Cliffie Stone Family Photos
Cliffie and Ken Nelson, who came to visit Cliffie at his ‘Rolling Stone Ranch.’ They spent most of the afternoon talking about their years together at Capitol Records in Hollywood. Since Cliffie was once a Capitol recording artist himself, he liked and respected Ken’s attitude about him and all the recording artists under his wing, which Ken shared with Jonny Whiteside when he was being interviewed for Rose Maddox’s bio: “When I take an artist, I feel responsible for him. His whole life may depend on what I arrange for him. That’s why I never believe in selling the record – I believe in selling the artist.” After I took the photo of Ken and Cliffie, I told Ken that years ago I had worked in Capitols’ A&R department and that my desk was between David Cavanaugh’s office and his office. He was always a gentleman and I think he was just being polite when he said that he remembered me. Regardless, my memory of Ken was how pre-occupied and totally focused he was every single day as he busily rushed around attending music meetings with A&R people such as Nick Venet and Al DeLory and meetings with country acts such as Merle Haggard and Buck Owens (who usually came with his musician buddy, Don Rich) – not to mention all the recording sessions he was overseeing! To learn about his and Cliffie’s business associations and friendship was fascinating for me. A mini-bio of Ken: In 1911, he was born in Caledonia, MN. As a youngster, he learned how to play the piano and when he was fourteen years old, he made his radio debut as a singer. During Ken’s teenage years, he played and sang in several bands and one of the musicians that he became good friends with was Lee Gillette. By the time Ken was in his mid-twenties, he was hired by radio station WAAF in Chicago in various capacities. Since he had an interest in classical music, he became the announcer for Chicago Symphony Orchestra broadcasts. Later, he became WAAF’s music director. In this time frame, New York was the biggest radio market in the United States; since Chicago’s radio market was country music’s broadcasting center, it was the second largest (Nashville’s radio broadcasting wasn’t quite established yet). Ken not only performed on the air, he was also involved in business decisions behind-the-scenes and, consequently, he was making quite a reputation for himself. When he was twenty nine, he was hired by Chicago’s WJJD and WIND radio stations and he created a program called, ‘The Suppertime Frolic’ which became a very popular music showcase. He then started producing several music feature programs every week and one of them was a hillbilly showcase segment. Part of his responsibilities was to audition performers and to schedule them for the showcase program. Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, Ken’s friend, Lee Gillette, was making quite a name for himself too. Around 1944, Johnny Mercer and several friends got together and they founded Capitol Records; and Lee was one of their producers. In 1946, Lee called Ken to see if he was interested in working for Capitol. Ken was and his first job with Capitol was being Head of Capitol’s Transcription Department; one of his responsibilities was cutting sides intended exclusively for radio airplay. It was in this time frame that Ken, Lee and Cliffie formed their partnership in a publishing company called Central Songs. Cliffie oversaw it because he was a major manager (Tennessee Ernie Ford), a producer, and a country artist who also had his own radio shows. He knew the country music landscape on the West Coast and artists, musicians and songwriters respected and loved him. When Ernie’s ’Sixteen Tons’ became a worldwide hit, Cliffie hired Joe Allison to run the Los Angeles office and Charlie Williams to run his Nashville office. Central Songs had quite an array of award-winning hit songs in their catalog, which included: “Foolin’ Around” (Buck Owens & Harlan Howard); “Under Your Spell Again” (Buck Owens & Dusty Rhodes); “Wrong Time to Leave Me, Lucille” (R. Bowling & H. Bynum); “Five Hundred Miles” (Bobby Bare & Charlie Williams); “Under the Influence of Love” (Buck Owens & Harlan Howard); “He’ll Have to Go” (Jim Reeves/Joe & Audrey Allison; “Loose Talk” (Freddie Hart & Ann Lucas); “Only Daddy that’ll Walk the Line” (Waylon Jennings/Ivy Bryant); “Together Again” (Buck Owens); “Maggie” (Stan Freberg); “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” (Little Jimmy Dickens/Neal Merritt). (Note: Lee, Ken and Cliffie sold Central Songs in the late-1960s to Capitol Records. In 1969, EMI bought Keith Prowse Music Publishing as well as Central Songs. In 1974, EMI merged their acquired publishing companies - Ardmour, Keith Prowse, Beechwood, and Central Songs - into one publishing company.) Around the 1950 time frame, Lee Gillette became the head of Capitol’s Pop Division (he produced albums for stars such as Peggy Lee). Ken then became the head of Capitol’s Country Division. During this time period, Cliffie always kept his eyes and ears open for new potential country artists who Cliffie felt had talent, and he’d inform Ken. However, it was Ken Nelson who was responsible for the recording careers of countless country artists and their songs which charted on Billboard’s Country Charts – especially their number one hit songs. Many of them became super stars - namely Buck Owens & His Buckaroos (who created the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ and Merle Haggard who was also associated with it.) In the 1950’s, Ken signed comedy star, Stan Freberg, and produced most of his comedy recordings such as ‘St. George and the Dragonet.’ Excerpts from Cliffie’s songwriting book: “In 1946, I switched hats and I left Capitol Records as a producer and signed as an artist with Capitol myself. During my years as an artist, I’m proud to say that I had four hit singles that charted on the Billboard Country Charts: In March 1947, “Silver Stars, Purple Sage, Eyes of Blue” – peaked at #4; in March 1948, “Peepin’ Through the Keyhole” – also peaked at #4; August 1948, “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” – peaked at #11; August 1955, “The Popcorn Song” – peaked at #14. I owe a lot of my recording success to Ken Nelson, a man who would make a big dent in the country field for Capitol Records. When he became the head of Capitol’s A&R Department and Country Music Division, it started growing and flourishing under his guiding light and continued to do so for years to come. He oversaw the production of talented country artists such as Tex Ritter, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Rose Maddox, Hank Thompson, Freddie Hart, Roy Clark, Ferlin Husky, Tommy Collins, Linda Ronstadt, Glen Campbell, Cliffie Stone and the list goes on. In my own private Country Music Hall of Fame, Ken’s name stands out like a neon sign.” Sadly, Cliffie didn’t live to see his prediction come true for his good friend/business associate, but Ken Nelson did live to see it come true. In 2001, Ken was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame!

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