Danny Adler has rewritten Cincinnati music history. The native-Cincinnati musician secretly made a new recording in the long-defunct King Records studio, where so many classic R&B and C&W tracks were cut.
By his account, it was like Indiana Jones entering a dark, forbidding, sacrosanct tomb – armed with an acoustic guitar.
Forty-one years after King in 1971 shut down its Brewster Avenue operations in Evanston, following the 1968 death of founder Syd Nathan, Adler brought it back to life for at least a few hours. He wanted to be the man who recorded the Last Session on Brewster.
He had an assistant, audio and video engineer/producer Bill Gwynne, who was running LED spotlights, two cameras and portable sound equipment through a four-channel mixer connected by cable to his car’s cigarette lighter.
Adler got in by finding a key for the attached lock. He took care to find the exact place in the building, which housed several King operations, where the studio was. There, he and Gwynne erected a standing platform of old linoleum pieces, railroad ties and fallen acoustic tile so Adler could keep his feet out of water while playing.
This was on an afternoon in October 2012. “This is probably, unfortunately, the last recording in King studios,” Adler spoke into the microphone, his voice carrying a slight echo: “I’m standing in what’s left of the old King studios in Cincinnati, Ohio.”
He covered several R&B classics released by King in its 1940s-1960s heyday: Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” the “5” Royales’ “Say It,” James Brown’s “Cold Sweat,” and Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night.”
He had a little trouble keeping the guitar in tune, but his playing was supple and bluesy, as it has been throughout a long and generally underappreciated career that has seen him work with many greats of blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. And while his 66-year-old voice was not youthful, it was respectful and warm.
He also recorded one song not familiar to any King aficionado other than himself – “Smile at the Sundial,” which he wrote and auditioned at King back in 1968. He has loved that record company’s R&B, blues and funk – and wanted to play music like it – since he was a teenager.
Working on his own, and splitting his time between recording here and being a Michigan-based train engineer, it took Adler quite awhile to edit and prepare “Last Session on Brewster: Trespassin’ at King Records Studio” for commercial release.
But it became available earlier this year as a combined 30-minute DVD of that session and a 78-minute CD of its audio combined with 13 other Cincinnati-related songs recorded live or in the studio between 1977 and last year. Digital copies are at iTunes; physical ones via www.cdbaby.com or at Shake It and Everybody’s Records.
It has had a special screening sponsored by Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, and that non-profit organization cited Adler’s quest this month when it and the Bootsy Collins Foundation asked the city’s Historic Conservation Office to recognize the King complex.
(The building housing the old studio is owned by Dynamic Industries, which did not return calls.)
Growing up on Red Bud Avenue in Avondale in the 1950s and 1960s, the son of Thomas and Emily Adler, Adler developed two great loves – popular music and trains.
As a youth, Adler took to guitar, rock ‘n’ roll and the African-American roots music that inspired the latter. And in 1963, a family friend invited him to visit the King studio. “I said I would definitely like that because when I listened to records, I’d close my eyes and wonder what it looked like where they were playing,” Adler recalled in an interview.
He was writing songs and practicing guitar, and around 1965 he started to play with much older Cincinnati blues veterans in clubs. That was in the summers – because he placed music over academics, his parents had to send him to a boarding school in Massachusetts so he could graduate high school.
At the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Adler played music in the Bay Area and was briefly part of a New York-based rock band called Elephant’s Memory.
With nothing much happening, he went to England and found work as a session guitarist. It was through those connections that he formed a groove-oriented band called Roogalator primarily with British musicians in 1972. The band lucked into one of those new pop-music trends that perennially sweep Great Britain – pub-rock.
Roogalator became a favorite of John Peel, an influential announcer on BBC Radio 1, and recorded some live sessions with him. That in turn led to a 1976 single – “All Aboard/Cincinnati Fatback” – on Stiff Records, the upstart label that was eventually to have such famous acts as Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and Nick Lowe.
Roogalator’s contribution came early – it was just Stiff’s third single – and pub rock ultimately didn’t make the impression that Stiff’s later punk and New Wave records did. But it still earned a devoted following – “Cincinnati Fatback” was a funky, rollicking, good-naturedly randy tribute to his hometown.
“ ‘Cincinnati Fatback’ and ‘All Aboard’ were our flag-wavers,” Adler said. “The record’s always been popular – it’s sold about 100,000 plus, more than anything else I’ve ever done.”
Adler went on to spend the better part of the 1970s and 1980s in England and Europe, recording with his own Danny Adler Band and Rocket 88, a blues-revivalist band with Charlie Watts and Ian Stewart of the Rolling Stones. He created a mini-scandal by posing as an old-time blues veteran, Otis Elevator Gilmore. And he also learned to be a fireman on steam locomotives, which opened up a new career for him when he returned to the States for good in 1990.
Adler in 2006 he started making his archival recordings available through iTunes. Besides Last Session, there’s another new recording, Danny Adler 2014, also sold in hard copy at CD Baby and the two local record stores. More are coming. “Once I got rolling, I was inspired to start writing and recording new stuff,” Adler said.