“H2O Gate Blues”: Silver Spring

As you may have already gathered, Zero to 180 has a soft spot for music history related to Silver Spring, Maryland.  We now know, for instance, that Track Recorders (with help from its chief engineer, Bill McCullough) was an important recording facility in the 1970s, outside of New York and Los Angeles.  We also know that Adelphi Studios (founded by Gene Rosenthal), enjoys renown for its 1960s and 70s recordings of seminal rediscovered blues artists, such as Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Rev. Gary Davis, and Honeyboy Edwards (tapes that were, in fact, purchased last year by Oxford, Mississippi blues label, Fat Possum).

Downtown Silver Spring [click on image for ultra-high resolution]

Silver Spring (okay, nearby Edmonston) also manufactured affordable, quality KAPA guitars in the 1960s, thanks to Koob Veneman, and even inspired a song that would be left off Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album — and thus serve as a wedge issue that ultimately helped drive the band apart.

Zero to 180 now asks:  Does anyone in Silver Spring remember D&B Sound Studio?  Gil Scott-Heron and his musical partner Brian Jackson recorded their first three albums – 1974’s Winter in America, 1975’s From South Africa to South Carolina & 1975’s The First Minute of a New Day – at D&B Sound.

“H2O Gate Blues” from Winter in America was recorded in 1973, either September 4th/5th or October 15th, according to Discogs – it’s not clear.  But wait!  This Timeline of the Watergate Scandal notes the resignation of Vice-President, Spiro Agnew (and former Maryland governor) on October 10th!   Listen for yourself, and you will know:

“H2O Gate Blues”     Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson     1973

Be it thus resolved:  “H2O Gate Blues” was laid on tape the fifteenth day in the month of October, 1973.

ESPN panelist, visiting University of Maryland professor, and Washington Post columnist, Kevin Blackistone would reference D&B Sound in the opening paragraph in a 2017 Post sports piece about Adam Jones that begins with a quote from Gil Scott-Heron — who himself wrote about the experience of recording at D&B in his 2012 memoir, The Last Holiday:

Dan Henderson, who was still our manager, and his wife, Wilma, eventually moved into the house with me and Brian, too, and in the fall of 1973 we went into D&B Sound in Silver Spring, Maryland, and began recording the album Winter in America.  D&B was small, but it had a comfortable feeling — and it had Jose Williams as the engineer.  The main room was so small that when Brian and I did tunes together, one of us had to go out in the hallway where the water cooler was located.  I did vocals for “Song for Bobby Smith” and “A Very Precious Time” from there, and Brian played flute on “The Bottle” and “Your Daddy Loves You” right next to that cooler.  A lot of people wanted to know wanted to know who it was playing flute on “The Bottle,” because it wasn’t specifically credited on the Winter in America album.  It was Brian.  He also played flute on “Back Home.”  Those are all his arrangements.  By the time we did Winter in America, Brian had become a very good flute player.  He also played Fender Rhodes on that album.

The Daily Beast‘s Marcus Baram in 2014 would provide a wider context for the artistic vision behind Winter in America:

Gil and Brian’s next album, Winter in America, on Strata-East, was credited to both Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson.  It was originally planned as a concept album called Supernatural Corner, in reference to the haunted vibe of the house at One Logan Circle.  The record was intended to tell the story of an African American soldier coming home from Vietnam to an America that was indifferent to his experience and hostile to his race and who eventually loses his mind.  The narratives in the song were taken from the soldier’s therapy sessions in a psychiatric ward, Jackson later explained.  One of the original songs, “White Horse Nightmare,” is about the veteran’s heroin addiction. But the label [Arista] considered the album too morose, and Gil and Brian took out some of the songs, leaving “Rivers of My Fathers,” “Back Home,” “The Bottle,” and a few new pieces.

They had recorded the album in the beginning of September 1973, at Dan Henderson’s D&B Sound Studio, in Silver Spring, Maryland.  The space was so small that there wasn’t enough room for both of them in the studio, so Gil would sing in the studio while Brian played flute in a hallway next to a water cooler.  The tight quarters only added to Gil’s discomfort, and he complained about how long the sessions were taking.  True to the ethos of the impromptu jams and poetry readings he’d soaked in as a teenager at jazz clubs in New York, he felt alive when he was performing and disliked the recording process.  Whereas some musicians love to tweak their songs and do multiple takes in the studio, Gil tried to get it done as quickly as possible.  Engineer Robert Hosea Williams, who had recorded Roberta Flack and funk guitarist Chuck Brown, recalls, “Gil was one of the hardest I’ve ever recorded.  He had to do everything at once.”  Not only would he resist multitrack recording, in which each section of the song is isolated and separately recorded, but “he never shut up,” says Williams.  “When he would sing a verse and then start talking, it was crazy to record.  We’d have to erase those things later.”  Sometimes they would leave the mistakes in there.  When drummer Bob Adams skipped a beat at the 1:40 mark of “The Bottle,” the band wanted to rerecord the track, but Gil said, “No, that’s okay.”

Winter in America is an album that can do fairly well at auction, when all the stars are in alignment.

This information is all very interesting to know — but none of it addresses the vexing question of where D&B Sound was originally located.  Zero to 180, after unsuccessful consultation with a number of Silver Spring veterans who were around in the 1970s, would seek out the assistance of a librarian – Jerry McCoy of the Silver Spring Historical Society – who knew exactly where to look:

D&B Sound Studios = listed just below D.B. Creighton Associates

Thanks to the Silver Spring Historical Society’s own collection of Polk’s Silver Spring, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Takoma Park & Wheaton City Directory (1973 edition), we now know that D(&)B Sound Studios [Jose Williams & Jules Danian, proprietors] once stood at 8037 13th Street in Silver Spring, Maryland, just over the Maryland-DC line.

Furthermore, Gregg Karukas, one of the early members of Tim Eyermann & East Coast Offering, enlightened Zero to 180 to the fact that Jules Danian is the principal figure who established Juldane Records.  The group’s debut and sophomore releases on Juldane would be recorded at D&B — a memorable time, recalls Karukas:

“I’ll never forget when we were tracking the record, we did three tracks, a couple of takes, and we were in the groove, we wanted to record some more songs and Jules said ‘wait a minute’ on the talk back.  After about five minutes we went in the control room and realized that he was splicing together tape (outtakes) from other used reels in the tape room, because he had only purchased one fresh reel of tape for our session…….and he was the producer/engineer/label.  I was furious…..well, more like:  really?”

Sadly, as Jerry McCoy notes, “this building has been demolished.”  Do any pictures of the studio exist, one cannot help but wonder.

Also Recorded at D&B SoundThese 45s & LPs

Peggy Weston   “The Sun” b/w “Mellow”   1973

The Summits   “Let Me Love You Again” b/w “It Takes Two”   1973

Skip Mahoney & the Casuals   “Your Funny Moods” b/w “Struggling Man”   1973

Sons of Nature   “Ride the Vibe” b/w “Traveling Star”    1974

Past, Present & Future   “Love on the Line” b/w “Too Many Fish”   1974

Peggy Weston:  “Night Bird” b/w [?]   1974

The Summits   “Sleepwalking” b/w “I’ll Never Say No”   1974

Skip Mahoney & the Casuals   “Seems Like…” b/w “Town Called No-Where”   1974

Skip Mahoaney & the Casuals   Your Funny Moods   1974   [LP]

Phase II   “Phase II (pt. 1)” b/w “Phase II (pt. 2)”  1975

Willie Mason   “Same Mistake Twice” b/w “Chocolate City Boogie”  1975

Stanley Woodruff’s US Trio   “Took You So Long” b/w “Now Is Forever”   1976

Stanley Woodruff’s US Trio   “Shadows” b/w “Walk Softly”   1976

Hills of Zion w/ Claude Alston & Dacario Darden  “Heaven Bound Train”   197?

Eddie Drennon & B.B.S. Unlimited  Would You Dance to My Music  1977   [LP]*

* [Note:  LP also recorded at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound]

Tim Eyermann   Unity   1977   [LP]

Tim Eyermann & East Coast Offering   Go-Rilla   1978   [LP]

Also, this wee historical postscript from the Nov 21, 1971 edition of Billboard:

“At D[&]B Sound in Silver Spring[s], Maryland, James Marshall and the Village Soul Choir were in for a session.  Willie Mason of Jay Walking Records also came in for a session.”

Pickwick: Dukes of Deception

Pickwick International, those masters of mis-marketing, did whatever was necessary to trick you, potential chump, into buying one of their albums — namely, by dressing up outdated material so as to appear fresh and contemporary through the use of titillating imagery, stylish typography, and razzle-dazzle promotional hype.

“NOUVEAU – A NOW RECORD BY DESIGN”

DESIGN – an imprint of Pickwick International

 

I, too, was initially blindsided by 1966’s Groovy Greats and its alluring cover images that all but promised British beat groups with guitars.  But the juxtaposition of a lithe go-go dancer – enveloped in Union Jacks and hoisting a Vox Teardrop* – with monophonic recordings that go as far back as 1949 (albeit “electronically enhanced for stereo”) is an act so openly contemptuous of its intended customer base as to be comical.

Note how the back cover text artfully dances around the fact that the artists featured on this collection of pre-Beatles tracks set the stage for the exciting mid-60s sounds that are nowhere to be found on this 1966 release:

Today’s scene is psychedelic, kinetic and wild, a free swinging world mad, mad mod and the big beat takes over au go-go from The Strip to Carnaby St.  The big names of rock and soul that geared the world for their kind of action are here, blasting and groovin’ for your own freak out! Pow! Zap!

Pretty humorous to consider that none of the musical artists included on Groovy Greats  — Johnny Rivers, Ray Charles, Lou Christie, Bobby Goldsboro, Ronnie Dove, Joe Tex, Chuck Jackson, Bobby Freeman — could remotely be considered mod, psychedelic, or freaky.  Or British.

Track Listing

A01   “Your First and Last Love”   Johnny Rivers   1959

A02   “If I Give You My Love”   Ray Charles   1949

A03   “You’re With It”   Lou Christie   rec. 1963 and/or rel. 1966

A04   “Dizzy Boy”   (Bobby Goldsboro &) The Webs   1961

A05   “I’ll Be Around”   Ronnie Dove   1959

B01   “I’ve Had My Fun”   Ray Charles   1950

B02   “Tomorrow Will Come”   Lou Christie   rec. 1963 and/or rel. 1966

B03   “(I’ll Be a) Monkey’s Uncle”   Joe Tex   1960

B04   “Ooh, Baby”   Chuck Jackson   1959

B05   “I Still Remember”   (Bobby Freeman &) The Romancers   1956

How curious to discover Groovy Greats has a Cincinnati connection via the inclusion of two Lou Christie & the Classics songs originally issued as 45 sides on Cincinnati indie label, Alcar, whose artist roster at one time included Jim & Jesse, Sonny Osborn(e), Delbert Barker, Red AllenJimmie FairRenfro FamilyDale Wright & the Wright GuysRay Baker & His Happy Travelers, and even Chuck Jackson.  “You’re With It,” the better of the two tracks, was likely recorded in 1963, according to the person who posted this audio clip on YouTube:

“You’re With It”     Lou Christie & the Classics    “Probably recorded in 1963”

My edition, somehow, does not contain the typo (“Bobby Golsboro”) that seems to be a standard feature on all other releases — I feel cheated.  Ironically, perhaps, the Bobby Goldsboro song “Dizzy Boy” is the one track on Groovy Greats to feature prominent guitar work in a modern style as implied by the album cover images.

     Musical Misspelling – no extra charge…          … But Sadly, no typos on my LP

As with Out of Sight!, the previously featured Pickwick album from last December, Groovy Greats is another marketing triumph from Design Records, Pickwick’s budget subsidiary label.

The Kapa Minstrel:  Affordable Version of the Vox Teardrop

*The Vox guitar being held on the cover is actually a 12-string lookalike – the Minstrel – made by Kapa, a “bargain” guitar made in Silver Spring, Maryland.  According to Pat Veneman Stone, her father Koob Veneman, who “opened Veneman Music in Silver Spring, MD in the 1960s,” was the “sole creator and manufacturer of KAPA guitars,” a name that stands for Koob, Adeline (wife), Patricia (daughter) & Albert (son).  This guitar reference guide (which locates Veneman Music in nearby Hyattsville, by the way) indicates that approximately 120,000 Kapa guitars and basses had been made by the time the company closed up shop in 1970, with parts and equipment then sold off to Micro-Frets and Mosrite Guitars.

Unique Guitar Blog‘s tribute piece to KAPA guitars is chock full of historical details:

  • The necks, pickups and electronics originally came from German manufacturer Hofner (in later years, they made their own pickups, which looked similar to Hofner units).
  • The tuners were made by Schaller.  Kapa made his own bridges and tremolo assemblies.
  • According to one comment:  “Actually, while Veneman’s was in Hyattsville, the guitars were built at a plant on 46th Avenue in the (nearby) town of Edmonston, Maryland.  I was raised on 49th ave, in Edmonston and remember the place very well.  In fact, as kids, we used to dig through the Kapa guitar factory dumpsters and bring home pieces of the refuse.”
  • Other comments recall time spent at Veneman’s music stores located in Silver Spring on Georgia Avenue near Bonifant Street, as well nearby Wheaton Plaza and Rockville (even Springfield, Virginia).
  • One purchaser of a KAPA bass guitar, who can be seen in this 2008 performance clip from Conan O’Brien’s NBC show, also testified as to the deep bottom end of the Kapa bass, whose fullness of sound surpasses even the almighty Fender Precision:

Hello. I purchased my Kapa bass after Two guys tried to rob me outside of Detroit and take my wallet after a gig.  My left pinky finger was dislocated and at nine o’clock before having it set.  I needed a short scale bass because my left pinky finger and the one next to it were taped together for a while so it could heal.  I went to a store called Junk Yard Guitar in Royal Oak, Michigan and played every short scale bass they had, and they had several vintage basses and the Kapa I picked up sounded better than any of them so I asked the owner if I could take it home and try it and he said no problem.  He also had a total of three Kapa basses and I said if this bass sounds as good as I think it does, work with me and I’ll take all three.  Well just as I thought it sounded fat, full and more even sounding than both my old fender basses so I took all three.  Fast forward several years later and now I own 12 Kapa Basses.  I have been gigging with Rockabilly Greats Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding and that first Kapa bass I bought several years ago has been to eleven different Countries, and also made an appearance on the Conan O’Brien show a couple years back and it still has the same strings on it from when I bought it, and still sounds great.  I do think I should thin the Kapa herd a bit, Naaah.

Guitar Player‘s Tip of the Hat to the 1967 Goya Rangemaster

Hey, dig those radical split pickups and fret markers purposely aligned left (not center), in direct violation of the unwritten code.

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point

Thanks to the Unique Guitar Blog for clarifying the difference between the semi-hollow body Goya Rangemasters, with the single or double “Florentine” cutaways, versus the solid-body version (above), with a six-on-a-side elongated headstock (as shown on Groovy Greats).  There is photographic proof of Jimi Hendrix playing a Goya Rangemaster off stage.

In 2014, Guitar Player‘s Terry Carleton reviewed one of the solid-body Rangemasters in a piece entitled “Whack Job!“:

“We sure liked our guitars to have buttons back in the ’60s.  Before our love affairs with pedalboards and rack systems, the more buttons, knobs, and switches a model had, the more potential it had to help one find his or her voice on the guitar.  The Goya Rangemaster, with its nine pushbuttons, offered more choices than just about any guitar out there, aside from Vox models that actually had built-in electronics.  This [1967] specimen was manufactured in Italy— perhaps by EKO—but the bridge was made in Sweden by Hagstrom.

Weirdo Factor

Other than all of the buttons and the special quad pickup design, one of the weirder features of this instrument is the elongated headstock that looks like a large fish scaler.

Headstock can be pressed into service as a fish scaler

Playability & Sound

Weighing in at about eight pounds, the Rangemaster 116-SB is a double-cutaway model with a very subtle contour.  The 25”-scale maple neck plays great, and there are 21 perfectly dressed frets on the rosewood fretboard.  A slotted string spacer on the headstock levels out tension while feeding the strings into the 1 5/8” plastic nut.  There are six chrome machine heads that feel great to the touch and are nicely accessible, due to the crescent-moon shaped headstock cutaway.  The Rangemaster also includes a faux wood-grain pickguard, an adjustable neck, a chrome vibrato with a detachable bar, and a three-way adjustable bridge.  The lowmass, surface-mounted Hagstrom bridge feels remarkably smooth and holds its tune fairly well.  Living up to its name, the Rangemaster has quite a variety of tonal possibilities.  For one thing, there’s almost six inches between the bridge and neck pickups.  That’s a big gap, and it makes for a very unique sound.  Then, unlike other push-button guitars—of which there were many—the electronics on the Rangemaster 116-SB include two pairs of split pickups, as well as six pickup-selector buttons, three Tone buttons (Lo, Med, Hi), and a master Volume knob.  In addition to conventional bridge or neck pickup selections, the Rangemaster also lets you do things like push the 2+3 button to get the bridge’s bass-side pickup and the neck’s treble-side pickup.  The result is a very funk-friendly, out-of-phase sound.  Finally, there’s the rockin’ ALL button for when you need that “extra push over the cliff” (thank you, Nigel Tufnell), and a master OFF (or kill switch).

Value

I bought mine about ten years ago from Guitar Showcase in San Jose, California, for $400.  Today, this 9-button Euro freak is known as one of the Goya “holy grailers,” and it can go for well over a thousand dollars.

Why It Rules

Like so many of the Italian, Swedish, English, and German guitars of the ’60s, the Rangemaster not only has a great and freaky look, but it plays and sounds like a dream.  For whatever reason, these time-tested guitars are still relatively affordable, and that rules!  As Goya said in their beat-era Rangemaster ads, ‘Plug it in and turn everybody on!’”

WORLD’S FIRST PSYCHEDELIC GUITAR“?