"I listen to some of our '80s stuff, and I can hear the hairdos in those songs," Daniels says, laughing. That's not the only retro kick he's getting out of his act's upcoming release. The Kings' latest platter is being released by K-tel, the company most of us associate with compilations of vintage disco, glam rock and Freddy Fender, all pitched to weary late-night TV watchers. Will Denverites be seeing Daniels and his mates between pre-dawn infomercials? "I sure hope so," Daniels chuckles, "but I don't think you're going to see my ugly puss up there with Slim Whitman or anything."
Folks around the nation, however, will soon be getting crowned with a serious dose of the Kings. Following the release of their new compilation, Choice Cuts -- The Best of Chris Daniels & the Kings...So Far, K-tel will reprint the Kings' first seven recordings; next spring the company will release a disc of their new material. All jokes about the somewhat strange label choice aside, Daniels couldn't be happier about this development. "Our goal with K-tel," Daniels says, "wasn't so much to get the old records out, but to get the money to do new records. The thing I'm most excited about is the distribution. We're going to be in the Virgins and the Borders and the Tower Records all over the country."
K-tel's distribution power stems from the company's deep-seated marketing roots. Philip Kives, a Canadian entrepreneur, founded the company in 1962 and was a pioneer of television marketing in the '60s and '70s. He had previously carved a marketing niche by selling household products and convenience gadgets on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. After accelerating his campaign and taking his pitches to after-hours TV audiences, Kives ventured into music licensing and began trading in music compilations and reissues, and K-tel was born. In the '80s, says K-tel spokesman Bill Hallquist, the company drifted from the public eye -- and its TV sets -- when failed K-tel side ventures drove the company into bankruptcy. Hallquist says the company is now returning to its former music-reissue roots, though in a more measured fashion. "It's really hard to put together good compilations nowadays," Hallquist says, "because the people with the huge tracks, they control their material and put out their own compilations." (See the entire K-tel catalogue at ktel.com. )
Hallquist says K-tel's current plan is to enter into agreements with smaller artists who have extensive, but more affordable, catalogues. Daniels fit that bill nicely, and he'll be among other recent K-tel signees, including such notables as Johnny Rivers, Tony DiFranco, Eric Leeds (a former Prince sideman), Jimmy Spheris and Doug Kershaw. Daniels came to the attention of K-tel through David Beisell, a Minneapolis music marketer with Tunesmith Productions. K-tel's new president, Ken Onstad, liked what he heard and agreed to acquire Daniels's back catalogue.
However, Hallquist notes, the band's K-tel output will actually appear on Nouveau Records, a K-tel subsidiary. "K-tel has an image of cheesiness," Hallquist says, "and a lot of that is deserved. We're aware of our past, and in fact, we look back at it quite fondly. There is a kitschiness about K-tel that we all know and love." But that affection may not help sell new music, he says, hence the Nouveau moniker. What makes a successful K-tel/Chris Daniels record? "I think if we sell 15,000 to 20,000 units of a Chris Daniels record, we'll be okay," he says, "though we certainly hope to sell many more than that."
Daniels shouldn't have too much trouble moving those kinds of units. He estimates he's sold close to 100,000 units over the course of his career. He got his start in Massachusetts after dropping out of school at seventeen to play music full-time. At age eighteen he spent six months playing rhythm guitar for David Johansen, who would go on to front the New York Dolls before morphing into his loungeman alter ego, Buster Poindexter. ("David's funny," Daniels notes. "He says, 'I made my first hits by wearing my mom's clothes and my second hits by wearing my dad's.'") Daniels moved to Colorado in 1971 and played in various local bands, including Boulder's Magic Music. ("We were Leftover Salmon before there was a Leftover Salmon," Daniels says.) After leaving the area to earn a music degree, he returned to the local band circuit in the early '80s and later served a two-year stint as a multi-instrumentalist with the Amazing Rhythm Aces and their leader, Russell Smith. When Smith decided to take time off from touring, Daniels and his bandmates learned a set of R&B tunes and Little Feat covers and played a show at Boulder's Blue Note in March 1984,and the Kings were born.