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 [Sennott] have been aiming the studio at the area’s local musicians, but they are now broadening their work to include outside artists, and in-house productions are also being considered.  Chief engineer and “small owner” (his words) Cory Pearson reported sessions by 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?