Henry Stone died recently. If you don’t know who Henry Stone was, suffice to say that he was one of the last of the great record men. In some quarters he was known as the King of Independent Records. In the ’70s he ran the largest independent label in the world, TK Productions. TK was the biggest label in an empire that included more than 100 record labels over the years.
Making money was important to Stone but unlike many other record men of his time, Stone paid his artists what they were owed, and made a lot of money for a lot of musicians. Nearly everyone who worked with him held him in the highest regard. Stone produced early recordings by James Brown and Ray Charles. He was determined to erase the color line by bringing black music to white audiences. His credits are far too numerous to go into here, but Google his name and learn more about his amazing career.
In 1974 KC and the Sunshine Band were on their way to becoming one of the biggest bands in the world, the band that put TK Productions on the map. Band members Harry Casey and Richard Finch had written and recorded a song with the band, but when it came time to record the vocals, they found that they couldn’t hit the high notes. They wanted to give the song to Gwen McRae, but when Gwen was late to the session, her husband George stepped in, and made history.
George was from West Palm Beach and had a group called the Jivin’ Jets before going into the Navy in 1963. When he got out he put the band back together, adding Gwen to the lineup. Eventually the couple decided to record as a duo, and made a deal with Stone’s Alston Records. Gwen finally went solo, with George acting as her manager and singing with her on sessions and in clubs. He was about to go back to college to study law enforcement when he heard from Casey and Finch.
The song that Casey and Finch wrote, “Rock Your Baby,” went on to sell 11 million copies, and sat atop both the US and UK charts. It is widely considered to be one of the first smashes of the disco era. Rolling Stone named “Rock Your Baby” the #1 song of the year for 1974, and McCrae got a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocalist.
McCrae’s next single, “I Can’t Leave You Alone,” was a Top Ten hit on the R&B chart in 1974. Subsequent singles achieved success on the R&B chart including “I Get Lifted” which made it to #8 in 1975. That single was also Top 40 on the Pop chart. “Look at You,” and “Honey I” also had some crossover chart success. McCrae continued to manage his wife’s career, and tour with her until the couple got a divorce in 1976.
Gwen McCrae may have missed the boat with “Rock Your Baby,” but in 1975 she had a smash hit of her own with the answer song “Rockin’ Chair.” The record went to #1 on the R&B chart and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
George McCrae got married again and moved to Canada, finally leaving TK at the end of the decade. There was an album called One Step Closer in 1984 that made some chart noise in Europe. Perhaps it was that chart success that convinced McCrae to move to the Netherlands where he got married again. In recent years he has split his time between that home and others in Florida and Aruba.
Henry Stone’s family continues to maintain a website where you can acquire much of the great music that Stone was involved in. A documentary film about Stone’s life and career is in the works and you can see a trailer for it at the site.