Date of Birth: 23 June 1921, Bronx, New York, US
Birth Name: Henry Stne
Henry Stone was a record label supremo who spent almost 70 years working as a record distributor, talent scout and label owner, helping to launch the careers of Ray Charles, James Brown, Timmy Thomas and of course KC and the Sunshine Band.
Stone’s heyday came with his TK Records Label in the 1970s, as he rode the fledgling disco boom. With the teenage singer Betty Wright he scored with Clean Up Women, a big 1972 hit. That same year he scored again with Timmy Thomas’s Why Can’t We Live Together (No 12 in the UK charts in 1973), and then in 1974 topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby. Two TK recordings appeared on the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (1977).
The label’s signature style a light, Caribbean-flavoured dance music would come to be known as “the Miami sound”, the ultimate practitioners of which were KC and the Sunshine Band, a multiracial band led by Harry Wayne “KC” Casey and Richard Finch. Stone introduced the 21-year-old Casey to a teenaged Finch, already a skilled recording engineer with TK, in 1973, and together they wrote and produced Rock Your Baby for MacCrae. KC and the Sunshine Band went on to have 10 UK Top 40 hits, becoming the first band to have four No 1 pop singles in a 12-month period since the Beatles in 1964.
Henry Stone was born on June 23 1921 in the Bronx, New York City, and, aged eight, during the Great Depression, he was sent to a Jewish reform school upstate in Pleasantville for stealing some food from a street vendor. It was there that he learnt to play trumpet and developed a love for New Orleans jazz. While serving with the US Army in the Second World War he played in one of the military’s few mixed-race bands.
Settling in Miami in 1948, Stone began both distributing 78s with Modern Records and working with local blues and gospel musicians whom he signed to labels in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. By 1952 he had established his own Crystal Recording Company with a studio and two labels Rockin’ for rhythm and blues and Glory for gospel and in 1954 he had a No 1 R&B hit with Heart Of Stone, by Otis Williams & the Charms.
Even more notable was his signing of Ray Charles, then an unknown musician from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, whose piano playing had caught Stone’s attention at a Miami hotel. Together they recorded various songs St Florida Blues, Walkin’ and Talkin’ and I’m Wondering and Wondering for Stone’s Rockin’ label, though none of them enjoyed much commercial success. “I gave him $200,” Stone recalled. “He took the money and immediately bought some heroin.”
In a 2013 interview Stone put his recording of so many celebrated black American musicians down to location and luck. “I was the only guy down here. And they’d come to play the clubs. I turned down a lot of talent it’s just the ones that I signed that make me seem like a genius.”
By the 1960s, as soul music was holding sway, Stone was recording a new generation of black musicians, his business acumen allowing him to pick up an array of talent from Deep City, a bankrupt Florida label. TK Records and his own distribution company, Tone Distributors, occupied an 18,000 sq ft warehouse and employed more than 100 people.
Stone possessed not just a fine ear for talent but also an ability to fleece that talent his reluctance to pay full royalties was well-known throughout the industry. It may have been Stone’s business shenanigans that helped lead to TK’s sudden collapse in 1980 though Stone himself was quick to blame the burgeoning “disco sucks” movement that, from the end of the previous decade, saw disco records burned and American students don badges reading “death to disco”.
Not that the decline of TK kept Stone down for long. He provided the seed money for Sugar Hill Records, the New Jersey label that first popularised rap music, and set up Hot Productions, which licensed European house and techno recordings for the United States. Hot’s biggest success came with the Dutch group 2 Unlimited’s record Get Ready For This, which would become one of the most recognisable anthems in modern American sport.
Even as his sight failed him in recent years, Stone remained heavily involved in the industry, running his labels out of a Miami penthouse with walls covered in gold and platinum albums. When asked what kept him going, he joked: “I never learnt to play golf.”