Miami-based label owner and producer Joe Stone is walking to his car, where it's a balmy 26°C. By comparison, Ottawa is a relatively miserable -4°C on one of the coldest days of the year so far.
Stone, 53, politely tries to play it down, but let's face it, in the winter, everyone would rather be in Miami than Ottawa.
However, Joe's not on the phone to talk about the weather, but to tell the incredible story behind his label, Henry Stone Music.
The label is very much a monument to the great success of his late father, Henry Stone, who died in 2014 at the age of 93.
Henry was one of the disco-era's most successful executives. He started out as a producer for Ray Charles and co-founded a label with his friend James Brown. However, Henry's heyday was when he founded TK Records in 1972.
One of Henry's key artists at TK started out as a warehouse worker at his Tone Distributors company. Henry let that worker, named Harry Wayne "KC" Casey, record in his studio after hours, and after hearing their work, he signed Casey's group. They were KC and Sunshine Band, which went on to release a string of #1 records, including "Get Down Tonight," "That's the Way (I Like It)" and "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty."
TK Records also released George McCrae's landmark "Rock Your Baby," considered the very first disco hit record.
"It was a wild time," Joe says. "It was probably good that I was in my early teens and not 17 or 18. With all the drugs, discotheques and the limousines — that was back when riding in a limousine meant you were someone really important — I could've got into way more trouble."
His father's hard partying was mostly in the service of payola. Henry's independent radio promoters handed over drugs, women and whatever passing pleasures DJs wanted in return for radio play.
"The barbecues at our house were crazy," Joe continues. "People were hanging out at the pool, there was weed and blow going around, and every now and then it was out on the table. This one time, a DJ [was given] a new Mercedes convertible with a side of cocaine, and the DJ screamed, 'I'm going to put your record to number one!' I thought wow, that's how the world works, I guess."
But after years of success, the bubble eventually burst for TK Records as the anti-disco movement caused the label to shut its doors in 1981. One of the label's final releases was an early "Weird Al" Yankovic single, his parody of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" titled, "Another One Rides the Bus."
Henry then started releasing music from artists in Miami's nascent hip-hop and rap scene. Joe was in his early 20s by this time, and itching to follow in his father's footsteps.
"Dad didn't want me to work in the music business," Joe recalls. "He kept telling me to go to school and get a degree. But I kept being drawn back to the studio. I wanted my break in music, so I decided to become an engineer."
While both Henry's and Joe's successes were smaller than the previous decade, Henry eventually relented and let Joe engineer and produce for local hip-hop acts.
Under his father's Hot Productions label, Joe was part of a comedy hip hop act, 2 Live Jews, which parodied Miami hip-hop stars 2 Live Crew.
Today, Henry Stone Music is still actively producing music from Miami artists, and actively licencing the Florida soul, funk and dance tracks from his father's catalogue.
"Right now, I want to keep spreading the word about our new music and my father's music," Joe says. "I don't envy anyone getting in on this game now. It's difficult to make a full living on music consumption — there's a huge difference from making $4 profit on a record to just 40 cents on a download today."
But even the least-known tracks in his father's repertoire are being heard in the streaming era.
"These things come in waves of popularity, some of the gospel stuff will get popular, then funk, blues or something else because another artist mentions that they're into them. I might have 500 tracks on the low end that generate 87 cents a year, but then suddenly, they make $500. You should never be discouraged to put your stuff out there.
It's no longer about bars, drugs and hookers — it's all about algorithms and getting playlisted on Spotify."
For more information about Henry Stone Music, visit their website at henrystonemusic.com
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert Ballantyne is Artsculture's Creative Director. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets.