Willie Clarke on the Rise and Fall of TK Records
Photo by Jacob Katel TK Records' Willie Clarke, Clarence Reid, Chocolate Perry, George McCrae, Timmy Thomas, Little Beaver, Jimmie Bo Horne, Paul Lewis, Latimore, Henry Stone, and Steve Alaimo.
In the 1970's TK Productions was 10 times more powerful than Cash Money Records is today. Company President Henry Stone had more artists, more hits, greater distribution, and more sales. But when 1980 hit it all came crashing down and the company went bankrupt.
One of his first million selling records of the 1970's was called "Cleanup Woman."
Clarence "Blowfly" Reid and Willie "Deep City" Clarke wrote the song, Willie "Little Beaver" Hale composed its unforgettable triple guitar line, Ron Bogdon played the bass, and little Betty Wright sang the hell out of it.
Stone's ears heard a hit, so he paid off all the local DJ's to play it on their radio shows. The reaction from the public was immediate. They all rushed to record stores to buy it.
Stone pressed up more copies of the single, paid off key DJ's in New York and Florida, and got the same huge reaction. So he called up his old buddy Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records, made a deal to lease the single to him for national distribution, and it became a million seller.
But Henry Stone wasn't just recording, he was also a powerhouse distributor. Instead of just putting records out in his official territory of Florida, which was only 2% of the national buying market, he would order more records than the state could handle, pay less per disc than everybody else in the country, and sell outside his turf in places like Philly, Detroit, New York, and Chicago.
By leasing his own music to Atlantic, he'd found a way for someone else to pay the cost of massive manufacturing, and by transshipping he was making money on both sides of the deal, as a label, and as a distributor.
When Atlantic put a stop to it by forming their own distribution network in the early 70's, Stone countered by going into the manufacturing business himself and using his distribution contacts to move albums nationwide, and more importantly, around the world. He started TK Productions, released Timmy Thomas's "Why Can't We Live Together," and began a 25 Gold Record run that saw his company ship more than 150 million pieces.
His biggest act was KC & The Sunshine Band (who wrote all their own music). But Willie Clarke and Clarence Reid had a hand in almost everything else, which were thousands of sides cut by mostly local artists, thus cementing TK's position as the originator of the "Miami Sound."