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash,” Michael Palin’s “Ripping Yarns,”
John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers” or Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” — all of them
brilliant.

Yes, there’s room for even more. And the DVD version of “The Lawyer’s Cut”
includes an additional disc, which does feature among other things, the origin

of “Fawlty Towers.” But even if you just watch the televised version on IFC,
you’ll be quite entertained. And stay till the very end, because the credits on
the last episode close with one final, very solid laugh. It’s too good to
spoil, but just like Monty Python, it’s something completely different.

GROSS: David Bianculli writes for tvworthwatching.com and teaches television
and film at Rowan University. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web
site freshair.npr.org.

I’m Terry Gross.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
113798152
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

42:54

John Brown And Abraham Lincoln: Divergent Paths In The Fight To End Slavery

In The Zealot and the Emancipator, historian H.W. Brands reflects on two 19th century leaders who fought the institution of slavery in different ways: one radical and the other reformist.

31:39

How Women Have Been 'Profoundly' Left Out Of The U.S. Constitution

As a teen, Heidi Schreck debated the Constitution in competitions. A film of her Broadway play, What the Constitution Means to Me, is now available on Amazon Prime. Originally broadcast March 2019.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue