Sunday, September 25, 2011
If it had only served as the initial catalyst in the career of one artist, Doug Sahm, Harlem Records of San Antonio would be significant enough. But it also gave us outstanding vocal group records from the Lyrics, Royal Jesters, and Fabulous Flames, along with patented “West Side” R&B from Sunny and the Sunglows (before they were the Sunliners) and Charlie Alvarado and the Jives. There had been a couple of reissues of this material in the '80s, but like many who had been exposed to Harlem’s catalogue, I sensed that this was an enterprise that clearly deserved to be better documented. How to actually accomplish that was another matter.
I began halting attempts to research Harlem in 1998 while writing the liner notes for Doug Sahm’s San Antonio Rock album on Norton. All I knew then was that the prime mover behind the Harlem label, disc jockey Joe Anthony (Joseph Anthony Yannuzzi), had been dead since 1992. Still, I took some solace in the knowledge that Sahm was very much alive and well at the time, and surely would submit to an interview. Sahm’s verbal excesses were legendary, though if they extended to his Harlem days, there was no evidence of it in print. In interviews Sahm usually catapulted from his “Little Doug” child prodigy days in the early fifties to the Sir Douglas Quintet’s 1965 debut on Shindig in the space of a paragraph or two. Did he really mean to imply that this crucial ten-year period was of no importance, or did interviewers know (or care) so little about San Antonio music and Sahm during those years that they just skipped an entire decade? I suspected the latter, though Sahm’s unexpected death in November, 1999, left that, along with the rest of my questions, sadly unanswered.
Sahm’s death sent me back where I had actually started from: a phone number stumbled across at random in the Texas Music Industry Directory for Emil “E.J.” Henke in San Antonio. That Henke was listed at all was amazing -- the veteran music man had flown so far under the radar for so many years that many assumed he was dead. Henke had not been one of the more flamboyant record producers Texas had produced. Age had also caught up with him. During our initial conversation, I wasn’t sure if I was communicating with a human or a backwards tape loop running on low batteries. Monosyllabic grunts affirmed or denied my questions. Hospital schedules were mulled over. Somehow I was able to clarify that yes, Henke still had tapes for the Doug Sahm sessions he claimed to have produced (falsely, as I later discovered), and perhaps he’d be interested in licensing these to a reissue label. A brief moment of clarity, then back to hospital schedules.
This was going to take some work. Two or three trips to visit a super-cranky wheelchair-bound man in his late sixties later, I still knew only slightly more on Harlem Records than when I’d started. Henke, easier to communicate with in person, was no less remote and defensive when specific questions were posed to him that he didn’t wish to answer. The only reason he agreed to speak with me at all was because Norton had paid him for the rights to use his Sahm tapes for the reissue, which came out in 2000. Some of E.J.’s comments were indeed laced with real insight, even occasional humor, yet giant areas of unknowingness remained. “Joe handled that,” would go his stock answer for most questions I had about the operation of Harlem. “I was gone.” It finally appeared that Harlem would indeed have to remain buried in a hazy, distant past. Henke’s death a couple of years later, in 2002, reaffirmed this view.
Not so fast. Within a year or two of Henke’s passing, former San Antonio disc jockey Henry Carr – a name Henke never mentioned to me – emailed, revealing more details about the Harlem label than I had ever thought possible, especially now. Most telling was his explanation why Henke had been so vague and defensive about the Harlem era: he had been imprisoned in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for most of that period. It can be safely said that Henke’s role in the label was far more minor than his attempts to rewrite history made them appear. Anthony and Carr did most of the recording, financing, and promoting; Henke assisted with some initial capital, and little else.
In addition to Carr, veteran San Antonio saxophonist/bandleader Charlie Alvarado – who recorded eight singles with Anthony on Harlem and various other labels – has stepped up to help fill in the blanks. A few frustrating gaps and questions still remain, but thanks to these two men we can now bring closer into focus the true story of the daring experiment that was Harlem Records.
“A Bright, Twisted Man:” Joe Anthony and KMAC
Top 40 radio in fifties San Antonio was dominated by two stations, KONO and Gordon McLendon’s KTSA. These were well-oiled corporate machines, populated by interchangeable white disc jockeys with fresh broadcasting degrees. It hardly mattered to them if the audience requested a Little Richard or Ray Coniff record, just as long as it paid the bills and allowed the hoped-for opportunity to move on to a bigger market somewhere.
KMAC was another story.
“KMAC was a very cheap, third or fourth or fifth-rated station,” Henry Carr says. “It was not a big-time operation. It did a lot of phone-ins. It was all pitch radio. But they had this program that was on for two hours a night called Harlem Serenade. Flip Forrest, a black man, was the DJ. He kept the job for a long time, then got a better job as (gospel singer) Mahalia Jackson’s valet, and left. Joe (Anthony) had been looking for a job in radio, and had worked in, I believe, Refugio. He went in to KMAC to talk to the owner, Howard W. Davis – one of the cheapest men on earth – and convinced him that he could do this show, and he could do it for fifty bucks a week. Howard had been paying Flip Forrest seventy-five. So, Joe got the job. And Howard never knew what he got himself into…Joe was a bright, twisted man.
“This was 1956, ’57. Rock and roll is there. You could hear it on XEG, XERF – on a good night you could hear John R. out of Nashville (WLAC). Joe heard all those approaches and combined them. His mother was Mexican; his father was an Italian immigrant. He was like Wolfman Jack, but could break out in Spanish at the proper time, and say it in slang. So, right there, all the West Side loved him.” Charlie Alvarado concurs with this assessment. “Joe was one of the most popular DJs in town,” he says, “especially with the Chicanos.”
Joe and Henry had been friends since attending Brackenridge High School together in the early fifties. Both were bound by a love for black music, and a burning desire to get into the music business somehow. “Third-rate” KMAC provided that opportunity, despite low-to-nonexistent wages. “You didn’t make money at the station,” Carr, who began working for KMAC’s FM sister station KISS in 1958, points out. “You made money through the station. I was doing charts for KMAC. Joe had his show. So we could pretty much promote whatever we wanted. And, also, Joe understood that everything came with a price. That was the beauty of it.”
Joe Anthony's KMAC chart for January 8, 1960, with Harlem releases by the Lyrics and Royal Earl.
Ongoing federal investigations were little deterrent to the payola that ruled the day in Top 40 radio, as Carr unreservedly admits. “When record companies needed something on the surveys, you’d get things. I was looking at one of my surveys awhile back, thinking, ‘Why on earth did I choose Bobby Rydell on Cameo as the Pick Hit? Oh yeah – rent.’ And Chess Records was pretty much that way with us. We were in very close contact with Paul Gayten, who was one of the chief promo men for Chess.
“KMAC and Joe’s show in particular broke many, many records. No one would touch (Mark Dinning’s) ‘Teen Angel’ until Stuart Weiner at Wemar Music came down and said, ‘Here’s some money.’ And then, of course, it became my pick hit on the pop side. And Joe did that (as well). They also broke ‘Shout’ by the Isley Brothers. (Jimmy Jones’) ‘Handy Man’ was another.
“So, this was a station that you didn’t have to fight with (Gordon) McLendon – Gordon’s operation dominated the Southwest, San Antonio in particular. And here was a show (Harlem Serenade) that the kids liked. Harlem grew out of that – I guess our own greed. Joe and E.J. Henke were just a bit greedier than me, because they signed paperwork between each other. I said, ‘No, just pay me some money if we make some.’”
The only suggestion of disunity in Joe and Henry’s friendship was Joe’s sexual orientation. Anthony was a closeted homosexual, completely at odds with the innocent laments of teenage love his label would become known for. The mysterious Charlie Woods, whose name appears on at least one Harlem label release, was (according to Carr) one of Joe’s boyfriends. He may or may not have had a financial stake in the label at a certain point, as well.
Harlem and E.J. Henke
Joe Anthony inaugurated Harlem in the summer of 1959 with a racially mixed vocal group fronted by Carl Henderson, the Lyrics. “Oh Please Love Me,” a doowop ballad, was a hot local hit over the closing months of that year, eventually selling a few thousand copies and making all three local charts. Harlem was in business. But like most small labels with a local hit, Joe soon discovered that he had overextended himself, and was unable to offset the invoices from the pressing plant and distributors with his meager salary and unpredictable payola deals. Out of desperation, he offered E.J. Henke 50% of Harlem if he'd forgive Joe’s debts, and Henke agreed.
Henke was a big, lumbering man of German lineage who occasionally found work as a wrestler. Henry Carr had met him around 1955, when Carr’s father, a loan shark, hired Henke as a collection agent. By that time Henke – a frustrated country singer – was already involved in the emerging song-poem business, and would soon start a country/rockabilly label, Warrior. E.J. was fairly typical of most of the men in the record business in ‘50s Texas – a gambler who reduced the complexities of pop music down to a few simple formulas, underpinned all the while by a fervent wish that rock and roll would just go away so he could get back to country music.
“Henke comes out of that old school of song-poems,” Carr explains. “Henke was an apprentice to one of the masters. If you got a letter from Henke, it would say, ‘Now’s the chance to make BIG money…,’ and ‘big’ would be in 18-point type.
“Emil was a good-hearted guy, he was just really, really country. He was an old-style record guy/carney who always believed he had a hit. He never understood the music.”
Henke’s legit releases on Warrior were not nearly as lucrative as his song-poem mill, which relied upon low cunning and the naivete of amateur songwriters for a steady stream of business. For $20, gullible song-poets would send Henke their lyrics, hoping for a possibility at the big-time that Henke’s pitches promised. What they actually received was an acetate of their song vocalized by Arkey Blue or some other local country singer – and a “good luck” letter. Henke didn’t even bother to press vinyl singles, as even the cheapest song-poem operations did.
Carr was amazed. “I would go to the post office with him sometimes, and he would pull out a two or three inch stack of letters – and every one of them would have a $20 bill in it: ‘Here’s my song, here’s my $20.’”
Many small labels were done in by ordering an initial 500 or 1000 copies of a new record only to find it unsalable. Anthony and Carr hit upon an ingenious way to subvert this problem. After a session would be recorded, Joe would pay to have two acetates made. He would then proceed to play the acetate at least once a night on Harlem Serenade until his listeners started calling the local stores and creating a demand. Only then would the bare minimum pressing amount – usually 100 copies – be ordered with money Joe or Henry had saved from record hops, and placed on consignment at the local stores and One-Stops (distributors who carried all labels). A few Harlem releases probably didn’t make it far beyond that initial press, though others sold into the thousands. Doug Sahm’s “Why, Why, Why” was by far Harlem’s best seller, moving (by Henry’s estimate) over ten thousand copies in 1960.
Joe Anthony KMAC chart for August 5, 1960, with Doug Sahm's first Harlem release.
Carr says that once a hundred copies were out in stores, “you’d wait a week, and hope that you could start pressing up 500 at a time. Once you got action – meaning that it was actually being sold – that’s when you had the opportunity to be overextended.” Harlem was often in such a predicament for the next two years, its weak financial position negating such niceties as royalty payments. “None of these people – outside of Doug (Sahm), who was paid when he sued us – were paid,” Henry says. “I don’t think we ever paid anyone. Harlem did not really make money, but allowed steady cash churn.”
Ongoing money problems didn’t prevent Anthony from plunging headfirst into the record business. Royal Earl, Gary Middleton, the Royal Jesters (“Royal” names were big in 1959), Doug Sahm, Sunny and the Sunglows, and Charlie and the Jives were all recorded in rapid succession over the closing months of 1959 and into the new year. Charlie Alvarado’s experience is probably typical. “I started playing at a club called Fiesta Club on Commerce in 1959,” he recalls. “Joe Anthony was a DJ on KMAC, which was about a block away from the club. He used to catch our show there. He liked the way we played.
“I started doing gigs for him at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios on Alamo Street. He’d be there as a DJ, but he’d also have a live artist. That’s where I met the Royal Jesters. They had a number they wanted to record on Harlem. I hadn’t recorded anything before that – I was too busy playing. Recording had never entered my mind.”
On the Go with Joe (Anthony), column in the San Antonio Snap News, 1961.
In what was still a very segregated era in Texas, San Antonio bands were different. “Race was not that important,” Henry says. “The Hispanic bands were always integrated. Some of the places on the West Side, like Mario’s and Mi Tierra, were open all night – so all races were welcome. On the East Side, it was black. But frankly, I never heard a lot of the ugly words until I came to California. San Antonio was about the music. We were all poor. So much for that competition – there is no color in poor. I just never felt racial animosity in San Antonio, ever.” A white boy like Doug Sahm playing with Spot Barnett or a black man like Bobby Taylor singing with Charlie and the Jives was becoming more common as the sixties began.
You Tube video with the Royal Jesters' "My Angel of Love," backed by Charlie and the Jives.
Joe and E.J. didn't want the public to know that they were the actual owners of Harlem. This was largely due to the generous amount of airplay Harlem artists received on Joe’s show, and their high rating on KMAC surveys, all during the height of the payola scandals in Top 40 radio. This may have been the area where Henry Carr was of greatest service to Harlem. “I was the face of Harlem Records if we went out anywhere,” he says. Indeed, this is backed up by the only contemporary print reference to the label located so far, an early 1961 black newspaper column, written by Anthony, in which he slyly noted that “Henry Carr of Harlem Records” had announced signing Spot Barnett.
Harlem was on-the-job training for Joe and Henry. Neither knew anything about song publishing, allowing Texas Sound Studio’s Jeff Smith rights to their early material under his Tex-San (BMI) company. This only became an issue after Sahm’s “Why, Why, Why” hit and all the publishing royalties went to Smith. Joe very quickly set up Ebony Music (BMI), named after the Ebony Lounge, the local black hotspot.
L to R: Mario Cantu, Fats Domino, Joe Anthony, and Henry Carr, 1960.
“Neither Joe nor myself understood the value of copyright ownership,” Carr admits. “(Fellow KMAC DJ) Charlie Walker introduced me to Slim Willet and he explained the biz to me. He showed me a check for a large amount from BMI – his yearly advance for his tune, ‘Don't Let the Stars Get in your Eyes.’”
It was also around the time that “Why, Why, Why” began moving that Henke’s song-poem operation ran seriously afoul of the law. “He got greedy,” Carr explains. “He wrote back to these (amateur songwriters) and said, ‘Let’s re-record everything, and for $50 or $100, I’ll give you a share of stock in my company.’ Maybe he should have incorporated first. I think it was over a hundred counts that he pled guilty to. A hundred-odd counts of mail fraud. He went to Leavenworth. I was in the courtroom when he was sentenced. (It was) a shock to him. I had to get the marshal to get Henke's car keys so that I could deliver it to Juanita, his wife.”
It’s unclear how long Henke stayed in prison. According to Carr’s recollection, he was sentenced to serve five years, but this appears to have been commuted after only 18-24 months. In later interviews with this writer, Henke avoided the subject of prison entirely.
Henke’s incarceration probably had something to do with Anthony’s decision to abruptly wind down Harlem after the release of the Fabulous Flames single (#114 in April, 1961). By then he was preparing a new label with Charlie Alvarado, Hour Records. Harlem’s reappearance after a 13 month absence in May, 1962 with two older Charlie and the Jives masters suggests a newly-free Henke counterploy to Hour, though Alvarado himself has no recollection of any unusual circumstances surrounding this release.
“I am sure that Joe didn't participate beyond the early 1961 releases,” asserts Carr. “Henke was out of jail and asking for his share. Joe made some kind of move to settle, involving transfer of masters and also sale of his record shop to Henke. I was in the army during this time and had no direct knowledge of details, other than general conversations with Joe after my return to San Antonio. Charles Woods was involved, somehow – maybe a buffer.” The terms of Anthony’s “settlement” with Henke are far from clear.
With only one or two exceptions, everything on Harlem, Hour, and related labels was recorded at Jeff Smith’s Texas Sound Studios, located on Hildebrand Avenue on the city’s North Side. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes collecting Texas labels is familiar with the “TSS” designation, etched into the run-off grooves of countless singles from the late 1950s until the early 1970s. But who was Jeff Smith?
“Jeff was like an old-style Chamber of Commerce guy,” Carr says. “You do business with him, he’ll go out and promote you. Jeff would take stuff out to the stations. And of course, if it was a Jeff custom pressed job, he’d get ‘em out there early in the day. Jeff was probably the most accommodating engineer I’ve ever met. (But) he had no knowledge of the music. And he was a little bit cautious with running the meters. I’m sure rock and roll killed him (from an aural standpoint). He got a little confused with the electric bass for awhile, particularly with the early stuff on Harlem. You can hear it on “Oh Please Love Me.’ It did knock the needles off the jukeboxes.”
Owing to his paranoia, his nightly radio job, or both, Anthony rarely attended Harlem recording sessions. As far as Henke’s involvement in sessions went, Carr says, “I don’t think he attended a session after Royal Earl (Harlem 103). In fact, after Royal Earl, I was the only one who ever attended. Not that I ever did anything, but it always looked good to have somebody in the back smiling.” Henry laughs. “Later I learned, nod your head…it looks even better.” More laughter – informed by a knowing sarcasm.
“That’s how it happens…by the time you learn how to snap your fingers, nod your head, and look cool, you’re too old to be in the industry.”
The Decline of Harlem
Even with a strong local talent pool to draw from, personal drive and enthusiasm, a wide local following, and a lock on radio exposure for his artists, Joe Anthony never really was able to capitalize on the success and momentum that Doug Sahm’s “Why, Why, Why” brought to Harlem Records. His engagement with the label only lasted into the spring of 1961, barely eight months after Sahm’s record had hit, and less than two years after he had stated. The label he replaced it with, Hour, itself only lasted a mere four releases, coming to an end in 1962. Perhaps Henke’s prison stint had awakened him to the dangerous possibilities of his ongoing payola deals. The conflict of interest he boldly flaunted by spinning Harlem singles nightly on KMAC could have, if exposed, gotten him kicked off not only his own station but disbarred from broadcasting for anyone. Maybe he decided it wasn’t worth the chance. Besides, other labels had since come along to record local talent – Cobra, Jox, Tear Drop, Renner, and many more. He wasn’t as badly needed in that area as he had been back in 1959.
But larger than all of these concerns was the changing nature of black music itself. The raw and urgent sounds that Anthony and Carr had been digging since the early fifties were giving way to tightly arranged, orchestrated faux-R&B, transparently calculated to crossover to white teen audiences. Their youthful enthusiasm was waning. “Joe believed that rhythm and blues died the day Motown opened its doors,” Carr says.
There really was no going back for Joe. He retired from radio for a couple of years in the late 1960s before his improbable reemergence as the self-styled “Godfather of Heavy Metal,” a role he relished on a variety of San Antonio stations until his death from lung cancer at age 55 in 1992. Record collectors who tracked down Joe in the 1980s, attempting to learn something about Harlem, found a disinterested cynic who viewed those days as ancient history.
E.J. Henke soldiered on in both the local record and song-poem ghetto for the rest of his life, occasionally reviving the Harlem label for releases new and old. Henke steadfastly maintained that he had bought out Anthony’s half of the label in 1964; like many of Henke’s claims, this is refuted by Carr, who clearly remembered Joe offering all rights and tapes to Harlem to him in 1969 for $1500. Carr passed.
The last time Carr dealt with Henke was in 1968. Henry had gone to work for Mercury/Smash Records on the West Coast when the Sir Douglas Quintet scored their comeback hit “Mendocino” (on Smash). A phone call arrived one day from somebody with the far-fetched notion of leasing Doug Sahm’s nine-year-old regional hit “Why, Why, Why” to Mercury. The caller was eventually passed to Carr, the only person at Mercury familiar with both the record and the pitchman. “Henke was just an angry guy then,” he recalls. “He sent me strange records he’d produced. And they were terrible records.”
KMAC chart with Henry Carr, November 4, 1960. Why was Bobby Rydell chosen as a Pick Hit? "Rent."
Carr had, in fact, fared better than both of his former acquaintances after Harlem’s demise. After moving to Austin in 1965, where he was involved with that city’s nascent psychedelic music scene, he eventually came to realize that the entertainment industry was never going to blossom in Texas. San Francisco beckoned. “You could come out here and make a living suddenly,” Henry wryly recollects. “In Texas, you could get health insurance if you were a used car salesman, maybe. That was about as low as they would take it. People in the entertainment business didn’t get it. You couldn’t get a bank loan. You couldn’t get anything. Here they give you loans on dreams.”
Carr worked for Mercury Records in California for a few years but eventually drifted away from the music business for more reliable, less trendy areas of show business. “I didn’t survive disco, really,” he says.
It’s virtually a given today that anyone who experienced the California music scene in the late sixties as an emmigre would take a dim view of their local bands or records, wherever that might have been. Henry very sharply disagrees with this notion.
“San Antonio was the best,” he says. “San Antonio was the excitement. It was about the music. And when it ceases to be about the music, it’s not fun. I mean, 800 people at the Tourist Club Ballroom every Sunday to hear a couple of local bands, and a disc jockey who played records when they changed sets – every Sunday. And everybody left there happy. San Francisco was good for poets, but it was not really good for move your body and move your soul music.”
Joe Anthony and Harlem Records must be considered a major aspect of that remarkable time in San Antonio. “Joe was one of the pioneers. He understood progressive radio before there was a term. You’ve got to put him in there with all the other greats of radio, because they brought the music to us. Those were great times.” To Henry Carr, Harlem “was the nicest record company I’ve ever been involved with. Because it was so small, and of course the era – if you had a record company, you were in tall cotton.”
For the teenagers buying Harlem singles, the musicians, and the community at large, it was more than merely a local record label.
“It was part of them.”
This listing covers all known Joe Anthony, Charlie Alvarado, and Henry Carr related labels and releases from 1959 to 1964. Harlem 112 remains unknown to this day. Hour 103 is still a blank, and the Harlem “1000 series” has not yet been worked out to satisfaction. Even with these blanks, this is still the most detailed listing yet published on any San Antonio label of the period.
You Tube video featuring the Lyrics' "Oh Please Love Me."
101 THE LYRICS – Oh Please Love Me / The Girl I Love (August 1959)
One of the strongest debuts on any Texas label from the period, the Lyrics reached as high as #14 on KONO on September 6, 1959. (Chart data from KMAC is irrelevant for obvious reasons.) Unusually, “Oh Please Love Me” was reissued twice, first on the local Wildcat label (who pressed the Harlem singles initially) in 1960, then nationally on Coral in ‘62. Despite being a local hit, finding an original copy in playable condition today is a challenge. Mint copies have sold for $500 or more. Bootlegs probably exist.
Henry: I think the Lyrics played a record hop at the King of Clubs, and Joe told them that we were going to do something. I think we approached him – Abel Martinez. He was the leader of the Lyrics. When asked for label artwork, Joe had none. He asked Walter Evans (Joe’s nightclub act partner) to draw one on the spot. Hence the dice. Lonnie Fairbanks (Wildcat Records) pressed the first ones. Lonnie made his living as the operator of the first modern car wash in San Antonio. He had one press. When the girls were not drying the hood of a Chevy, they would slap a biscuit on and press one out.
102 GARY MIDDLETON Vocal backing: The Excello's – Don’t Be Shy / Pretty Please (1959)
Middleton’s only record, a decent attempt at late ‘50s rock and roll with an unknown vocal group, the Excellos. Repressed in the 1970s for the nascent collector market.
Henry: I think it was the Gary Middleton record that got Henke involved with Joe initially. Doug Sahm was involved there somewhere. Middleton did an Elvis-like act, and that would have been too far beyond Henke’s country roots. We didn’t promote the Middleton record at all.
103 ROYAL EARL AND THE SWINGIN' KOOLS -- Forever Dear / Royal Earl Shuffle (Oct. 1959)
This is the debut of Fort Worth bluesman Earl Bell, better known for his later “Talking Guitar” single. The only Harlem single not to derive from local talent, it was recorded at Sumet Sound Studios in Dallas. Henry believes that Royal Earl was discovered by Lonnie Fairbanks and Tren Dumlao of Wildcat Records, though why they didn’t record him for their own label is unclear.
104 THE LYRICS – The Beating of My Heart / I Want to Know (1959)
The second and last Lyrics single, with a faithful Moonglows cover on the A-side. Carl Henderson sings lead on both sides. Henderson went on to record for Renco locally before moving to California and having a couple of minor hits on Renfro in the mid-‘60s.
Henke repressed Harlem 104 in the '70s; this is usually confused with originals these days. Originals have the "TSS" in the dead wax; the reissue says "Producer: E.J. Henke" on the label and is a LH pressing.
Henry: "The Beating of My Heart" was my favorite of all Lyrics material. Sales were 2,500 to 5,000 copies. The song, when played live at Tourist Club Ballroom’s Sunday afternoon record hop, filled the dance floor with grinding teenagers. The perfect blend of Catholic morality and the emerging youth culture. Scratch Phillips hosted a television program on Monday nights at KMEX – I remember the Lyrics appearing. Scratch was always good to Harlem. He played material by, and promoted, local artists.
KONO charts with the Lyrics and Royal Jesters.
105 THE ROYAL JESTERS Music by Charlie and the Jives --My Angel of Love / Those Dreamy Eyes (January, 1960)
One of the supreme moments in Texas doowop, featuring stellar vocal performances from the original Royal Jesters line-up, including Oscar Lawson on lead. This was also the debut record for Charlie and the Jives, and Charlie’s grinding tenor sax combined with Arnold de la Garza’s distorted guitar provide a perfect counterpoint to the velvet five-part vocal harmony. This first record in the Jesters’ long career is also considered by many to be their best. “My Angel of Love” hit #38 on KONO, February 27, 1960. This has been bootlegged by the doo-wop mafia. Originals are also $500+.
Henry: The Jesters didn’t have a band. Within the Latin community, there was a lot of hostility between bands. The Royal Jesters were right at the top of it. They always traveled in a pack – I don’t know if that was for their safety or not.
106 GEORGE CHAMBERS -- Time / I’ve Tried (c. May, 1960)
Henke asserted himself with this straight country outing – much to Joe and Henry’s chagrin. Charlie Walker played it a few times on KMAC’s country show. Chambers later recorded for Renner, among others. Mastered at ACA on May 3, 1960.
Henry: I’d be surprised if the Chambers or Gary Middleton sold anything. I would think that they were a hundred pressing initially. We couldn’t get ‘em to bite on George Chambers.
107 DOUG SAHM AND THE MAR-KAYS -- Why, Why, Why / DOUG SAHM AND THE PHARAOHS -- If You Ever Need Me (May 1960)
Although Doug Sahm had recorded for Sarg and Henke’s Warrior label prior to this, “Why, Why, Why” was the record that established him. “It was goin’ up the charts when school was out,” Sahm later told Deron Bissett. “It bugged me ‘cause then I couldn’t go to school to say, ‘Hey, look at me, boy.’” This sold well enough in South Texas to attract the attention of Los Angeles disc jockey Hunter Hancock. He reissued it on his Swingin’ label for national distribution, though it probably sold more on Harlem.
Henke repressed this circa 1973. This later pressing omits the band names, inserts a new song publisher (Riviera), and credits himself as producer – even though Henry says E.J. was nowhere near the studio that night. The reissue also has "LH" numbers instead of "TSS" in the dead wax.
Henry: Doug was about 11 when I met him. I was on Johnny Dugan’s Treehouse, which was the kid’s show at WOAI, and he was doing one of the adult shows that came on a little later. (Laughter) Once I went to work for KMAC (years later), we became a bit closer. We would see each other on a regular basis, because I went to work at nine at night, and where else could he go? After midnight, you had to go to the radio stations, because everything else was shut down.
When “Why, Why, Why” broke, we had two options – one was to promote it ourselves. We tried that, and it didn’t work too well. That involved giving Larry Kane (Houston TV host) $500 and 500 records – and making Doug play three shows the same night (in Houston). Three separate record hops during a hurricane. I don’t think he ever forgave me. He made me go with him. We did two out of the three. We were on our way to the third one when Kelley (Sahm’s drummer) drove into the ditch. That ended the television and radio promotion in Houston. The deal was, for the $500, Kane would give you a week’s promotion up to his television program, on the air. So, it was fine. I don’t know whether it sold any records.
Once “Why, Why, Why” became a hit, we made a deal with Hunter Hancock, who had Swingin’ Records (in California). Hunter played it, did fairly well. There was actually money that came back, even on a 50 percent deal. That was kind of the feeding chain. A guy on a small station would make a deal with a guy on a big station, each time giving away a piece of the action.
108 DOUG SAHM AND THE MAR-KAYS -- Baby Tell Me / Sapphire (October 1960)
Recorded July 26, 1960, Sahm’s soundalike follow-up to his hit sold only decently, and received no attention from any national labels. Rocky Morales and the Mar-Kays once again provide backing. By this time the local scene was heating up. As Doug told Billy Miller, “By the time I had ‘Sapphire,’ there were a lot more great bands in town. The competitiveness made you good.”
This was the first Harlem label to state, “A Manhattan Production.” According to Carr, this was another of Joe’s schemes, possibly to keep any money made by Harlem from being seized by authorities because of his affiliation with Henke.
Henry: With a Doug session, you never knew what was going to happen. You never knew what the name of the song was, or what it was going to be. It was just, “Meet me over there (at the studio).” “Okay, Doug.”
Charlie: I’d come into the studio and work with Jeff Smith. I helped him with Doug Sahm, on arrangements. When I was at the Tiffany Lounge (c. 1957), Doug would stop by. He’d play hookey from school, I think, because he was only 14, 15 years old.
Charlie and the Jives.
109 CHARLIE AND THE JIVES -- For the Rest of My Life / Bobby Socks and Tennis Shoes (1961)
Recorded January 13, 1961. The late black guitarist/vocalist Jitterbug Webb, who replaced Arnold de la Garza, shares vocal duties with Charlie Alvarado on “For the Rest of My Life.”
Henry: Charlie Alvarado is the San Antonio equivalent of Johnny Otis. He always had a band that had the style – whatever it was at that point. He could do it, from real Chicano, to Earl Bostic imitations. He knew how to get vocalists. The guys who could truly sing, as soloists, belonged to Charlie. Bobby Taylor, for one. He went on to sign with Motown as Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. It was remarkable to find Taylor in San Antonio. Charlie played the (Air Force) bases, and I think he found his guys there. Because his vocalists lasted awhile, then were gone completely. Never saw ‘em again. As far as what we called Chicano music of that time, I don’t think it got any better than “For the Rest of My Life.” The lyrics were perfect – the pain, oh, the pain!
110 SUNNY AND THE SUN-GLOWS -- From Now On / When I Think of You (February 1961)
Torch ballad b/w stomping rock ‘n roll. Recorded February 6, 1960, but not released until well after Sunny Ozuna hit big locally with “Just a Moment” on Kool that summer.
Henry: Sunny Ozuna really wanted to be on Harlem, but we couldn’t sign him because his parents were too smart for us. So he left, but we (released) his version of “From Now On” anyway. And then Sunny went one direction, and the Sunglows went another one. They went with Sunglow Records.
111 SENSATIONAL HARMONIZERS - Get Your Soul Right/You Ought To Wake Him Up (?) "A Manhattan Production."
Black gospel, probably a custom/vanity release.
Henry believes 112 was possibly a spoken word/comedy single by a stand-up comedian he found at the Eastwood Country Club, Joel Cowan, who played with a group, the Do Re Mi Trio. "They were an Ink Spots type group," according to Henry.
113 DOUG SAHM AND THE DELL-KINGS -- Slow Down / More and More (March 1961)
With solid backing from Frank Rodarte and the Dell-Kings (who grew out of the Pharaohs), Sahm’s “Slow Down” out-rocks Larry Williams’ original and all subsequent versions as well, including the Beatles. Rare promo copies were pressed on yellow vinyl.
Henry: The follow-up to “Why, Why, Why” (“Baby Tell Me”) got airplay throughout the city. It was a successful record, (but) the record that followed (“Slow Down”) sold more than the second one. But we had both KONO and KTSA playing it during the daytime, when people actually listened. (Laughter) They loved it. Every day at 3:30 you could hear it coming out of the cars…coming out of the high schools. The Dell-Kings had no color. There was no race involved. They played at the Town Lounge – that was their standard place. Their crowd was city hall, judges, bailbondsmen, and criminals. It was in the KMAC building, what would you expect? Up the street was the Tiffany Lounge, which had the Lebanese gangsters. The private clubs, like the King of Clubs – that was the Greek guys.
114 THE FABULOUS FLAMES with the Original Sunglows -- I’m Gonna Try to Live My Life All Over / So Long My Darling (April, 1961)
Garnering virtually no attention upon release, over the decades this has become one of the most sought-after and valuable vocal group records on any Texas label, originals going for over $1000. It was reissued as Sunglow 102.
Henry: The Fabulous Flames were a group of James Brown’s Famous Flames that were fired. We found them at Eastwood Country Club. There were three of ‘em: Louis Madison, “G.W.” George Washington – he was killed shortly thereafter – and I’m not sure who the other one was.
115 CHARLIE AND THE JIVES -- Come On / Mercy Baby (May, 1962)
Vocal on the A-side by Jitterbug Webb; B by “Charlie Fiesta” (Alvarado). This release coupling two older recordings (“Come On” was done at the same time as “For the Rest of My Life”) came out virtually simultaneous to Charlie’s third single on Hour, “The Coffee Grind.” While this move suggests Henke reappearing back on the scene and hastily releasing older recordings, Charlie has no memory of this (indeed, he has no recollection of Henke at all).
Charlie: They wanted to put Charlie Fiesta on there because I was playing at the Fiesta Ballroom. I got after their butt for that.
116 DOUG SAHM Music by: SPOT BARNETT -- Just a Moment / Sapphire
Recorded February 16, 1961. Despite Henke’s assertion that this was pressed on Harlem (which I repeated in my notes to San Antonio Rock), no copies have turned up, and the general consensus now is that it never got beyond having the labels printed. Henke instead pawned the masters off on Abe Epstein, who released it on his Cobra label in 1963 with the Harlem catalogue number (presumably just to confuse future collectors).
117 BIG BUD HARPER (with) O.S. GRANT AND THE DOWNBEATS I've Just Got to Forget You / Never Let Me Go "A Twin Spin Production" A&R Datty White
Blues shouter Big Bud Harper was a San Antonio mainstay, appearing locally with groups like Mike and the Bel-Airs and Spot Barnett from the mid-fifties onward. The Downbeats, a black group from Gonzales, had previously recorded for Sarg and scored a big hit in San Antonio with “Darling of Mine” on that label in 1960. Carr recalls that this was recorded at the same session as Sahm’s “Just a Moment.” Original copies are rare.
118 CHISHOLM GANG Anita / Kansas City (1973)
Mediocre lounge rock, typical of Henke’s later efforts, that sounds like it was recorded many years before it was pressed. The highest number known in the 100 series.
1002 THE MAR-VELLS Tonight / Wobble Trot
A good little ballad from a San Antonio group. The Mar-Vells were: Luis Arispe (vocals), Robert Garcia (Guitar), Joe Sutherland and Mike (saxes), Richard Garcia (bass), Richard Mendez (drums).
The Harlem “1000 Series” is so obscure that only two releases have been documented so far. It could be that Henke used this series for custom pressings on a variety of labels, as T-Bird 1003 by local band Bobby Shannon and the T-Birds (1964) has “HM” matrix numbers.
1005 PAUL RAMOUS Fencewalk / Fifteen Miles from Provo
Soul, probably from the late 60s or 70s.
Blue Star 101 Denny Ezba and the Goldens - I’ve Been a Fool For You / Don’t Leave Me Like This (1960)
Recorded at Texas Sound on August 22, 1960. Henke insisted that this single existed, as does Carr, though it may have been pressed in a quantity as few as 100. Hopefully, a few have survived in collections, though it has been impossible to verify this. Anthony probably thought Ezba was “too pop” for Harlem.
Henry: This was one more offshoot with Harlem… a one time release, a special project. A custom pressing through Jeff Smith. Silver label. I remember we charged Ezba $200, and I think we made $100 on the deal.
"San Antonio's popular new combo, the Goldens, making their recording debut with a tune called 'I've Been a Fool for You.'" -- San Antonio Light, Sept. 1, 1960.
Hour 101 Charlie and the Jives – I’m Leaving It Up to You / Scratchy, Part 7 (1961)
Joe Anthony’s first move after dropping Harlem was establishing Hour with Charlie Alvarado. Both showed a remarkable sense of the teenage market by reviving this old Don and Dewey non-hit, recorded at Texas Sound on May 4, 1961. A lot of teeth-grinding must have occurred after Dale and Grace took an inferior version of the same song to #1 on the pop charts, two years after the Jives’ version.
Carr was still lurking in the background, though he would soon be drafted.
Henry: Hour (was inspired by) Minit Records (out of New Orleans). So we were going to have Hour. It took very little to amuse us.
Charlie: I got the recording bug, because every time they played my records on the radio, I felt good. We were trying to sell (lease) these records to somebody else. Like Atlantic, or whoever.
Hour 102 Bobby Taylor with Charlie and the Jives – Seven Steps to an Angel / Ubangi Stomp (1961)
Possibly the first record in Bobby Taylor’s long career, which later included stints at Motown and VIP. Hour 102 features a take-off on the Moonglows’ “Ten Commandments of Love” as the A-side flipped with a dance floor shaker – no relation to Warren Smith’s rockabilly tune on Sun.
Charlie: These guys had a little group at Ft. Sam (Air Force base), four singers. Bobby Taylor was one of them. They sang real good together. But the other guys were about to get discharged and go back home. Bobby said he didn’t have nobody to go to. I said, “Well, if you want a job, you can stay here.” That’s the way Bobby started playing with me. He did about a year with us.
Henry: "Seven Steps to an Angel" was a Randy Garibay knock-off of the Moonglows’ tune. Paul Gayten – Chess’s traveling promo man at the time – wanted 50% of the publishing. I don't think that we filed any.
Hour 103 Untraced
Hour 104 Charlie and the Jives (vocal by Benny Easley) – The Coffee Grind (Part 1) / The Coffee Grind (Part 2) (April 1962)
Hank Ballard and the Midnighters covers with black vocalist, Benny Easley.
Ebony 1000 Matt “T.I.” Madison and the Minit Men – Please Don’t / Don’t Make Me Cry
Yet another Joe Anthony label. A tape box in Henke’s possession credited the vocalist as Matt Mattison, rather than “Madison.” His identity remains mysterious, as is the “A&R” credit to Joe Anthony’s boyfriend, Charlie Woods.
Henry: Ebony Music (BMI) was created for Hour records. Joe had a Friday night, midnight to 4 am record hop at Club Ebony. Spot Barnett was the house band. I remember Mattison (Minit Men…we were awestruck by the Cosimo sound)…
Master 101 Spot Barnett Combo – Black Cherry (Twist) / Pony Ride (1961)
San Antonio saxophone great Vernon “Spot” Barnett’s signing with Harlem Records was announced in January, 1961, but his brief association with the label only resulted in this disappointing instrumental outing and Sahm’s “Just a Moment” session.
World’s 123 Benny Easely (sic – Easley) with Charlie and the Jives – Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye / You Say You Love Me
Bobby Bland Duke/Peacock homage with strong guitar.
Taste – Charlie and the Jives – Besame Mucho / Gilbert’s Rollin’
Charlie: We had an arrangement for “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck. We didn’t have a piano, so the guitarist did the part. We also did a lot of Spanish numbers, like the bolero, “Besame Mucho.” At that time I had James Kelley on bass, Jitterbug Webb on guitar, and Eddie “Pineapple” Marconi on the drums. I told them I wanted to do “Besame Mucho” in E minor, just like we did “Take Five.” And I want the 5/4 tempo on it. And Jitterbug and James said, almost at the same time, “Charlie, are you crazy?” But it came out real pretty.
Sound Tex 641209
Tom Swift and his Electric Grandmothers - Empty Heart / Come On In
The folk-blues aesthetic drunkenly collides with the British Invasion on this December, 1964 epiphany from Henry Carr and friends. If notable for nothing else, the Electric Grandmothers (no electric instruments are present) enjoy the dubious distinction of being among the first groups in the U.S. to record a cover of any Rolling Stones record. Though "Empty Heart" only has about 12 words, the group can't remember them and improvises their own.
Despite a stellar cast – future Conqueroo guitarist Charlie Prichard, singer Michael Martin Murphey, Austin artist Mark Weakley, and Henry on jug – this is actually not as interesting as it looks, coming across as an unfunny folk parody of the Rolling Stones. One hundred copies were pressed, and that certainly was enough in this case.
Carr, Houston White, and Gary Scanlon would revive the “Electric Grandmother” name two years later for their Austin light show company, and it appears on a couple of 13th Floor Elevators posters from the late 1966-early 1967 period.
Henry: That’s a Jeff Smith custom press. I think we sold half-dozen or so. There was a disc jockey who was kind enough to play this over and over. He was a friend of Jeff’s.
By that time I was working at the San Antonio Express-News. Of those on the session, three of them worked at the newspaper with me. My brother, Bill Carr, David Price – who went on to work with the Monkees later. And I might have gotten Charlie Prichard a job with the paper. He was definitely a part of the band. Mike Murphey (Michael Martin Murphey)…He went to North Texas, but was down visiting. He was a friend. Mark Weakley was the rich kid in the back with the fancy guitar.
Jeff said, “What are you going to call this?” Well, what are you going to say? You’ve got a bunch of people who were stoned and drunk and have stumbled down the hill because they had nothing better to do, and it sounded pretty good at the house. “Let’s run down and make a record.” You can do it with computers now, but then it required five drunken people in one car.
Joseph Anthony Yannuzzi
b. October 9, 1936 Bexar County TX
d. Sept 12, 1992 Bexar County TX
Thanks to Henry Carr, Charlie Alvarado, Mike Myers, and Doug Hanners for helping with this article.