Recently the city of Cincinnati, Ohio erected a plaque at 811 Race Street to commemorate the former site of Herzog Studios where the great Hank Williams recorded his first mega-hit â€œLovesick Bluesâ€ in December 1948. At the time of his first recording session in Cincinnati, Hank had already enjoyed some success in the field of Country music. But it was â€œLovesick Bluesâ€ that would catapult him to super-stardom. Several other tunes were recorded at that legendary first session and Hank returned to Herzog Studio in 1949 to record many more including the classic â€œIâ€™m So Lonesome I Could Cryâ€.
On an unseasonably warm Sunday in November, early afternoon sunlight cheered the gathering crowd as they crammed the downtown sidewalk and soon spilled out on to Race Street. Police officers on bicycles smiled and cheerfully directed traffic around the throng as the unveiling ceremony began a little past 1pm.
After some mercifully brief remarks from local politicians and city council members, the crowd was addressed by Elliott Ruther of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation. Ruther spoke eloquently about the foundationâ€™s efforts to recognize the historic recordings made in Cincinnati. Just last year the city erected a marker on the former site of the legendary King Records, a long-overdue gesture that led directly to the discovery of the historic recordings made at Herzog Studio.
Librarian/historian Brian Powers selflessly dedicated several monthsâ€™ worth of his free time to investigative research, unearthing much information that was previously unknown to even the most ardently dedicated local music buffs. Before launching King Records, Powers explained, Syd Nathan took to recording Country music when he recognized a demand for it at the downtown record store he owned. After an ill-fated test run in an amateur studio north of Cincinnati in Dayton, Ohio, Nathan soon realized he was going to have to find a better studio closer to home. Forging a partnership with local radio engineer E.T. â€œBuckyâ€ Herzog who subsequently opened the Race Street recording facility, Nathan ushered many top-notch Country Music performers through the door of Herzog Studio including the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, and, eventually, Hank Williams. The record shows, astonishingly, that Bud Herzog and Syd Nathan recorded Country music in Cincinnati, Ohio before anyone did in Nashville.
Herzog Studios Photo Gallery
After making a grand entrance at the ceremony by arriving in a gleaming white vintage Rolls Royce, Funk legend Bootsy Collins took his turn at the microphone. Addressing the crowd and exchanging good-natured barbs with local icon Jim Tarbell, Bootsy applauded the cityâ€™s efforts and likened recent developments to the writing of a song. â€œWe are the ones on the one! Now letâ€™s take it to the bridge!â€ Beginning with a stint as James Brownâ€™s bass player when he was still in his teens and continuing through his many years with Funkadelic, Parliament, his own Rubber Band and dozens of solo efforts and side projects, Bootsy has always maintained close ties with his hometown Cincinnati. He is ubiquitous on the local scene and can often be spotted in his typically garish attire on the sideline at many UC Bearcatsâ€™ and Cincinnati Bengalsâ€™ home games.
Tarbell, who booked dozens of acts into Cincinnatiâ€™s legendary Ludlow Garage in the late 60s and early 70s including the Allman Brothers, the MC5, Captain Beefheartâ€™s Magic Band, and countless others, was just one of many representatives of Cincinnatiâ€™s local music scene. Among the local luminaries in the crowd were Billy Alletzhauser of Indie-Folk phenom The Hiders, Mark Utley of Roots Country purveyors Magnolia Mountain, world-renowned Boogie Woogie piano master Ricky Nye, legendary King Records session drummer Phillip Paul, prolific local troubadour Jake Speed, and former Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley snaking through the throng taking pictures with a digital camera. It was the high caliber of Cincinnatiâ€™s musicians that first led Hank Williams here in the late 40s. The incredibly talented crowd on hand for the unveiling ceremony on this day was evidence that the city can still lay claim to a diverse and vibrant music scene on a par with any other city on the planet. This writer found it quite refreshing to see musicians representing numerous styles and genres in attendance at the unveiling. Also on hand were members of the Nathan and Herzog families. Debbie Delmore, daughter of Alton Delmore of the Delmore Brothers, came up from her home in Alabama to participate in the ceremony.
One side of the two-sided marker commemorates Hank, while the other recognizes the many other influential recordings done at Herzog. The original recording of â€œFoggy Mountain Breakdownâ€ by Flatt & Scruggs was cut here, as well as many seminal sides by R&B shouter Bull Moose Jackson. Jackson was responsible for the original recording of â€œBig Ten Inch Recordâ€, which was later covered by Aerosmith on their 1975 LP, Toys In The Attic.
After the unveiling of the marker, the cheering throng was invited to come inside for a small reception on the 2nd floor in the former site of Herzog Studio. Ed Cunningham, another titan of the local music scene, led his Bluegrass All Stars through a spectacular set of songs that were originally recorded in this room many years ago. There was a palpable sense of history coursing through the room on the wings of the music as Cunningham and crew performed ON THE VERY SPOT WERE HANK STOOD when he recorded here all those many years ago.
The crowd jammed the room, signed the guestbook, helped themselves to a free BBQ buffet, and worked their way around the room to check out the many historical photographs that lined the walls. Close inspection of the photographic evidence on display revealed that Herzog Studio, active between 1945 and 1955, also produced recordings by Patti Page, Rex Allen, Homer & Jethro, and The Delmore Brothers.
Bootsy Collins addresses the crowd
Photos by Chuck Madden
Words by Ric Hickey