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)

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  • 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.

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[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.

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  • 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?

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  • 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.”

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“[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]

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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 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].

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  • 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

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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]

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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.

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  • 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].

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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?

“Honkey Tonk Woman”: from ’61!

Don Davis, who produced Albert King‘s King Albert album in 1977, would come up with a song title that would get appropriated lock, stock and barrel eight years later by a former blues band from London:

“Honkey Tonk Woman”     (Don Davis and) The Fabulous Playboys     1961

“Honkey Tonk Woman” often commands three figures at auction, especially in the UK, where it is considered a “northern soul” or “soul mod” classic.

Fabulous Playboys 45-aNotice Don Davis’s writing & arrangement credits on Discogs, which seem to go on forever.

Hopefully, Don Davis needs a vault to hold his publishing royalties

Don DavisConceptual link to the next piece

Stax: “In the Twilight Zone”

Dave Thompson would point out in his 2001 history of Funk:

“The [Isaac] Hayes/[David] Porter team was responsible for hits across the Stax spectrum, including Carla Thomas’s ‘B-A-B-Y,’ Sam & Dave’s ‘Hold On! I’m a Comin” and ‘Soul Man,’ Ruby Johnson’s ‘I’ll Run Your Hurt Away,’ and The Astors‘ ‘In the Twilight Zone‘ — a song that was subsequently, memorably, borrowed by Blondie as the basis for ‘Rifle Range‘”:

“In the Twilight Zone”      The Astors     OCTOBER, 1965

Rhythm Message‘s history of The Astors would have this to say about “In the Twilight Zone,” the group’s follow-up to #63 pop hit, the (Steve) Cropper- & (Isaac) Hayes-penned  “Candy“:

“The fourth Satellite-Stax release was ‘In the Twilight Zone’ (Stax S-179), penned by Isaac Hayes, Dave Porter and Sidney Bailey and again with Curtis on lead vocal.  This is probably the hardest to find of the three Stax label releases.  Whereas “Candy” with its up tempo danceable momentum is understandably a long time favourite on the [UK] northern scene with the ‘oldies’ crowd, ‘Twilight Zone’ complete with its eerie related theme intro and moody mid tempo quality has attracted more recent interest on the rare soul scene in the UK.”

The Astors (courtesy DISCOGS.COM)

The AstorsInteresting to note that, at one point early in their career, The Astors would be briefly named The Chips after the (recently-departed) Memphis-based guitarist, songwriter, and producer, Chips Moman.

Billboard would note that, for the week of October 16, 1965, Al Jefferson of Baltimore’s WWIN AM radio would identify “In the Twilight Zone” as one of his top choices for (R&B) “Pick-of-the-Week” — the following week, Reuben T. (Mad Lad) Washington of KNOK in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area would make the same decision.

Derek’s Occasional 45s suspects Booker T. & the MGs — and this only makes sense — to be the backing band on this recording.   The original 7-inch sells especially well in the UK, where it is considered a “northern soul” classic.

Astors 45-aIs it merely a coincidence that this piece follows right on the heels of Zero to 180’s tribute to the Grateful Dead‘s participation in the 1980s ‘reboot’ of ‘The Twilight Zone‘ TV series?

Ali: “The People’s Choice”

Muhammad Ali enjoyed such worldwide popularity, I’m surprised The Champ didn’t release more recordings over the course of his career, aside from two albums, a handful of singles, and, of course, the Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay LPs:

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Ali would launch his national campaign for dental health with a boxing match against the “pride of Cavityville” – Mr. Tooth Decay – on the grounds of the Washington Monument, as reported in the November 4, 1979 edition of the Washington Post:

“Yesterday’s match was sponsored free of charge, by A&P supermarkets, which will be distributing an album on tooth decay called May the Brush Be With You.  It features the voices of Ali, Frank Sinatra, Billie Jean King, Lily Tomlin and President Carter.  Most of the proceeds will go to charity — and the rest to Ali.”

Ali LP-b1Ali’s second full-length release (one of Billboard’s “recommended” soul albums in its  October 30, 1976 edition) would coincide with the nation’s bicentennial, hence the subtitle of the title track, “Ali’s Bicentennial Freedom Song.”

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Zero to 180 is hoping someone can identify Muhammad Ali’s partner (i.e., “The Best Ever”) on this 1975 Polydor single A-side “The People’s Choice” that might possibly have been – oddly enough – for the European market only:

Ali 45-c1Click on triangle below to hear “The People’s Choice”

“The People’s Choice”     The Best Ever and Muhammad Ali     1975

Germany’s Trikont label would gather many rare and hard-to-find Ali-related songs in 2003 in a CD entitled Hits and Misses:  Muhammad Ali and the Ultimate Sound of Fistfighting:

  1. Muhammad Ali”     Tom Russell     [2003]
  2. 8ième Round”     Trio Madjesi     [1976?]
  3. Cassius Marcellus Clay”     Jorge Ben     [1971]
  4. The Ballad Of Cassius Clay”     The Alcoves     [1964]
  5. Muhammad Ali”     Sir Mack Rice     [1976]
  6. Foreman Ali Welcome To Kinshasa”     G.O. Malebo Orch.    [1974]
  7. The People’s Choice”     The Best Ever & Muhammad Ali     [1975]
  8. “You’re The Greatest”     Bette McLaurin     [1964]
  9. Muhammad Ali”     Dennis Alcapone     [1975]
  10. He Is He”     Page Scherer     [?]
  11. The Louisville Lip”     Eddie Curtis     [1971]
  12. Rumble In The Jungle”     Don Covay     [1974]
  13. Muhammad Ali”     Liberated Brother     [1975]
  14. Cassius Clay”     Dennis Alcapone     [1973]
  15. Foreman vs Frazier”     Big Youth     [1973]
  16. Muhammad Ali”     Mr. Calypson     [1971]
  17. Muhammad Ali”     Verne Harrell     [1971]
  18. Ali Shuffle”    J.W. Grasshopper & the Butterfly     [1974]
  19. Try It Again”     Joe Frazier     [1974]
  20. I’m The Greatest”     Muhammad Ali     [1976]
  21. Bommaye”     Pupi Y Su Charanga     [1975]

Ali 45-a1Ali 45-aaa1Ali 45-aa1Ali 45-b1Ali 45-e1Ali 45-d1Ali 45-f1Ali 45-h1Ali & the Beatles-1

Behind the Mic:  A Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali Discography

Extra Rounds with The Champ!

“Doin’ the Ali Shuffle”     Alvin Cash     1967

“linger on (Cassius clay)”     Prince buster     1965

“Ali Bom-Ba-Ye”     Michael Masser & Mandrill     1977

Honorable Mention

Skeeter Davis     “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter”     1969

“I’m a lover not a fighter, I kinda like it that way.
If you want a a fighting partner, go live with Cassius Clay.”

Ali LP-xClancy Eccles 45 from 1964 “I’m the Greatest” sells for three figures

Ali 45-z

“Hipster”: That You, Mr. Brinson?

I’m surprised there aren’t more web pages that pay tribute to Julius Brinson, gym teacher extraordinaire, whose boundless energy and relentless good cheer have brightened countless days for the students, parents, and fellow staff of Sligo Creek Elementary School.

It’s no secret that Mr. Brinson is rather adept at mixing a sound board, as his DJ skills are regularly put to use at school events.  How likely is that before he embarked on a long and distinguished career as a physical education instructor, Julius Brinson had taken a run at the big time in the early 1970s with this coveted dance track on obscure indie, Interstate 95?

“Hipster”     C. Forture & J. Brinson     1971?

Years later “Hipster” would easily command three-digit figures at auction.  Fortunately, German label Tramp Records would take pity on the rest of us in 2012 and include “Hipster” in its funk and soul compilation Movements 4.

Brinson 45Mr. Brinson will be in full effect at today’s big annual event at Sligo Creek Elementary:  The Salamander Stride — a “fun run” for the entire student body and a fundraiser for the PTA, in addition to being a fun time for the whole school community.

Zero to 180 readers may direct their generosity to the Salamander Stride fundraising pages for Nick Richardson and Vivian Richardson.

jO rASI – Aug/Sep 2014 edition of ‘Our Children’ – National PTA Magazine

Salamander Stride

“Grits & Corn Bread”: Watts 103

Musical salute to Georgia ‘s Official Prepared Food continues with “Grits & Corn Bread” – a song that listerners can enjoy at a variety of playback speeds.   Zero to 180 is partial to the medium speed:

“Grits and Corn Bread”   The Soul Runners     1966

Billboard would identify “Grits & Corn Bread” as a ‘Breakout Single’ in its January 28, 1967 edition.– debut 45 from The Soul Runners, who would be the forerunners to the estimable Watts 103 St. Rhythm BandHip Wax makes the historical connections:

“After [Dyke & the Blazers leader Arlester] Christian was shot to death in Phoenix, Arizona, another great soul-funk act arose like a phoenix.  Christian’s final sides were recorded with the guitar-bass-drums nucleus of the nascent Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band.  Led by Fred Smith, Watts began as the Soul Runners, a hip group similar to Booker T. & the MGs, with singles on a soul-food theme.  The classic version of ‘Spreadin’ Honey,’ for instance, appeared on both sides of the name transition and was remade by Watts on their first, underrated LP of cheery, adventurous, mod soul.  But, not quite making it as either funk or soul jazz, the band sorely needed a charismatic vocalist to front the band, another Arlester Christian [i.e., future front man, Charles Wright].”

Musically starchy?  Rather meaty, actually

Soul Runners 45Billboard’s band biography bespeaks:

“As the Soul Runners, the group scored a 1967 hit with the instrumental ‘Grits and Cornbread’; rechristened the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, they scored again later that same year with another instrumental, ‘Spreadin’ Honey,’ and with the support of comedian Bill Cosby (whom they’d previously backed in the studio) were signed to Warner Bros. soon after.”

David Gordon – on Yahoo’s ‘Southern Soul List‘ – does his own dot-connecting, as he links The Soul Runners with CharlesPackyAxton (son of Stax co-founder, Estelle Axton) of The Packers, among other related groups.  “Grits and Corn Bread” would be released January, 1967 – according to Gordon.

Meanwhile, over at Spectropop’s Group Discussion, “Davie” Gordon would post an even more elaborate discography that links Magnificent Montague, The Soul Runners, and countless related artists.

 corn (grits + bread) = (C)G + CB

Grits & Corn Bread“Grits & Corn Bread” is the 2nd installment in Zero to 180’s musical tribute to corn grits.

Popeye in Pop’s Eye

Very much looking forward to this Saturday’s special event at the AFI in Silver Spring in which Gary Lucas, Sarah Stiles and a stellar supporting cast will provide musical accompaniment to 1930s Max Fleischer cartoon classics, most notably Popeye and Betty Boop – a “spotlight evening” for this year’s Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Max Fleischer & Betty Boopimage courtesy of Washington Jewish Film Festival

As the WJJF website notes:

“Celebrating the release of the titular album–on Silver Spring-based label Cuneiform–legendary guitarist Gary Lucas joins forces with Tony-nominated singer & actress Sarah Stiles (Avenue Q, Hand to God) for a loving musical tribute to the swinging, jazzy soundtracks that adorned master animator Max Fleischer’s surreal, wacky and Yiddish-inflected Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons of the 1930’s.

Backed by the cartoons themselves, and the cream of NYC’s jazz performers (Jeff Lederer on reeds, Rob Jost on bass, Rob Garcia on drums and Mingus Big Band’s Joe Fiedler on trombone), Lucas and Stiles have a rare evening in store.”

Check out Lucas & Stiles on the delightful “Broken Record

Gary Lucas CDThe coolest treatment of Popeye in vintage pop music is undoubtedly this original song by Lamont Anthony – a.k.a., Lamont Dozier of Dozier-Holland-Dozier fame – released on Motown imprint, Anna, in 1960:

“Popeye”     Lamont Anthony (Dozier)     1960

45Cat helped me discover that The Nomads released a 45 on Indiana indie label, Genie, in 1960 – “Santa Fe Rock” b/w “Popeye the Sailor” – that would get picked up the following year for national as well as overseas (i.e., Australia & New Zealand) distribution by ABC-Paramount:

“Popeye the Sailor”      The Nomads     1960

Jack Mercer, voice of Popeye, would release a 78, “Never Pick a Fight with Popeye” b/w “Help Help” (voiced by Mae ‘Olive Oyl’ Questel) — a “Golden Record” that promised “two great NEW songs” for just 29¢ in 1959.

“Never Pick a Fight with Popeye”    Jack Mercer (& the Sea Weed Singers)    1959

Other Musical Tributes to Popeye

Michael Anthony’s bass solo during Van Halen concerts would include “Popeye

Popeye Epiphone Guitar

The Bill Doggett Centennial Begins Now!

Podcasts are great and all, but nothing compares to the magic & excitement of live radio!

A recent exchange with WPFW radio’s Andrea Bray – at Andrea’s Fine Hats in DC just over the line from Silver Spring – unexpectedly resulted in an invitation to join her on the air this past Saturday to celebrate the musical legacy of Bill Doggett, whose career spans the more traditional blues, jazz, and swing eras into the new R&B and funk ushered in by his King Records labelmate, James Brown.  Bill Doggett’s spirit turns 100 years today, and Doggett’s nephew, Bill Doggett II, joined us on the “The Andrea Bray Show from the west coast to inform WPFW listeners how an improvisation started by Bill Doggett’s bandmates in a Lima, Ohio hotel room became “the most important and first R&B instrumental of the early rock & roll era to cross over” into the pop market.  “Honky Tonk” would show remarkable staying power as it entered the Billboard Top 100 chart on August 18, 1956 and – according to those fine folks at Ace UK – “stayed in the national pop listings for 29 weeks, peaking at #2 (naturally it went to #1 R&B).”  Keeping it from the top spot, unfortunately, was that dastardly Elvis double A-side “Hound Dog” b/w “Don’t Be Cruel”!

#1 in zero to 180’s book

Bill DoggettWhat great and glorious fun it was to chat up Ms. Andrea about King Records history, as we played “Honky Tonk,” examined the Bill Doggett legacy, and then followed the song with its funky ‘re-boot’ from 1969 (produced by James Brown) on which Doggett is backed by The J.B.’s – “Honky Tonk Popcorn“:

 “Honky Tonk Popcorn”     Bill Doggett     1969

Doggett II would point out that Nathan was initially opposed to releasing “Part 2” – a jukebox favorite, interestingly.  According to the liner notes in Ace UK compilation, Honky Tonk!  The King & Federal R&B Instrumentals:  “The late Jim Wilson (King’s branch manager in Detroit) insisted, however, that [King A&R director, Henry] Glover must take credit for convincing Syd Nathan to release the record in two parts.”  According to Greg Evans, in the June 1986 issue of Cincinnati Magazine, “[Doggett’s] biggest hit, the song his audiences still request, remains ‘Honky Tonk, Part 2.'”

Live radio is an improvisational dance, and the joint really got jumping when another former Cincinnati boy – a caller named Benjamin who grew up around the corner from King – phoned in and regaled listeners with stories of Cadillacs pulling up to the King studios, famous sightings (Ruth Brown, Johnny Ace, Hank Ballard, Tiny Bradshaw, JB, of course) and most of all, stealing items from the “pink ashcan” – rejected/warped King vinyl that played like new after attaching a silver dollar with a rubber band to the turntable’s tonearm!

Honky Tonk compilation CDGreg Evans would write his Cincinnati Magazine piece while Doggett was still performing (even though, as he playfully observed, “baby, that organ gets heavier every year”) and include numerous quotes from the Hammond master himself about the “tremendous operation” of Syd Nathan, who – according to Shad O’Shea (or ‘O’Shay’) “was the one single man who can be credited with bringing black music to the masses.”  Doggett, for example, would note that “When I recorded for King, you could do a session at 2 in the afternoon, finish by 5 or 6, and have the records on a truck to the distributors by 8 the next morning.  It was a complete, total operation.”

Zero to 180 with DC community fixture & national treasure, ms. Andrea Bray

Soulsteady Kid on The Andrea Bray Show

Also worth emphasizing that Doggett’s relationship with James Brown in the 1960s was not strictly a one-way affair, as Geoff Brown would write in his biography of James Brown:

“Not surprisingly, after the success with ‘Mashed Potatoes’ in the guise of Nat Kendrick and the Swans, [King Records label owner, Syd] Nathan relaxed his views about recording the band on instrumental releases.  ‘Hold It’, credited as James Brown Presents His Band, was the first, and a riff from the Bill Doggett hit would form the link he used to segue between songs in the breathless, non-stop Revue that seared across the States as he forged his reputation as The King of the One-Nighters.”

Bill Doggett - Honky Tonk Popcorn LPSays UK’s Ace Records, who put out a compilation in 2012 bearing the same title as the 1969 funk track:

“The most obvious manifestation of [Doggett keeping pace with contemporary music trends] was his collaboration with James Brown and his JBs, who were incredibly tight on the top-side of the super-rhythmic ‘Honky Tonk Popcorn’.  The popcorn was Brown’s dance rhythm of the year:  he had made #1 R&B with ‘Mother Popcorn’, #2 with ‘Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn’.  The B-side of the single was Doggett’s funk update of ‘Honky Tonk’, which worked even better than Brown’s own 1972 remake.

King then gathered up a bunch of recent Doggett recordings to make the “Honky Tonk Popcorn” album.  It was marketed as a James Brown production but, other than the two single sides, it contained no cuts produced by Brown.  Instead it featured a fascinating mix of grooves that evoke smoky clubs and juke joints. ‘Mad’ and a scorching version of Edwin Starr’s ‘Twenty Five Miles’ were released as singles.”

Hip hop fans might be intrigued to know that Pete Rock would sample the “Honky Tonk Popcorn” – JB’s scream, specifically – for 2004 “One MC One DJ.

Bill Doggett II invites you to join the Bill Doggett Centennial celebration at his new website, where you can hear his uncle’s music, absorb some history, and sign the Guest Book:

www.billdoggettcentennial.com

Andrea's Fine Hats - DC