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Bill McCullough Remembers: Track Recorders (pt. 1)

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 Center 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

Track Recorders ad - 1980 (hi res ver)

[For maximum fun, click on the vintage ad above to view the musical superheroes, appropriately enough, in super hi-rez]

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!

Track Recorders: Silver Spring II

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

Track Recorders - 2009

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
(chronologically speaking)

Track Recorders 45-aaTrack Recorders - Ralph Stanley LP

  • The Young Senators‘ classic funk 45 – “Jungle” – was recorded in 1970 at Track and reissued in 2016 (with picture sleeve) on Chicago’s Numero Group / Innovation.  The A-side, according to The Beat!  Go-Go Music from Washington, DC, hit number one on local and regional R&B music charts and led the band to Eddie Kendricks, who used them as musical support for his first solo tour after leaving The Temptations.
  • Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys made a series of recordings at Track between the years 1971 and 1976 that would later be issued on 1991 CD compilation Bound to Ride.

Track Recorders - Sons of Thunder LPTrack Recorders LP-aa

[click on triangle below to activate recording]

“We the People”     (Chuck Brown and) The Soul Searchers     1972

“We the People” (not to be confused with the Allen Toussaint composition)  hit #40 on the R&B Chart, spending a total of six weeks on the chart.  Soul Brother would reissue We the People for the UK market in 2006.

Track Recorders 45-bbTrack Recorders - Anacostia 45

Track Recorders 45-ccAdelphi - Gerry Goffin 45-bb

  • Al Brown‘s funky 1973 instrumental A-side – “The Whip” – (45 sought after in the UK) was laid down at Track.
  • 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

“This Feeling,” points out Soul Sides, enjoys the distinction of being reissued the following year, in 1974, as a two-part “Freedom” remix that kicks off with an ever-so-slightly menacing mini-Moog line.   Indeed, is this one of the earliest instances – as Soul Sides asks – “where a seven-inch single got remixed onto 7-inch again”?

Prior to releasing this single (quite possibly the Burman label’s one and only title), Brockington recorded three full-length albums for Today Records – 1972’s Sophisticated Funk & The Brockingtons, plus 1973’s The United Chair – that enjoyed distribution in France.

Thirty years later, “alternative” hip hop group Jurassic 5 would sample “This Feeling” to trippy effect on “Freedom” from 2002’s Power in Numbers album:

“Freedom”     Jurassic 5     2002

Recorded in “Silver Springs” – Remixed in “PhilA” – Released on “Balto”-based labelTrack Recorders - Julius Brockington 45

Who knew, in 1973, the global reach Brockington’s Silver Spring-based sounds would enjoy – including Japan, France, and Romania – over 40 years later?

Track Recorders LP-bbTrack Recorders - Claude Jones EP

Track Recorders - Pentagram 45Track Recorders 45-dd

  • 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.

Track Recorders History Spotlight:
Johnny Castle - Thrillbilly

Johnny Castle

Johnny Castle, who has performed and/or recorded with just about every musician — Johnny Gimble, Jimmy Arnold, Joe MaphisScreamin’ Jay Hawkins, John Lee Hooker, Elvin Bishop, Mac Wiseman, J.D. Crowe, Doug Sahm, Catfish Hodge, Root Boy Slim, Danny Gatton, Martha Hull, Tex Rubinowitz & Eddie Angel, Switchblade (Ratso, Angel & Jim Dougherty — later Mark Wenner & Steuart Smith), Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun, John Tichey & Andy Stein, the Twangbangers (honky tonk supergroup – Redd Volkaert, Dallas Wayne & Joe Goldmark), the Thrillbillys (his own band), and (currently) The Nighthawks, to name a few — has logged serious time at Silver Spring’s Track Recorders.

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:

  • Three albums with Eddie & Martha Adcock‘s II Generation for Mt. Airy, Maryland-based Rebel Records:  1974’s Head Cleaner, 1975’s We Call It Grass, and 1976’s Second Impression.
  • 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.
  • Page Wilson‘s 1983 album, Road Tired, Wired and Ready, which features musical support from Mike Auldridge, Steuart Smith, Eddie & Martha Adcock, Robbie Magruder, Akira Otsuka & Mark Greenhouse (harmony vocals & recording engineer), among others.
  • 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.

Track Recorders LP-ddTrack Recorders - Mike Auldridge LP

Silver Spring Music History Moment:
Linda Ronstadt at Track Recorders

This bit from Bob Kirsch’s “Studio Track” Billboard column in the April 27, 1974 edition:

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.”

Track Recorders LP-zTrack Recorders LP-ee

“[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.

Track Recorders - Andrew White LP-backTrack Recorders - Bill Holland & Rent's Due LP

  • One-time Stevie Wonder bassist and accomplished reed player, Andrew White, recorded 1974 album Passion Flower – one of Dusty Grooves‘ “favorite 70s albums” – at Track.  Curiously, a different drummer (Bernard Sweetney of the Reuben Brown Trio) is listed on Discogs than the one (Keith Killgo – of DC’s Blackbyrds) identified on the back cover above.
  • Bill Holland & Rent’s Due If 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]

Track Recorders LP-ccTrack Recorders - Tony Rice California Autumn LP

Track Recorders LP-rrAdelphi - Liz Meyer LP-x

Track Recorders - Banbarra 45Track Recorders LP-ff

  • 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]

Track Recorders - Gloria Gaynor LPTrack Recorders - Gloria Gaynor LP II

  • 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).

Track Recorders - Clovers 45adelphi-reuben-brown-trio-us

  • 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].

Track Recorders LP-ggTrack Recorders LP-zz

  • 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.

Track Recorders LP-iiTrack Recorders - Skip Mahoaney album

Track Recorders - Nighthawks Open All NiteTrack Recorders - Nighthawks Side Pocket Shot Track Recorders - Nighthawks Jacks & KingsTrack Recorders - Nighthawks Live LP

  • 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 NighthawksMark Wenner

Mark Wenner

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

Track Recorders - Big Foot 45-aaTrack Recorders - Big Foot 45-bb

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.

[Thanks to Linda Parker Photography for use of photo above]

Track Recorders LP-kkTrack Recorders LP-t

Track Recorders - Del McCoury Classic BluegrassTrack Recorders - Country Gentlemen LP

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  • 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 flippedThis 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.

Track Recorders 45-iiaTrack Recorders 45-iaTrack Recorders - Russ & Paul-aTrack Recorders - Russ & Paul-b

Track Recorders - Bill Blue Band Thunder LPTrack Recorders - Catfish Hodge's Bout with the Blues

  • 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].

Track Recorders 45-hhTrack Recorders 45-ff

Track Recorders - Howard University Jazz Ensemble 80Track Recorders 45-gg

  • Howard University‘s Jazz Ensemble (featuring Greg Osby) 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 TrackRoyal, 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 AmosJohn Simson

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.

Track Recorders LP-nnTrack Recorders - Little Feat Hoy Hoy

  • 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.

Track Recorders - Harvey Reid Nothin' But GuitarTrack Recorders LP-oo

  • 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.

Track Recorders 12-inch-ATrack Recorders LP-pp

Track Recorders - Billy Hancock LPTrack Recorders - Tex Rubinowitz LP

  • 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.

Track Recorders - Howlers LPTrack Recorders - Englishman LP

Track Recorders - Tony Rice Me & My Guitar LPTrack Recorders - Root Boy Slim Left for Dead LP

  • Tony Rice‘s Me and My Guitar — featuring Vassar Clements, Jerry Douglas & Sam Bush, et al. — was recorded (in part) and mixed at Track in 1986 (to get technical:  “Analog multi-tracks mixed to Sony 701 PCM digital system at Track Recorders.”)
  • 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.

Track Recorders - Fats Domino Unfinished LPTrack Recorders - Larry Carlton LP

  • 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!
  • Larry Carlton‘s 1993 album Renegade Gentleman was overdubbed, in part, at Track.

 *   *   *   You Could Be Track Recorders’ Next Recording Engineer!   *   *   *
Full text of ad from August, 1973 edition of dB Magazine

control room at Track Recorders – July, 1972 – Courtesy of SONS OF THUNDERTrack Recorders - July 1972-b

WANTED: RECORDING ENGINEER  $12,000 – $18,000/yr.  Negotiable

  • 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”

SONS OF THUNDER‘s Steve Halverson at Track Recorders – July, 1972

Track Recorders - July 1972Track 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 [notehistorical foreshadowing — read Zero to 180’s follow-up piece!] and the control room have been redesigned acoustically, with modifications now underway.

Founders Cotter Wells, Bill Tate, and Jim Jermott 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; CarrCee Productions 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].”

Mask Man and the Agents

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 RECORDERS — 8226 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring.  589-4349.  $65/hour.

“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.”

Further Reading:  Track Recorders

John Kelly‘s March 14, 2015 column in The Washington Post that reveals the history behind the 1983 jingle for Mattress Discounters — a musical ad that haunts to this day.

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.

Richard Harrington‘s December 27, 1981 Washington Post piece about the recording of a live Nighthawks album at The Bayou (Ten Years Live, with its randy runout groove etching) by Bill McCullough of Track Recorders.

Bill Nowlin‘s history behind the recording of J.D. Crowe and the New South — an iconic album (re-released in 2016) and one that helped establish Rounder Records’ reputation.

Wilfully Obscure‘s ruminations (parts one & two) about the recording of Tommy Keene’s Strange Alliance album.

*Midnight Lightning:
Posthumous Hendrix Album Coming

Midnight Lightning belt buckle

[Note vintage 70s “Midnight Lightning” belt buckle above]

Excerpt from Nov. 22, 1975 Edition of Aniston, Alabama’s Star Newspaper

 “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 ButcherTrack Recorders - 2016

“Snowfall”: Soulful + Strings

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.”

soulful-strings-magic-of-christmas-lp“Snowfall” can be found on The Magic of Christmas, released in 1968 on Chess jazz subsidiary label, Cadet.

soulful-strings-magic-of-christmas-xCadet would issue 7 albums by The Soulful Strings between the years 1966-1970.

“Wonderball”: Musically Reborn!

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.

wonderballI 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 fundamental to education’s bottom line (i.e., academic achievement).

wonderball-45Zero to 180 Milestones:  The Preschool Years

  • Inaugural Zero to 180 post that established a bona fide cross-cultural link between  Cincinnati (via James Brown’s music recorded and distributed by King Records) and Kingston, Jamaica (i.e., Prince Buster’s rocksteady salute to Soul Brother #1).
  • 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.

“Thankful”: Plateful of Grateful

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.

Zero to 180 has observed this tradition in the past via populist anthems that promote unity, such as “We the People” by Allan Toussiant, “Time to Get It Together” by Tom Jones, and “This Old Town” by Wilson Pickett.

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”

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First “Women’s Liberation” LP

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 remainsruth-batchelor-lp-aa

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).ruth-batchelor-lp-bb

“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.”

Flashback to the early 1970s:   Page 6 in the June 1972 issue of Broadside helpfully suggests such “Feminist Gifts” as—

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

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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

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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.

Ruth Batchelor, 1963 – courtesy of Shelley Fabulousruth-batchelor-b

Ruth Batchelor Songs:  A Selected Discography

Ruth Batchelor Trivia

Phil Spector produced “I’d Like to Miss My Graduation,” a 1961 single for Karen Lake that was written by Ruth Batchelor — very likely her first professional composition.

Desired image unavailable – Pretend this is the flip side

karen-lake-ruth-batchelor-45

= Rare & Unissued King Tracks =

N O T E !
Critical Update — January 11, 2017

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.

Track Recorders: Silver Spring

NOTICE:  This piece has since been majorly revamped with much new content — in fact, ditch this version in favor of the January, 2017 re-boot!

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 floorTrack Recorders - 2009Photo courtesy of JUST UP THE PIKE

Notable Moments in Track Recorders’ Music History
(chronologically speaking)

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Track Recorders 45 History Spotlight:  Julius Brockington
Silver Spring Straddles the Centuries

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

“This Feeling,” points out Soul Sides, enjoys the distinction of being reissued the following year, in 1974, as a two-part “Freedom” remix that kicks off with an ever-so-slightly menacing mini-Moog line.   Indeed, is this one of the earliest instances – as Soul Sides asks – “where a seven-inch single got remixed onto 7-inch again”?

Prior to releasing this single (quite possibly the Burman label’s one and only title), Brockington recorded three full-length albums for Today Records – 1972’s Sophisticated Funk & The Brockingtons, plus 1973’s The United Chair – that enjoyed distribution in France.

Recorded in “Silver Springs” – Remixed in “PhilA” – Released on “Balto”-based labeljulius-brockington-45-bb

Thirty years later, “alternative” hip hop group Jurassic 5 would sample “This Feeling” to trippy effect on “Freedom” from 2002’s Power in Numbers album:

“Freedom”     Jurassic 5     2002

2002 would also find “This Feeling” selected, fittingly. as the final track of a heavy soul compilation curated by Christian McBride and aimed at the UK market — Fat & Funky: 45 Kings II.   Brockington’s Silver Spring-based sounds still enjoy renown worldwide — in France, for instance, via LeMellotron music blog, as well as B*Town Project.

  • Joe Quarterman & Free Soul‘s debut album – which saw release in 1973 in the US, UK, Venezuela, Spain, France, Italy and Japan – was recorded at Track.
  • Claude Jones (“Warrenton, Virginia’s answer to the Grateful Dead—a hippie band whose members all lived together at a rural outpost they called The Amoeba Farm”)  recorded their 5-track EP Sykesville in 1973.
  • Pentagram recorded their fuzzed-out cover of “Under My Thumb” (with inspired dual guitar solo) in 1974 at Track.
  • 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.

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  • Seldom Scene‘s Old Train album was recorded in 1974 at Track.
  • Mike Auldridge‘s 1974 album Blues and Blue Grass was recorded at Track.
  • (One-time Stevie Wonder bassist and accomplished reed player) Andrew White recorded 1974 album Passion Flower at Track.
  • At least one song on Linda Ronstadt‘s Heart Like a Wheel album from 1974 was recorded at Track.
  • Emmylou HarrisPieces of the Sky album was recorded at Track in 1975.
  • J.D. Crowe and the New South‘s debut album (featuring the stellar musicianship of J.D. Crowe, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, and Bobby Slone) was recorded January, 1975 at Track.

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  • Tony Rice‘s California Autumn album from 1975 was recorded at Track (and released the following year in Japan), while 1986’s Me and My Guitar — featuring Vassar Clements, Jerry Douglas & Sam Bush, et al. — was recorded (in part) and mixed at Track.
  • Powerhouse – featuring guitarist Tom Principato – recorded 1975’s Night Life at Track (in which Bullmoose Jackson was pulled out of retirement for a guest vocal).
  • 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.

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  • Gloria Gaynor‘s 1975 album Experience was recorded, in part, at Track — as was the following year’s I’ve Got You album.
  • Black Heat‘s 1975 album Keep on Runnin‘ was recorded at both Track and Atlantic Records studios (and reissued in Europe in 2016 — three years prior, in Japan).
  • Jimi Hendrix‘s posthumous LP Midnight Lightning (with numerous session players overdubbed) was produced, in part, at Track Recorders and released in 1975.

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  • 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.
  • Skip Mahoaney & the Casuals would record 1976 album Land of Love at Track.
  • O’Donel Levy recorded Windows (with Randy Brecker, et al.) in August, 1976 at Track.
  • The Nighthawks‘ four albums for Adelphi Records all involved Track Recorders: 1976’s Open All Nite was engineered at Track; 1977’s Side Pocket Shot was both engineered and mixed at Track; the following year’s Jacks and Kings (with Pinetop Perkins and Bob Margolin) would actually be recorded at Track; and 1982’s Times Four would include 1977-78 studio sessions laid down at Track.

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  • Bill Horton‘s free-form, Beefheart-esque album – 1976’s Dancehall for Midgets – would be assembled at Track.
  • Thomas Crawford‘s 1976 album The Peak Experience was recorded, in part, at Track.
  • Del McCoury & The Dixie Pals would record three tracks at Track Recorders in 1976 that would later enjoy release on 1991’s Classic Bluegrass CD compilation.
  • Country Gentlemen‘s Calling My Children Home album was recorded in 1977 at Track.
  • Acclaimed bluegrass musician Jimmy Arnold recorded 1977’s Jimmy Arnold-Guitar at Track.
  • Coup de Grass‘ 1978 album Rhythm and Bluegrass – on Adelphi Records – was recorded at Track (see “album spotlight” in upcoming Adelphi Records history piece).

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  • The Ramones‘ second album Leave Home from 1978 was mixed, in part, at Track.
  • Root Boy Slim (one-time Silver Spring resident) would record 1979’s Zoom – whose classic cover was designed by Dick Bangham – with the Sex Change Band and the Rootettes at Track, as well as 1987’s Left for Dead.

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  • RussnPaul‘s 1979 album See You in Court was recorded entirely at Track.
  • 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 (click on link to view original gatefold images of celebrities in caricature waiting at Studio 54).
  • Howard University‘s Jazz Ensemble (featuring Greg Osby) recorded one album each in 1979 and 1980 at Track.
  • The Slickee Boyswinner 1980 A-side “The Brain That Refused to Die” was recorded at Track, (while the flip side “(Are You Gonna Be There at The) Love-In?” was recorded at Bethesda’s famed Psyche Delly).
  • Black Market Baby‘s forthrightly rocking A-side “America’s Youth” was recorded in 1980 at Track.

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  • Little Feat odds ‘n’ sods compilation released in the Netherlands, 1981’s Hoy-Hoy, includes tracks recorded at ten different studios — including Track.
  • Harvey Reid‘s debut album Nothin’ But Guitar was recorded in 1981 at Track.
  • Tommy Keene‘s Strange Alliance from 1982 – his debut LP – was recorded at Track.
  • Brother Ah & The Sounds of Awareness would record the Key to Nowhere album at Track on July 7, 1983.

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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].”

cissel-lee building in its current incarnation (sans spanish colonial):  Urban ButcherTrack Recorders - 2016

Silver Spring Music History Moment:  Linda Ronstadt at Track

This bit from Bob Kirsch’s “Studio Track” Billboard column in the April 27, 1974 edition:

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.”

Skip Mahoaney & the Casuals – hitchhiking along the Potomac near Memorial BridgeTrack Recorders LP-h

You Could Be Track Recorders’ Next Recording Engineer!
Full text of ad from August, 1973 edition of dB Magazine

WANTED: RECORDING ENGINEER  $12,000 – $18,000/yr.  Negotiable

  • 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”

[click on triangle below to activate recording]

“We the People” (A+B SIDES)    The Soul Searchers (with Chuck Brown)     1972

“We the People” (not to be confused with the Allen Toussaint composition) was co-written by Chuck Brown and hit #40 on the R&B Chart, spending a total of six weeks on the chart.

Track Recorders:  The Toddler Years
This bit 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) and the control room have been redesigned acoustically, with modifications now underway.

Founders Cotter Wells, Bill Tate, and Jim Jermott 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 The Masked Men, produced for Musicor Records by Jim Burston; CarrCee Productions recording The Soul Searchers for Sussex; Van McCoy‘s productions for Whitehouse Productions and Mike Auldridge, working on a Takoma album [i.e., label owned by John Fahey].”

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.

SONS OF THUNDER‘s Steve Halverson at Track Recorders – July, 1972

Track Recorders - July 1972Bob Brown Remembers:  Track Recorders

Once upon a time in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., in the late 70’s and early ‘80’s there was a recording facility called Track Recorders.  If you wanted to make a record locally at that time you pretty much had two choices; if you lived in the southern suburbs of Northern Virginia you probably went to Bias Studios but if you lived north of the District (which I did) you gravitated toward Track.  Track was my Polaris.  As an aspiring ‘session player’ it was the shining point around which my life seemed to revolve.  Many a well‐known artist had at some time recorded there; Little Feat, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and many others had all contributed to its reputation as a world-­class facility.  I even once stumbled face to face into Donald Fagen who was there scouting out Root Boy Slim, another regular client at Track who’s notoriously wonderful demos (recorded there) had begun to attract the attention of major labels on the other coast.

There were many reasons to work there.  They had great recording gear, the main studio room sounded great with a rock band or a string section and the Kawai grand piano remains, in my recollection, one of the best of its type anywhere.  But 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.  This team had worked together on numerous projects and was 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.’  I’m sure it was Mark who introduced me to Bob Brown (as he was then known).

Another View of Track Recorders – July, 1972 – Courtesy of SONS OF THUNDERTrack Recorders - July 1972-b

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 RECORDERS — 8226 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring.  589-4349.  $65/hour.

“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.”

Further Reading:  Track Recorders

John Kelly‘s March 14, 2015 column in The Washington Post that reveals the history behind the 1983 jingle for Mattress Discounters — a musical ad that haunts to this day.

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.

Richard Harrington‘s December 27, 1981 Washington Post piece about the recording of a live Nighthawks album at The Bayou by Bill McCullough of Track Recorders.

Bill Nowlin‘s history behind the recording of J.D. Crowe and the New South — an iconic album (re-released in 2016), and one that helped establish Rounder Records’ reputation.

Wilfully Obscure‘s ruminations (parts one & two) about the recording of Tommy Keene’s Strange Alliance album.

Fats Domino once recorded an album in 1982 at Track – or was it Big Mo in Kensington? Does anyone know which of the two Montgomery County studios it was?  (Marc D’Amico , as well as Track’s own Bill McCullough both concur:  Fats recorded at Track!  See comments at the end of the piece)

RUSS ‘N’ PAUL (inner sleeve):  in 1979 riding then new DC MetrorailTrack Recorders - Russ 'n' Paul

Excerpt from the NOVEMBER 22, 1975 EDITION OF ANISTON, ALABAMA’S STAR NEWSPAPER

Midnight Lightning — Posthumous Hendrix album coming

“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.”

“Recorded at Track Recorders – Washington, DC” — oops, close enoughTrack Recorders 45-ee

Crowd-sourcing the history:  What other notable recordings deserve to be posted here?

Maryland’s New State Anthem

To:     Governor Larry Hogan & The General Assembly of Maryland

Perhaps it is time to replace the Maryland state anthem — you know, the Rebel marching song from 1861 that beseeches Marylanders to “spurn the northern scum” and thereby follow Virginia’s example on the whole secession question — with something else altogether.  Something much more uplifting, celebratory, and inclusive.  That doesn’t also do double duty as a Christmas carol.

To that end, Zero to 180 – as a public service – would like to offer the following song as a replacement for “Maryland, My Maryland“:

“Maryland”     The Crazy Five     1973

With lyrics that everyone can get behind, and a singalong chorus that no Marylander can resist, who cares that “Marylandnever enjoyed release beyond Germany’s borders?  “Maryland, My Maryland” is likewise German, and besides, we are a nation of immigrants.  Borrowing from other cultures is an American pastime.

Crazy Five 45-aaCrazy Five‘s relative obscurity and limited output (i.e., one 45) means a good deal for the taxpayers and a modest investment, ultimately, in civic pride.  Tess Teiges and Walt Wister, the songwriting team behind “Maryland,” have been out of the music scene since 1975 — I suspect both would be grateful for the income and happy to negotiate a fair and reasonable sum for all parties involved.

Crazy Five 45-bb“Maryland, My Maryland”:  Retain or Retire?

Should the Maryland legislature — as Maryland State Senator Cheryl Kagan and the Washington Post editorial board insist — return “Maryland, My Maryland” (written in 1861, but only designated the official state song in 1939) to the history from whence it came?  Or, would that be a well-intended exercise in historical revisionism and — as Governor Hogan would assert — “political correctness run amok“?

Three out of four Civil War monuments in Baltimore, as Marc Steiner points out, honor the Confederacy.  Baltimore’s violent (and murderous) response to the sight of federal troops disembarking by rail on Pratt Street en route to the Federal City, it is worth noting, took place just one week after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter.  Maryland stayed on the side of the Union, but only because President Lincoln ensured that outcome, yes?   Bethesda, Maryland’s William Safire – in his 1984 essay, “Patriotic Gore,” for the New York Times – mocks those who would want to deny the state’s anti-Union, pro-slavery past.

Please contact Zero to 180 if you have the historical bona fides to answer this question:   Does “Maryland, My Maryland” reflect the sentiments of a majority of the state’s residents 150 years ago when Americans took up arms against each other?

The Cook Bros. on (indie) Island

I stumbled upon a pretty snappy A-side that is virtually unknown, and what a shame, given the sibling harmonizing and wonderfully oddball percussion sounds during the instrumental section that would be nearly impossible to produce with our current technology.  Song clocks in at 103 seconds — and not a single one wasted:

“Juke Box Play for Me”     The Cook Brothers     195?

I love the redacted song title/author info on the record label above — makes listening to the song almost seem a criminal act.

Released on tiny Cleveland indie Island, the same label that released the 45 featured in the previous piece on Hardrock Gunter, who is or is not the same singer as Buddy DurhamRCS sure seems to indicate so (“SEE:  Gunter, Hardrock”), while PragueFrank identifies Durham as a separate human entity (who once teamed up with Gunter at Wheeling’s WWVA radio station ca. 1962 to record a Starday 45 “Hillbilly Twist” + “As Long As You’re Happy”).

Juke Box Play for Me” is from a rare rockabilly EP that features two tracks each from Hardrock Gunter, Buddy Durham, Bill Browning, and The Cook Brothers and would appear 22 years later on a Dutch compilation of Island’s 1950s recordings.

The Cook BrothersCook Brothers(photo courtesy of ROCKY 52)

The Cook Brothers, judging from this news item in the May 20, 1957 edition of Billboard, had been a featured act for WWVA at one point.  Two years prior in 1955, the brothers, Chuck and Jim (“Accompanied by Their Rocky Ridge Boys”) would record two singles for Wheeling-based Emperor.   Three singles would appear to be their entire recorded output.