Henry Stone: The 'Godfather of the Miami Sound', known for his work with George McCrae, Timmy Thomas and Anita Ward

 

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The Independent Online

The music mogul Henry Stone put Miami on the map in the 1970s with a sequence of worldwide smashes, including "Why Can't We Live Together" by Timmy Thomas, "Rock Your Baby" by George McCrae, "That's the Way (I Like It)" by KC and the Sunshine Band and "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward.

They were issued on some of the 100 or so labels he launched and distributed over a career spanning more than six decades. Known as the Godfather of the Miami Sound, he helped Ray Charles and James Brown gain a foothold in the emerging rhythm and blues market in the 1950s and had a penchant for "$50 handshakes" that convinced disc-jockeys to play his records.

Born Henry Epstein in 1921, he was placed in a New York orphanage as his mother struggled to cope with his two siblings following the death of his father. Attracted to the trumpet by the sound of Louis Armstrong, he took up the instrument and joined an integrated band while serving in the Army during the Second World War. "That's where I got my feel for the blues," he said. "Playing with the black musicians."

In 1947, he changed his surname to Stone and moved to Los Angeles, where he promoted releases on the Jewel and Modern labels before relocating to Miami. The distribution company and recording studio he established there grew into an independent operation, employing over 100 people, including the studio engineer Terry Kane, whose initials inspired Stone's most successful company, TK Records.

Among the others who worked there were Richard Finch and Harry Wayne Casey, the co-founders of KC and the Sunshine Band, whose run of irresistible mid-to-late 1970s US chart-toppers started with "Get Down Tonight", ended with "Please Don't Go" and also included "Boogie Shoes", one of two tracks the canny Stone leased to the Saturday Night Fever movie and soundtrack.

Indeed, TK became as synonymous with disco as the Bee Gees, to whom Stone had sold the building that became their Miami studio, though his company didn't survive the inevitable backlash and closed down in 1981, just after releasing "Rapp Payback (Where Iz Moses)" by James Brown. However, Stone enjoyed further success with the electro-funk group Newcleus in the 1980s and with 2 Live Jews, the comedy hip-hop duo fronted by one of his sons in the 1990s.

The wheeler-dealer extraordinaire behind 1970s hits by Betty Wright ("Clean Up Woman"), Benny Latimore ("Let's Straighten It Out"), Gwen McCrae ("Rockin' Chair") and the first million-selling 12" vinyl single, Peter Brown's "Do Ya Wanna Get Funky With Me", is the subject of a documentary entitled Rock Your Baby, currently in the final stages of post-production. It tells the remarkable story of an entrepreneur who also worked with the Allman Brothers, Mudcrutch, the forerunner of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and who, as he put it, just "wanted to funk up the world. I loved to make records."

Pierre Perrone

Henry David Epstein, aka Henry Stone, music entrepreneur: born New York 3 June 1921; twice married (two sons, five daughters); died Miami 7 August 2014.

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