Hank’s Historical Marker in Cincinnati and the Herzog Studio
by Brian Turpen

Many have mistakenly assumed that Hank Williams did all of his studio sessions in Nashville, Tennessee. Not true as Hank had two recording sessions elsewhere, both done at the Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Murray Nash once commented why in saying, “There were two main reasons for recording in Cincinnati.  One is this band, using them for sidemen. The other was the Herzog recording studio, which was the most cooperative studio I think that we ever worked in.”   It was Fred Rose who was insistent on having Red Foley’s old band, the Pleasant Valley Boys, back Hank.  Several members of the band had played on 3 of Hank’s previous sessions before they had moved to Ohio.  The Pleasant Valley Boys consisted of Jerry Byrd on steel guitar, Louis Innis on rhythm guitar, Tommy Jackson on fiddle and Zeke Turner on lead guitar.

On December 22, 1948, Hank did his first session at Herzog Studio.  The backing musicians were as mentioned, the Pleasant Valley Boys, along with Clyde Baum on mandolin, and Willie Thawl on bass.  Hank recorded four tunes that day.  Two were duets with Audrey; Lost On The River and I Heard My Mother Praying For Me.  The other two tunes he recorded were: There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight and his break-through giant hit Lovesick Blues.

Text Box:        During one of Hank’s stays in Cincinnati to record?  Accounts of the details of recording Lovesick Blues differ.  Jerry Byrd says they had ten minutes left and Hank brought the song out.  Byrd says it was out-of-meter and Rose hated the song, but relented and they made two cuts of it.  Baum agrees that Rose wasn’t keen on the song, but that the band cut the tune on their first take.  Wesley Rose on the other hand once said his father had no problem with the song and they were aware of the success Hank was having with the song in Shreveport.  No matter which was true, the song put Hank on the top of the charts and led to his invitation to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

On August 30, 1949, Hank was back at Herzog Studio for another session.  Backing him again were the Pleasant Valley Boys with Ernie Newton rounding out the band on bass.  At the 2:00–5:30 PM session, Hank recorded four of his memorable hits; I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, A House Without Love, I Just Don’t Like This Kind Of Livin’ and My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.

As for the studio itself, where Hank recorded the aforementioned timeless classics?  The studio’s origins began with Earl T. “Bucky” Herzog.  Herzog, born on January 26, 1908, had been a full time engineer for WLW since 1936.   In 1945, along with his brother Charles and another partner Henry Weiss, Bucky Herzog opened a recording studio as a side job.  The studio was located in downtown Cincinnati, on the second floor at 811 Race Street, right around the corner from the WLW studios, which was located at 9th and Elm.  Herzog used his friendship with a lot of the local entertainers to get the studio going.

The studios were used to record some of the first King Records’ releases. All of the records on the Radio Artist label were recorded at Herzog, including those made by the Turner Brothers and Jimmie Skinner.  Others who came to the studio to record included the likes of: Flatt & Scruggs, Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Rex Allen, Joe “Cannonball” Lewis, Jimmy Wakely and many others. Although scores of recordings by various artists were held at the studio, the most notable were two sessions by Hank Williams.

In a 1980 interview, Herzog commented, “Believe this or not, but record producers from all over the country used to come to Cincinnati to record.  This was not for the great recording facilities we had in town, but for the great sidemen who were available here then.  WLW had the biggest musical staff of any non-network station in the country.”  The most prominent of the sidemen Herzog was referring to were of course the Pleasant Valley Boys. They had been in great demand in Nashville from 1946 to 1948, and remained in great demand after their move to Cincinnati.

Text Box:      811 Race Street in Cincinnati  As for the recording procedure at the studio, Jerry Byrd once stated, “they had a disc machine.  The one guy had to stand with a suction pump and pick up the acetate as it was cut off.”  He added, “You had to go all the way through a song.  You didn’t, like they do today, splice and take two notes out and out two notes in and all this.  You could not do that back then.  When the light went on, you had to play it all the way through.  There was one control room and one studio room.  I sat an old amp on a chair; they didn’t even have mike stands that were flexible in that they would bend them and do anything.  Had to lay a mike on a chair to put it up in front of my amplifier. But they got the sound.  We did a lot of hits there.”

The studio closed sometime in 1952, due to several factors.  One was when Radio station WLW changed hands, the new owners cut the musicians pay.  As a result, three of the Pleasant Valley Boys, (Byrd, Innis and Jackson) moved back to Nashville for session work. Murray Nash added, “Fred and I changed from doing things at Herzog.  Between Fred and I, we decided to bring these sidemen to Nashville.  They moved from Cincinnati down here, except Zeke Turner. … We wanted not to have to go to Cincinnati to record, and we had Castle (studio) here now.  Castle was a carbon copy, engineer wise, of what Herzog had been for us.  If we wanted to try something, they try it regardless.  Castle was just as cooperative as Herzog engineers.”
Another factor was most likely due to the death of Charlie F. Herzog in March 1951, business partner and brother of Bucky.

Bucky Herzog retired from WLW in 1966, and soon after started the Audiocraft Recording Company, located at 915 W. Eight Street, which concentrated on the radio and TV commercials. He died in December of 1986.

The building that once housed the Herzog Studio is the only remaining structure anywhere where Hank did commercial recordings.  It is now owned by and houses Cincinnati newspaper CityBeat along with it’s first floor renter Artworks. 

To mark and commemorate the Herzog Studio and Hank’s recordings there, an historical marker has been erected in front of the building at 811 Race Street.  The project was spearheaded by the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation.  The project was announced at a gathering of the Foundation at the old Studio on December 22, 2008, the 60th anniversary of Hank’s first recording session in Cincinnati.  On August 22, 2009, the 60th anniversary of the second Hank Williams session at Herzog, a benefit concert at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky was thrown to raise the funds for the marker.   The Heritage Foundation was able to secure the remaining amount necessary to make the marker and have it installed.

With the funds raised, The Heritage Foundation, assisted by Cincinnati librarian, Brian Powers, applied with the City of Cincinnati to erect the historic marker in front of the old Herzog Studio building.  After approval by the Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board and the Cincinnati Planning Commission, the Herzog/Hank marker became the first to be approved in a new Historic Cincinnati Marker Program.  It was unveiled in front of 811 Race Street at 1:00 PM on November 22, 2009.  A reception followed in former Herzog Studio space on the 2nd floor.

Special thanks go out for the hard work of the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, its President Elliott Ruther, Brian Powers, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bootsy Collins and his wife and Patti and the many others involved.

The historical marker has two different sides, one which recognizes Herzog Studio, while the other side focuses on Hank's recordings at the studio.  Both sides are topped with the Historic Cincinnati Logo.  The marker is black with gold lettering.  Following is the wording that is emblazed on the marker:

Text Box:  Herzog Studio

Earl “Bucky” Herzog, a WLW radio
engineer, opened Cincinnati 's first
commercial recording studio with his
brother Charles on the 2nd floor of
811 Race St. in 1945. Working with
artists from Syd Nathan’s King
Records, WLW radio musicians, and
visiting performers, Herzog recorded
Country music before Nashville.
Here, landmark sessions by
Flatt & Scruggs, Bull Moose Jackson,
The Delmore Brothers, Patti Page
and Hank Williams were recorded.

Text Box:
Hank Williams
at Herzog

On December 22, 1948, Hank
Williams came to the Herzog
Studio to record with WLW’s
Pleasant Valley Boys, the most in-
demand session musicians in Country
music. They cut “Lovesick Blues”
which launched Hank’s career into
superstardom and led to his invitation
to join the Grand Ole Opry.  After a 2nd
session on August 30, 1949, eight Hank
Williams classics were recorded at
Herzog, including “I’m So Lonesome
I Could Cry.”

It should also be noted that the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation now leases the second floor as its headquarters and work is underway to utilize the old studio space viable again for various musical endeavors.  One goal of the Foundation is to have a gathering every year to mark the occasions of Hank’s sessions in the Queen City.

As an example of its progress, at its Christmas party on December 22, 2010, which also celebrating the 62nd anniversary of Hank’s first session, the foundation’s President Elliott Ruther surprised everyone with a new addition.  Elliott pointed out a Lester Upright piano, circa 1899, that had recently been donated to the foundation.  For years, the piano had been in an apartment next door and research lends to the belief that Hank tooled around on the piano while in town for his session.

The Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation is a worthwhile cause that all Hank fans should take note of and support.  They are trying to preserve the location and information of Hank’s two historical recording sessions in Cincinnati, Ohio.