Tag Archives: Hal Neely

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Epilogue

Epilogue

The intention of this biography was not to evoke pity for a man with a successful career whose final years were not lived in the same economic circumstances as the vast majority of his life. While others of his music contemporaries may have had more creature comforts, none were surrounded by warmer friendships.
While actual court records do not support Neely’s claim of a lawsuit, the underlying feelings about James Brown are nevertheless true. Brown was sued over royalties by an agent, but that agent was Ben Bart and not Hal Neely. Bart’s son Jack said Brown had a habit of “using, abusing and discarding” people throughout his career.1 Both Neely and Bart provided Brown with more than their expertise in the music business; they became surrogate fathers to him who consoled and counseled him during the rough times of his life.
One theme repeated by the many people who moved through Neely’s life was his generosity to artists coming up through the industry and to ordinary people he casually met along the way. Many people related their Neely stories with a smile and a tear. Some thought his generosity was a weakness in business, and perhaps it was. Better to be remembered as someone with a big, foolish heart than as a successful bastard.
As Neely himself said in his last interview, “The human brain remembers the good things…the good times…it rationalizes the rest.”
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Rarely are people privileged to help another person fulfill the dying wish of a dear friend. I thank Roland Hanneman for allowing me to help keep his promise to Hal Neely to have his memoirs completed. Roland spent many hours with me relating Hal’s stories and supplying names of other friends and acquaintances to fill in the enigmatic blanks of Hal’s life. I also thank Roland for introducing me to Hal at his nursing home so I could interview him for a local newspaper article the year before his passing. Roland’s devotion to his friend inspires me to be a better person.
Dr. Art Williams graciously spent several hours telling me about Hal’s years in Nashville and in Florida and providing valuable insights into Hal’s life and the inner workings of the music industry.
Some of Hal’s most vivid memories are of his second wife Victoria Wise and of her beauty. She agreed to meet me at a Tampa restaurant in 2011. I had seen only one photograph of her so I was concerned I would not recognize her, but when she walked in the door I instantly knew this was the woman who had enthralled Hal many years ago. I thank her for sharing her personal memories and for being the first person to challenge Hal’s claim he had sued James Brown in 2005. Victoria has recently remarried and I wish her all the happiness in the world.
I also appreciate the time and information from Al Nicholson, Buddy Winsett, Vic McCormick, Abe Guillermo, Sarah Nachin, and Bruce Snow whom I interviewed in Florida. I thank Ellen Paul of Brooksville, Florida, for her editing skills in preparing the final draft of this biography.
Those who spoke to me by telephone who provided assistance were Jack Bart, John Rumble, and Brian Powers. Mr. Rumble and Mr. Powers were kind enough to send me information from the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Cincinnati Public Library which proved invaluable.
Equally important were the e-mail communications shared with Mr. Bart, Randy McNutt, William Lawless, Nathan Gibson, John Broven, Cliff White, and Mike Stoller. Mr. Lawless, as Hal’s attorney, confirmed there had never been a lawsuit against James Brown. Mr. Gibson revealed hard feelings among Starday-King staff toward Hal. Mr. Stoller discounted Hal’s claim that he lost a coin toss and thereby lost his position at the Tennessee Recording Company. Mr. Stoller was the only celebrity who replied to my requests for information. As I said in my e-mail to him, I enjoyed his music and respected him for being a gracious human being.
In closing I thank my wife Janet for her memories about her grandmother’s fascination with Oral Robert’s radio program and about how she had ordered the small vial of Jordan River water which actually came from Hal Neely’s tap at home.

Epilogue
1 Bart Interview.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Thirty-Three


Brooksville, Florida, Hal Neely’s last home
Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into Syd Nathan’s King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle. Eventually he became one of the owners of Starday-King, until the other owners bought him out. He found himself sitting further back in music industry room. He eventually moved to Florida.

Brooksville, Florida, became Hal Neely’s best friend; both the town and the man were old, mellow, and had come to terms with their pasts. This friendship came about by accident. In 2005 Hanneman was returning to his home in Orlando from an appointment in Tampa when he took a wrong highway and wound up in this small town with old homes and streets canopied with Spanish moss-strewn oak trees. Brooksville’s out-of-the-way serenity struck a chord with Hanneman so he decided to build a house there. He realized that Neely’s health was failing and wanted him to move to Brooksville, too. After his doctor confirmed his condition, Neely agreed to give Hanneman power of attorney. At first he lived in a small apartment but soon moved to an assisted living facility called Tangerine Cove, a block from the old brick courthouse.1
Brooksville was founded in 1856, and citizens decided to name the town in honor of U.S. Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina after Brooks took a cane to U.S. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts during an impassioned debate on slavery. Sumner made a disparaging remark about Brooks’ uncle, which provoked the gentleman from South Carolina to attack the older man from Massachusetts. Sumner took refuge under his desk as Brooks repeatedly swung his cane at him. Finally Sumner tried to crawl from the chamber but Brooks continued his assault. Blood stained the marble floor of Congress. Everyone in the north was horrified. Some historians pointed to the incident as the first bloodshed in the Civil War. Folks in the south, however, applauded Brooks, and the residents of a new Florida village took his name.2
By the first decade of the new millennium Brooksville had left its history behind with an integrated city council and bestowed its highest honor “The Great Brooksvillian” on a black civil rights leader of the 1870s who had been shot to death after performing a marriage ceremony between a black man and a white woman.3
Neely maneuvered about Main Street in his motorized chair, making friends along the way. The second Saturday of every month Neely rolled across the street and down a block behind the county library to a band shell. The local fine arts council received a grant to put on free concerts, and Neely attended every one of them, whether they featured garage bands, nostalgia rock groups composed of local teachers or special evenings of former stars, like the Coasters. When the grant money began to run out, Neely became a cheerleader throughout downtown to raise money to keep the concerts going.
One night he went to a downtown home decor shop where a martini reception was being held in honor of Carl Gardner, one of the original Coasters. Gardner was promoting his autobiography, “Yakety Yak I Fought Back.” Neely spun his wheel chair up to the desk where Gardner sat signing books and copies of CDs of his all-time hits, “Charlie Brown,” “Along Came Jones,” and “Little Egypt,” Every time a guest tried to take a picture Gardner put on his signature grin and gave a thumbs up. Neely, on the other hand, continued his conversation as though photographers were part of his everyday life.
“The music industry was filled with producers who were out to cheat you,” Gardner told the group. Then he pointed at Neely. “But this is the nicest man in the world.”
Because Neely was never voted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame or the Country Music Hall of Fame, he appreciated personal statements of gratitude like the one accorded him by Gardner, but many of his old friends and business associates–the ones who saw Neely in his prime–were disappearing.
His chief rival in claiming the discovery of James Brown, Ralph Bass, died March 5, 1997. Bass was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.4 His associate at King Records, Henry Glover, died April 7, 1991, and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.5 Loyal King associate Jim Wilson died Jan. 30, 1996.6 The brothers who brought about his demise at Starday-King, Johnny and Freddy Bienstock, died in 2006 and 2009, respectively.7 Songwriter Jerry Lieber died in 2011, survived by his partner Mike Stoller.8 Moe Lytle, whom Art Williams said Neely absolutely hated, was still running Gusto Records in 2013.9
In April of 2005 Don Pierce, with whom he had worked at Starday-King in Nashville died at age 89. He had not been voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame either.10 However, Pierce expressed feelings toward the end of his life about Neely that were less than friendly.
Nathan Gibson, author of “The Starday Story,” said Pierce specifically asked him not to involve Hal Neely in his project.
“As I understand it,” Gibson said, “when Hal took over at Starday, many believed he was the cause of Starday’s downfall…excessive spending, poor recording choices, clashing personality with many artists , business/personal relationship woes, and an overall carelessness for the business. Several individuals told me they loved Starday, best job they ever had, but they quit because they couldn’t stand working for Hal.”
During several interviews Gibson said participants told him that if he wanted to know about Hal Neely, he would have to turn off his tape recorder, and they would tell him about Hal Neely. The general feeling among those being interviewed was one of animosity and uneasiness.
“He remains a great mystery to me,” Gibson said, “and to many others.” 11
Those feelings were not shared by everyone. Author Randy McNutt said, “Hal was a good record man, and he was very helpful to me when I was writing the chapter on King Records for ‘Little Labels—Big Sound.’”12
On his birthday a call came into Tangerine Cove for Neely, and the staff could not believe it was Dolly Parton, who had done business with Neely and Starday-King. She wished him a happy birthday.13
Another fan was Al Nicholson, road manager for the Platters when the group toured in 1970 as part of the world’s fair in Okinawa. He also worked with the Drifters and the Coasters. By the middle 2000s Nicholson was entertaining in nursing homes in Florida, and during a performance at Tangerine Cove he looked into the audience to see a familiar face. He had met Neely while working with the Coasters. They renewed their friendship and spent many hours talking about old times, especially with Neely emphasizing his lawsuit against James Brown.
Ever the deal-maker, Neely used his influence with the organizers of the town’s band shell concert to feature Nicholson as an opening act.
“The crowd was screaming, and I had an autograph session with a line of thirty people.” Nicholson continued his visits to Tangerine Cove for long chats with Neely. “He was quite a character,” Nicholson said. “Sometimes he would get confused about his groups. But Hal’s stories were always consistent which gave the impression they were true.”14
Among his new friends were the members of the Brooksville Church of Christ which was about four or five blocks south of downtown. Neely’s grandfather was the first Episcopalian minister west of Mississippi. He grew up as a Methodist in Nebraska away from the influence of tobacco and booze. He was a self-described Irish/Scotch Protestant, joining and supporting the Presbyterian Church for many years. He felt right at home at the Brooksville Church of Christ.
One of his favorite activities in Brooksville was going to a Bible class taught by Abe Guillermo, long-time church member and lay minister. Neely called Guillermo the best damn Christian scholar he ever met.
After three months of going to church, Neely told Guillermo he was ready to be baptized. Neely said he had been raised in a Christian family and belonged to churches but never learned about Jesus until Guillermo taught him. Seventeen church members gathered at a member’s home for the baptism which was conducted in the family’s swimming pool. Neely approached the pool using his walker and gave a two-minute talk about his conversion. Guillermo gently guided him into the pool and immersed him in the water. Neely emerged exultant.
“I did it! I did it!”
If any of the church members thought Neely’s conversion was going to change his life-long use of common profanities, they were in for a disappointment. At the luncheon served afterwards, Neely spouted “damn this” and “damn that” a few times before Guillermo interrupted.
“Hal, we’re going to have to baptize your dictionary.”15
Neely had some regrets in his life, church minister Vic McCormick said he told him, but they were mostly in his private life. His first marriage ended in divorce, and there was a lot of bad feeling in his separation from his second wife. But he expressed no regrets in his business life.16
“Money was not my priority,” he told Guillermo. “You can’t change a thing. Now I have a new life.” He also told them he had warned James Brown not to go back to his same old crowd which had gotten him into trouble in the first place.
Brooksville accepted Neely as one of their own, albeit a man with a mysterious and exciting past. “To see him (Neely) you wouldn’t have known he had been big in the music business,” Guillermo said.
Another thing Neely told him was that he had his music catalogue in a warehouse. Originally he was going to leave it to University of South Florida, but he decided to give it to the Bible teacher instead. And he had royalties being held by a Memphis music company. Those would go to the church. His lawyer was a member of the Brooksville Church of Christ also. After Neely passed on, they were to contact the lawyer.17
***
James Brown died Dec. 25, 2006 of congestive heart failure and pneumonia at the age of 73. In his final years Brown was still performing and still the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. He scheduled eighty-one shows for 2006–including stops in Europe, Morocco, Tokyo, Estonia, Turkey and the United States.
He had also become a fixture in the charitable community of Augusta, Georgia. At Thanksgiving he gave away turkeys to poor families. On Dec. 20 he participated in a toy giveaway. He went to a dental appointment immediately after the toy distribution event, but when the dentist saw his physical condition he ordered Brown admitted to Emory Crawford Young Hospital where he died on Christmas Day.
Brown had three funeral services, one of which was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem where he had produced his live album with the help of Hal Neely.18
***
Guillermo said the London Times called Neely after Brown’s death and asked him how he was doing.
“Oh,” Neely replied, “I’ve found Jesus.”19
***
James Brown was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 as was Syd Nathan in 1997, but the old King Records building in Cincinnati fell into disrepair and eventually into oblivion.
“In Cincinnati,” Larry Nager of the Cincinnati Enquirer said, “it’s as if King and Mr. Nathan never existed. There’s no museum and even a proposed historical marker remains controversial. Many say it’s because Mr. Nathan’s crudely direct style and the rawness of King’s music don’t fit Cincinnati’s refined, blue-chip self-image.”
“I’ll be surprised if the city recognizes the building,” Howard Kessel, an original King partner, said, “They never wanted anything to do with us. To them, we were just making records for hillbillies and black people.”20
***
Neely’s health continued to worsen, and Hanneman visited with him every day and ensuring he made all his doctor’s appointments. Sometimes Neely resisted going to see a new doctor.
Hanneman would walk in and say, “Come on, we’re late to your doctor’s appointment. You know the one. You’ve had it for months.”
He also showed up for meals just to make sure Neely made it to the dining room. Hanneman’s devotion to Neely stirred some suspicion among the personnel at Tangerine Cove. A staff member confronted him one day.
“Why are you being so nice to him?” she demanded. “You know he doesn’t have any money.”
“Of course, I do,” Hanneman replied, taken aback.
“So why are you doing this? People aren’t nice just to be nice.”
“He’s my friend.”
And he was. Hanneman bought Neely a laptop computer and encouraged him to write his memoirs. He listened patiently to all the stories, over and over again. There was a consistent theme. James Brown owed his success to Hal Neely, but never wanted to admit it. Brown was guilty of a “convenient memory.”21 Eventually, Neely wrote about 80 pages of memoirs.
The last interview Neely granted was in February of 2008 to a biweekly newspaper in Brooksville. The headline was “When Vinyl Was King.” He told the newspaper he first heard Frank Sinatra sing when the entertainer was 16 years old at a high school dance. “I asked him what he was going to be, and he said he was going to be a star. I told Harry James to sign him.”
He related how a man from Seattle had introduced Patsy Cline to him, and he signed her to a contract and produced many of her hit recordings. He said James Brown chose to forget him and his associations with him and repeated his story that he sued Brown in federal court in 2005. The article ended with Neely saying, “The human brain remembers the good things…the good times…it rationalizes the rest.”22
He developed stomach problems arising from the medications he was taking. As he slept Neely rolled over and fell out of bed catching his head between the nightstand and bedrail. He was taken to the hospital, and Hanneman was at his side as death drew near. Their eyes connected.
“I want my memoir completed,” Neely whispered to Hanneman. “People have to know that James Brown had a convenient memory. He didn’t want to admit that I had been the driving force in his early career. But I forced him to admit he knew me. It was in open court, and Brown had to face the facts.”23
When Neely died, many record industry officials came to the funeral service at the Brooksville Church of Christ on March 4, 2009.24 Neely’s cremated remains were left with the church, Hanneman said. Neely’s friend Art Williams did not attend; he was hospitalized in Phoenix, Arizona, for heart problems at the time. Williams said he felt hurt that Neely did not call him much in the last months of his life and he felt sad about the way he died. “Hal was genuinely interested in other people, optimistic and generous to a fault,” Williams said. “The pot of gold always eluded him.”25
Neely’s estranged wife Victoria Wise did not attend the funeral either. When she tried to file for benefits from his life insurance policy she ran across a clerical roadblock. When Neely’s death certificate was filled out, someone stated on it that he was divorced, even though they were only separated. Wise delayed filing the divorce papers. Neely’s friends had urged him to sue her for divorce in order to receive a monetary settlement from Wise, but the divorce never actually occurred. The insurance company chose to accept the death certificate as proof they had divorced.
“How do you prove a negative?” Wise said. “Hal always wanted to be appreciated and felt cheated he wasn’t recognized for what he did,” she said. When asked about the lawsuit against James Brown, she shook her head and replied, “There was no lawsuit.”26
After the funeral Hanneman went to Neely’s warehouse unit and discovered mementos of his career, which attorney Bruce Snow of Brooksville said were of no value.27 There was no record catalogue to be bequeathed to Abe Guillermo, which Guillermo said did not bother him at all. He just was pleased to have met such an interesting man from the record industry in the final years of his life, sharing their love of big band music.28 The Brooksville Church of Christ took possession of Neely’s ashes, Hanneman said. Snow also doubted there were any disputed royalties with a company in Memphis, as Neely had told his church friends.
“Hal’s recollection of events was colored by age,” Snow said. “His current and future plans were as mingled in thought as his history. Hal was not out to create grandeur that was not there. He had his grandeur, but it was a blend of reality and memory.”29
Snow’s hypothesis on the lawsuit was confirmed by William Lawless who represented Neely during the years he lived in Florida.
“The situation with James Brown happened a long time ago,” Lawless said, “In the early days of Hal’s career he represented James Brown as an agent. Brown shifted agents, and I think Hal sued on breach of contract. I do not know the results of that litigation.
“The lawsuit I handled was about compensation he earned while in the employ of a company (United Buyers of America). That lawsuit occurred more than thirteen years ago. My memory is poor on that subject. By the way, the arrangement with Hal regarding the lawsuit judgment collection was that Hal had so many friends in the business that he was going to locate the main assets and I was to seek a Writ of Execution to attach the assets.” He never found any assets.
“The last time I saw Hal, he was in western Florida in a place he was renting. There was a man with him who was cleaning and transferring music from albums to tape. This music is the music which Hal claimed he owned. One time I asked for documentation to see his ownership interest. He said he did not have any. Some of this was Frank Sinatra and other named singers.”30
An article in the Nov. 15, 1993 edition of the Orlando Sentinel reported that Neely, at that time 72 years old, filed a breach of contract suit in state Circuit Court in Orlando for $200,905 for pay from Jan. 1, 1989 to March 5, 1991 from United Shoppers of America Inc., a video duplication company.
Neely told the newspaper he did not press for his salary payment while working for the company because it was having financial problems. He was the corporation secretary, treasurer, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. He said he quit in March, 1991, because of not being paid and differences with management. After leaving United Shoppers of America Neely said he had worked part-time as a television writer and producer.
Roland Hanneman, when told that the lawyer involved with Neely during the time of the alleged James Brown lawsuit said the courts never had such a case before it, paused a moment and ran his fingers through his hair. The lawsuit was not important, he decided. The memoirs of Hal Neely’s long career in the music industry were more than one lawsuit against a singer.
Neeley’s memoirs were the cultural history of the United States in the last half of the 20th century. They represented in one man what life was for everyone: each person did his best according to the talents given to him and along the way he earned a few friends and made a few enemies.
In the end of his life Hal Neely was surrounded by friends, which was all that truly mattered.
1 Hanneman Interview.
2 www.fivay.org/hernando1.html.
3 www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2007-10-10/html/CREC-2007-10-10-PgE2115-3.html.
4 King of the Queen City, 93.
5 www.discogs.com/artist/308467-henry.glover.
6 John Rumble Interview 6/26/13.
7 www.legacy.com/NYTimes/obituary.aspx?n=freddy.bienstock. www.allmusic.com/artist/johnny.bienstock-mn0001010454/biography.
8 www.lieberstoller.com/abouthml.
9 The Starday Story, 166.
10 Ibid., 168-169.
11 Nathan Gibson Interview December 2010.
12 Randy McNutt Interview March 2011.
13 Hanneman Interview.
14 Al Nicholson Interview, June 2011.
15 Abe Guillermo Interview, March 2011.
16 Vic McCormick Interview, March 2011.
17 Guillermo Interview.
18 Life of James Brown, 197-198.
19 Guillermo Interview.
20 King of the Queen City, 191-192.
21 Hanneman Interview.
22 Cowling, Jerry, When Vinyl Was King, Brooksville Belle, Brooksville, FL, Feb. 21-March5, 2008 edition.
23 Hanneman Interview.
24 Neill, Logan, Grammy Award Winning Producer Dies, St. Petersburg Times, www.tampabay.com/news/article983842.ece.
25 Williams Interview.
26 Wise Interview.
27 Bruce Snow Interview.
28 Guillermo Interview.
29 Snow Interview.
30William Lawless Interview.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Thirty-One


Manuel Noriega
Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into Syd Nathan’s King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle. Eventually he became one of the owners of Starday-King, until the other owners bought him out.He found himself sitting further back in music industry room.

In 1989 Hal Neely and Victoria Wise left the problems of Nashville behind and moved to Orlando, Florida. They looked forward to new careers in music, film, and education based on the connections they had made over the years.
For example, Neely had been a judge in the Miss Panama beauty pageant which was part of the Miss Universe franchise. During this project he met a former diplomat to the Vatican and a retired actor who was a member of one of the seven families that formed the core of Panama’s society in the early 1900s. He also befriended President Manuel Noriega.
In Florida Wise wrote a screenplay called “Panama Bay,” an Indiana Jones-type adventure and encouraged Neely to find investors to finance it. Neely contacted his old friend Noriega, told him about the film project and talked him into spearheading it along with his other influential friends.1
Noriega was not exactly the best government leader to be doing business with at the time. He had a reputation as a corrupt and heavy-handed dictator.
Noriega came into this world under corrupt circumstances, the result of a liaison between an accountant and his maid in 1934. Five years later a school teacher adopted him. He received a scholarship to a military academy in Peru where he graduated with a degree in engineering. When he returned to Panama Noriega became a favorite in the Army of Col. Omar Torrijos. Noriega took control of Panama after Torrijos died in a mysterious airplane crash. His reign over the Panamanian people became so oppressive that the United States considered intervention.2
Neely and Wise apparently were more interested in their film project than keeping up with the current political situation. Even today, years later, Wise becomes enthusiastic describing the plot.
“The movie opened on the sea at dawn as a B-52 buzzed a hotel on a small island owned by a young woman named Hattie who came from a rich family,” Wise explained. “A vast treasure had been found on Hattie’s island.” This drew the attention of the Indiana Jones character which Wise called Ace. A love triangle developed between Hattie, Ace, and an old sea captain. Wise wanted the main characters played by Sheree North, Sheb Woolly and Burl Ives. “I had a lot of fun writing it,” Wise said. “I’m kind of glad no one changed it around.”
In December of 1989 Neely and Wise flew to Panama to scout out shooting locations for the movie. Noriega arranged for them to go through the exclusive route at the airport. After they got off the airplane, Neely showed Wise to the VIP lounge. As they were enjoying their cocktails, men in uniform escorted them to an interrogation room where they demanded to know what Neely and Wise were doing in the lounge. Neely said nothing but gave them a telephone number to call. It turned out to be the personal number of Noriega’s mistress. After the mistress explained the situation to the men in uniform, the officials were very polite and escorted them to their hotel. The next few days went very smoothly. Noriega gave Wise a necklace which consisted of two pieces of Plexiglas, one side yellow and the other side blue.
Then Neely got a call from the office of Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker telling him to leave everything, including his clothing and film equipment, at the hotel and go immediately to the airport to fly home.3
Operation Just Cause, a full-scale attack with 24,000 American troops, had just begun. Over the next four days several hundred American troops and thousands of Panamanian soldiers died. Noriega surrendered to the Vatican Embassy on January 3, 1990. The United States convicted him on drug charges, and the new Panamanian government wanted to try him on murder charges.4 “Panama Bay” was never produced, which became a pattern of behavior for Neely, according to his friend Art Williams who also moved to Florida in the 1990s. Neely became easily excited about business deals which never came to fruition.5
Perhaps the most fortunate meeting in Neely’s later years came at Orlando International Airport in 1989 when by chance he came upon musician Roland Hanneman who had brought a mutual acquaintance to catch a flight. After the man had boarded his airplane Neely and Hanneman realized they had quite a bit in common. The man who had just left them had taken them both for not inconsiderable amounts of money.
“He would shake your hand with one hand and give you a rubber check with the other,” Hanneman said. “Hal told me that this fellow had sold him music which he didn’t own and that he was always one step ahead of federal authorities.”
Over the next few years Neely and Hanneman worked on several small music projects. Neely produced albums for people in country and gospel music.
Hanneman, a native of Great Britain, is also known in the entertainment industry as John St. John. He studied music at the Cambridge College of Arts. After moving to the United States, Hanneman worked for Miami’s WINZ as production director. He has recorded and/or produced for the Miami Sound Machine, Mary Hart, Jon Secada, Clint Holmes, Jimmy Buffett, the Orlando Philharmonic and many more musical projects. He has written music for two Orange Bowl Shows and composed and/or produced more than 241 records and CDs. He has his own production company.6
“Hal was an extremely generous man and was always helping people. But he could see through people in seconds,” Hanneman said. “I would run people past him to get an opinion, and he was never once wrong about any of them. I asked him once how he could judge people so well and he replied, ‘I’m a hustler, and a hustler can always spot another hustler.’
Hal described his life as being fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and somewhat charmed, but he was always–to his dying day–looking ahead to some kind of business venture. It was difficult for him to accept the industry had changed and the paradigm had shifted. At one time, 200,000 records were a lot but now it’s half a million.”
Hanneman learned Neely’s technique of using ego to get his way with an artist. One time Hanneman was trying to get payment from a client who had recorded at his studio. Neely volunteered to get the money for him.
“Hal called the guy, identified himself as ABC Records and offered a record contract on his cassette and a plane ticket to California. ‘You do own all the rights, don’t you?’ Hal asked him.” Neely offered him $10,000 for the master tape remix. The man immediately called Hanneman for the master tape, but Hanneman told him he had to pay the full amount of the studio fees to get it.
“The next week he called Hal who told him this song might be used in a movie so he increased his offer to $25,000 and again reminded the man he had to have the master tape.” He called Hanneman again and agreed to pay the full amount and was at his doorstep the next morning with the cash. He received his master tape, but he never heard from the guy from ABC records again. 7
Neely’s relationship with Wise resulted in marriage in October of 1990, one day after his divorce from Mary Stone Neely was final. He was seventy years old, and she was in her middle forties.
Wise had fond memories of her years with Neely. They would pack a lunch and a bottle of wine, go on long drives in the country and have conversations about acoustic theories. For example, she said, boys between the age of 10 and 11 are at the peak of their hearing capacity to discern low-level tones. They even talked about the sound of wooden posts as they drove by would change according to the thickness of wood, speed of the car and spacing of the posts
“Hal would write letters with poor grammar to somebody about credit card issues, threatening lawsuits and saying he was sending copies to officials,” Wise said. “And then he would sign my name.”
Wise said she was bothered because she did not notice Neely’s decline into dementia but only concentrated on how hurt she felt during his emotional outbursts.
“He was like an angry gorilla throwing things.”
When Neely’s brother Sam came to visit them in Orlando they would wait at the curb right in front of a liquor store, Wise related. Sam went in, but when he came out he didn’t recognize the car. “I could see it (the cognitive decline) in Sam but not in Hal.”8
His finances began to decline also, to such an extent that Neely had to sell off personal items, Hanneman said. Neely had a Baldwin grand piano which had belonged to Liberace. Neely thought the provenance would make it more valuable, but he had trouble selling it for a good price. The person who finally bought it never paid for it.
Neely and Wise moved to an apartment in Tampa so she could study geriatrics at the University of South Florida.9
***
It was during this time James Brown was paroled from the South Carolina prison where he had spent 2 1/2 years of a six-year sentence. Upon his release in February of 1991 he announced a Freedom Tour.
“I am hotter now than I ever was in my life,” he announced to the press. In March of 1991 he starred in a live, pay-per-view concert from Los Angeles, and by the end of the year produced a new album “Love Over Due.”10
***
Neely’s marriage to Wise steadily declined throughout the 1990s while she continued her studies and eventually worked at the University of South Florida in Tampa. As she studied, Neely produced gospel music for small groups in central Florida. Eventually they separated in 2003, and Neely came to rely more and more on his friends Hanneman and Williams.
“Hal would come to my house to sit by the pool and cry about the way Victoria treated him and talked to him,” Williams said. “I told him to go back to Mary who had a farm in Nebraska.” When Mary died she left the farm to her family members who, according to Williams, detested Neely.
Sitting around the pool, Neely also complained about business deals which had gone badly for him, particularly the sale of Starday-King master recordings to Moe Lytle of Gusto Records.
“He hated this guy(Moe Lytle). They would tell anyone wanting rights to sell not to deal with the other one. Each claimed the same catalog. It ended in a stalemate with no one buying the rights. Hal was always involved with threatening to sue people and writing letters. One of his lawyers would filter them. He had no follow through on legal matters.”
Neely told Williams he was going to serve Wise with divorce papers but he never did.
“I told Hal to sue her for support,” Williams said
Williams also suggested to Neely that he should apply for Medicaid. “As long as Hal sat there and talked about his million-dollar catalog he wasn’t getting Medicaid. He had to admit he was broke.”
Another mutual friend told Williams he should help out Neely financially, but he declined. “I had lent him thousands of dollars over the years. People who loved Hal took care of him, and it may not have been the best for him.
“Hal never lost his optimism and always thought the deal was about to happen. The catalog deal was always about to break.”11

1 Wise Interview.
2 http://notable_biographies.com/Ni-Pe/Noriega_Manuel.html.
3 Wise Interview.
4 http://notable_biographies.com/Ni-Pe/Noriega_Manuel.html.
5 Williams Interview.
6 Hanneman Interview.
7 Ibid.
8 Wise Interview.
9 Hanneman Interview.
10 The Life of James Brown, 183.
11 Williams Interview.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Thirty-One


Manuel Noriega
Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into Syd Nathan’s King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle. Eventually he became one of the owners of Starday-King, until the other owners bought him out.He found himself sitting further back in music industry room.

In 1989 Hal Neely and Victoria Wise left the problems of Nashville behind and moved to Orlando, Florida. They looked forward to new careers in music, film, and education based on the connections they had made over the years.
For example, Neely had been a judge in the Miss Panama beauty pageant which was part of the Miss Universe franchise. During this project he met a former diplomat to the Vatican and a retired actor who was a member of one of the seven families that formed the core of Panama’s society in the early 1900s. He also befriended President Manuel Noriega.
In Florida Wise wrote a screenplay called “Panama Bay,” an Indiana Jones-type adventure and encouraged Neely to find investors to finance it. Neely contacted his old friend Noriega, told him about the film project and talked him into spearheading it along with his other influential friends.1
Noriega was not exactly the best government leader to be doing business with at the time. He had a reputation as a corrupt and heavy-handed dictator.
Noriega came into this world under corrupt circumstances, the result of a liaison between an accountant and his maid in 1934. Five years later a school teacher adopted him. He received a scholarship to a military academy in Peru where he graduated with a degree in engineering. When he returned to Panama Noriega became a favorite in the Army of Col. Omar Torrijos. Noriega took control of Panama after Torrijos died in a mysterious airplane crash. His reign over the Panamanian people became so oppressive that the United States considered intervention.2
Neely and Wise apparently were more interested in their film project than keeping up with the current political situation. Even today, years later, Wise becomes enthusiastic describing the plot.
“The movie opened on the sea at dawn as a B-52 buzzed a hotel on a small island owned by a young woman named Hattie who came from a rich family,” Wise explained. “A vast treasure had been found on Hattie’s island.” This drew the attention of the Indiana Jones character which Wise called Ace. A love triangle developed between Hattie, Ace, and an old sea captain. Wise wanted the main characters played by Sheree North, Sheb Woolly and Burl Ives. “I had a lot of fun writing it,” Wise said. “I’m kind of glad no one changed it around.”
In December of 1989 Neely and Wise flew to Panama to scout out shooting locations for the movie. Noriega arranged for them to go through the exclusive route at the airport. After they got off the airplane, Neely showed Wise to the VIP lounge. As they were enjoying their cocktails, men in uniform escorted them to an interrogation room where they demanded to know what Neely and Wise were doing in the lounge. Neely said nothing but gave them a telephone number to call. It turned out to be the personal number of Noriega’s mistress. After the mistress explained the situation to the men in uniform, the officials were very polite and escorted them to their hotel. The next few days went very smoothly. Noriega gave Wise a necklace which consisted of two pieces of Plexiglas, one side yellow and the other side blue.
Then Neely got a call from the office of Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker telling him to leave everything, including his clothing and film equipment, at the hotel and go immediately to the airport to fly home.3
Operation Just Cause, a full-scale attack with 24,000 American troops, had just begun. Over the next four days several hundred American troops and thousands of Panamanian soldiers died. Noriega surrendered to the Vatican Embassy on January 3, 1990. The United States convicted him on drug charges, and the new Panamanian government wanted to try him on murder charges.4 “Panama Bay” was never produced, which became a pattern of behavior for Neely, according to his friend Art Williams who also moved to Florida in the 1990s. Neely became easily excited about business deals which never came to fruition.5
Perhaps the most fortunate meeting in Neely’s later years came at Orlando International Airport in 1989 when by chance he came upon musician Roland Hanneman who had brought a mutual acquaintance to catch a flight. After the man had boarded his airplane Neely and Hanneman realized they had quite a bit in common. The man who had just left them had taken them both for not inconsiderable amounts of money.
“He would shake your hand with one hand and give you a rubber check with the other,” Hanneman said. “Hal told me that this fellow had sold him music which he didn’t own and that he was always one step ahead of federal authorities.”
Over the next few years Neely and Hanneman worked on several small music projects. Neely produced albums for people in country and gospel music.
Hanneman, a native of Great Britain, is also known in the entertainment industry as John St. John. He studied music at the Cambridge College of Arts. After moving to the United States, Hanneman worked for Miami’s WINZ as production director. He has recorded and/or produced for the Miami Sound Machine, Mary Hart, Jon Secada, Clint Holmes, Jimmy Buffett, the Orlando Philharmonic and many more musical projects. He has written music for two Orange Bowl Shows and composed and/or produced more than 241 records and CDs. He has his own production company.6
“Hal was an extremely generous man and was always helping people. But he could see through people in seconds,” Hanneman said. “I would run people past him to get an opinion, and he was never once wrong about any of them. I asked him once how he could judge people so well and he replied, ‘I’m a hustler, and a hustler can always spot another hustler.’
Hal described his life as being fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and somewhat charmed, but he was always–to his dying day–looking ahead to some kind of business venture. It was difficult for him to accept the industry had changed and the paradigm had shifted. At one time, 200,000 records were a lot but now it’s half a million.”
Hanneman learned Neely’s technique of using ego to get his way with an artist. One time Hanneman was trying to get payment from a client who had recorded at his studio. Neely volunteered to get the money for him.
“Hal called the guy, identified himself as ABC Records and offered a record contract on his cassette and a plane ticket to California. ‘You do own all the rights, don’t you?’ Hal asked him.” Neely offered him $10,000 for the master tape remix. The man immediately called Hanneman for the master tape, but Hanneman told him he had to pay the full amount of the studio fees to get it.
“The next week he called Hal who told him this song might be used in a movie so he increased his offer to $25,000 and again reminded the man he had to have the master tape.” He called Hanneman again and agreed to pay the full amount and was at his doorstep the next morning with the cash. He received his master tape, but he never heard from the guy from ABC records again. 7
Neely’s relationship with Wise resulted in marriage in October of 1990, one day after his divorce from Mary Stone Neely was final. He was seventy years old, and she was in her middle forties.
Wise had fond memories of her years with Neely. They would pack a lunch and a bottle of wine, go on long drives in the country and have conversations about acoustic theories. For example, she said, boys between the age of 10 and 11 are at the peak of their hearing capacity to discern low-level tones. They even talked about the sound of wooden posts as they drove by would change according to the thickness of wood, speed of the car and spacing of the posts
“Hal would write letters with poor grammar to somebody about credit card issues, threatening lawsuits and saying he was sending copies to officials,” Wise said. “And then he would sign my name.”
Wise said she was bothered because she did not notice Neely’s decline into dementia but only concentrated on how hurt she felt during his emotional outbursts.
“He was like an angry gorilla throwing things.”
When Neely’s brother Sam came to visit them in Orlando they would wait at the curb right in front of a liquor store, Wise related. Sam went in, but when he came out he didn’t recognize the car. “I could see it (the cognitive decline) in Sam but not in Hal.”8
His finances began to decline also, to such an extent that Neely had to sell off personal items, Hanneman said. Neely had a Baldwin grand piano which had belonged to Liberace. Neely thought the provenance would make it more valuable, but he had trouble selling it for a good price. The person who finally bought it never paid for it.
Neely and Wise moved to an apartment in Tampa so she could study geriatrics at the University of South Florida.9
***
It was during this time James Brown was paroled from the South Carolina prison where he had spent 2 1/2 years of a six-year sentence. Upon his release in February of 1991 he announced a Freedom Tour.
“I am hotter now than I ever was in my life,” he announced to the press. In March of 1991 he starred in a live, pay-per-view concert from Los Angeles, and by the end of the year produced a new album “Love Over Due.”10
***
Neely’s marriage to Wise steadily declined throughout the 1990s while she continued her studies and eventually worked at the University of South Florida in Tampa. As she studied, Neely produced gospel music for small groups in central Florida. Eventually they separated in 2003, and Neely came to rely more and more on his friends Hanneman and Williams.
“Hal would come to my house to sit by the pool and cry about the way Victoria treated him and talked to him,” Williams said. “I told him to go back to Mary who had a farm in Nebraska.” When Mary died she left the farm to her family members who, according to Williams, detested Neely.
Sitting around the pool, Neely also complained about business deals which had gone badly for him, particularly the sale of Starday-King master recordings to Moe Lytle of Gusto Records.
“He hated this guy(Moe Lytle). They would tell anyone wanting rights to sell not to deal with the other one. Each claimed the same catalog. It ended in a stalemate with no one buying the rights. Hal was always involved with threatening to sue people and writing letters. One of his lawyers would filter them. He had no follow through on legal matters.”
Neely told Williams he was going to serve Wise with divorce papers but he never did.
“I told Hal to sue her for support,” Williams said
Williams also suggested to Neely that he should apply for Medicaid. “As long as Hal sat there and talked about his million-dollar catalog he wasn’t getting Medicaid. He had to admit he was broke.”
Another mutual friend told Williams he should help out Neely financially, but he declined. “I had lent him thousands of dollars over the years. People who loved Hal took care of him, and it may not have been the best for him.
“Hal never lost his optimism and always thought the deal was about to happen. The catalog deal was always about to break.”11
Footnotes
1 Wise Interview.
2 http://notable_biographies.com/Ni-Pe/Noriega_Manuel.html.
3 Wise Interview.
4 http://notable_biographies.com/Ni-Pe/Noriega_Manuel.html.
5 Williams Interview.
6 Hanneman Interview.
7 Ibid.
8 Wise Interview.
9 Hanneman Interview.
10 The Life of James Brown, 183.
11 Williams Interview.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Twenty-Nine


Lieber and Stoller, one-time partners of Hal Neely
Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into Syd Nathan’s King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle. Eventually he became one of the owners of Starday-King.

In the early 1970s, the record industry experienced a loss of sales which could not be reversed. Pierce said Neely’s course of action was to record larger bands with fuller arrangements which did not help the financial status of Starday-King.1 The Bienstocks saw a different problem with the business operation in Nashville.
“I was at the Gavin Convention,” Johnny Bienstock said, “and I saw this guy (Neely) having a lavish party and everything else. I said to Freddy, ‘Starday-King Records must be doing phenomenally.’ He was treating jockeys like I’ve never seen; he was having bigger parties than Atlantic Records. Freddy was furious.” It was at this time the Bienstocks began to consider extricating themselves from the record company, even if it meant taking a financial loss. They were still interested, however, in the company’s song publishing catalog.2
“For whatever reason,” Wilson said, “the Neely, Bienstock, Lieber-Stoller situation became not as close or as productive as it had been initially hoped for, and the relationship there became sort of, well, at loggerheads. They being in New York – that is, Lieber-Stoller and Bienstock – and Neely in Cincinnati or in Nashville. Internal paperwork problems went unsolved because the people who needed to make such decisions were never in the same place at the same time. Beinstock, Lieber and Stoller in New York could only see the financial statements of recording costs.” Wilson felt they weren’t being informed about the rationale behind the numbers.3
The company endured mounting recording costs which had not been recouped. “I just visualized a lot of problems that maybe could have been overcome, given a little reinvestment money to pull the thing along,” Wilson said. “But I would be answering, really, to some people who had not been in the other end of the record business.” Lieber-Stoller and Bienstock had been involved in A&R (artists and repertoire) and publishing. Wilson and Neely were in distribution and marketing. “I just felt at the time, and this later came to pass, that their main thrust, all of a sudden, was not to perpetuate a record company but was to divest themselves of the record company and only keep the publishing end, which was really what happened.”4
Even Neely’s good friend Williams said he made a few bad decisions on producing new performers. He said one demonstration tape sat on Neely’s desk for months. Others urged him to produce it but he did not because he thought it was just a so-so song. The song “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” went on to be a big hit for another company.5
At one point Starday-King started selling off some of its real estate. Billboard Magazine reported in its Feb. 19, 1972 edition that Owepar, owned by Dolly Parton, Louis Owens and Porter Wagonner, bought Starday’s Townhouse building on Music Row to house its business activities.
In another effort to generate revenues, Starday-King released a second series of the Old King Gold catalogue, a collection of 31 rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues singles from the 1950s, according to an article in Billboard Magazine in the Nov. 18, 1972 issue.
“What we did, originally, was to prepare a series of our King catalogue vintage tracks and turn them into pre-packaged sets which were sent to jukebox operators and one-stops,” Neely told Billboard. “Then all of a sudden we found we’re getting calls from underground college areas. This led us into our third pressing of the original series.” He said the company was planning to release a third in the series early the next year and eventually expanding to nine albums.
Business continued to decline, according to Pierce, and “after about a year and a half, the operation in Nashville was deeply in debt, and the Bienstock brothers came down and discontinued Hal Neely.”6
Eventually, Wilson said, Lieber, Stoller and Bienstock voted for Neely to resign as president, but Neely still owned one third of the Tennessee Recording Corporation.7
Neely gave a major interview with Billboard Magazine in its Oct. 6, 1973 edition. He said negotiations had lasted more than a week in both New York and Nashville over the Starday-King division of Tennessee Recording and Publishing Company. Neely told the magazine at first he was asked to resign. After Neely refused, the other three owners voted him off the board, while he retained his shares. The three men—Bienstock, treasurer; Lieber, secretary; and Stoller, board member—offered to purchase Neely’s percentage, and he countered with an offer to buy their shares.
“Neither offer was acceptable,” Neely said in the interview. “We were far apart at first, but we have been getting closer together. I am still hopeful of making the purchase.” He explained that the move began because Starday-King had not had a hit record for nine months. “I poured my own money into it, but there had been considerable disagreements over the way the firm should be run.”
Neely said if he were unable to buy out the other three, and they purchased his assets, he would immediately start another recording company and publishing firm. He owned a part of the physical properties and the existing catalogue through Neely Corporation Inc. (Review of Billboard files revealed Neely did not follow through with these plans.)
“If I should get out, I will be free and clear to enter business and compete.” Neely stressed he and the former partners were still “very friendly. It is now down to the point where the lawyers are involved for the most part, protecting their clients.” He said the company was still very healthy with the publishing company alone worth more than $1 million. He added that whatever debts existed were more than covered by the properties themselves.
Billboard reported that Bienstock said he would make a statement later in the week. (Likewise, a review of Billboard’s files showed Bienstock did not make any statement.) Lieber and Stoller were not available for comment. Neely concluded by saying if no agreement was reached that sale to a third party would take place.
The job of president was offered to Wilson, but he said, “I declined, because I could see the handwriting on the wall. And shortly after that period I resigned.” Wilson went on to work in the new distribution wing of Polygram, the parent company of Polydor which had bought James Brown’s contract.8
Don Pierce stayed on the Starday-King payroll for two years with an official title of advisor but actually took no role in the operation of the company. He bought a new home on the Old Hickory Lake, the same neighborhood where Neely lived. Over the years Pierce dabbled in real estate, automobile parts manufacturing, and established the Golden Eagle master achievement award for the country music industry.9
“Those guys (the Bienstocks) are only interested in the music publishing,” Pierce said. “That they won’t give up. They hold those copyrights and they know that those copyrights don’t argue. They just grow money. But they’re not in the record business. Take the records and get as much of it in the marketplace as possible. But we’ll do the publishing.”10
Looking around the music industry, the Bienstocks found a likely buyer in Gayron “Moe” Lytle, who with songwriter Tommy Hill founded Gusto Records in 1973. The company specialized in reissuing and licensing records from its catalog of acquired and self-produced music. 11
The Bienstocks originally wanted $500,000 for Starday and King masters and tapes in 1975. Pierce recalled Tommy Hill telling him, “Moe went up there, and laid down a check for $375,000. They (the Bienstocks) said, ‘You’re out of your mind.’”
Lytle picked up the check and said, “I’ll be at my hotel room.”
Hill said the Bienstocks discussed the proposition and decided that their business relationship with Neely was not working out right.
They didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Pierce said. “They didn’t know what to do with the masters. They don’t know a goddamn thing about records. They got all the songs but they needed someone to use those masters. So they took the $375,000. Imagine that! The whole King and Starday catalogs. Of course things were low ebb back then. They weren’t like they are now. It was just a different ballgame then.”12
In the deal, Gusto Records acquired thousands of master records and tapes which had been produced by King, Starday, and their subsidiaries. Included in the deal were all the record covers, photographs, promotional materials, contracts and other fan collectibles accumulated during the 30 years of running the companies. Lytle was quoted as saying he bought the masters because he wanted the Starday catalog and considered the King music just as an “add-on.” Gusto Records continued to own the King catalog which meant Lytle had now owned it longer than Syd Nathan.13
Master tapes generate immediate income upon the release to the public. They can become a source of quick and easy money but can also make it harder for a company to use its imagination and create new material. Gusto Records launched in 1978 a series of long-play records, cassettes, and eight-track tapes, which proved to be a treasure trove for fans and collectors. These records were affordable, plentiful, and easy to find.14
Tennessee Recording and Publishing, however, kept the publishing rights to thousands of songs on the King and Starday labels because this was considered to be much more profitable. Among the hit songs owned by the labels were “Fever,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Please, Please, Please,” and “Work with Me, Annie.”15
During this same time Neely sold his interest in Tennessee Recording and Publishing Company to Beinstock, Lieber and Stoller. In his memoirs, Neely claimed who would sell out to whom was determined by a coin toss which he said he lost. Both Mike Stoller and business associates of the late Freddy Bienstock disagree with this story.
“I’m not quite certain what Hal Neely meant by a coin toss,” Stoller said. “With that image in mind, what did each of the heads and tails represent? My memory of the reason for the sale of the King and Starday Record catalogs to Moe Lytle was that Hal had spent a great deal more money (including his own compensation) than the company was earning. That resulted in the debts far outweighing the receipts of the company. Included among the expenses that Hal incurred was the purchase of a new bus for a recording artist who had had one successful recording. In regard to the sale, as I recall, the phrase ‘25 cents on the dollar’ was bandied about.”16
Bob Golden, vice president of marketing for Carlin America, Inc. — which was founded and run by Freddy Bienstock until his death in 2009–said he believed Mr. Neely’s memories of this transaction were probably inaccurate.
“I can verify that Freddy always considered and treated everyone in any business relationship he had as a colleague. He took great pride in the fact that all his dealings were scrupulously fair and square in a particularly hard and tough business.”17
Over a short period of time all employees of what had been Starday-King were dismissed, according to Wilson. “About the only operation that continued to exist until such time that Gusto Records bought the masters of Starday-King, about the only thing that continued to operate was the mail order operation, Cindy Lou’s Mail Order,” Wilson said. “Or as it used to be known, the Country Music Record Club.”18
“Hal never recovered from the Lieber-Stoller deal,” Wise said. “He never recovered in business. Hal was always the eternal optimist, but this was the beginning of the end.”19
Williams believed Neely sold Starday-King because he saw that major record companies, such as RCA and Capitol, were moving into Nashville and would put independents out of business. “He was right and wrong. The majors took over for a while but finally found it more feasible to let independents produce records instead.” 20
The music business was very volatile, Williams explained. For many years a company was able to make $60,000 in sales in juke boxes which created a market to small producers. Then juke boxes disappeared from the marketplace.
“The worst thing was to have a big hit. ‘Harper Valley PTA’ was a big hit but the producer went bankrupt. The printer had to borrow money from the bank to get copies out to the public before the sales came in.
“Hal was a great raconteur. He was an impresario and gave advice to young artists. Hal got involved in projects with that resume and storytelling, but when it came to putting the tread to the road he couldn’t do it,” Williams explained. “He got burned on many deals – including James Brown – and got shell-shocked. He got beat down. Hal was an easy mark and was taken advantage of. Hal bought himself a coal mine which blew his fortune. That mine was in War, West Virginia, near Welch. War had 300 people. Coal cost $200 a ton more to mine than it paid. He also decided to subdivide his lake property in the mid-1970s and lost money on that.”21
This was the time period during which Neely said in his memoirs that he and Wise acquired a condominium in Nashville. Williams remembered visiting Neely “when three guys came in the back door and ate in the kitchen. Each of us assumed the other one knew who the intruders were, but they were strangers. That was exactly what Nashville was. Nashville is a handshake and litigate. People don’t remember what the handshake was for.”
While Neely never lost his optimism and always thought a big deal was about to break, he did at times look back upon his career wistfully. Williams remembered him saying, “It wasn’t but a few years ago I could go into a bank and go up to the top floor to see the president. Now I can’t see the teller.”22
Others in Nashville did not take their music industry decline as gracefully. One time Faron Young asked Neely, “What do you do when you’re a has-been?”23 Young had been a top country music star from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s with hits like “If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin,’” “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young” and “Hello Walls”. He also had made plenty of money in real estate and publishing the successful trade paper Music City News. But Young felt the country music business had forgotten him. At age 64, he committed suicide by shooting himself in 1996.24 His ashes were scattered over Old Hickory Lake where he had been Neely’s neighbor.25
“It was not the money but being a has-been,” said Williams, who entered his retirement years comfortably through investments in agricultural markets. “Soybeans have been very good to me.” He added, “I want to be remembered as being in bar fights and not as a 75-year-old man drinking grape juice.”26
The last story to appear in Billboard Magazine about Hal Neely was in its Dec. 1, 1979 issue, with a brief notice that he was now a salesman for a new Harlequin-type book series which he was pushing at Seibert’s Book Store in Little Rock, Ark.

1 Brian Powers.
2 The Starday Story, 165.
3 www.fundinguniverse.com_histories/lin_broadcasting_corp_history.
4 The Starday Story, 165.
5Record Makers and Breakers, 267-269.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid., 271.
8 Ibid., 296.
9 Ibid., 438.
10 Tobler, John, NME Rock ‘n’ Roll Years (1st Edition), Reed International Books Ltd., London, 30.
11 Record Makers and Breakers, 233-234.
12 NME Rock ‘n’ Roll Years, 19.
13 The Starday Story, 165.
14 Wilson Interview.
15 Record Makers and Breakers, 148.
16 Dr. Art Williams Interview.
17 Ibid.
18 Winsett Interview.
19 Williams Interview.
20 Goldsmith, Thomas (editor), The Bluegrass Reader, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2004, 193.
21 Ibid.
22 Williams Interview.
23 Wise Interview.
24 Williams Interview.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Twenty-Eight


Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into Syd Nathan’s King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle.

Hal Neely was probably the main reason James Brown stayed with Starday-King as long as he did. In one anecdote from his autobiography, Brown recalled how badly an engagement was going at the Copacabana Club in New York City where his “raw, gutbucket” style was not appreciated by the sophisticated crowd. He even gave the Copacabana management back $25,000 and cut the second week of his run. He remembered Neely coming into his dressing room on his last night.
“James, I think it’s time to redo the band. They’re a super band, but it’s time for a change.”
“I think you’re right. We’ve gone about as far as we can go.”
Brown said they often discussed personnel changes to get “new energy and new ideas.” With Neely’s guidance, Brown enlisted Fred Wesley as the new group leader who played the trombone instead of the clarinet which was the instrument of the previous leader, thus changing the sound of the group.
On another occasion Neely was producing a Brown record called “Choo-Choo Locomotion” but the session was not going smoothly. “It was about two or three in the morning, and Mr. Neely said, ‘Why don’t you just play conductor and call off the names of the towns and talk about them?’” Brown claimed that was the first time he ever did a rap.
“One thing you can count on was a phone call at two or three in the morning,” Wise said, remembering the days with Starday-King and Brown. “James always wanted to talk after a performance.” One time Neely arranged for a group of girls to be at an airport on the tarmac to greet James Brown. The girls lost control and ran toward him, getting very physical. “They tore the buttons off his coat.”1
On another occasion Wise recalled flying to Miami with Neely to attend three concerts by Brown, who went without food between the three performances. Neely treated Brown to a meal, Wise said; however, they went to Sambo’s, which she found ironic.2
Neely created lyrics on paper napkins during luncheons with Brown during which they discussed the continued development of his career and music.3 Even with Neely’s personal attention Brown had problems with Starday-King management. He demanded payments in addition to his regular checks and wanted the company to pay $5,000 for leasing of a Learjet. Even while trying to extract as much money as he could from of the Nashville studio, Brown was making overtures to other record corporations, such as Warner Bros. But his escalating demand for more money became a sticking point for the entertainment giant.4
Jim Wilson described the hard process that Starday-King went through to decide it would be in its best interest to persuade Brown to look for another company. “Now, mind you, everything we put out on him was a hit record. Whether it was a hit or not, it was a hit. We sell records on it. And maybe deservingly so, but for a little company such as we were to have one strong artist (who) suddenly began to dominate everything, we found it difficult to develop and break in other acts. It was a corporate decision, probably. James’ advantage and to Starday-King’s advantage.”5
Long-time King attorney Jack Pearl said to Brown in 1971, “James, there is a company moving into the American market called Polydor, and I think you should be with them. I think they’re going to be very big in the business.” Brown said in his autobiography that he wasn’t interested in the deal. Before long he was approached by Julian and Roy Rifkin who talked him into considering their company which turned out to be part of Polydor, which was a worldwide conglomerate of record companies with Dutch and German ownership.
Neely encouraged Brown to sign with Polydor promising to help renegotiate a new contract with them. Neely was familiar with the European company in dealings over record distribution for King.6
“He made good on Mr. Nathan’s verbal promise to me that I would get 10 percent of the sale price of the masters,” Brown said. After the transfer of the personal services contract and title to the masters, we negotiated a new long-term contract with Polydor they gave me a substantial advance, a production company, a separate office so I could be independent from them, and artistic control of my work. There was some talk at the time that Mr. Neely might move over to Polydor a little later.”
Wise saw James Brown in Macon before his contact was sold to Polydor. She and Neely stayed at his house while attending a show in downtown Macon which Brown hosted for musical newcomers. “He was nice to newcomers,” Wise said. “James helped other people unless he thought they were a threat to him.” Her last memory of Brown was him coming down the stairs to greet them. “He had pink curlers in his hair,” she said. “I think they made him self-conscious.”7
During the negotiations with Polydor, Brown showed his skills as a businessman. Fred Davis, who was Brown’s banker and one of his bookkeepers at the time of the deal, said, “James Brown had his seventh-grade education, but there’s no telling what his IQ was. I remember times when we were sent a 30-page contract from Polydor. He (Brown) did get worked up about some things, and wrote a little note in the margin, and everybody in the courtroom would be bickering about it. Two years late, that elementary little side note would bite them in the ass. One little side note cost Polydor $4 million when it caught up with them.”8
Brown also sought the advice of Henry Stone who claimed to have been on his way from Miami to Georgia to sign Brown to a contract when Ralph Bass got to him first in 1956. “I was in New York at the time,” Stone said. “Got a call from James, saying, ‘You’ve got to help me out. I met at the American Hotel with the Polydor people and I’m not happy with what’s going on.’”
Brown’s demand that Polydor pay for his jet blocked the negotiations. “I said, ‘So look, he wants an airplane,’” Stone related. “You and I both know James is breaking wide open with a new generation of kids. You know that James is huge in the clubs of Europe—all over the world he is breaking out. So why are we arguing about a jet?”9
The deal was sealed, airplane and all. However, the major element which made the deal click was Neely’s participation. Neely was both the lead negotiator for Starday-King and the holder of the personal-services contract with Brown. He was going to make a lot of money either way.10
“It took a little of the pressure off our company,” Wilson said. “Artists like James essentially said, ‘Look I’m selling all your records. I want you to spend all your time, you know, working on my product.’ We were developing another group at the time, the Manhattans, who since went on to become big artists with Columbia. We were developing the new thrust back with the bluegrass artists. And things were rolling along.”11
In a press release, Polydor said, “James Brown will perform 335 days this coming year, losing as much as seven pounds each performance. In an average month, he will give away 5,000 autographed photos and 1,000 pairs of James Brown cufflinks. He will wear 120 freshly laundered shirts and more than 80 hours on the stage, singing, dancing and playing at least 60 songs on more than eight instruments.”12
What followed in the next couple of years were some of the biggest hits in Brown’s career. Unfortunately, music historians actually mark the deal with Polydor as the beginning of the end for James Brown’s career. In April of 1972 he sent a memo to Polydor which announced the following: “To all white people this may concern: God dammit, I’m tired. It’s been a racist thing ever since I have been here. Leave me the fuck alone. I am not a boy but a man, to you a black man.” He wished someone would buy him out.13
Polydor wasn’t very happy with Brown either. By the end of 1976 Polydor estimated that it had paid $1,514,154 to Brown as an artist, and loans to his production company. The next year Brown asked for another $25,000, but Polydor refused to give it and even tried to impound his airplane. When 1980 rolled around Polydor and Brown were discussing ways to break their contact. Negotiations, in fact, became quite nasty when a Polydor executive claimed “Hal Neely had absolutely nothing to do with any of Brown’s success! Fact!” This statement was cited by Brown and his advisers as revealing conclusively that Polydor was ignorant about the career of the entertainer.14
In his autobiography Brown would compare King Records “which had been my family for fifteen years” with Polydor. “Whatever King had been about, Polydor was the opposite. Every King act was individual; Polydor tried to make all their acts the same. King wanted to be an independent company with individual artists; Polydor wanted to be a conglomerate. King wanted to be a little company with big acts; Polydor wanted to be a big company with little acts.”

1 Wise Interview.
2 Ibid.
3 Hanneman Interview.
4 The One, 257.
5 Wilson Interview.
6 The One, 256-257.
7 Wise Interview.
8 The One, 258.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid., 257.
11 Wilson Interview
12 The One, 259.
13 Ibid., 313.
14 The James Brown Story, 151.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Twenty-Five

Glen_Campbell_1967
Then there was Starday’s shady deal with Glen Campbell

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into the King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, who referred to Neely as his favorite uncle.
No one knows how much the problems with Little Willie John and James Brown weighed on Hal Neely’s mind during this time. Nathan, because of his health, closed his many branch offices around the country in 1964 and “kinda got out of the record business,” according to Jim Wilson. But James Brown had taken “dubs” of a record, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and passed them around the radio stations. This created such a demand for that record that Nathan felt he had to get back into business and go to independent distributors since he had closed branches.19
Nathan’s personnel management practices were not easy to deal with either. “Of course, with King there was never any overtime,” Wilson said. “With those who were on a time-clock basis, at the end of your day, that was it. You did work overtime. And my gang (in the Detroit office) would do some nice work there real late. Well, how do I compensate for that? Like my warehouse man who was with me till I moved to Nashville in 1965, I gave him two extra weeks’ vacation a year, in addition to the two that he had. As I said, we had a nice, tight little organization. If a secretary wanted to take off and go shopping someday, all I needed (was for her) to let me know in advance, and I’d come in and cover for her. I did her work. That’s the way we kinda built it. It was kind of all our operation, but King paid the bills.”20
Perhaps Nathan’s indecisiveness on whether or not to retire provoked Hal Neely to leave his position as president/general manager of King to join Starday Records in Nashville. According to Wilson, Neely had been business friends with Don Pierce, president of Starday. King pressed all of Starday’s album product.21 Pierce first became friendly with Syd Nathan who had helped him with a record promotion deal in 1953. “I’ll never forget it,” Pierce said. “It’s great to have friends like Syd Nathan.”22
By the early 1960s Pierce was well respected on Nashville’s Music Row, releasing 50 to 75 singles annually, and by 1964 was considered to be one of the hot trendsetters during a massive surge in country music popularity. Wilson said he believed Pierce’s hiring of Neely as vice president and general manager relieved Pierce of many responsibilities and enabled the company to continue to grow.23
Pierce explained it this way: “In 1964, the Country Music Association, where I was a director, asked me for about the third time if I would start a golf tournament that would help create desirable publicity for country music and the Association. I thought it over, and I had by this time acquired Hal Neely’s services to assist me in the operation of Starday, and I felt that I could do this job.”24
Billboard Magazine reported in its Oct. 31, 1964 issue:

The acquisition of Neely by Starday is expected to permit Pierce
to be more active in sales and promotion of his Country Music Record
Club of America. Pierce said that the need for Neely’s service lies
in Starday’s expanding albums and singles catalogue, its growing
publication activity and the demands of the record club operation.
Pierce said Neely brings to Starday much know-how due to his long-time
association with King. Starday will continue to press and ship its
album line from Royal Plastics, the King plant in Cincinnati. Neely
had much to do with the operations of this plant.

Wilson, because of Nathan’s decision to close the branch offices, faced the unpleasant prospect of leaving his office in Detroit and moving to Cincinnati to “help tear down a ship which I had been a part of building.”
In March of 1965 he received a phone call from Hal Neely, with whom he had become acquainted over the years. “Why don’t you come down to Nashville? I want to talk to you. There might be something cookin’ here I think you’d be interested in,” Neely said.
“So I came down and met with both Hal and Don Pierce. I’ve known of Don over the years, but I don’t recall having met him previously. And what they were looking for, they wanted a sales manager to handle Starday worldwide. So I discussed this with my family and decided to move to Nashville in April of 1965.” Once in Nashville he worked mostly with Neely.25
“He(Neely) worked in all areas,” Wilson said. “But he and I worked more in the promotion and the marketing, was our main thrust. So that way it gave us a pretty good team. We hashed things around as to maybe ‘we ought to try doing this or cutting that. So we had respect for each other’s abilities and talents there. Now, we might discuss something sometime and call attention to certain sounds or types of songs that were generating action in the marketplace, merely to make an awareness to our A&R department.”26
The separation from Syd Nathan had been amicable for both Neely and Wilson. In fact, Neely attended King Records’ 25th anniversary party held at Nathan’s home in 1967. Nathan was presented with a cardboard and velvet crown and called the “King of King.” Everyone had a good time and politely ignored the fact that the party was a year early.27
While Nathan’s future was questionable, these years went very well for Hal Neely and Starday. In 1967 Don Pierce said he was offered some demonstration tracks recorded on Glen Campbell who was a very popular performer at that time. He gambled on buying them without even hearing them.
“They were terrible!” Pierce said, “but we released them anyway and when the album came out, of course Glen complained and I heard Capitol (Campbell’s record label) complain too. He sued us and Glen’s lawyer, who was a Nashville lawyer that I knew, asked me to explain to him what constituted a demonstration record. I told them as far as I was concerned, any time an artist sang in front of a microphone, knowing that the music was going to be recorded and available for reproduction, that he had just made a phonograph record. And I didn’t see any distinction between a commercial record and a demonstration record. In both cases, the artist sang into a microphone material to be recorded and played at another time. And I felt that a recording was a recording. And we proceeded on that basis and we eventually settled the case for about $10,000 or $12,000. Glen played in the golf tournament that I created and it ended up on a friendly basis.”28
Two albums, Country Soul and Country Music Star were released, marketed as though they were new recordings by Glen Campbell and became moneymakers for Starday, selling more than 27,000 copies within the first three months. Neely played a role in this maneuvering as outlined in a 1971 memo to Pierce: “Please note that we have settled this claim on the basis of $12,000 plus royalties. A total amount of $21,012.61. Needless to say, this is a very good settlement. It is exactly what we agreed to do be agreed to do before the action started.”29
Neely became a fixture in the Nashville social scene. Larry Finley said in his April 2, 1966, Tape Cartridge Tips column in Billboard Magazine that he had recently visited Nashville as the guest of Don Pierce and Hal Neely. “One thing that was most noticeable was the friendly feeling between the various record companies. Don and Hal were most complimentary in telling us stories about Randy Wood, president of Dot Records. Hal Neely was especially busy making preparations for the Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament which was held this past weekend with such stars as Perry Como, Lawrence Welk, Dizzy Dean, Buck Owens, Leslie Gore, Pete Fountain, Woody Woodbury, Sonny James, Eddie Arnold, Minnie Pearl and others. Golf pros included Mason Rudolph, Byron Nelson, Tommy Bolt, Joe Campbell and others.”
Billboard reported on the golf tournament the next year in its Oct. 8, 1967, issue, quoting Neely as saying the number of “name” golf pros would probably double from the previous year. The budget for the tournament was set at $37,000.
Neely traveled quite extensively as Starday general manager. Billboard Magazine reported in its March 4, 1967, issue that Neely spoke to the National Association of Record Merchandisers in Los Angeles about the growth of the country western music industry and profiled the typical C&W record buyer. Billboard also wrote about his trip to Europe in its May, 24, 1967, edition where he negotiated licensing agreement renewals with Peter Maurice and also conferred with British Decca and Lark Music companies.
Bill Williams in his Nashville Scene column of Billboard said in April 8, 1967, “Hardworking Hal Neely of Starday was the man behind CMA’s most recent presentations. A man of ability and indefatigability, he is also the driving force of the Music City Golf Tournament.”
Victoria Wise, who would eventually marry Neely, gave her version of Faron Young’s Christmas party in December of 1967which Neely recounted in his memoirs. Wise described Neely that night as “holding court.” 30 It is interesting to note the slight variations in the stories of this time in their lives.
“What this industry needs is new blood,” Neely said.
Wise stepped forward from the party crowd. “I have new blood.”
Neely set up an appointment to interview her on January 2. Wise paid a girlfriend $20 to drive her to the Starday headquarters in a snowstorm where he hired her to handle public relations and artist relations. Two days later they and 20 other people from Starday flew to Las Vegas for James Brown’s opening at Caesar’s Palace. Before the first show Neely hosted a party for James Brown and his entourage. Wise remembered that among the guests was Michael Nesbeth, one of the Monkees. Wayne Cochran, whose CC Riders Band was booked into Caesar’s 4 a.m. lounge show, was invited to the party but did not attend because he was jealous of James Brown. When Neely and West settled into their seats for the concert and the lights came up they were in for a big surprise.31
In an attempt to appeal to the older and mostly white audiences at Las Vegas, Brown expanded his band and added strings. Amidst smoke machines he came out singing “If I Ruled the World,” “It’s Magic,” and “September Song.” “Like I say, when I am on stage I’m aware of everything from the shine on the band’s shoes to how the people in the back row are reacting,” Brown recalled that night in his autobiography. “That night they were reacting well. The applause came, but it was too polite, too restrained. After a little while I got that feeling every entertainer has had at one time or another: I felt I was dying out there, and here it was opening night.”
“This was not what James Brown ought to be,” Wise said, “and Hal was antsy. He went to the lightbox. After intermission James Brown didn’t use the orchestra but had a small group.”32
“Mr. Neely caught on, though,” Brown said in his autobiography. “When he saw what was happening he jumped out of his seat and ran upstairs to the control room. Nobody up there was calling the light now because the key sheet from the rehearsal didn’t mean anything anymore. The union people didn’t want to let him do it, but he started calling the lights and the sound anyway. He had seen me work 100 times so he didn’t have any problem. Pretty soon all those people in their minks and suits were up on their seats, hollering and carrying on. I never worked harder in my life, and we killed them. Dead.”
After the performance Wise said she and Neely went to a small room to see Wayne Cochran but then went to Brown’s party. “Hal had more energy,” Wise said. “He burned the candle at both ends. He got energy from other people who were 20 to 30 years younger than himself.”33
The exhilaration of the Las Vegas trip did not last long for Wise. Immediately afterwards Starday experienced an unexpected downturn of sales so Wise–being the last one to be hired–was the first of be fired. “I was angry and left immediately,” she said, “but Hal said I’d have to come back to get her last check.”
When she returned to the office after 5 p.m. she discovered four people still there having a happy hour. “Hal insisted I stay for a drink. I was scared of Hal, who would pretend to be angry.” She and her girlfriend invited Neely and Jim Wilson to dinner at their apartment. Wilson couldn’t come, but Neely joined them. Wise remembered being locked out of the apartment so Neely drove them to the property manager’s office for the key. Later, Neely and the manager of the Beach boys took Wise and her friend to see singer Ronnie Prophet of Canada on Printers Alley.
“It was the first time I talked to him as a person and not the boss,” Wise said. “He was interesting. We could talk for hours all through the night.”34
As Neely was developing his new life in Nashville, life finally ended for Syd Nathan. He died on March 5, 1968, in Miami Beach, Florida, of heart disease complicated by pneumonia. He was 64 years old.35
Not only was this sad news for Hal Neely and James Brown, it was especially bad for Little Willie John who was languishing in a Washington state penitentiary. Even though Nathan and Neely had blocked his big break with Capitol Records, John held no grudges. Neely said he visited John in prison and attempted to have him released. Some cynical sources attribute Neely’s attentions to the fact that the singer was probably worth more money to him out of prison than in; nevertheless, he still tried to help. John died on May 26, 1968, in the prison hospital. The official cause of death was listed as heart attack.36
However the prosecuting attorney in his case, Art Swanson, said, “I don’t think there’s any question that he was assaulted in prison and that he died because of congestive lung failure, because of fluid in the lungs, which occurs because of a fall. Willie popped off, he had a big mouth, and they don’t take that sort of thing. I’m sure he got into a fight and somebody killed him.”37
Shortly after John’s death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis during a strike by garbage workers. “When the shock wore off,” Brown said in his autobiography, “I called Mr. Neely and talked to him for a long time about the assassination. Like a lot of people, I knew it was going to bring a great deal of violence, burning and death, and I knew everyone would lose by it. I didn’t want it to happen, and knew Martin wouldn’t want it to happen. I told Mr. Neely I wish there was something I could do to prevent it.” Brown decided to go live on radio stations in Knoxville and Baltimore to urge people to respect the memory of Dr. King by remaining peaceful. “A lot of people didn’t want to hear that and didn’t understand it. There were bomb threats, death threats. Some of the threats came to Mr. Neely and King Records. I didn’t pay any attention to them.”
On August 12, 1968, James Brown lost another member of his surrogate family when his personal agent Ben Bart dropped dead of a heart attack after playing golf with his son Jack on a Long Island course.38
“That was probably one of the lowest points of my whole life. For most of us, being from Georgia, Pop was the first white person we really felt comfortable with,” Brown comment in his autobiography.
However, Brown and Bart did have legal disagreements. Jack Bart explained it this way: “James Brown owed my father in excess of about $185,000. I guess James Brown’s popularity got in the way of his clear thinking. My father had no choice but to file suit with attorney Barry Zisser of Jacksonville, Florida. Attorney Zisser took a very proactive stance, got judgment and started attaching the box office at each concert that James Brown was working. When James Brown found out after the money in the first box office was tied up, he asked my father to lift the lock on the box office. My father did not release the lock but allowed the promoter at that venue to give James Brown enough money to pay his band, and the rest was sent to Ben Bart’s lawyer. This went on for quite some time until the full amount of monies was in fact paid. The relationship between my father and James Brown remained good throughout this time. And my father remained James Brown’s manager until his passing in 1968.”39
And now the only member of his surrogate family he had left was Hal Neely.
Footnotes
19 Jim Wilson Interview.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Gibson, Nathan, The Starday Story: The House that Country Music Built, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 16.
23 Jim Wilson Interview.
24 Starday Story, 137.
25 Jim Wilson Interview.
26 Ibid.
27 King of the Queen City, 182.
28 The Starday Story, 158-159.
29 Ibid., 159.
30 Victoria Wise Interview May 2011.
31 Ibid.
32 Ibid.
34 Ibid.
35 King of the Queen City, 182.
36 Fever, 176.
37 Ibid., 178.
38 Life of James Brown, 132.
39 Jack Bart Interview June 2012.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Twenty-Three

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into the King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of soul.
(Author’s Note: Italics indicate passages from Neely’s memoirs)

It was evident to me that both the black R & B and “old” country (as we knew it) was changing. Our total self-contained business was in jeopardy. Syd and I disagreed on tactics. Motown changed the way independents did business. Berry Gordy Jr. and I were good friends. We talked about a merger. In 1964 King’s profits sunk. Syd and I disagreed.
“Hal, it’s my way or no way.”
Don Pierce’s Starday Records also changed. Don, a pioneer in country music, founded Starday. Don was not a musician but knew the business. He knew the Starday catalog and assembled most of the LPs. Don and I were both low handicap golfers and played whenever we could. We became very good friends. Don had a young man, not a musician, working for him as his assistant but he left to join a company in California. Don had a good staff and was aware of my problems with Syd so he offered me a good deal in July 1964–a minority interest in Starday if I would move to Nashville and become his vice president and chief operating officer. I would keep my King deal and still help Syd all I could. Syd and Don had always been good friends but not on the same wavelength. Starday worked through distributors and direct mail order, keeping a low profile.
My wife Mary did not want to leave Cincinnati and all her friends. Even so, she agreed. “Hal, if that is what you want, okay.”
We bought a small house Pierce had built out on Old Hickory Lake, close to where Faron Young, Roy Acuff, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and a host of other country music stars lived. Starday’s “lake guest house” was close by me. Pierce had built, and now lived in, a big new house on the lake up the road from me. We jointly owned sixty acres on the lake called “Grasslands.”
Several of my key Cincinnati King people–Jim Wilson, Johnny Miller, Roy Emery, and Dan Quest– moved to Nashville Starday with me. Key Starday staff were Suzanne Mathis, sales, and her little sister Dorothy of accounting, Mrs. Casey in shipping, and Tommy Hill, producer.
Eventually Mary and I built a big ranch-style house on 80 acres of woods and pasture. We owned horses and cattle. James moved his office to Macon, Georgia, and built a beautiful estate across the river in South Carolina. He and I were still in business together, but he did his own thing. Surprisingly, James loved country music and several times in our early years came to our house to eat and listen to country music. He loved Mary because she taught him proper table manners. However, for the rest of his life he seldom ate in a restaurant. He picked at his food.
James Brown exploded in the marketplace. His shows sold out. He worked nonstop. This earned him the title “The Hardest Working Man In The Music Business.” In the beginning I often toured with James, running interference for him as his massive ego and unpredictable nature created problems.
By this time I had built an enviable reputation in the music entertainment business. Among my credits, awards, and industry service were being the Record Industry Association of America representative on the Copyright Act Tribunal, cofounding the Music City Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Woodland Hills Country Club and being the master of ceremonies at the “after golf” show. Participating in the tournament were Perry Como, Boots Randolph, Nashville Cats Band, Sam Snead, Jerry Reed, and other Nashville stars who enjoyed golf as a pastime. I wrote a series of technical music/productions/engineering articles for Popular Science magazine, Billboard, and other trade papers.
At Faron Young’s Christmas party in 1967, I was holding court and spouting off as usual. “What Nashville needs are some sharp young ladies in our business other than just secretaries.”
Standing in the back of the group was a 5’11” beauty in high heels.
“My name is Victoria Wise. I would like a job. When can I see you?”
My ass was hanging out. “Come see me the Monday after New Year’s.”
That whole holiday season was snow, snow and almost blizzard weather. That Monday, I had a Jeep with snow tires so I went into the office early as usual, knowing none of my people would probably come to work. My book did show a Victoria Wise in for an interview. I did not figure she would show up. About eight, a car pulled up out front and in waltzed Miss Wise who took off her coat and sat down in the lowest chair she could find, wearing the shortest shirt dress I had ever seen. She crossed those long, long beautiful legs. There wasn’t any place else I could look.
“Glad to see you. Nice of you to come out in this weather.”
She said she had a friend who had snow tires on her car and had brought her out. She was now sitting in the outer office. Victoria was one sharp, sharp lady. She had a good resume. A scholarship to Middle Tennessee State University, worked with Revlon out of New York as a beauty consultant traveling and teaching salespeople. She quit Revlon to move to Nashville where she was born and raised. She had family in Lawrenceburg. Currently working at the new Country Music Association Hall of Fame and Museum, she wanted a chance in the music industry. In high school she played clarinet and had been a drum majorette and she had some music knowledge.
She was very well-qualified and probably just the person I was looking for. We agreed on the terms and conditions. She wanted to do public relations and artist relations. She would report to me. We would build a special office for her on the second floor. I was due in Las Vegas, leaving Wednesday, to attend the James Brown show opening at Caesar’s Palace’s big room that weekend. I thought it was a good idea to take Victoria along to break her in.
But there were two problems. She still had her job and she had a boyfriend. Her job at the CMA would be no problem. I was now a vice president and director of CMA and her boss would be happy to see one of his girls get a chance. Victoria went into the next office, closed the door and talked to her boyfriend on the telephone. He was not happy with her deal. Even so, she came back into my office and said “Okay.”
My plan was that Jim Wilson—who had left King to join me in Nashville—Victoria, and I would leave on American Airlines Wednesday morning by the way of Cincinnati, to pick up Jim’s girlfriend and then fly on to Vegas. I had the premium guest suite at Caesar’s and rooms for my people. She and Jim’s girlfriend would share a room.
James Brown was the “hottest act in the industry”. He had hit after hit and sold out shows on tour. I had chartered a special flight from Hollywood to Vegas and my guests were Hedda Hopper, the Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Variety and others. It would be a gala night. We held a preshow special James Brown reception in my suite.
Victoria was a little late getting to the reception, dressed in a beautiful short skirt, long legs, stunning. Wow. But I told her, “No way.” She was working. I sent her back to her room to change into something more businesslike. Victoria, in all the years to come, never forgave me.
Col. Parker, an old friend of mine and Elvis Presley’s manager, had a special personal booth directly in front of the stage. He was at James Brown’s opening reception and invited Victoria and me to be his guests in his booth for the show. I had not gone to that afternoon’s rehearsal. I knew the James Brown show by heart. It was basically the “Live at the Apollo Show” which I had produced. I had seen it many times.
Showtime. The curtain went up. I went into total shock. James Brown’s 12-piece band with Bobby Byrd and the girl singers were all staged out in front of a full 24-piece orchestra with its own conductor. The orchestra opened the show with “I Feel Good.” James came out on stage dressed in a black silk tuxedo and not his usual cape. He had good opening applause, and then not much of anything. He was “bombing.” James Brown had that pure instinct of a great performer, to improvise, and all of a sudden on “Fever,” the James Brown’s band took over from the big orchestra and were doing the Apollo show. The orchestra members were good Vegas musicians, could play anything so they picked up their James Brown version and joined in “jamming.”
I ran upstairs to the control room and called the lights and sound for an Apollo show. Thank God, all Vegas show room technicians are adaptable to emergencies. This was an emergency. The customers never knew what happened. They loved it! Soon some were up dancing in their chairs, others in the aisles. I had never seen such a show in the big room, even Elvis. My Hollywood guests were enthralled with the “Godfather of Soul.” After the show I took them backstage to meet and greet Mr. Brown. By this time James insisted on being addressed as Mr. Brown. The entourage loved him. He was at his best. The evening was a huge success.
The original contract was for two weeks; however, we all agreed to cut it to one week. The date was a success. It opened the door for me to book more of my artists, Redd Fox and the Wayne Cochran CC Riders band into a Caesar’s lounge for very early 4 a.m. shows.
James took his private plane to Hollywood to regroup. Bobby Byrd and the others followed on their bus. They had no trouble and booked into a Los Angeles club. Victoria and I went to Hollywood for a week of meetings. She took to her job and soon was pretty much her own boss when we got back to Nashville.
Next I went to London, and our sales hit bottom. We had no hits. I called Jim Wilson and said, “Jim, I’m stuck here for at least a week or so. You better cut back where ever you can and hold the fort ‘til I return.” This was the same old record business. “Hot today, cold tomorrow, hot again.”
First thing Jim did was to lay off some people. Victoria Wise was the last hired so she was the first to go. When I got back I called her. She was furious. She always did have a bad mouth and knew the words. She hung up on me. So be it. She had two weeks’ pay coming. Victoria’s girl roommate was one of my artists with some merit but had no hits yet. She was in the office, and I told her I had Victoria’s check, but she would have to come and get it.
Victoria came in. We made peace. But she had taken a job with her friend Ellen Tune as a bus tour guide of Nashville. She was good because she knew the stars, the gossip and Music Row. She was doing okay.
I was involved with the Beach Boys. Their manager, a bachelor, was in Nashville visiting me. He wanted to “go out and do the Strip.” I called Victoria and her friend to invite them to go out with us. We would pick them up about seven. That night began a complication: the girls went to the store and locked themselves out. They had to climb up the balcony to get in through a window. When we got there they were not yet dressed.
The plan was for Victoria to team up with Roger and sit in the back and Sarah and I would sit in the front. But Sarah jumped in back with Roger. Victoria had to sit in the front with me. That was the pattern for the night. We ended up at Boots Randolph’s club. It was a good fun night, though it was cold and wintry. Victoria and I found we had much in common.
Jim and I had to go to Cincinnati and would stay at a new inn close to King. Victoria knew all the Cincinnati people and hadn’t been there in a long time. I asked her if she would like to go, and she agreed. We got in late and went directly to the inn. My room was on the first floor in back facing the pool. Jim’s room was across the hall. About five in the morning the fire alarms went off. Jim Wilson was running up and down the hall knocking on all the doors yelling fire.
Smoke was coming under my door. Victoria and I soaked towels, packed them around the door, dressed in our sheepskins and cowboy hats and went outside. People on the second floor could only get their patio doors partially opened and were calling down to us. The smoke was billowing. The fire trucks arrived. There was more smoke and commotion than danger. A man on the first floor, across from me, had fallen asleep with a lighted cigarette. The first floor was cleared, and we went back to our rooms.
Mary and I still lived on the lake. She loved her house, her dogs, and her friends. Mary never went into town and hated the music business. We had drifted apart. Victoria and I started hanging out together. It just happened. She liked the clothes, the travel, and the music business. We liked many of the same things and had the same friends. Victoria was very independent; however, we were each still going our own way. She still worked with Ellen Tune and was doing very well.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Twenty-Two

Previously in the book: Nebraskan Hal Neely began his career touring with big bands and worked his way into the King records, producing rock and country songs. Along the way he worked with James Brown, the Godfather of soul.
(Author’s Note: Italics indicate passages from Neely’s memoirs)
On October 24, 1962, James Brown was booked to play at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. It was the premium show palace for black acts. I decided to record the show for King. On Saturday nights the Apollo ran three shows, first a movie then a live act, after which they cleared the theater. They sold the tickets for the second show, cleared the house, and sold new tickets for the third show. Many Saturday nights, depending on the live act, some customers would buy tickets for two shows.
I rented the recording gear from Tom Nola’s Studio in Manhattan—a two-track mixer and four mikes. I hung one mike from the theaters ceiling in front of the center stage. James held one mike as he danced and sang and two mikes were in front of his band the JBs. I engineered and recorded the show backstage, wearing earphones. They all wanted to hear the tape recording.
“I can’t use it,” I told them. “There is some old lady sitting in the front row directly underneath the hanging mike shouting, ‘Sing, you mother, sing.’”
The guys all whooped it up and wanted to hear the tape again. Bobby Byrd explained to me that this was a common phrase the black kids yelled at James as he danced around the stage. It gave me an idea–the blacks would all know the phrase.
I knew James’s show routine. He usually did three different shows each night. I suggested they do the exact same routine all three shows– any show routine changes a little every time it is done. I would edit the same three shows and finalized them into one album. I ran out into the lobby to see if I could by chance locate the little old lady. I was in luck. She was eating a bag of popcorn and waiting in line to buy a new ticket for the next show. I went to her and introduced myself as James Brown’s manager.
“Ma’am, I noticed you really enjoyed his show. Would you like to be James’s guest? I’ll reserve the same seat for you.”
She was thrilled with the idea. She lived alone and came to the Apollo Saturday night. It was her weekly entertainment. I bought her a hot dog, new ticket and had a sign placed on her seat “reserved”. She shouted, “Sing, you mother, sing” as if on cue in all three shows. After the third show, I went out and gave her $10, and my card, got her address, and told her I would send her a copy of the album when it came out. She was a happy nice older lady.
James and the band were staying at a nice hotel in Harlem. Late that night another nice old black lady came to see James. It was his mother. She lived in Harlem and had gone to the last show that night. She and James were together again.
I edited the three shows and sent James my edited version for his comments. He loved the album, no changes. Dan Quest, King’s art director, designed the album cover, and I wrote the liner notes.
“James Brown Live at the Apollo” is now ranked the fourth best album of our time. This is the album that taught the white kids what the black kids already knew.
James and I formed “James Brown Productions/People Records, a joint venture company. James owned 49% and I owned 51%. James was still an exclusive King artist. I furnished him with his own private office in my King building on Brewster Avenue with its own private entrance. He had a secretary. Bud Hobgood, one of his longtime employees, was its manager.
James and I grew apart. He started being “self-possessive” and developed a “convenient memory”–trying to cut me out to do his own thing. He signed a contract with Mercury Records in Chicago. I took them to court and won the case and damages from Mercury. James Brown remained an exclusive King artist under personal contract to me.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Twenty-One

Previously in the book: Hal Neely began his career with big bands and then entered the recording business, working with controversial producer Syd Nathan and soul star James Brown.
Hal Neely’s relationship with James Brown revolved curiously around specific events which evoked different memories from everyone involved. One of the best examples of this phenomenon was the creation of the history-making “Live at the Apollo” record album.
In April of 1959 James Brown was booked into the Apollo Theater for the first time. He was still riding high from the success of “Try Me,” and his booking agent Ben Bart, in charge of Universal Attractions, wanted to take advantage of it. The engagement brought back a former member of the Famous Flames, Bobby Byrd, who would spend the rest of his career flying in and out of Brown’s orbit.1
“I was a seasoned performer, but under the circumstances I was a nervous wreck,” Brown said in his autobiography. “The Apollo was a special place: it was the venue for black entertainers; it made a lot of people, but it broke a lot too. The audience was very tough and if they didn’t like you, they let you know.”
The Apollo Theater, on 125th St. off Eighth Avenue in the Harlem section of Manhattan, began as a burlesque house called Hurtig and Seamon’s Music Hall. A city crackdown on stripper shows in 1934 transformed the facility into what became the crown jewel of the “chitlin circuit”– a collection of theaters in the South and on the East Coast, allowing black audiences to enjoy black entertainers during the Jim Crow era.2
By the fall of 1962, James Brown was a major act but still not in the same league as Ray Charles or Jackie Wilson. Charles, for example, had already made a recording of a live show in 1969 called “In Person”. Brown wanted to do the same thing.3
Hal Neely, in interviews given later in his life, claimed the idea of a live recording was his. Whoever’s idea it was, Syd Nathan hated it, calling it silly. Very few live performances had been recorded because they could not be controlled.4 Another problem was that King Records made its money through the sale of singles which could be marketed easily on the radio. Nathan believed no hit single could come out of a live recording, and he wasn’t concerned with long-playing albums anyway.5
After Nathan so emphatically rejected his idea, Brown went to his booking agent, Ben Bart, with a proposition to make Bart his partner/manager. After some persuasion Bart agreed negotiating details with Brown’s other manager, Clint Brantley. He also turned over Universal Attractions duties to his son Jack Bart, according to Brown’s autobiography.
“We got into many battles over those years after my father passed the management of James over to me,” Jack Bart said. “This was due to the fact that James felt why should he pay a booking agency, why should he pay a manager? If it had been two separate families and our last names had been different, he probably wouldn’t have objected.”6
Brown gave one more shot at convincing Nathan to support the live at the Apollo album. Chuck Seitz, lead engineer with King at that time, described the meeting this way:
“I remember James came in one day needing money. He wanted Syd to give him $5000. Syd said, ‘I’ll give you $5000 if you’ll sign with me five more years.’ And James must’ve been up against it so he signed for five more years. And in that five-year period, the Apollo thing came around.”7
Bobby Byrd had a different recollection of the situation. “Didn’t nobody believe in us – none of the company executives at King Records believed in us. But see, we were out there. We saw the response as we ran our show. James took the money we had saved for an upcoming Southern swing ($5700) and gambled it on one night.” The gamble to which Byrd referred was Brown’s investment in the Apollo show.8
“Usually James fined his band members $5 or $10 for making a mistake, but this time, he put out the word that if anyone flubbed one note at the Apollo, it would be $50 to $100.” Instead of the usual arrangement with the Apollo, Brown and Bart put down the $5700 as theater rental.9
“Once Mr. Nathan saw I was going to go ahead with a live recording, he started cooperating,” Brown said in his autobiography. “Mr. Neely took care of getting the equipment from A-1 Sound in New York, the only ones who had portable stuff—Magnacorders, I think.”
Neely’s memory of the preparations were more detailed. The Apollo had the usual public address system, a mixer, four microphones and headphones. Neely rented and placed the additional equipment. There was no multi–tracking so what one got on the acetate single tape was the final product. Mixing was done on the fly. Drums and bass came in on different speakers. The board had switches instead of the sliders used today to control and come from speakers which were placed on the left, right, above and in front of the stage. Neely said he was not given credit for the recording, but the credit went to the company he rented the equipment from.10
“We had opened on the 19th (of October) and were building up to recording on the 24th, a Wednesday, which meant amateur night,” Brown said in his autobiography. “I wanted that wild amateur-night crowd because I knew they’d do plenty of hollering. The plan was to record all four shows that day so we’d have enough tape to work with.”
Once the concert had begun, Brown worried that Neely might have done too good a job stringing the microphones around the stage. One of them was right over an audience member–a woman who looked like she was 75 years old. In the middle of “I Love You, Yes I Do” Brown sang the line “from the way I look at you.” The mike clearly picked up her screaming “Sing it, mother***ker, sing it!” During a quiet rendition of “Lost Someone” which was supposed to be a serious song, the same old woman screamed loudly which caused the audience to laugh, according to his autobiography. Brown recovered and called for another “yeah” from the audience, causing them to continue to call out.11
“I wanna hear you scream. I wanna hear you saying OW!” After the response he added, “Don’t just say ow, say OW!”12
In the middle of the performance of the song “I Don’t Mind” the microphone picked up a minor argument between two audience members. A woman squealed, and a man rumbled back at her. When Brown sang “you gonna miss me” a woman yelled in response, “Yeah, you, baby, you! Ha-ha-ha … Yeah, you!” As it turned out, that was the same old woman who screamed “mother***ker.”13
Another version, however, said the old lady’s outburst was garbled and probably not the word “mother***ker”. Less than 30 seconds later, a scratchy, male voice says, “Sing a song, James.” This source conjectured that the garbled outburst was merely a squeak from the drum kit or the organ speaker. It went on to surmise that the audience mikes had been turned down when the crowd was expected to cheer and was turned up to catch the unexpected exclamations in the middle of songs.14
After the first show Neely brought the tape backstage for Brown and the rest of the musicians to hear, according to Brown’s autobiography. When Neely replayed the disputed outburst, everyone in the band laughed out loud. Neely did not catch the joke until the band explained what they thought the woman said. At first Neely thought it was terrible and the woman had to be kept from the other shows but when he saw the reaction of everyone backstage, he said, “Hey, maybe we’ve got something here.”
The legend15 developed that Neely went out to the lobby and found the old woman, bought her candy and popcorn and paid her $10 to stay for the next three shows. As if on cue she shouted at all the right places.
One last story that contributed to the legend of the night concerned a meeting between Brown and his long-lost mother. Neely said, “James hadn’t seen his mother in 20 years, and she showed up backstage at the Apollo that night.” 16 However, Brown said in his autobiography that the emotional reunion with his mother actually occurred during his first appearance at the Apollo Theater in 1959 when he opened for Little Willie John.
The controversy over credit for the recording did not end with the concert that cold October night in 1962. Again in the middle of the dispute was Hal Neely and his role in the final editing process. For one thing, the album cover credited Tom Nola as “location engineer” but Neely said he recorded it himself.17 James Brown in his autobiography gave Neely full editing acknowledgement, saying “he had a good mix of the performance and the audience, and he had fixed all the cussing so it wasn’t right up front. He figured it would be an underground thing for people who knew what the lady was screaming; he was right, too. He worked on the tape a long time and did a fantastic job of mixing it.”
Chuck Seitz, King’s chief engineer, also claimed responsibility for the successful editing of Live at the Apollo. “All I know is that tape came in to us, and we listen to the damn thing. We listen all the way through, and I thought it was terrible. For one thing you couldn’t always tell it was live. The trouble was the basic recording approach, which only intermittently picked up the crowd’s reaction. If this was going to be a document of a concert, pandemonium had to be reinjected18
“I suggested we try to boost the audience up. I went to Roselawn (in Cincinnati) to a sock dance they used to have out there. I knew the DJ, so I went out there with a tape recorder. He got them (a group of white teen-agers) to applaud and cheer, and I went back and inserted it where it was needed.” Seitz acknowledged that the exclamations by the old woman were authentic and from the original Apollo track.19
One point everyone apparently agreed on was that Syd Nathan’s initial reaction was that he hated it. He did not want to finance a publicity campaign to have the album played on radio stations around the country. Nathan considered releasing it on the Deluxe subsidiary label which would have doomed it to failure because the smaller label had less marketing possibilities. That way he could take a tax write-off on a project he had not even invested his money in.20
Brown said in his autobiography that Nathan did not like the way the album went from one tune to another without stopping. Nathan evidently thought there would be polite applause between each number which would give a disc jockey a place to begin and end a song on the radio. That was the only way he knew how to sell records.
Nathan’s plan to bury the album enraged Brown. Jerry Blavat, a Philadelphia disc jockey, remembered seeing Brown backstage at an Atlantic City concert. “He told me, ‘you have got to hear this new thing, man. That f**king Syd Nathan, he don’t want to release this, he don’t have a f**king ear! I’m gonna release it myself.’” Blavat said Brown gave him a copy which he took home and listened to. “It was the most exciting live album; this was raw, and it captured what he was on stage, man. Forget it! I busted that f**king thing wide open, just played the hell out of it. The whole f**king thing, because you couldn’t really just play one song the way it was put together.”21
The next stage of Brown’s campaign to promote Live at the Apollo was to send a copy to his favorite disc jockey and event promoter Allyn Lee in Montgomery. Lee said, “It hadn’t hit the streets yet. I was on the air on Sunday and I played it for the first time. I played it all the way through, and that sort of sealed my fate in Montgomery. One million phone calls came in – see, they didn’t really know James Brown in Montgomery; they knew ‘Please’ but they had never heard him in that form. Now they did.”22
Nathan relented in May 1963 and released the album even though he said he still couldn’t see the sense in it. He ordered an original pressing of only 5000 copies—a cautious if standard procedure for Nathan, according to Seitz, King’s Chief Engineer.
“Syd’s theory was that he’d put 1000 copies of a record out, and then watch it real close – he wouldn’t advertise until something started to take off.”23
Brown, in his autobiography, gave special credit to Neely. “I think Mr. Neely was the one who finally sold him on it.” He also gave another example of how stubborn Syd Nathan could be. Nathan still insisted that singles be spun off of the album so they could be played on the radio.
“When Mr. Nathan checked the radio stations to see what was being played off the album, he got a surprise,” Brown said in his memoirs. “They told him that there wasn’t a tune the stations were playing. They were playing the whole album. It was unheard of for a station to play a whole album uninterrupted, but a lot of stations with black programming were doing it. Mr. Nathan couldn’t believe it, but it convinced him to let the album keep going on its own.”
Live at the Apollo stayed on the LP charts for 66 weeks, an amazing feat considering the first pressing was for 5000. The album reached number two on the Billboard national pop charts and was the 32nd top selling album in 1963. However, total record sales numbers will never be known because Syd Nathan never got RIAA certification for King Records which made exact sales accounting impossible.24
Nathan did, however, eventually buy the master tape from Brown.25

Footnotes:
1 The One, 93.
2Wolk, Douglas, Live at the Apollo, Continuum, New York, 2004, 1.
3Fever, 119.
4The One, 108.
5Live at the Apollo, 6.
6 Life of James Brown, 77, 78.
7The One, 111.
8Ibid. 110.
9 Ibid.
10Roland Hanneman interview.
11Live at the Apollo, 70.
12Ibid. 57.
13Ibid. 85.
14 Ibid. 107.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
17Roland Hanneman Interview.
18The One, 120.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Ibid., 121.
23Night at the Apollo, 120.
24 Ibid., 112.
25Ibid. 114.