Zero to 180 isn’t above recycling old tricks, like posting a “vintage” high-resolution image as a shameless distraction ploy to stall for time, while it finishes pulling together over fifty years of history celebrating Gene Rosenthal and his Silver Spring-based independent music operation, Adelphi Records.
It’s been months in the making, but music history – like good food – cannot be rushed. Coming this week (and not a moment too soon ) is the next installment of Zero to 180’s epic Silver Spring music history trilogy, with an encore salute to Track Recorders, the recording studio that once gave New York City and Los Angeles a run for their money.
This past weekend’s sojourn to the Bill Hanke Music Research Archives made even more clear to this historian-in-training that Track Recorders once led the DC area not only in the quality of its audio engineering but also in the creativity of its advertising. For the December, 1979 edition of DC’s leading arts monthly, The Unicorn Times, Track would produce yet another full-page ad to close the Seventies in memorable fashion. Can you identify the Track alumni whimsically depicted in the holiday-themed ad below?
[For maximum fun, click on the vintage ad above to view these musical magi, appropriately enough, in ultra high-resolution]
Note the playful reference to the aforementioned “Superman” ad referenced in this past February’s teaser for “Bill McCullough Remembers: Track Recorders.” By the way, on camelback, from left to right, that’s Gene Simmons (duh) of Kiss, Linda Ronstadt (wearing a “Vote Brown” button), and Root Boy Slim – naturally – wearing the custom “ROOT” eyewear.
Bill McCullough — who would serve music history as Track’s Chief Engineer from 1977-1983 — can readily conjure a mental image of the Silver Spring recording studio‘s control room in all its 1970s wood-paneled glory:
Photo(s) courtesy of Bill McCullough
Silver Spring, in the new century, is now blessed to have the presence of the American Film Institute, who would help revitalize – with county taxpayer support – an art deco movie palace that came this close to getting the wrecking ball as a public exhibition space. I remember attending 2013’s documentary tribute to the legendary Van Nuys recording complex, Sound City, and being particularly struck by the realization that the film is essentially a love letter to a recording console. But not just any console: Neve. (The true-life film suddenly gets very dramatic when Sound City becomes no longer solvent, thus threatening to forfeit its Neve console to the mixing board orphanage!)
Silver Spring – thanks to Track Recorders – was once also blessed with a hand-wired analogue mixing console designed and manufactured by Neve (of England). The big question on everyone’s minds: Is it Neve (like ‘Steve’) or Neve (like ‘Neve’ Campbell)? Answer: unclear.
1970s Silver Spring Breakout Star: Track’s Neve mixing console!
Ownership of a Neve console would figure prominently in the summary blurb Track provided* for The Unicorn Times‘ Annual Studio Guide in its October, 1980 edition. Track’s main recording room, McCullough notes, was spacious enough for an orchestra, and featured a hardwood floor mounted on springs that – when combined with a custom Neve mixing board – added up to stellar sound, as affirmed by no less an authority than Steely Dan producer, Gary Katz, not to mention Howard University Jazz Ensemble’s Gregory Charles Royal. (McCullough is unable to verify the model number or year of manufacturing but does affirm that Track’s mixing board had “Neve 1081 EQ for each input channel”.)
“No Drinks or Cigarettes on [the Neve!!!] Console”
When he was twelve years old, Bill McCullough already knew that he wanted to pursue audio engineering professionally. Perhaps this was inevitable given Bill’s background as the son of a musician mother and father who possessed dual engineering degrees. Transforming a Northern Virginia house into a recording studio with mentor, neighbor and best friend, Pete Lambert, proved to be a formative event in Bill’s young adult life. McCullough, around this time period, would also enjoy membership in a jazz group named Blue Horizon with future Danny Gatton bandmate, John Previti.
An early-career opening at DC’s Audio Video Concepts, a small studio with tape duplication services, was made available by Gerry Wyckoff‘s departure in 1974 to Track Recorders (which he would own a few years hence). Wyckoff would sagely advise Bill to ditch the long hair, thus helping to seal McCullough’s eventual success in being selected to join President Ford’s Election Committee for two years, beginning in February, 1974.
Bill’s audio engineering skills were immediately put to work fulfilling his job’s mandate to record everything Gerald Ford said in public. With funding from both the Ford Commission and the National Archives, every speech was recorded for posterity, as well as non-syndicated sound bites edited for radio. McCullough has the distinction of engineering the audio for Air Force One’s first ever press conference. [Historical aside: A photo exists of Bill shaking hands with Ford on the day of the election; “Thanks for the use of your headphones,” the former Vice-President would later say to McCullough, in reference to a prior act of generosity on Air Force One.]
Ooh La La! 25′ x 40′ Main Studio room – Track Recorders
McCullough’s intersection with Track Recorders would occur at the time Gerry Wyckoff was acquiring the studio itself, i.e., April/May 1977. Bill, in fact, “begged” for a job. Fortunately, for history’s sake, Gerry said yes.
Root Boy Slim & Track Recorders
Root Boy Slim would feature prominently early in Bill McCullough’s tenure at Track, and the sequence of events leading to his signing with one of the top major labels would have all the makings of rock legend. Dick Bangham, who would enjoy renown for his iconic cover image for Root Boy’s Zoom album, was another key participant during this period who saw it all go down:
“Joe Lee and I originally booked the studio in April 1977 to start recording the Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band demo album that would eventually lead to the 1978 Warner Bros release produced by Gary Katz. During that spring and summer, we would go into the studio for a few days at a time whenever the band was in town to play gigs.
Joe would take the latest mixes to Josh at WHFS, and he would play them on air. The other ‘HFS DJs soon jumped on the Root Boy bandwagon, and the demo became one of the most requested albums of the year – months before it was actually released as an LP!
Josh had gone to Bard College with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, and when we had a full album of material mixed he gave a cassette to Fagen and invited them to come see the band perform in DC. Then Fagen handed the tape to Steely Dan’s producer Gary Katz in LA and Gary flipped. He had recently been hired by Warner Bros Records A&R and after hearing the demo, signed Root Boy to a two-album contract.”
[L to R] Gerry Wyckoff, Les, Doug Percival, Kate Ragusa, Bill, Mark Greenhouse & Root Boy (Kneeling)
Upon being signed by Warner Brothers, Root Boy, along with the Sex Change Band, and associated musicians and personnel (e.g., Bill McCullough and Dick Bangham) would be flown to Miami to re-record the songs that got the band signed. During the time it took to record at Criteria Studios, the band found itself holed up in a mansion overlooking Biscayne Bay thanks to the label’s largesse.
McCullough would work with engineer (and songwriter) Roger ‘The Immortal’ Nichols while in Miami and later characterize these sessions as a major learning experience. McCullough took careful note of Nichols’ approach to mic’ing the drums, for instance — two microphones per tom, 10-12 microphones for the entire drum kit — and brought these ideas back to Track, thus directly raising the quality of audio engineering.
Bangham picks up the story again:
“Within 6 months since Joe [Lee] and I had brought them into Track, we were recreating the entire album (using McCullough’s masters for reference), with Katz producing and Roger Nichols engineering at Criteria Studios in Miami – and Fagen & Becker attending the sessions. We were in the studio for the whole month of November ’77.
Since we’d burned up so much time recording at Criteria, the mixing had to be done in December at ABC Studios in LA. Katz and Nichols couldn’t quite match Root’s puking vocals in ‘Boogie Til You Puke’ at Criteria, so they extracted that from the Track demo master.
Bob Marley and the Wailers (including guitarist Junior Marvin who currently lives in DC) came into Criteria one day while we were there in November ’77 to record a single, ‘Punky Reggae Party.’ We were all gobsmacked.”
Friends Making Music at Track:
Gerry Wyckoff, Root Boy, Doug Percival, Bill, Kate Ragusa, Les & Mark Greenhouse
The Washington Post, who fortunately were supportive of Root Boy from the beginning, informs Bangham, would dispatch Leslie Marshall to write a full-length feature profile of Foster Mackenzie III for the February 26, 1984 edition of its Sunday Magazine. WashingtonPost readers were no doubt intrigued to learn that ‘Ken’ – as “Prince La La” – would front a soul/R&B band named The Midnight Creepers while a Yale undergrad in the mid-1960s. The future Root Boy Slim, in fact, would attend Yale at the same time as our future 43rd President, reports McCullough (they would not get along). Would you be surprised to know that bassist Bob “Rattlesnake” Greenlee was also a Yalie?
Root Boy, Ron Holloway & Deanna Bogart
Ron Holloway, an “amazing” musician (as affirmed by McCullough), is quoted by Marshall as saying, “Slim started on a level — in terms of audience size and enthusiasm — that most bands in this city never even reach.” Holloway deserves recognition for being an important part of Root Boy’s success, McCullough emphasizes, having invested “hundreds of hours” in the band’s early days helping to develop its sound. [Holloway, who would go on to from The Ron Holloway Band, recorded a 7-inch at Track in 1984 (“Teaser“) shortly after McCullough’s departure with The Hijackers, featuring vocalists Ann Ellis & Amy Kale and guitarists Chris Moutson & Rick Prince — a Mitch Collins-produced session that included Steuart Smith on guitar and Jim Crenca on bass, congas & knob twiddling — picture sleeve design by Dick Bangham.]
McCullough still vividly recalls that one fateful day when Root Boy and the band were lounging at the studio playing billiards (or possibly the Missile Command arcade game) when the TV suddenly erupted to life with news announcements that the Shah of Iran had been deposed. All of sudden, before McCullough’s very eyes, a song was born — note Ernie Lancaster‘s “Iranian” intro that abruptly jumps (using what sounds like a good old-fashioned slice of the razor blade) to a re-start of the song in a modern blues groove, as Root Boy and the band put a twist on B.B. King’s big 1970 crossover hit.
“The Shah Is Gone” Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band 1983
Bangham adds this coda: “[Future Track owner] Mark Greenhouse wisely stored all of the Root Boy masters and I now have them, thankfully! I’ve reissued 4 of the 6 albums as CDs on Rip Bang Records, with bonus unreleased tracks on each of them. Currently working on a full length Root documentary which we hope will be done by next year.”
Bangham’s covers for 1978 Warner Bros. debut & 1984’s ‘Dog Secrets’ albums
Track Recorders as Magnet for DC-Area Talent
Singer-songwriter Bob Brown also played an important part in the Track Recorders story. Especially noteworthy is the musical connection Brown shared with Greenhouse going back to DC’s “beat” coffeehouse days of the Crow’s Toe (Jim Morrison’s old stomping ground), Through the Gates and the Iguana Coffeehouses [see Mark Opsasnik’s history piece in the Beltway Poetry Quarterly]. Thanks to Greenhouse, The Iguana would be the first of the DC coffeehouses to charge a cover to see Bob Brown perform.
A Provincetown gig opening for Richie Havens led to Brown becoming a recording artist signed to Haven’s Stormy Forest, an MGM subsidiary label. Havens produced and sang backup on Brown’s first two albums – 1970’s The Wall I Built Myself and 1971’s Willoughby’s Lament. Tompkins Square decided to reissue these two titles in 2016, an act made possible with assistance from the aforementioned John Simson. Brown eventually joined forces with Baltimore-area vocalist, Aleta Greene, and things looked promising when the two got signed to almighty Columbia in 1973, only to find themselves dropped in the wake of Clive Davis’s sudden departure from the label.
Bob Brown – NYC
Brown’s extensive recording experience at Track predated the “dynamic duo” of Bill McCullough and Mark Greenhouse. He had worked closely with George Massenburg at Hunt Valley’s ITI recording complex, where he and Aleta Greene recorded two albums, Let Me Be Your Love and Hit the Truth, that unfortunately did not enjoy official release until years later via Brown’s own website (Brown and Greene, interestingly, would record backing vocals for Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band’s Zoom album).
Under Greenhouse’s leadership, Brown continued at Track Recorders with sessions for the No Refunds for the Rainalbum. Songs were reconstructed in the studio, with backing tracks laid down by the indispensable rhythm section of bassist Jim Hanson and percussionist Steve Dennis. Brown treasured the “band of brothers” atmosphere at Track, where collaboration created a magical transformation into something greater – thanks to everyone’s input and sweat equity – than the songwriter could ever have imagined. McCullough’s “steady hand,” combined with Greenhouse’s musical command and Steuart Smith’s virtuosity made for a formidable team.
Greenhouse, Brown & McCullough at Track for the ‘No Refunds’ sessions
The team’s mastery of getting the most out of the artist was memorably displayed during the recording of No Refunds album closer “Quiet Waterfall” when Brown was told to play a solo vocal and guitar track “just to set the recording levels,” only to find his studio brethren waving their hands frantically behind the glass of the control room, motioning for him to let the final notes ring out. “You nailed it!” yelled Greenhouse, McCullough and Smith excitedly, as it dawned on Brown that this supposed “test” recording was simply a ruse to elicit a relaxed and unforced performance. And it worked like a charm.
[Pssst: Click on triangle above to play “Quiet Waterfall” by Bob Brown]
Cover photo by Big Al Sevilla
Fellow Track studio stalwart, Steuart Smith – who referred to Track as a “Polaris” for musical talent in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area – would point out in his liner notes for Brown’s No Refunds album that “the real reason to work there I think was the presence of two extremely talented and (for the time) accomplished pros; engineer, Bill McCullough and engineer, producer, musician and songwriter, Mark Greenhouse.” (Richard Harrington would also note that Smith enjoyed renown “as a guitarist and keyboardist in Washington and Nashville decades before he earned accolades for producing albums by Shawn Colvin, Terri Clark and Rodney Crowell, and 25 years before he started soaring as guitarist with the Eagles.”)
Steve Dennis at Track Recorders
We learned from Johnny Castle‘s profile in January’s epic overview of Track’s prodigious output about Dog Days Revue, a musical lark from a dedicated core of studio enthusiasts — Mark Greenhouse, Jim Hanson, Steve Dennis, Jeff Watson, Jamie McKinnon, Mitch Collins, Steuart Smith, and Castle — who would produce one of Bill McCullough’s favorite recordings, “Inspiration.” Jeff Watson’s name would appear on another special Track recording that McCullough would also find to be rather lyrically adept: “Didn’t Count on You” (composed by Mickey Jones) from Downtown’s debut album Band on a Budget – which won a “Wammy” award in 1985 by the Washington Area Music Association..
2005 Track Recorders Reunion!
[(L to R) Bob Brown, Big Al Sevilla, Steuart Smith, Bill McCullough, Jeff Watson]
A number of Track studio stalwarts — Steve Dennis, John Previti, Steuart Smith, Tim Jarvis, Han Ro, Pete Lambert & Pete Finney — would join together in common purpose to help fully realize the songs written by Mark Greenhouse for his Shore Leave album. Two of these songs – “Lifetime Guarantee” and “See It Through” – would be recorded around the time of the first Root Boy Slim album, when Gary Katz paid a visit to Track one day.
Mark and Bill had already said their goodbyes and begun the playback on “Lifetime Guarantee” when Gary came bursting back into the control room demanding to know, “What is that?!” Inspired by Katz’s enthusiasm, the musicians would go right back into the studio to record a few more songs. McCullough’s old band, Blue Horizon, would be brought in to play on “Caroline” – a song inspired by Caroline Kennedy that would include Previti, along with violinist Han Ro and guitarist Peter Lambert – as well as “Flags.”
Guitarist/violinist Coe Anderson and his roots rock revival band, The Hub Caps. were no strangers to Track Recorders, either. Anderson, McCullough remembers, would be brought in on one of Mitch’s own songs. McCullough also fondly recalls the sessions that produced seminal seven-inches from Original Fetish and The Slickee Boys in 1979 and 1980, respectively.
McCullough also enjoyed the five days or so it took to engineer The Muffins‘ groundbreaking album <185> on which Fred Frith would indulge his love for sounds played in reverse. French webzine, Guts of Darkness: Les Archives du Sombre et de L’Expermental would proclaim <185> (with the assistance of Google Translation) “the ultimate album of The Muffins” and assert that “the group did not usurp its place among the other great barons of Rock in Opposition, such as Henry Cow or Univers Zero” (Silver Spring-based independent label, Cuneiform Records, would reissue this album in 1996). Muffins percussionist, Paul Sears, well remembers Track Recorders:
“When Bill Tate owned the place long ago, I visited a few times. I actually helped carry that Neve mixer out of a Ryder truck, and up the stairs and down the hall and into control room to the pedestal. Took half a day and 6 or 7 people as I recall. Tate had a sledgehammer to just bash anything in the way! Tate or someone took lots of pix, but I never saw any. This was maybe 1973-4..? Years later when The Muffins had a budget in 1979, we visited all the local major studios, and Track had the best overall vibe, and a big room which was where my drums went. No drum booth for me…..EVER. Live sound! Bill and Mark Greenhouse were there then, and we ended up working with Bill on the <185> album. I remember the [Night]Hawks were next after us, and would hang out wondering what the hell The Muffins were doing! Bill suggested getting Fred Frith to produce a Root [Boy] record! Never panned out. <185> was the only album I have ever recorded right after a tour, so we knocked it out, ready for mastering in 4 days during Sept of 1980. I went back in 1984 and did some stuff with Mark Greenhouse and Dave Newhouse from The Muffins, which might see release someday, although the 2″ master was stolen from a storage space in 1995. I have mixes though ….. When Mark closed up and sold all the old stuff (1987?) I got the enormous chrome 3 head Pioneer cassette deck that was used for some slap echo. I think it was used for Nighthawks and Root Boy records. Bill would know. It finally died in 1992. A great place with great people. Fond memories.”
Mini Q & A with Bill McCullough
Q: Whose job was it to “fire up” the Neve each day – or did it ever get turned off?
A: Generally speaking, the Neve mixing board was left on. But if it were anybody’s job to flip the switch on the Neve, that responsibility belonged to Doug Percival, who did all the physical set-up tasks for each studio session, as well as greet artists and coordinate all the bookings as Office Manager.
Q: What’s the RIAA-certified gold record hanging on the rear wall of the control room?
A: Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel album.
Track Pokes Fun at Audio Engineering Jargon
Parse the dry ‘technicalese’ in the audio engineering text below – Track’s summary blurb for The Unicorn Times‘ Annual Studio Guide* published in their April, 1980 edition – and you will find a sprinkling of Gerry Wyckoff witticisms.
Unsuspecting readers might not realize that, in addition to actual audio enhancement devices — “aural exciter”; “flanger-doubler”; “harmonizer” — Wyckoff took liberties with the names of a few other studio equipment items by rebranding (or hyping) them as “sonic reflection inverter,” “electro-acoustic accelerator,” and (my personal favorite) “doomsday implosion simulator,” which McCullough explains is an EMT plate reverb utilized in a rather aggressive and heavy-handed manner. Did you also catch the cheeky reference to “4 casting couches” at the end of the equipment list above?
Differentiating Track: Marketing Over the Years
That same October, 1980 issue of The Unicorn Times would also include a head-turning full-page advertisement trumpeting Track Recorders’ ability to provide “studio musicians for all instruments and vocals on call.”
[Left to right: Bill McCullough, Mark Greenhouse & Gerry Wyckoff]
Things at Track weren’t always thus. Advertisements from earlier years reveal a studio in the process of establishing a reputation for excellence.
Track advertisement, circa early 1970s — All about the hits!
Track Recorders for President
How heartening it is to see Track Recorders perform their civic duty in April of 1980 when they paid for that pricy Superman-themed full-page ad.(as featured in “part one“); Younger readers (to the extent they exist) may not realize that The Unicorn Times – at that particular moment in time – was desperately trying to keep their wonderful arts publication free and wholly-supported by advertising.
Outtake Photo from 1980 Unicorn Times “Superman” Ad (Bill, Mark & Gerry)
Note that The Nighthawks would also do their part to keep The Unicorn Times the “people’s” publication, when they participated in a benefit volleyball game just before the band’s headlining set at the University of Maryland’s Richie Coliseum. [Polygram, points out Bill McCullough, continues to sit on an entire album of Jimmy Thackery-era Nighthawks material that was engineered at Track by McCullough — some of the songs would come out on the Ten Years Live album, while their respective studio versions continue to gather dust.]
Forever indebted to the Bill Hanke Music Research Archives for access to all the vintage ads featured in this piece.
Bill McCullough: Post-Track Recorders
Track’s approach during the Greenhouse and McCullough era was hands-on in all the right ways. As Steuart Smith would observe first-hand, “[Mark and Bill] had worked together on numerous projects and [were] able to give aspiring artists a chance to, with minimal financial investment, make high quality demos and local records that transcended the normal standards of such ‘products.’”
After his seven intensive years of Track came to a close, Bill McCullough went on to do audio engineering for television in his work for Arthur Young & Company (a studio facility that produced a successful series of instructional videotapes for Lotus 1-2-3). Bill’s new gig afforded him the opportunity to record the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra on a semi-regular basis as a philanthropic venture for Arthur Young — which would lead rather fortuitously to him meeting future wife, Didi, a member of the Reston Players theater ensemble.
McCullough reflects on his professional engineering experience at Track Recorders, most often in his home basement, where this three-dimensional “forced perspective” diorama (from the hand of Jim McCullough) hangs. Bill takes delight in his father’s blazing a trail in this particular art medium, ignited by a chance encounter in Juarez, Mexico.
Diorama in Forced Perspective:
Track Recorders from a Father’s Vantage Point
“Control room in Silver Spring, MD where the artist’s son, Bill, was the Chief Recording Engineer in the 1980s. The console offers the engineer a selection of over 1500 lights, dials, switches, sliders, buttons, and meters to use as he managed the music being received from many microphones, through amplifiers and other electronics into the 16 track recording machine (shown on right wall) and then back to the musicians’ ears through headsets, speakers, or both. After the session, 16 tracks are mixed until the best of all performances is preserved and lesser passages are discarded. After the mix, the product is played through the machines at left, which had four track, or two track stereo output. The engineer monitored the performers through the studio window where you might see the instruments, stands, mikes, and other gear waiting for the next session. On the left wall was a ‘Gold Record’ earned by Track several years earlier.”
I think my first contact with Track was in 1971 or ’72 on a session produced by Caltrick Simone (née Jeff Stein), whose Secant Records released quite a few titles from DC-area groups in the ’70s and maybe ’80s. I believe he did all his recording at Track. And I’m pretty sure our session was his first as well as mine. How we hooked up I can’t recall. Perhaps an ad in the teen section of The Washington Star.
Guitarist overdubbing on floor – Secant session at Track Recorders – 1971/2
That session was to record two songs for a 45 by a very precocious 16-year-old from Springfield, Va., Jan Ince, who wrote and sang well beyond her years. “I’ve Been Waiting” b/w “Sailor” was Pick Hit of the Week on an AM station in Easton, Md. We all drove down when she was interviewed by the DJ. She later moved to England and married Nick Glennie-Smith, now a big-time movie soundtrack guy: Sadly, I don’t think she’s done any more recording. She was quite wonderful.
Jan Ince Takes Dave Nuttycombe’s Ludwig Drum Kit for a Test Drive – 1971/2
I did a few more Caltrick Simone sessions and a bunch of jingles and soundtrack sessions with ad man Dan Pasley and/or composer Demos Chrissos (who I believe was at one time the mayor of Gaithersburg). There’s a picture of my drums set up at Track on my site, along with some of the tunes I recorded there.
Mixing Decks at Track Recorders – 1971/2
Then the singer in my band, Fran Tate [no relation to Bill Tate], got a job at Track and I got to hang out there much more often. I was there when Buffy Saint Marie stopped by, for reasons unclear then or remembered now. I was also there when Emmylou Harris was recording “Coat of Many Colors.” Not sure if that version ended up on her debut album or if it was just a demo. It was pretty spectacular. Tommy Hannum, then of the Rosslyn Mountain Boys, was playing pedal steel.
Cerphe with Little Feat at Track Recorders
And then there was that pilot for a TV show in 1977 starring Cerphe and Tommy Curtis. I think the only thing that was filmed was an interview with Little Feat at Track. I was the photographer and snapped a bunch of shots. Feat keyboardist Billy Payne met Fran at Track and they got married. At which point I did more recording at Omega, then in Kensington.
Lowell George & Bill Payne behind the board at Track
My ‘claim to fame,’ such as it is, was playing drums on the Jerry’s Ford jingle (“Let the Competition Beware”). I think the session was in ’73, and that earworm played on Metro DC radio for a quarter century. In fact, the tape finally wore out and the jingle was recreated with synthesizers. I was driving home and heard the new version and my ears did a double-take, which may not actually be possible.
Not yet done with the Little Feat photos – Paul Barerre playing with the Neve
So I called up Jerry, planning to do a fun little piece for City Paper about this odd bit of local ephemera. Of course he didn’t know who I was; he was not at the session. Sadly, I can’t remember the producer’s name, but it was just him and the engineer and he just left it to the musicians to come up with…something. The original session was a trio — myself on drums, Gary Falwell (later of Smalltalk fame) on bass and Marc “Chopper” Chopinsky on guitar. We noodled around with all kinds of crazy stuff for hours until the producer got us down to a repeating riff of four descending notes. Horns and vocals were added later.
Final Feat foto – Cerphe & Paul Barerre twiddling knobs
Got $25 for the session. If I’d asked for a nickel royalty I’d be rich today. The jingle was syndicated nationally. I was driving into Dallas one night and heard it on the radio, changed to something like “Frank’s Chevrolet makes it clear, let the competition beware.” And sure enough, there was a billboard for Frank’s Chevrolet with the slogan. I was driving a VW bug.
Anyway, I told Jerry that I was paid $25 for his jingle and he got very short and said, ‘I’m sure that was good money for the time.’ Then he cut me off and said he couldn’t talk any more about his ‘business dealings.’ Huh? I wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein coming to blow up his company. Sheesh. So no story. Until now, I suppose.
Unknown Band Rehearsing at Track Session Engineered by Co-Owner Bill Tate
Coda: One of the things I always liked about recording at Track was that there was a Little Tavern right across the street. That was pretty much the menu for every session.”
If Zero to 180 isn’t too careful, February might come and go without a new history piece. Unacceptable!
As it turns out, Zero to 180 has been working on a trio of Silver Spring music history pieces, with a two-part encore tribute to Track Recorders — featuring reflections and anecdotes from chief engineer, Bill McCullough — before Track yields the stage to Gene Rosenthal and Adelphi Records.
At this very moment, Zero to 180 research staff are uploading images of ads, articles, and ephemera recently obtained from the Bill Hanke Music Research Archives that will be used to augment the nice assortment of vintage photos that Bill McCullough has generously shared.
Check out, for instance, this playful (and no doubt pricy) full-page advertisement that appeared in the middle fold of the April, 1980 edition of DC’s Unicorn Times.
(left to right) Gerry Wyckoff, Bill McCullough, and Mark Greenhouse
[For maximum fun, click on the vintage ad above to view the musical superheroes, appropriately enough, in super hi-res]
Full disclosure: This piece is essentially an ad for Part Two, where all the action takes place. Join Zero to 180’s Facebook page, so that you are alerted the moment Part Two goes live!
NOTICE! This is a majorly revamped version of a piece from the summer of 2016 — with enhanced content — to be followed in close succession by a suitably elaborate history of Gene Rosenthal and Adelphi Records.
Perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future, Silver Spring will organize an event to celebrate all the music history attached to Track Recorders, a sound studio upstairs in the Cissel-Lee Building (directly above the present-day Urban Butcher) on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland – just over the DC line – that saw action in the 1970s, ’80s & ’90s. Stevie Nicks may have been originally inspired by a name on an interstate sign, but as it turned out, her instincts were correct: Silver Spring in the mid-to-late1970s was a focal point for a fair amount of musical magic, as indicated in the hyper-linked list below.
downtown Silver Spring’s Last Spanish colonial revival – Track on 2nd floor
DC-area historian, Marcie Stickle, writing in 2009 about the history of the Cissel-Lee building for Dan Reed’s Just Up the Pike blog, notes that this “significant two-story brick structure was Spanish Colonial Revival, all the ‘rage’ at the time. With its unique black slate canopies angled around two sides of the roofline, the Cissel-Lee Building was the ONLY remaining such structure in all of the [Central Business District].”
Notable Moments in Track Recorders’ Music History
The Soul Searchers‘ 1972 Sussex album We the People – featuring DC legend, Chuck Brown – was recorded at Track (a sealed copy fetched $405 this past October). Brown co-wrote the title track, which served as the group’s first 45.
[click on trianglebelow to activate recording]
“We the People” (Chuck Brown and) The Soul Searchers 1972
Gerry Goffin‘s 1973 debut double LP It Ain’t Exactly Entertainment on Silver Spring’s own Adelphi Records (with 45 release “It’s Not the Spotlight” + “Down in the Street“) almost certainly necessitated a visit to Track Recorders for reasons explained here. [more info in the upcoming history of Adelphi Records]
Track Recorders 45 History Spotlight: Julius Brockington Old Sounds Refashioned Anew
Julius Brockington‘s 1973 landmark 45 — “This Feeling” b/w “Cosmic Force” — would be yet another 7-inch record laid down at Silver Spring‘s Track Recorders that has been able to fetch three figures at auction within the last five or so years.
“This Feeling” + “Cosmic Force” Julius Brockington 1973
Pentagram recorded their fuzzed-out cover of “Under My Thumb” — with inspired dual guitar solo — at Track in 1974, produced by Skip Groff and Bob Fowler. Copies of the original 45 have sold at auction for over five hundred bucks.
Danny (Gatton) and the Fat Boys [Billy Hancock & Dave Elliott] would record their debut album in 1974 at Track and issue a 45 whose B-side (“Harlem Nocturne“) made folks sit up and take notice of the amazing new guitarist.
Johnny Castle started his musical career in the DC area with Crank – including guitarist Geoff Richardson – a popular hard rock outfit (vintage photos) who once opened for Hendrix and The Allman Brothers. Crank recorded at Track during the studio’s early years, when the band was able to get a sweet deal on a package that also included promotional materials. No recordings were ever released, but Barry Richards got hold of a tape of one song (“Used To Be Worried”) and, played it so often on his radio show, according to Castle, it made the Top 10 one week.
Johnny Castle would go on to record a number of other sessions at Track:
Switchblade‘s 45 “She Makes Me Rock Too Much” b/w “Tight Blue Jeans” (notable for its marriage of reggae rhythm with a rockabilly feel) from 1981 — with Ratso, Dougherty & Ste(w)art Smith. The A-side features a blood-curdling scream near song’s end that was recorded in isolation and nearly sent a piano tuner, who was intensely focused on his work, into cardiac arrest. Picture sleeve images and recording credits at this link.
Interrobang, featuring a young Linwood Taylor – “Washington, DC’s premier blues man” – who tells Zero to 180 that Castle played on two songs (“Suspicious” and “Last Goodbye”), one of which being a runner-up winner on a DC101 home tapes contest, resulting in free studio time at the Warehouse in Philadelphia!
Numerous “vanity” sessions on self-released recordings by local-area artists.
Castle would also join forces with Mark Greenhouse (guitars/keys/vocals), Steuart Smith (guitar), Pete Ragusa (drums), and Mitch Collins (keyboards) to record four songs at Track as a fun recording side project known as Dog Days Revue.
“Bill Tate, owner of Track Recording, Inc. in Silver Spring, Md., reports that Linda Ronstadt was in recently for three sessions. Lowell George handled the production and also played on the sessions. George Massenburg handled the engineering. Columbia’s David Bromberg also played. Track has recently put in a new quadrasonic control room, complete with a custom built Neve console. David Harrison of Studio Supply in Nashville designed. Finally, local bluegrass group Seldom Scene was in working on sessions.”
“[Linda] came down with the flu in 1974 while passing through Washington with a Jackson Browne tour and ended up staying behind to recover at the Bethesda house of John Starling, a member of the Seldom Scene whom she had met through her friend Emmylou Harris. A snowstorm came, and there was a houseful of musicians, one of whom was Paul Craft, who wrote ‘Keep Me From Blowing Away,’ which she decided to record as soon as she could.” [based on Ronstadt’s 2013 memoir, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir]
Worth noting that Lowell George is credited on one track – “Willin’” – which also must have been laid down at Track (see Billboard item above), with Sneaky Pete Kleinow on steel guitar.
Bill Holland & Rent’s DueIf It Ain’t One Thing was recorded & mixed substantially at Track in 1974-75 and released 1975. Blues Art Studio informs me that Holland had been keyboardist for The Nighthawks prior to forming Rent’s Due. [more info in upcoming history of Gene Rosenthal & Adelphi Records]
THIS JUST IN: Musical encyclopedia and beloved WHFS disc jockey “Weasel” blew Zero to 180’s mind with the bombshell that the mighty NRBQ recorded two songs at Track Recorders in 1975, one of which – “Cecilia” – would end up on 1977’s All Hopped Up.
Banbarra‘s classic 1975 A-side “Shack Up” — a sampler’s dream (A Certain Ratio, Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad, 3rd Bass, Stetsasonic, Gang Starr, Kool Keith, and Happy Mondays, et al.) — was recorded at Track and produced by Lance Quinn.
Stephen Spano‘s 1975 album Eye to Eye on Adelphi Records (featuring kick-off tune “Love Is the Sound“) was recorded, in part, at Track and today commands up to three figures at auction [more info in history of Gene Rosenthal & Adelphi Records]
Gloria Gaynor‘s 1975 album Experience was recorded, in part, at Track (though listed in the credits as being located in ‘DC’ – same with Banbarra’s 45 and Clovers’ below). MGM would issue Gaynor’s version of “How High the Moon,” with “My Man’s Gone” (written by Gaynor) as a non-LP B-side.
Gloria Gaynor would return to Track the following year (though now signed with Polydor) for I’ve Got You — both albums engineered by Tony Bongiovi (uncle of Jon).
The Clovers – one of Ahmet Ertegun’s favorite groups from the doo-wop era – recorded a 45 at Track in 1975 that was written by Billy Hancock and co-produced by Hancock and Obie O’Brien.
The Reuben Brown Trio Featuring Richie Cole‘s Starburst album on Adelphi was recorded at Track in 1975 and released 1976 [more info in history of Gene Rosenthal & Adelphi Records].
Black Heat‘s farewell album, 1975’s Keep on Runnin‘ — recorded at both Track & Atlantic Records studios — was issued in Europe in 2016, three years prior in Japan). Soul version of “Drive My Car” would be issued by Atlantic as Black Heat’s final 45.
Jimi Hendrix‘s posthumous LP Midnight Lightning (with numerous session players overdubbed) was produced, in part, at Track and released in November, 1975 [*special bonus feature at the end of this piece]. Track would also be one of three studios used to produce Hendrix’s Crash Landing in similar fashion, released eight months earlier in March.
All of The Nighthawks‘ albums recorded for Adelphi Records involved Track Recorders to some degree: 1976’s Open All Nite, 1977’s Side Pocket Shot and 1978’s Jacks and Kings (with members of the Muddy Waters Band) were all engineered and mixed at Track — meanwhile, 1976’s Nighthawks Live was recorded at Bethesda’s Psyche Delly by Track recording engineer Obie O’Brien (and Roger Byrd of Sonority Sound), 1980’s Full House included unreleased tracks from Jacks and Kings, and 1982’s Times Four included 1977-79 studio sessions laid down at Track.
Track Recorders Musical Spotlight: The Nighthawks
Harmonica ace, Mark Wenner, certainly knows the inside of Track Recorders as “founding father” and remaining original member of The Nighthawks. Around the time The Nighthawks (with Jimmy Thackery on guitar, Jan Zukowski on bass & Pete Ragusa on drums) were recording their first album for Adelphi Records in 1976, Wenner recalls Obie O’Brien (engineer/producer) and Lance Quinn (studio guitarist) in the throes of recording intensely-layered (e.g., banjo lines) disco productions for the likes of Gloria Gaynor.
Younger readers may not realize that hewing to a classic blues (but “well-recorded”) sound was going against the grain at the time, but Open All Nite – four musicians, no external players – ending up being reasonably successful from a sales standpoint, Wenner tells Zero to 180. (1976, incidentally, would also be the year when Obie O’Brien would press Wenner and members of the Rosslyn Mountain Boys into service to record a novelty single with vocalist Bro Smith – “Big Foot” – that reached as high as #57 in the pop chart!)
c1976 Jonas Cash Promotions (picture sleeve) “Engineered by Obie” – 45 label
The band’s next studio effort, however, Side Pocket Shot – a ‘Revolver’ concept, with each song different from the other – was another kettle of fish altogether, with Billy Price’s Rhythm King Horns, for example, spilling out out of a limo one day with a bottle of whiskey and whatnot, recording their horn parts and then immediately rolling back out of town. Not to mention the addition of pedal steel, percussion, and backing vocals. In the wake of Obie O’Brien’s departure, however, the album would be engineered by Cap’n Jon and Gerry Wyckoff at Track.
Opening for Muddy Waters for three different runs at DC’s famed Cellar Door – in conjunction with block booking at Track Recorders – facilitated the band’s crowning achievement, Jacks and Kings, with Muddy Waters’ band members, Pinetop Perkins (piano), Guitar Jr. (i.e., Luther Johnson), Bob Margolin (guitar), plus Dave Maxwell (kick-off track: “For You My Love“). Engineered by Bill McCullough and Gerry Wyckoff, Jacks and Kings would be a big seller for Adelphi and one that would prompt the band’s first major tour outside of the mid-Atlantic area — Chicago, Denver, Austin, New Orleans, and Kansas City, a key distribution point.
Wenner remembers Track as not only a great place to hang (e.g., a big party for Jacks and Kings, with a refueling stop at Little Tavern and more than one cinema run to catch Raging Bull), but also an adventurous place to ply his trade (e.g., “triple-mic’ing” his harmonica in a stairwell, recording it at three different levels).
The Nighthawks (who appeared as themselves in the second season of The Wire) are still raging strong today, with Johnny Castle (bass), Paul Bell (guitar), and Mark Stutso (drums). 2010’s Last Train to Bluesville, recorded live and acoustic on B.B. King’s Bluesville channel on Sirius/XM (Pete Ragusa’s farewell appearance), would win the band their first-ever Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation, while 2015’s Back Porch Party features another well-received set of acoustic blues that mixes classics (e.g., Ike Turner’s “Matchbox” and Willie Dixon’s “Tiger In Your Tank”) with originals, such as Wenner’s “Guard My Heart” and Stutso’s “Down To My Last Million Tears.”
Q: How challenging was it to get permission from the Art Institute of Chicago to use the Edward Hopper painting on Open All Nite? A: $60 fee and use of their slide, with no printing over the actual picture.
Thomas Crawford‘s 1976 album The Peak Experience was recorded, in part, at Track, and one of two rather collectible albums for Bethesda boutique label, Integrated Performance Systems International Incorporated (e.g.,$216 paid for this LP at auction in 2015).
In 1976, Del McCoury & The Dixie Pals would record three tracks at Track (including “Foggy River“) that would later enjoy release on 1991’s Classic Bluegrass CD compilation.
Country Gentlemen‘s gospel album, Calling My Children Home, was recorded at Track between April, 1976 – August, 1977 (kick-off tune: “Place Prepared for Me“), as was 1976’s Joe’s Last Train and no doubt other albums released on Rebel Records (founded in Mt. Rainier, Maryland).
The Ramones‘ second album Leave Home from 1978 was mixed, in part, at Track.
Root Boy Slim, one-time Silver Spring resident, with backing from the Sex Change Band and the Rootettes, would record 1979’s Zoom (whose classic cover was designed by Dick Bangham) at Track. “World War 3” b/w “Dare To Be Fat” would be issued in the US, as well as the UK, albeit with the two sides flipped! This just in: Root Boy’s 1983 album Dog Secrets – recorded at Track – would enjoy the addition of a bonus track, “Go Go Girls Don’t Cry” (thanks to John Simson & Dick Bangham), when reissued in 2010 on CD.
Original Fetish‘s Warped 45 – “Standing in Line at Studio 54” b/w “I’m Glad That Elvis Is Dead” – was recorded in 1979 and engineered by Bill McCullough at Track (view original gatefold images of celebrities in caricature waiting at Studio 54 at this link). Dave Nuttycombe celebrates the 25th anniversary of the band’s dissolution in this 2005 piece for DC’s City Paper.
Bill Blue Band — Two Adelphi LP releases recorded and mixed at Track: Sing Like Thunder (recorded 1978, released 1979) and Givin’ Good Boys A Bad Name (recorded 1979, released 1980). [see upcoming history of Adelphi Records].
Catfish Hodge‘s Bout With the Blues album (save for two tracks) was recorded by Mark Greenhouse and Bill McCullough at Track in 1980. At the time of the album’s release, interestingly, Catfish would form a new group – Chicken Legs – using members of his own band combined with “four of the five remaining members of Little Feat.” [see upcoming history of Adelphi Records].
Howard University‘s Jazz Ensemble (featuring GregOsby) recorded one album each in 1979 and 1980 at Track.
Gregory Charles Royal‘s 1980 single “Pain” b/w “Take a Ride to Heaven” (reissued in 2016 on Swiss label, High Jazz – and currently sold out) was recorded at Track. Royal, who would be invited by Art Blakey to join his Jazz Messengers while still a tenth-grader, later founded the New York Jazz Film Festival and currently serves as artistic director of DC’s American Youth Symphony.
John Simson’s Track History Spotlight: Tori Amos
American University professor, John Simson — one-time recording artist who became a manager (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Switchblade) and thirty-year entertainment lawyer (Chuck Brown, Government Issue, Root Boy Slim), as well as frequent lecturer on music industry and copyright issues, Executive Director of SoundExchange, and Chair of the Board of the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, among many other accomplishments — informed Zero to 180 that a teenage Tori Amos had recorded some of her earliest demos at Track Recorders.
The youngest person, at age five, to win a Peabody Conservatory scholarship, Tori (and her family) would later move from Baltimore to Silver Spring in 1972 so that her father could serve as pastor at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in the Adelphi section (coincidentally) of Silver Spring. As an underage performer, Tori would be chaperoned to Washington-area piano bars by her father, who would also mail tapes of her own original recordings to record labels.
Mark Greenhouse once played a demo cassette of demonstration recordings made at Track to John Simson, who was impressed enough with her talent to travel to Georgetown to hear Amos perform live. This Wikipedia page claims that “Baltimore” – submitted in response to a Baltimore Orioles theme song competition – was recorded in 1979 at Track, with guitar accompaniment by Max Welker. This past August, Welker would post an audio clip of a demo Amos made for “Walking With You” that is said to have been recorded at Track in 1980.
Curious coincidence — Julius Brockington was once signed to Today Records, a subsidiary of Perception Records: the label that released John Simson’s 1971’s album.
The Muffins‘ album <185> – with Fred Frith in the producer’s chair, as well as performer – was recorded in 1980 at Track and reissued in 1996 on Silver Spring’s own Cuneiform! The band moves from longer to shorter form on this album, as evidenced by “Under Dali’s Wing.”
Little Feat odds ‘n’ sods compilation, 1981’s Hoy-Hoy, includes tracks recorded at ten different studios, including Track — so says this catalog record for the version released in the Netherlands. However, I just discovered that the catalog record for the 1990 German release includes much more detailed recording info — but no mention of Track Recorders. Which raises the question: Did Little Feat (not just Lowell George) ever record at Track? Bill McCullough actually answered this question in September, 2016: Little Feat (as would The Allman Brothers and Kiss, et al.) recorded demos only for “fun” at Track.
Harvey Reid‘s 1981 debut album Nothin’ But Guitar – his first of six for the Woodpecker label – was recorded at Track.
Tommy Keene‘s Strange Alliance from 1982 – his debut LP – was recorded at Track (listen to title track). Album engineered by Mark Greenhouse & Jim Crenca and mastered by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk.
Billy Hancock‘s ace rockabilly original “Alley Cat” – a previously unreleased tune – was recorded in 1983 at Track.
Tex Rubinowitz‘s debut full-length album release would feature five “new” songs — including two written with Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets, “Rock -n- Roll Ivy” and “No Club (Lone Wolf)” — that were laid down at Track Recorders in 1985. Tex’s first single would come out in 1978 on DC-based Alladin, whose roster included Danny & the Fat Boys, The Nighthawks, Powerhouse, and the aforementioned Clovers.
Englishman‘s 1986 album Fighting to Survive (on which Augustus Pablo would perform as one of three synthesists) was recorded, in part, at Track (and Lion & Fox), with engineering by Mark Greenhouse and Jim Fox, along with Philip Smart. Sample: “Political Illusion.”
Root Boy Slim‘s Left for Dead – recorded at Track in 1987, with Ernie Lancaster and Steuart Smith both on guitar – was engineered & mixed (in part) by Bill McCullough. Album released in the US on King Snake Records, in the UK on Bedrock.
Fats Domino, according to this FAQ – has at least two unfinished albums, including an album recorded in 1982 “in a suburb of Washington, DC” that is either Track or Kensington’s Big Mo. Track’s own Bill McCullough, along with Marc D’Amico, would both concur: Fats recorded at Track!
Do you have a total knowledge of all aspects of audio recordings?
Can you appreciate all forms of rock and soul and get along with all types of personalities?
Can you take raw musical talent and convert it into a sellable product on tape?
Do you know the sound of a hit? Do you want to cut hits? Do you want success badly enough to eat every top selling single and LP you’re not on?
ln short, are you a born winner?
If you can honestly answer “yes” to all the above, we want you to join us and we’ll pay whatever’s fair. Track Recorders has had eight national chart records in the last year. Washington, D.C. is the last major music frontier and we’re the leaders. Our studio has all the standard quality equipment — 3M 16-track, 25-in/16-out custom console, EMT reverb, JBL 4320 monitors, Dolby, Kepex, varispeed, grand piano, Hammond B3 organ, amps, drums, excellent test gear and maintenance. Your weekends will generally be free. The Washington area offers great entertainment plus Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean.
Call or write to: TRACK RECORDERS, INC.
8226 Georgia Ave. #11-2, Silver Spring, Md. 20910. (301) KL5-xxxx”
Track Recorders: The Toddler Years
From Sam Sutherland’s “Studio Track” Billboard column in the June 17, 1972 edition:
“From Silver Springs [sic], Md., Track Recorders has noted activities there. That studio was D.C.’s only 8-track facility when it opened two years ago, and, last November, they became Washington’s first 16-track facility. A custom-designed board built and designed by the studio’s personnel, uses API and Suburban Sound components. The 16-track machine is 3M, and both the main studio (there are two rooms, but the second is incomplete [note: historical foreshadowing — read Zero to 180’s follow-up piece on Adelphi Records!] and the control room have been redesigned acoustically, with modifications now underway.
Founders Cotter Wells, Bill Tate, and Jim [Sennott] have been aiming the studio at the area’s local musicians, but they are now broadening their work to include outside artists, and in-house productions are also being considered. Chief engineer and “small owner” (his words) Cory Pearson reported sessions by [Masked Man & the Agents, below], produced for Musicor Records by Jim Burston; Carr–CeeProductions recording The Soul Searchers for Sussex; Van McCoy‘s productions for Whitehouse Productions; and Mike Auldridge, working on a Takoma album [i.e., label founded by John Fahey].”
John Kelly‘s review of Track Recorders from his DC-MD-VA studio overview
in the November 6, 1987 edition of The Washington Post
“Track just celebrated its 18th birthday and the list of major acts who have recorded there make it one of the most venerable studios in town. Track alumni include Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Jimi Hendrix. Local musicians, including Teresa Gunn, Random Samples and the Cultevaders, also take advantage of Track’s services. According to vice president/studio manager Mark Greenhouse, Track also runs its own vanity record label (it’s called, appropriately, Vanity Records). The acts on Vanity put up the money themselves and are rewarded with an ultra-slick package that includes record, sleeve and promotional advice. 8-TRACK.”
Richard Harrington‘s August 13, 1986 Washington Post celebration of Track’s sixteenth birthday — and in which we learn that The Allman Brothers recorded an unreleased 15/8 instrumental jam (“Chet’s Tune”) and that Track’s staff were musicians too, thus “the work has a certain spirit and attitude, reflecting a more intense personal relationship between technicians and musicians,” according to Mark Greenhouse.
“Once [producer Alan] Douglas had winnowed the 3,000 hours down to four hours of especially promising material, the tapes were turned over to [partner Tony] Bongiovi, who was expected to reduce the four hours of raw stock to the final product an eight-song, 36-minute album that will be entitled Midnight Lightning.
Bongiovi and his co-workers at Track Recorders, especially staff engineer ‘Obie’ O’Brien and session musician Lance Quinn, have gone to extraordinary lengths in their attempt to remain faithful to what seem to be Hendrix’s intentions. Guitarist Quinn played a Fender Stratocaster, the same model that Hendrix used, for all his overdubs, and brought the strings down half a step to the F flat [!] tuning that Hendrix favored. ‘But when we came in we weren’t trying to copy what he did or to make somebody sound like him,’ said Bongiovi.’ ‘We were trying to match the sound of the record. So Hendrix is the star of the album; we just had to fill in all the air that was on the record with what Jimi had planned to put on later.’
And that’s why relatively anonymous session men like Quinn, drummer Alan Schwartzberg, and bassist Bob Babbit were used on Midnight Lightning. ‘We didn’t want to use any soloist guitarists like a Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton,’ says Bongiovi. ‘Imagine if we had them on the album – they’re stars in their own right. It would have ended up a guitar duel, and that’s not fair because Jimi’s not really here to defend himself.”
But even without the opportunity to solo and show off a bit, Quinn, a disciple of Washington’s Roy Buchanan and an admirer of England’s Jeff Beck, finds the Hendrix sessions rewarding. ‘In some spots,’ says the corpulent [!] guitarist, ‘it was almost like playing in a band with him. And you get a chance to hear him in situations that don’t turn up on record. When we listened to the tapes, we heard the parts people never hear on record. Some of the ideas he tried were amazingly creative things that might not work on record but which, as a guitar player, I could appreciate. The guy was unbelievable. He could really play guitar. It wasn’t just that he had mastered the wah-wah pedal, feedback and the other effects. He was a really great guitar player who took something that no one ever did before. He just jumped into the space age all of a sudden instead of just playing rock & roll. He was the most creative there ever was. You can hear it in every note he played.”
Track Recorders: A Postscript
On Tuesday, May 25, 1971, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for Track Recorders Incorporated – as this link shows – by Track Recorders, Inc. The trademark registration for Track, sadly, expired on June 7, 1993.
cissel-lee building in its current incarnation (sans spanish colonial): Urban Butcher
The Soulful Strings evoke the magic of falling snow — thanks to Dorothy Ashby‘s harp — on their classic instrumental track, “Snowfall“:
“Snowfall” Soulful Strings 1968
Discogs helps us appreciate how The Soulful Strings were able to create an identifiable sound despite only playing other people’s material:
“The Soulful Strings was a project of the Chicago soul arranger Richard Evans, working with several musicians from the Cadet Records house band between 1966 and 1971 including Charles Stepney, Bobby Christian, Billy Wooten, Phil Upchurch, Lennie Druss, and Cleveland Eaton.
Employing a repertoire composed almost entirely of covers, Evans and company created a unique sound, combining a sharp, soulful rhythm section with a lush string backing. Evans pushed the strings to the front, assuming an attitude previously reserved only for the hulking funk of bass and rhythm guitar. It was this crucial element that made The Soulful Strings sound, so successful.”
“Snowfall” can be found on The Magic of Christmas, released in 1968 on Chess jazz subsidiary label, Cadet.
Cadet would issue 7 albums by The Soulful Strings between the years 1966-1970.
Do you remember playing a “hot potato” game as a young child called “The Wonderball” in which a ball is passed from person to person while you try to avoid being the last to hold it? More importantly, do you recall a melody that accompanied the verse? I can answer that one for you: no.
I was taught this game as an adult in the late 1980s by the fabulous dance & fitness educator, Patricia Sears, who instructed others schoolteachers how to incorporate movement activities into traditional classroom settings. At the time, Sears was only able to convey the lyrics to “The Wonderball” — melodically, we were on our own.
Kristin C. Hall, on her website, acknowledges some simple chord changes – but does not specific any particular melody line. Also, some kind soul has posted a home-spun version on YouTube that includes something along the lines of a melody, however one that likely exists in that household and nowhere else.
Fortunately, the long national nightmare is over. Zero to 180 – as a public service to future generations – has crafted a tune for all of humanity to use freely:
[Pssst: click triangle to play “The Wonderball” as interpreted by The Recess Committee]
The wonderball goes round and round To pass it quickly you are bound If you’re the one to hold it last Then for you the game is past And you … are … out!
Can you identify which early 60s television sitcom theme was thieved for the opening line of the keyboard solo?
Today’s special post celebrates Zero to 180’s fourth birthday in grand fashion and encourages parents all around the globe to keep children physically active. The Centers for Disease Control point out in their 2010 report – The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance – that “there is a growing body of research focused on the association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance among school-aged youth.” At the risk of stating the obvious, this means that movement is fundamentalto education’s bottom line (i.e., academic achievement).
1st anniversary piece that featured an exclusive “Howard Dean” remix of a delightful Sesame Street song about anger management (with a special rant about how WordPress’s peculiarities made me homicidal the moment I launched this blog).
2nd anniversary piece that refused to acknowledge the milestone but instead celebrated the under-sung legacy of songwriter and session musician, Joe South – with a link to South’s first 45, a novelty tune that playfully laments Texas’s change in status as the nation’s largest state upon Alaska’s entry into the Union.
3rd anniversary piece that revealed the depths to which Zero to 180 will sink in order to foist his own amateur recordings onto an unsuspecting and trusting populace — the brand his never really recovered.
NEWS UPDATE: Zero to 180 still hard at work on a companion piece to its recent history of Track Recorders — just starting to get its arms around the legacy of Adelphi Records , while taking history lessons directly from Gene Rosenthal himself. Stay tuned!
A new subject category – Gratitude in Popular Music – has been added in order to allow the opportunity each year around this time to shine a musical spotlight on thankfulness.
This year’s featured selection, “I’m Thankful” — originally produced by Sam Cooke and recorded for the 1961 album Jesus Be a Fence Around Me by The Soul Stirrers – was once performed live on television, and a tape of that broadcast (thankfully) still exists:
“I’m Thankful” The Soul Stirrers c. early 1960s
Billboard, in its July 3, 1961 edition, would describe the flip side of “I Love the Lord” thusly:
“A slow spiritual with a higher voice taking over the lead. The feeling of the side is in a quiet groove. Simple backing assists the lead and the rest of the group”
Thanks to William Vernola for recommending the 1991 PBS documentary “mini” series, Making Sense of the Sixties. At one point in the accompanying soundtrack — during the examination of women’s rights, undoubtedly — I was hooked by the catchy chorus to a song called “Drop the Mop“:
[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Drop the Mop” by Ruth Batchelor]
As it turns out, “Drop the Mop” is the obvious radio hit from feminism’s first full-length record, Reviving a Dream: Songs for Women’s Liberation, issued on the Femme label in 1972.
“First Lady in the White House”: The dream remains
My timing happened be impeccable, as I was able to obtain the one available copy of this now-forgotten record from the Bay Area’s preeminent music store, Amoeba Records, who has this to say about the album:
Unusual album with all original songs’ content centering on women’s liberation, with titles such as – “Drop The Mop,” “Barefoot And Pregnant,” and “Stand And Be Counted.” All the material was written by Ruth Batchelor and sung by Ruth Batchelor & the Voices of Liberation. The back cover has liner notes by Ruth.
How curious that America broke away from the British crown to create “The Land of the Free” — and yet the UK would elect a female head of state decades before the US did (and has yet to do).
“WE NEED TO KNOW MORE about THE PRINCESS … about WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN to us when we’re older … about spending our lives BAREFOOT & PREGNANT … about PROGRESS … about REVIVING A DREAM … we need to STAND AND BE COUNTED … we need to know other ways to KEEP HIS LOVE … we need EQUAL RIGHTS and we need to DROP THE MOP.
A dream was started in 1776 when our Fore-FATHER Thomas Jefferson drew up the Declaration of Independence declaring that all MEN were created equal (while our Fore-MOTHER Betsy Ross was allowed to sew a flag). He didn’t mention WOMEN. Women however were having the same dream – it took them until 1920 to get it realized. The suffragettes suffered and got us the vote. But what have we done with it? Their dream has been asleep for 50 years. The album is our way of REVIVING A DREAM.”
[Ruth Batchelor’s original notes from the album’s back cover]
Bob Glassenberg, reporting in his “Studio Track” column for Billboard in the August 28, 1971 edition, would quote the album’s songwriter and organizer-in-chief:
“‘The hardest thing for me as a lyricist is getting the song recorded and then being able to hear the lyrics,’ said Ruth Batchelor, whose current tune, written for the theme of the movie Love Machine, which was sung by Dionne Warwicke, Scepter recording artist. ‘I find it difficult hearing the words from some of the pop groups around today. And I feel this is a pet peeve of many people who write lyrics,’ said Miss Batchelor.
Batchelor has been writing lyrics for quite some time. I couldn’t pin her down as to the length–something to do with disclosing her age. But she is a young lady in any man’s book.
‘Right now I have an album of dirty women’s liberation poems recorded and I’m trying to sell the master. I don’t know who will buy it, because the last company I recorded for folded,’ she laughed. The title of the album is A Quarter for the Ladies Room. But she has written tunes for other artists, such as Elvis Presley, The Partridge Family, Carmen McRae, and Mel Torme. She has had no high school or college education and says her only formal training was a book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.”
Reviving a Dream (the first feminist record album — for every record sold, a contribution will be made to [National Organization for Women]) and Sexism, the board game, in which a woman tries to make it from the Doll House to the White House while a male chauvinist tries to send her back into the Kitchen or the Typing Pool. Players are forced into situations which necessitate role playing and discussion.
Sexism, the board game
A songwriter and television & radio reporter, Batchelor would found the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 1975, as pointed out in her 1992 New York Times obituary, and serve as its president and executive director for three years. Twenty years prior, The Times had reviewed Batchelor’s album in its March 12, 1972 edition, though not favorably, I’m afraid. Warren, Pennsylvania’s Times-Mirror and Observer, on the other hand, would be a little more open-minded in its February 3, 1972 edition:
Ruth Batchelor’s name doesn’t make it easy. She is used to bad puns about her name and puts up with them, albeit with clenched teeth. She has trouble with her image, because if she wears her hair in a fall, she is accused of being a sex symbol, and if she wears it short and close cropped, which is comfortable, she is called a lesbian.
Being Ruth Batchelor, songwriter, isn’t easy. Solving the hair problem was relatively simple. When she performs, she wears pigtails, a happy compromise for a girl who comes from California and started her career writing songs for Elvis Presley. Since then she has done the music for three Presley movies; a musical version of Fielding’s Tom Jones for CBS Television; Who’s Afraid of Mother Goose – a TV special with Sherman Edwards [i.e., mastermind behind 1776]; and composed a raft of songs including the theme from Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine. It is her most recent accomplishment that she is currently touting.
Miss Batchelor has written the music and lyrics, sung and produced a stereo LP record, her first for her newly-formed record company. Femme Records, called Reviving A Dream: Songs for Women’s Liberation. “And from now on, if I can, I would prefer to write nothing but songs for women,” the slight, dark-haired composer said recently as she sat strumming her guitar in her west side apartment. “I think it’s a great mistake that Women’s Lib has become identified with lesbians,” she said. “I think the image is in trouble. If I weren’t interested in the movement and heard all those anti-men speeches, I’d be turned off, too. I’m not anti-men.”
Among the ten songs on the record are “Barefoot and Pregnant” (“That’s the way my last husband felt about women”); “The Princess,” a song about women s economic dependency (“We need to know other ways to keep his love we need equal rights and we need to drop the mop.”) and, it follows, one called “Drop the Mop.” The first song she thought of for the record was a march. “I felt that NOW (National Organization for Women) needed a march of its own,” she said earnestly. “A march turns a mob into a parade.”
She is a member of NOW. and makes a donation to the organization for each record she sells via mail order [$5 F.D.R. Station. N Y. 10022]. The record from Femme Records, P O Box 548, is also available at Doubleday Stores. Perhaps the most feeling of her songs is called “What’s Gonna Happen,” which she sings in a small voice with echoes of Western music to a guitar accompaniment. The difference between the aging of men and women in today’s society is its subject.
Now that the record is a fait accompli (it was recently bought by the Record Club of .America to be offered to its 2.5 million members), she is busy whipping up others. “On Sunday, I wrote a great song about rape,” she reported, singing a few choruses. “Men always think it is the woman’s fault.” She also rewrote the Lord’s Prayer (“Nothing blasphemous, I just changed it to a woman”). The aim of the game is to get the Women’s Liberation message across, said the divorced mother of two teenage sons. “It’s what I tried to say in the lyrics for ‘The Princess,'” she said. “If you’re pretty, you’ll get a husband, and he’ll take care of you for the rest of your life. That’s the American dream. The only thing is, it isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare.” Because you care about other people’s feelings, because you know how important it is to tell them they’re needed, wanted, loved.
Ruth Batchelor in pigtails: images from back cover
To those who view the issue of women’s rights and equality an amusingly antiquated notion, one should consider the fact that women — (a) could not serve on a jury until 1973; (b) could not keep their job while pregnant until 1987; (c) could not pay a man’s rate for health insurance until 2010’s (now-vulnerable) Affordable Care Act (d) could not get credit cards in their name until 1974’s Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and (e) still are not paid the same as their male counterparts, despite the number of women-only households with children.
Due to “bandwith” issues, this dense, graphics-laden micro-history of King Records from the mid-1940s to the early 1970s has been temporarily archived in order to make room for two epic Silver Spring, Maryland music history pieces: (1) a Track Recorders ‘re-boot’ that will be followed soon after by (2) a detailed history of Gene Rosenthal & Adelphi Records.
Stay tuned to this space for a link to “Rare & Unissued King Tracks” when it returns in all its magnificence to Zero to 180.