Patti Vinson: The rock star experience with David King of Priority Records

Remember the time you did tequila shots with Willie Nelson? The day you ate great soul food at Snoop Dogg’s home? The private jet? The luxury yacht in New Zealand? Well, neighbor David King lived it all — and more. Though he now lives quietly on Llano Avenue, he has tales to tell of his incredible journey from small-town East Texas boy to music company executive.

Growing up in Tyler, King heard all types of music played on the family’s console record player, everything from classical to jazz to Hank Williams and Bob Wills. But two singers got his attention: Elvis and Bob Dylan. Elvis was totally unique, but Dylan was special: “His music changed me, and he changed music forever. He took it to another level.”

King lived and breathed music. Trade publication Billboard was “a bible almost” to him as he studied the hits and trends. He hung out most days at Anton’s Records, a popular music shop in Tyler, and was eventually hired there. And when he went off to study at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, he found Lee’s Records, a little record store within walking distance of his dorm.

His graduation from SFA in 1968 was followed by a couple of years service in the military — during which King stayed on top of music. “I think I was the only soldier with a subscription to Billboard.”

Familiar with the workings of record stores, King later set out to secure a sales job for a major label. But interviews with Capitol Records, Columbia and RCA fell flat. In Dallas for one of the interviews, he decided to stop by one of his favorite music stores, Melody Shop at NorthPark, before heading back to Tyler. Instead, he ended up staying in Dallas. “I talked my way into a job there.”

His contacts at Melody Shop soon led to a sales position with ABC Records, a job which opened up a whole new world for him. Just a few months into his ABC gig, King met country singer Ray Price, and it wasn’t long before he found himself climbing aboard Price’s private Lear jet, just to attend a party.

It was one of many celebrities King met on the job. He recalls attending an album release party for Jimmy Buffett, a soiree at Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. His iconic hit “Margaritaville” had just been released and was topping the charts, and the margaritas were flowing freely at the celebration. Buffet was opening for the Eagles, who also attended the night’s festivities.

Speaking of flowing freely, those aforementioned tequila shots with Willie Nelson? Happened here in Dallas at a western club where Nelson performed. After his set, Nelson joined King and other music executives at their table. Tequila shots commenced, the club closed, but the night didn’t end well for Nelson. He got a DUI driving back to his hotel.

In the mid 1980s, King was offered a position with Priority Records, a new label focused primarily on hit collections. The big break for the label, and all its employees, came with the unexpected success of the cartoonish album, “The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs.”

Priority Records was then able to acquire the labels Ruthless and Deathrow, moves which brought the independent label unrivaled success, with a roster of gold and platinum artists like NWA, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. King remembers having lunch at Snoop’s house to hear the rapper’s new album. “He was very friendly,” says King. “Got along with everybody.”

But those temperamental artists could have their moments. King recalls a flare up with Ice Cube, which was so memorable it was recreated in the recent movie “Straight Outta Compton.” Apparently, Ice Cube felt he had been shorted some money. A “big guy” Cube brought along proceeded to bust up the office of Bryan Turner, one of the owners at Priority Records. King heard the whole thing because he was on the phone with another owner, Mark Cerami, during the incident.

Despite occasional dust-ups, Priority was huge. As the hits piled up, so too did King’s stack of gold and platinum records. He would amass almost 30 over time. He lived those years like an adventurous rock star, traveling all over the world, frequently on the yacht of friend and colleague Cerami. The two would bungee jump in New Zealand, dive the Great Barrier Reef, and sail into the backwaters of Burma — where they were questioned by soldiers.

King retired in 2001 to a much quieter life. He has stayed in touch with his Priority pals, but he can be found most of the time hanging around the neighborhood with Sophie, his elderly Pomeranian mix. And he still loves music. Walk by his place and, chances are, you’ll hear a bit of Bob Dylan drift through the window.


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