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]
“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.
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 [Robert] 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.
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 [in DC]. 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.”
Also worth pointing out that 1978’s The Mind of Gil Scott-Heron (on Clive Davis’s Arista label) kicks off with “H2O Gate Blues” — the only track on the album recorded at D&B — with the liner notes indicating that “the ‘H2O Gate Blues’ poem was originally composed in March 1973, and presented for the first time in concert at the [Berkeley] Jazz Festival in April of that year.”
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:
DB Sound Studios = listed just below D.B. Creighton Associates
[*Ampersand or No Ampersand: D&B Sound vs. DB Sound?
Examine the listing in the 1973 Polk’s City Directory above or the “Redskins ’74” single below, and you will notice the lack of an ampersand — thus, from this point forward, Zero to 180 will use DB Sound.]
DB Sound Studios: No ampersand
Click on image above for Ultra-High Resolution [45 courtesy of Bill Hanke]
Furthermore, Gregg Karukas, one of the early members of Tim Eyermann& East Coast Offering, enlightened Zero to 180 to the fact that Jules Damian is the principal figure who established Juldane Records. The group’s debut and sophomore releases on Juldane would be recorded at DB — 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?”
Damian’s partner. Robert Hosea Williams – of Red, Black & Green Productions – would be the subject, in 2012, of Numero Group‘s retrospective compilation, an opportunity for National Public Radio to take stock, as well, of Williams’ legacy:
Most people wouldn’t think of Washington, D.C., as one of R&B’s great cities. Despite the fact that soul music greats Marvin Gaye and Roberta Flack grew up in D.C. neighborhoods, the city never had the equivalent of Detroit’s Berry Gordy and Motown, or Memphis’ Willie Mitchell and Hi Records. But in the early 1970s, D.C. did have producer Robert Williams and his Red, Black and Green Productions. A new compilation album called Eccentric Soul: A Red Black Green Productionrevisits Williams’ influence on the sound of R&B in D.C.
Thanks to the Bill Hanke Music Research Archives, Zero to 180 was able to scan information about DB Sound published annually in Unicorn Times (the October issue) for three years — 1975, 1978 & 1980 [click on images below for HIGH RESOLUTION]:
Oct. 1975 = Unicorn TImes
Oct. 1978 = Unicorn Times
Oct. 1980 = Unicorn Times
Note that for 1975 and 1978, R. Jose Williams is co-owner, as well as Creative Director and Chief Engineer, but that by 1980, Williams is no longer at DB Sound. Worth pointing out that the dimensions of DB’s main recording space (22’ x 45’) are comparable to Track Recorders (25’ x 40’) just a few blocks up the road, which enjoyed much prestige on account of its Neve sound board. And yet DB Sound was able to achieve an impressive legacy given its global reach (as you will see below) while operating in the shadows, so to speak, of the DC-area recording scene.
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 DB Sound: These45s & LPs (in chronological order)
Note: click on all song and album titles (above/below) for streaming audio
“[University Heights, Maryland*]’s Promise hit a kid-soul pinnacle with ‘I’m Not Ready For Love’ … Neither of Promise’s two 45s made much noise on the airwaves, but the group managed to open for James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and the Supremes before calling it quits later in the decade … This track comes off Numero Group‘s phenomenal Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul, which features a ton of great groups of kids singing soul music.”
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.
“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.
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.
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).
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.
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  specimen was manufactured in Italy— perhaps by EKO—but the bridge was made in Sweden by Hagstrom.
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).
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!’”
I suspect Gene Rosenthal will roll his eyes at the obviousness and artlessness of this observation, but let history officially note: In 1966, when Eric Clapton and company were reviving Skip James‘ “I’m So Glad” for Cream’s debut album (which enjoyed worldwide distribution – even Saudi Arabia, unofficially), Rosenthal had already recorded the pioneering blues guitarist two years prior — James’ first recordings since the Depression — at his parents’ house in Silver Spring, Maryland!
Adelphi Studios – 516 E. Indian Spring Drive – Silver Spring, MD
(since equipped with solar panels, but still awaiting historical plaque)
Thus, Gene’s Adelphi Studios helped to put Silver Spring on the world’s musical map before Track Recorders had even opened its doors, while Rosenthal’s audio engineering skills would help draw attention to such other “rediscovered” blues artists as Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Johnny Shines, David ‘Honeyboy‘ Edwards, Big Joe Williams, Furry Lewis, and Gus Cannon, as well as emerging local guitarist, “Takoma” John Fahey.
Rosenthal, as some blues enthusiasts might tell you, was part of a so-called “East Coast Blues Mafia” of non-conformists and free-thinking types who took an activist approach toward revitalizing the careers of forgotten American blues artists. This group of renegades would include Fahey and Bill Barth (who tracked down Skip James), Ed Denson (who relocated Bukka White, with assistance from Fahey), Dick Spottswood and Tom Hoskins (who used the lyrics of “Avalon Blues” to locate Mississippi John Hurt), along with Michael Stewart, Henry Vestine, Max Ochs, Stefan Grossman, Nick Perls, and others who collectively sought out blues, country, folk and other “primitive” sounds (i.e., simple, therefore “unsophisticated”) decades before the rest of America would catch on to the notion that ‘simple’ can convey a power that often eludes more athletically-gifted musics with fancy time signatures and such.
Gene Rosenthal – Adelphi Studios c. 1963
“Beloved abroad, but underappreciated at home” is a common theme that runs through the history of the arts and one that would ring true to some extent, at least initially, for Adelphi Records. As Billboard would note nearly 40 years ago in its December 24, 1977 edition, “The label is another example of small American record manufacturers finding a greater response for its artists abroad.”
And yet Adelphi Records is still very much a vital concern some 48 years later, having signed a new artist — Ken Swartz& the Palace of Sin, who recorded an album in New Orleans, Smile Away the Blues — and inked a major deal with respected Oxford, Mississippi-based indie label Fat Possum to acquire Rosenthal’s vaunted “Blues Vault,” from which it has assembled Worried Blues, a ten-album series that features rare and previously out-of-print recordings on vinyl, CD, and digital download (released July 21).
Zero to 180 notes an independence of spirit in Rosenthal, whose label remains one of the last of the original postwar independent labels (having entered the business initially as a distribution point for Takoma and Arhoolie as early as 1964) that brings to mind another notable “indie” – Syd Nathan – whose King Records would inspire Seymour Stein (and Richard Gottehrer) to create Sire Productions, thus sowing the seeds of today’s contemporary “indie” scene. Rosenthal, in fact, would help organize his fellow music entrepreneurs into a national association of independent record distributors (known initially as the National Association of Independent Record Distributors, or NAIRD) just a few years after forming Adelphi Records.
Gene Rosenthal: The Track Years
This historian-in-training would arrive in the DC area just as Track Recorders was closing its doors, thus making my attempt to piece together the studio’s history feel somewhat like groping in the dark. Let me first express much appreciation to all the participants who helped “crowd source” this work-in-progress and fill in the historical gaps, particularly Rosenthal, who helped me understand his unsung supporting role, as it relates to the Track Recorders story:
“Adelphi made a (zero-dollar) deal with Track’s then engineer, Obie O’Brien, and loaned Track Adelphi’s Spectrasonic 16x4x2 Mixing & Recording console, along with their Scully 280-2/4, which is clearly visible [in this photo] as the 2nd Scully in the main studio, as well our Sony ES 22T studio transport machine which was used in Studio ‘B.’ When Obie left, he couldn’t guarantee the safety of Adelphi’s equipment any longer, so it was removed at the same time as his departure.”
[Adelphi’s Scully 280-2/4] [Adelphi’s Sony ES 22T]
Ah, the truth is starting to become clear!
In the earlier Track Recorders history piece, do you recall the Billboard snippet from the June 17, 1972 issue that noted Track’s having “two rooms” – albeit the second one “incomplete” and thus not fully operational? Rosenthal, consequently, endowed Track with equipment that helped transform “Studio B” into a secondary room that could be used for playback and editing, as well as a place for conducting auditions.
Unsurprisingly, Silver Spring’s Track studio — with its futuristic Neve 8036 console (and its motorized mechanical faders), not to mention 3M 16-track tape machine — would be the recording facility of choice for a handful of Adelphi artists in the mid-to-late 1970s on the following LP releases:
Liz Meyer was – as noted in Richard (“music writer”) Thompson’s 2011 obituary for Bluegrass Today – “one of Europe’s adopted American bluegrassers” who was a “very pro-active and vocal promoter of the European World of Bluegrass (EWoB) and European bluegrass music in general.”
Bill Holland & Rent’s Due — If It Ain’t One Thing…
Recorded and mixed substantially at Track between 1974/75 — released 1975 (Adelphi AD 4104). Reviewed by none other than Robert Christgau (“Dean of American rock critics”), who bestowed the album with a B+.
Phred A. Heutte, in the April,1980 edition of DC arts monthly Unicorn Times, would observe If It Ain’t One Thing to be “one of the first Adelphi rock albums,” as well as “one of the only local albums in a barren period for DC vinyl,” noting that it “was well recorded by the standards of the day, and received positive notices from all quarters, particularly for Bill’s solid, quietly humorous and intelligent lyrics.” Holland would inform Heutte that “Gene Rosenthal somehow sold 2000 Bill Holland records – before anybody outside my close family knew who that was – simply because they heard it on the air, or saw it in a store, or somehow told them about me,” adding that he “had worked very closely with Adelphi on all phases of the first LP, from recording to mastering to stuffing publicity packages himself. ‘I could have written that article in the March issue [about manufacturing records],’ he laughs.’”
Stephen Spano: Eye to Eye
Recorded in 1975 at Track’s main studio, as well as Adelphi Studios & Bethesda’s Urban Recordings (Adelphi AD 4103). Rosenthal would perform engineering and production responsibilities.
Eye to Eye’s trippy photo-montage and “textured” album cover
This “kaleidoscope of folk, rock, and jazz” (as described by Adelphi) is well demonstrated on album opener “Love Is the Sound,” with its inventive bass work. Music blogger Play It Again, Max (who profiles “out-of-print LPs never issued on CD”) declares Eye to Eye to be “a great record” and “well worth the listen.”
The Reuben Brown TrioFeaturing Richie Cole— Starburst
Recorded completely at Track 1975 and released 1976 — featuring the DC jazz group, The Reuben Brown Trio: Reuben Brown, Marshall Hawkins, Bernard Sweetney. (Adelphi AD 5001 — also re-released on CD – GCD 5001).
U.S. cover (left) designed by Dick Bangham vs. JAPANESE cover (right)
The Nighthawks: Several Nighthawks LP releases were recorded at Track = Open All Nite [Adelphi AD 4105, noted below in Adelphi Album Releases of the 1970s] engineered by Obie O’Brien in 1976; as well as Side Pocket Shot, its ‘progressive’ and wider-ranging follow-up (Adelphi AD 4115), engineered and mixed by Gerry Wyckoff & (Cap’n) Jon Curlin in 1977 [noted below in Dick Bangham Historical Spotlight]; Jacks & Kings (Adelphi AD 4120) from 1978, which was recorded with members of The Muddy Waters Band — Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Guitar Jr. & Calvin Jones — plus Dave Maxwell “in the wee wee hours of Summer & Fall 1977”; and the live album, Times Four (venue: El Mocambe, Toronto – c. 1979), with studio sessions recorded 1977-78 at Track, plus a live set hosted by John Hall at Georgetown’s radical radio station, WGTB — released in 1982 (Adelphi 2-LP AD 4130/35).
Gerald Herzhaft in the Encyclopedia of the Blues says Pinetop Perkins “is at his best on the collections Living Chicago Blues (Alligator) and Jacks and Kings (Adelphi); the latter was recorded with the Nighthawks.” Brawner Smoot, meanwhile, would write in his review for Unicorn Times‘ October, 1982 edition — “The previously unreleased material is a representation of the broad range of influences the Nighthawks have absorbed during their ten year, ten album trek around the States” (check out highlight “How Many More Years” with Guitar Jr.).
Bill Blue Band — Two Adelphi LP releases recorded and mixed at Track: Sing Like Thunder — Recorded 1978, released 1979 (Adelphi LP – AD 4109). Givin’ Good Boys A Bad Name — Recorded 1979, released 1980 (AD 4118), and “produced by [Cap’n Jon] for Adelphi,” according to Unicorn Times in their April, 1980 edition.
Says one 60s/70s rock blogger — “After releasing two albums Indian Summer Blues and Street Preacher on the Richmond, Va. based Feather Records, Bill signed with the prestigious Adelphi Records, one of the best blues labels in the US with worldwide distribution releasing Sing Like Thunder and Givin’ Good Boy’s A Bad Name. This gave [Blue] the exposure to play venues all over Europe and the US.”
[Thanks to Bill Hanke Music Research Archives for vintage unicorn times access]
+ + + + +
However, there is a built-in structural problem in trying to tell the history of Gene Rosenthal and Adelphi Records in a linear fashion for, at any point in the story, a number of vectors may be in play, as Gene has worn many hats over the years: musicologist, audio engineer, photographer, producer, label owner, distributor, political organizer and activist (who spoke out, for instance, against the strict segregation policy of DC’s Glen Echo amusement park).
Using Takoma Records as the source of inspiration – as Washington City Paper’s David Dunlap, Jr. noted in 2006 – Rosenthal would launch Adelphi Records in 1968 (“I named it after a Fahey song, ‘The Downfall of the Adelphi Rolling Grist Mill,’”), and only four years hence be one of the principal forces behind the creation of the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD, to evolve into AFIM, or the Association for Independent Music), along with Dennis Bursh and Gary Seibert. The following year, 1973, Rosenthal – along with Takoma’s Charlie Mitchell and Bob Koester of Chicago’s Delmark Records – would serve on the Steering Committee when the NAIRD officially established itself (the same year, incidentally, Adelphi would release the first solo album by one of pop music’s all-time songwriters, Gerry Goffin).
The Original Adelphi Studios: 516 East Indian Spring Drive
Prior to the studio’s construction, Rosenthal – as Billboard‘s Chris Morris would note – had been a “discophile” who used his reel-to-reel equipment to copy rare, expensive blues 78s (likely from Joe Bussard, who was influential to other blues scholars in making his 78s collection available to people like John Fahey). “The only way to make copies of early 78s, because you couldn’t afford to buy them,” Rosenthal pointed out, “was to have a tape recorder. Most of us couldn’t afford brand-new equipment, but very good second-hand semi-professional gear. Shortly after that, as my friends actually started going out and doing the first round of rediscoveries, the only thing to add was microphones. I had an early interest in audio, anyway, so it was just a natural progression.”
Construction efforts to turn the basement of 516 East Indian Spring Drive into a proper functioning recording studio began in late 1962 and were completed by mid-1964. Adelphi Studio’s inaugural recording — John Fahey’s third album, Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favorites — would take place on August 22, 1964, with DC’s new “beltway” (i.e.,Interstate 495) but a stone’s throw away, having officially opened five days prior.
“Contemporary Guitar” – recorded at Adelphi Studios
The following month or so, Rosenthal would record Skip James within days of his being rediscovered and brought back to the DC area by Fahey, Bill Barth and Henry Vestine. Gene Rosenthal fills in the details via the Adelphi Records website:
Skip [James] was found in the Tunica County, Mississippi, hospital by John Fahey and Bill Barth, young guitarists who were acting on a tip from Ishmon Bracey. Like James, Bracey had recorded blues 78s during the late 20s/early 30s heyday, but, as a sanctified preacher, Bracey had no interest in returning to the Devil’s music. According to Barth, age and infirmity had put James at the bottom of the plantation hierarchy, responsible for such mindless tasks as overseeing the sowing of cotton seeds into furrows, and Skip was both delighted and anxious to leave Mississippi farm life. The two young men paid the modest hospital bill and whisked Skip away to the thriving East Coast folk scene. After rehearsals and several performances, including a brief but memorable appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, Skip was ready to record again. Fahey, Barth and partner Ed Denson arranged for sessions with sound engineer Gene Rosenthal in the basement studio of the Rosenthal home in Silver Spring, Maryland. Those sessions, supplemented with live performance tapes made by Rosenthal at the Ontario Place Coffee House.
These 1964 recordings for Takoma would not see release, however, until 1993, after Rosenthal had the opportunity to buy back his own recordings.
Later in 1964, perhaps November or December, Rosenthal would record Mississippi John Hurt at the Ontario Place Coffee House for Dick Spottswood’s Piedmont label (Gene would also engineer Pete Seeger’s interview of Hurt at a house in DC’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood around that same time). Toward the end of 1964, or possibly early 1965, Rosenthal would also record blues guitarists Archie Edwards and Frank Mizell, at Adelphi Studios.
Rosenthal – who met Michael Stewart while attending George Washington University from 1960-62, where he co-founded GW’s Folk Music Club (incorporated later as the Folklore Society of Greater Washington) – would work for Project Hope between the years 1962-1964, before recording Mississippi John Hurt in late 1964.
Gene would return to his studies, first locally for one year (Montgomery College, 1964) then in St. Louis for a couple more (Washington University, 1966-1967), before deciding to take the big plunge — via Adelphi’s founding in 1968 — to commit himself fully to music.
Soon after the label’s formation, Rosenthal — along with sister Carol and Mike Stewart — would take to the road. As noted in in The Guardian‘s 2007 obituary for Stewart:
Adelphi conducted several field trips to blues locales to trace and record half-forgotten musicians. Stewart was always on hand, whether to jog the performers’ memories by playing them their own music, learned from rare 78rpm discs, or to provide accompaniment. In Memphis he played with guitarist Richard ‘Hacksaw‘ Harney; in Chicago with Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards and Big Joe Williams [the latter serving as talent scout]; and in St Louis with pianist Henry Brown and singer-guitarist Henry Townsend.
[Memphis Piano Red, with Stewart, visiting Sleepy John Estes AT HOME IN TENN.]
Adelphi’s inaugural release, meanwhile, would be the 1968 debut album by a fellow member of the so-called East Coast Blues Mafia member, Mike Stewart, under the nom de guerre “Backwards Sam Firk” (now available as a digital download — GCD 1001). As it turns out, Stewart had been the first to lay down tracks at Adelphi in 1963, before construction had been completed on the studio.
Firk would team up with Stephan Michelson (i.e., “Delta X“) for 1969’s Deadly Duo (on which the pair would be joined by Tom Hoskins on “Nineteen Fifty-One Blues”) and also blues musician and singer, Henry Townsend (whose earliest recording “Henry’s Worry Blues” was released by Columbia in 1930) for Henry T. Music Man., a collection of recordings made between the years 1969-1974 — including 1971 sessions at Adelphi.
Little Brother Montgomery’s Long Road to “Folsom Prison Blues” … and Adelphi Records: Historical Spotlight
Little Brother Montgomery would later record No Special Rider – with Jeanne Carroll – for Adelphi in 1969, the label’s third album release.
1971 would see the beginning of additional new recordings of Adelphi artists previously recorded on the road in 1969, facilitated in part by these same artists visiting the Washington, DC area for musical engagements, such as Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival.
Adelphi’s early releases would embrace African-American “roots” music — Furry Lewis, Bukka White, Gus Cannon, David“Honeyboy” Edwards, Johnny Shines (one-time touring mate of Robert Johnson), and George & Ethel McCoy (niece and nephew, by the way, of Memphis Minnie [McCoy]) — at a time when many (white) Americans were still getting their blues distilled through a British sensibility — if at all.
1972 letter from renowned photographer David Gahr to Gene Rosenthal
Suni McGrath, whose Cornflower Suite would be Adelphi’s second full-length release, would note his primary musical influences on the album’s cover notes:
“The music on this record is my attempt to explore and further the American acoustic guitar. I have four sources for the musics here presented: Bulgarian music for rhythmic modes and ideas, also modulation of melodic modes and harmonies; Hindustani for subtle melodic graces and ideas of variation; Fahey for the conception of the art; Bartok for modal harmonies analogous to conventional western harmony, and treatment of themes.”
Featured song: “Cornflower Suite” by Suni McGrath (1969)
[Pssst:click on triangle above to play the entire “Cornflower Suite” by Suni McGrath]
1969’s Cornflower Suite (currently out of print and trading on Ebay for $19-$87, though soon to be re-released) was recorded at Silver Spring’s Adelphi Studios, as well as the following albums bulleted below:
Houston Stackhouse’s 1972 recording sessions at Adelphi, meanwhile, would finally see light of day in 1994 with CD release, Cryin’ Won’t Help You.
Suni McGrath‘s 1972 album, Childgrove received engineering and production assistance from Gene Rosenthal (who also served as photographer).
Paul Geremia‘s Hard Life Rockin’ Chair from 1973 would also be produced and engineered by Rosenthal at Adelphi Studios.
Stephen Spano would record the backing track for “Pam’s Song” from 1975’s s Eye to Eye at Adelphi Studios.(while the song would be further embellished at Track Recorders — see album history above)
Harmonica Frank Floyd — Harmonica Frank Floyd (Swamp Root) — full-length release from one-time “medicine show” performer of songs that were recorded 1972-74 and issued in 1976.
Letter to Creem Magazine – Feb. 1974 edition
Cover design & illustration by Dick Bangham — Liner notes by Frank Floyd
< = = = Historical Spotlight on Dick Bangham = = = >
DC-area artist Dick Bangham — most famously associated with his front cover image for Root Boy Slim‘s Zoom album of 1979 — has enjoyed working with Gene Rosenthal on a number of album releases over the years, in terms of cover design, illustration and/or art direction (most recently, he and wife Linda did the art & design work on the new album by Ken Swartz & the Palace of Sin noted above):
Bangham’s earliest Adelphi commission would be to provide the ink illustration for DC-area “hippie” ensemble Beverly Pureheart’s (now rather rare) EP from 1969: Continue reading →
Bill McCullough — who would serve music history as Track’s Chief Engineer from 1977-1983 — can readily conjure a mental image of the Silver Spring recording studio‘s control room in all its 1970s wood-paneled glory:
Photo(s) courtesy of Bill McCullough
Silver Spring, in the new century, is now blessed to have the presence of the American Film Institute, who would help revitalize – with county taxpayer support – an Art Deco movie palace that came this close to getting the wrecking ball as a public exhibition space. I remember attending 2013’s documentary tribute to the legendary Van Nuys recording complex, Sound City, and being particularly struck by the realization that the film is essentially a love letter to a recording console. But not just any console: Neve. (The true-life film suddenly gets very dramatic when Sound City becomes no longer solvent, thus threatening to forfeit its Neve console to the mixing board orphanage!)
Silver Spring – thanks to Track Recorders – was once also blessed with a hand-wired analogue mixing console designed and manufactured by Neve (of England). The big question on everyone’s minds: Is it Neve (like ‘Steve’) or Neve (like ‘Neve’ Campbell)? Answer: unclear.
1970s Silver Spring Breakout Star: Track’s Neve mixing console!
Ownership of a Neve console would figure prominently in the summary blurb Track provided* for The Unicorn Times‘ Annual Studio Guide in its October, 1980 edition. Track’s main recording room, McCullough notes, was spacious enough for an orchestra, and featured a hardwood floor mounted on springs that – when combined with a custom Neve mixing board – added up to stellar sound, as affirmed by no less an authority than Steely Dan producer, Gary Katz, not to mention Howard University Jazz Ensemble’s Gregory Charles Royal. (McCullough is unable to verify the model number or year of manufacturing but does affirm that Track’s mixing board had “Neve 1081 EQ for each input channel”.)
“No Drinks or Cigarettes on [the Neve!!!] Console”
Track Recorders Staff (Unicorn Times – October, 1975)
When he was twelve years old, Bill McCullough already knew that he wanted to pursue audio engineering professionally. Perhaps this was inevitable given Bill’s background as the son of a musician mother and father who possessed dual engineering degrees. Transforming a Northern Virginia house into a recording studio with mentor, neighbor and best friend, Pete Lambert, proved to be a formative event in Bill’s young adult life. McCullough, around this time period, would also enjoy membership in a jazz group named Blue Horizon with future Danny Gatton bandmate, John Previti.
An early-career opening at DC’s Audio Video Concepts, a small studio with tape duplication services, was made available by Gerry Wyckoff‘s departure in 1974 to Track Recorders (which he would own a few years hence). Wyckoff would sagely advise Bill to ditch the long hair, thus helping to seal McCullough’s eventual success in being selected to join President Ford’s Election Committee for two years, beginning in February, 1974.
Bill’s audio engineering skills were immediately put to work fulfilling his job’s mandate to record everything Gerald Ford said in public. With funding from both the Ford Commission and the National Archives, every speech was recorded for posterity, as well as non-syndicated sound bites edited for radio. McCullough has the distinction of engineering the audio for Air Force One’s first ever press conference. [Historical aside: A photo exists of Bill shaking hands with Ford on the day of the election; “Thanks for the use of your headphones,” the former Vice-President would later say to McCullough, in reference to a prior act of generosity on Air Force One.]
Ooh La La! 25′ x 40′ Main Studio room – Track Recorders
McCullough’s intersection with Track Recorders would occur at the time Gerry Wyckoff was acquiring the studio itself, i.e., April/May 1977. Bill, in fact, “begged” for a job. Fortunately, for history’s sake, Gerry said yes.
Root Boy Slim & Track Recorders
Root Boy Slim would feature prominently early in Bill McCullough’s tenure at Track, and the sequence of events leading to his signing with one of the top major labels would have all the makings of rock legend. Dick Bangham, who would enjoy renown for his iconic cover image for Root Boy’s Zoom album, was another key participant during this period who saw it all go down:
“Joe Lee and I originally booked the studio in April 1977 to start recording the Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band demo album that would eventually lead to the 1978 Warner Bros release produced by Gary Katz. During that spring and summer, we would go into the studio for a few days at a time whenever the band was in town to play gigs.
Joe would take the latest mixes to Josh at WHFS, and he would play them on air. The other ‘HFS DJs soon jumped on the Root Boy bandwagon, and the demo became one of the most requested albums of the year – months before it was actually released as an LP!
Josh had gone to Bard College with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, and when we had a full album of material mixed he gave a cassette to Fagen and invited them to come see the band perform in DC. Then Fagen handed the tape to Steely Dan’s producer Gary Katz in LA and Gary flipped. He had recently been hired by Warner Bros Records A&R and after hearing the demo, signed Root Boy to a two-album contract.”
[L to R] Gerry Wyckoff, Les, Doug Percival, Kate Ragusa, Bill, Mark Greenhouse & Root Boy (Kneeling)
Upon being signed by Warner Brothers, Root Boy, along with the Sex Change Band, and associated musicians and personnel (e.g., Bill McCullough and Dick Bangham) would be flown to Miami to re-record the songs that got the band signed. During the time it took to record at Criteria Studios, the band found itself holed up in a mansion overlooking Biscayne Bay thanks to the label’s largesse.
McCullough would work with engineer (and songwriter) Roger ‘The Immortal’ Nichols while in Miami and later characterize these sessions as a major learning experience. McCullough took careful note of Nichols’ approach to mic’ing the drums, for instance — two microphones per tom, 10-12 microphones for the entire drum kit — and brought these ideas back to Track, thus directly raising the quality of audio engineering.
Bangham picks up the story again:
“Within 6 months since Joe [Lee] and I had brought them into Track, we were recreating the entire album [using McCullough’s masters for reference], with Katz producing and Roger Nichols engineering at Criteria Studios in Miami – and Fagen & Becker attending the sessions. We were in the studio for the whole month of November ’77.
Since we’d burned up so much time recording at Criteria, the mixing had to be done in December at ABC Studios in LA. Katz and Nichols couldn’t quite match Root’s puking vocals in ‘Boogie Til You Puke’ at Criteria, so they extracted that from the Track demo master.
Bob Marley and the Wailers [including guitarist Junior Marvin who currently lives in DC] came into Criteria one day while we were there in November ’77 to record a single, ‘Punky Reggae Party.’ We were all gobsmacked.”
Friends Making Music at Track:
Gerry Wyckoff, Root Boy, Doug Percival, Bill, Kate Ragusa, Les & Mark Greenhouse
The Washington Post, who fortunately were supportive of Root Boy from the beginning, informs Bangham, would dispatch Leslie Marshall to write a full-length feature profile of Foster Mackenzie III for the February 26, 1984 edition of its Sunday Magazine. WashingtonPost readers were no doubt intrigued to learn that ‘Ken’ – as “Prince La La” – would front a soul/R&B band named The Midnight Creepers while a Yale undergrad in the mid-1960s. The future Root Boy Slim, in fact, would attend Yale at the same time as our future 43rd President, reports McCullough (they would not get along). Would you be surprised to know that bassist Bob “Rattlesnake” Greenlee was also a Yalie?
Root Boy, Ron Holloway & Deanna Bogart
Ron Holloway, an “amazing” musician (as affirmed by McCullough), is quoted by Marshall as saying, “Slim started on a level — in terms of audience size and enthusiasm — that most bands in this city never even reach.” Holloway deserves recognition for being an important part of Root Boy’s success, McCullough emphasizes, having invested “hundreds of hours” in the band’s early days helping to develop its sound. [Holloway, who would go on to from The Ron Holloway Band, recorded a 7-inch at Track in 1984 (“Teaser“) shortly after McCullough’s departure with The Hijackers, featuring vocalists Ann Ellis & Amy Kale and guitarists Chris Moutson & Rick Prince — a Mitch Collins-produced session that included Steuart Smith on guitar and Jim Crenca on bass, congas & knob twiddling — picture sleeve design by Dick Bangham.]
McCullough still vividly recalls that one fateful day when Root Boy and the band were lounging at the studio playing billiards (or possibly the Missile Command arcade game) when the TV suddenly erupted to life with news announcements that the Shah of Iran had been deposed. All of sudden, before McCullough’s very eyes, a song was born — note Ernie Lancaster‘s “Iranian” intro that abruptly jumps (using what sounds like a good old-fashioned slice of the razor blade) to a re-start of the song in a modern blues groove, as Root Boy and the band put a twist on B.B. King’s big 1970 crossover hit.
“The Shah Is Gone” Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band 1983
Bangham adds this coda: “[Future Track owner] Mark Greenhouse wisely stored all of the Root Boy masters and I now have them, thankfully! I’ve reissued 4 of the 6 albums as CDs on Rip Bang Records, with bonus unreleased tracks on each of them. Currently working on a full length Root documentary which we hope will be done by next year.”
Bangham’s covers for 1978 Warner Bros. debut & 1984’s ‘Dog Secrets’ albums
Track Recorders as Magnet for DC-Area Talent
Singer-songwriter Bob Brown also played an important part in the Track Recorders story. Especially noteworthy is the musical connection Brown shared with Greenhouse going back to DC’s “beat” coffeehouse days of the Crow’s Toe (Jim Morrison’s old stomping ground), Through the Gates and the Iguana Coffeehouses [see Mark Opsasnik’s history piece in the Beltway Poetry Quarterly]. Thanks to Greenhouse, The Iguana would be the first of the DC coffeehouses to charge a cover to see Bob Brown perform.
A Provincetown gig opening for Richie Havens led to Brown becoming a recording artist signed to Haven’s Stormy Forest, an MGM subsidiary label. Havens produced and sang backup on Brown’s first two albums – 1970’s The Wall I Built Myself and 1971’s Willoughby’s Lament. Tompkins Square decided to reissue these two titles in 2016, an act made possible with assistance from the aforementioned John Simson. Brown eventually joined forces with Baltimore-area vocalist, Aleta Greene, and things looked promising when the two got signed to almighty Columbia in 1973, only to find themselves dropped in the wake of Clive Davis’s sudden departure from the label.
Bob Brown – NYC
Brown’s extensive recording experience at Track predated the “dynamic duo” of Bill McCullough and Mark Greenhouse. He had worked closely with George Massenburg at Hunt Valley’s ITI recording complex, where he and Aleta Greene recorded two albums, Let Me Be Your Love and Hit the Truth, that unfortunately did not enjoy official release until years later via Brown’s own website (Brown and Greene, interestingly, would record backing vocals for Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band’s Zoom album).
Under Greenhouse’s leadership, Brown continued at Track Recorders with sessions for the No Refunds for the Rainalbum. Songs were reconstructed in the studio, with backing tracks laid down by the indispensable rhythm section of bassist Jim Hanson and percussionist Steve Dennis. Brown treasured the “band of brothers” atmosphere at Track, where collaboration created a magical transformation into something greater – thanks to everyone’s input and sweat equity – than the songwriter could ever have imagined. McCullough’s “steady hand,” combined with Greenhouse’s musical command and Steuart Smith’s virtuosity made for a formidable team.
Greenhouse, Brown & McCullough at Track for the ‘No Refunds’ sessions
The team’s mastery of getting the most out of the artist was memorably displayed during the recording of No Refunds album closer “Quiet Waterfall” when Brown was told to play a solo vocal and guitar track “just to set the recording levels,” only to find his studio brethren waving their hands frantically behind the glass of the control room, motioning for him to let the final notes ring out. “You nailed it!” yelled Greenhouse, McCullough and Smith excitedly, as it dawned on Brown that this supposed “test” recording was simply a ruse to elicit a relaxed and unforced performance. And it worked like a charm.
[Pssst: Click on triangle above to play “Quiet Waterfall” by Bob Brown]
Cover photo by Big Al Sevilla
Fellow Track studio stalwart, Steuart Smith – who referred to Track as a “Polaris” for musical talent in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area – would point out in his liner notes for Brown’s No Refunds album that “the real reason to work there I think was the presence of two extremely talented and (for the time) accomplished pros; engineer, Bill McCullough and engineer, producer, musician and songwriter, Mark Greenhouse.” (Richard Harrington would also note that Smith enjoyed renown “as a guitarist and keyboardist in Washington and Nashville decades before he earned accolades for producing albums by Shawn Colvin, Terri Clark and Rodney Crowell, and 25 years before he started soaring as guitarist with the Eagles.”)
Steve Dennis at Track Recorders
We learned from Johnny Castle‘s profile in January’s epic overview of Track’s prodigious output about Dog Days Revue, a musical lark from a dedicated core of studio enthusiasts — Mark Greenhouse, Jim Hanson, Steve Dennis, Jeff Watson, Jamie McKinnon, Mitch Collins, Steuart Smith, and Castle — who would produce one of Bill McCullough’s favorite recordings, “Inspiration.” Jeff Watson’s name would appear on another special Track recording that McCullough would also find to be rather lyrically adept: “Didn’t Count on You” (composed by Mickey Jones) from Downtown’s debut album Band on a Budget – which won a “Wammy” award in 1985 by the Washington Area Music Association..
2005 Track Recorders Reunion!
[(L to R) Bob Brown, Big Al Sevilla, Steuart Smith, Bill McCullough, Jeff Watson]
A number of Track studio stalwarts — Steve Dennis, John Previti, Steuart Smith, Tim Jarvis, Han Ro, Pete Lambert & Pete Finney — would join together in common purpose to help fully realize the songs written by Mark Greenhouse for his Shore Leave album. Two of these songs – “Lifetime Guarantee” and “See It Through” – would be recorded around the time of the first Root Boy Slim album, when Gary Katz paid a visit to Track one day.
Mark and Bill had already said their goodbyes and begun the playback on “Lifetime Guarantee” when Gary came bursting back into the control room demanding to know, “What is that?!” Inspired by Katz’s enthusiasm, the musicians would go right back into the studio to record a few more songs. McCullough’s old band, Blue Horizon, would be brought in to play on “Caroline” – a song inspired by Caroline Kennedy that would include Previti, along with violinist Han Ro and guitarist Peter Lambert – as well as “Flags.”
Guitarist/violinist Coe Anderson and his roots rock revival band, The Hub Caps. were no strangers to Track Recorders, either. Anderson, McCullough remembers, would be brought in on one of Mitch’s own songs. McCullough also fondly recalls the sessions that produced seminal seven-inches from Original Fetish and The Slickee Boys in 1979 and 1980, respectively.
McCullough also enjoyed the five days or so it took to engineer The Muffins‘ groundbreaking album <185> on which Fred Frith would indulge his love for sounds played in reverse. French webzine, Guts of Darkness: Les Archives du Sombre et de L’Expermental would proclaim <185> (with the assistance of Google Translation) “the ultimate album of The Muffins” and assert that “the group did not usurp its place among the other great barons of Rock in Opposition, such as Henry Cow or Univers Zero” (Silver Spring-based independent label, Cuneiform Records, would reissue this album in 1996). Muffins percussionist, Paul Sears, well remembers Track Recorders:
“When Bill Tate owned the place long ago, I visited a few times. I actually helped carry that Neve mixer out of a Ryder truck, and up the stairs and down the hall and into control room to the pedestal. Took half a day and 6 or 7 people as I recall. Tate had a sledgehammer to just bash anything in the way! Tate or someone took lots of pix, but I never saw any. This was maybe 1973-4..? Years later when The Muffins had a budget in 1979, we visited all the local major studios, and Track had the best overall vibe, and a big room which was where my drums went. No drum booth for me…..EVER. Live sound! Bill and Mark Greenhouse were there then, and we ended up working with Bill on the <185> album. I remember the [Night]Hawks were next after us, and would hang out wondering what the hell The Muffins were doing! Bill suggested getting Fred Frith to produce a Root [Boy] record! Never panned out. <185> was the only album I have ever recorded right after a tour, so we knocked it out, ready for mastering in 4 days during Sept of 1980. I went back in 1984 and did some stuff with Mark Greenhouse and Dave Newhouse from The Muffins, which might see release someday, although the 2″ master was stolen from a storage space in 1995. I have mixes though ….. When Mark closed up and sold all the old stuff (1987?) I got the enormous chrome 3 head Pioneer cassette deck that was used for some slap echo. I think it was used for Nighthawks and Root Boy records. Bill would know. It finally died in 1992. A great place with great people. Fond memories.”
Mini Q & A with Bill McCullough
Q: Whose job was it to “fire up” the Neve each day – or did it ever get turned off?
A: Generally speaking, the Neve mixing board was left on. But if it were anybody’s job to flip the switch on the Neve, that responsibility belonged to Doug Percival, who did all the physical set-up tasks for each studio session, as well as greet artists and coordinate all the bookings as Office Manager.
Q: What’s the RIAA-certified gold record hanging on the rear wall of the control room?
A: Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel album.
Track Pokes Fun at Audio Engineering Jargon
Parse the dry ‘technicalese’ in the audio engineering text below – Track’s summary blurb for The Unicorn Times‘ Annual Studio Guide* published in their April, 1980 edition – and you will find a sprinkling of Gerry Wyckoff witticisms.
Unsuspecting readers might not realize that, in addition to actual audio enhancement devices — “aural exciter”; “flanger-doubler”; “harmonizer” — Wyckoff took liberties with the names of a few other studio equipment items by rebranding (or hyping) them as “sonic reflection inverter,” “electro-acoustic accelerator,” and (my personal favorite) “doomsday implosion simulator,” which McCullough explains is an EMT plate reverb utilized in a rather aggressive and heavy-handed manner. Did you also catch the cheeky reference to “4 casting couches” at the end of the equipment list above?
Differentiating Track: Marketing Over the Years
That same October, 1980 issue of The Unicorn Times would also include a head-turning full-page advertisement trumpeting Track Recorders’ ability to provide “studio musicians for all instruments and vocals on call.”
[Left to right: Bill McCullough, Mark Greenhouse & Gerry Wyckoff]
Things at Track weren’t always thus. Advertisements from earlier years reveal a studio in the process of establishing a reputation for excellence.
Track advertisement, circa early 1970s — All about the hits!
Track ad from 1975 (Thanks, Jeff Krulik!) — custom “NERVE” [!] console
How kind of Jeff (“Heavy Metal Parking Lot”) Krulik to enlighten me to the fact that the last two distinctive Track ads above are the work of Michael Reidy, whose art was most recently exhibited in 2016 at American University as part of Twisted Teenage Plot, a showcase of visual artists who played in DC-area bands in the late 70s and early 80s. Reidy enjoys musical renown as the lead vocalist of The Razz and Howling Mad, and was once a member of The Examiners (along with Robin Rose and J.W. Mahoney). WTOP’s Neil Augenstein, in his tribute to Skip Groff — the musical force behind beloved Rockville record store, Yesterday and Today, and producer of key recordings by The Slickee Boys, The Teen Idles and Minor Threat, among others — includes this quote from Groff: “In the new wave scene, there was no band in D.C. that was thought of as more likely of getting a major label contract than The Razz.”
Track Recorders for President
How heartening it is to see Track Recorders perform their civic duty in April of 1980 when they paid for that pricy Superman-themed full-page ad.(as featured in “part one“); Younger readers (to the extent they exist) may not realize that The Unicorn Times – at that particular moment in time – was desperately trying to keep their wonderful arts publication free and wholly-supported by advertising.
Outtake Photo from 1980 Unicorn Times “Superman” Ad (Bill, Mark & Gerry)
Note that The Nighthawks would also do their part to keep The Unicorn Times the “people’s” publication, when they participated in a benefit volleyball game just before the band’s headlining set at the University of Maryland’s Richie Coliseum. [Polygram, points out Bill McCullough, continues to sit on an entire album of Jimmy Thackery-era Nighthawks material that was engineered at Track by McCullough — some of the songs would come out on the Ten Years Live album, while their respective studio versions continue to gather dust.]
Forever indebted to the Bill Hanke Music Research Archives for access to all the vintage ads featured in this piece.
Bill McCullough: Post-Track Recorders
Track’s approach during the Greenhouse and McCullough era was hands-on in all the right ways. As Steuart Smith would observe first-hand, “[Mark and Bill] had worked together on numerous projects and [were] able to give aspiring artists a chance to, with minimal financial investment, make high quality demos and local records that transcended the normal standards of such ‘products.’”
After his seven intensive years of Track came to a close, Bill McCullough went on to do audio engineering for television in his work for Arthur Young & Company (a studio facility that produced a successful series of instructional videotapes for Lotus 1-2-3). Bill’s new gig afforded him the opportunity to record the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra on a semi-regular basis as a philanthropic venture for Arthur Young — which would lead rather fortuitously to him meeting future wife, Didi, a member of the Reston Players theater ensemble.
McCullough reflects on his professional engineering experience at Track Recorders, most often in his home basement, where this three-dimensional “forced perspective” diorama (from the hand of Jim McCullough) hangs. Bill takes delight in his father’s blazing a trail in this particular art medium, ignited by a chance encounter in Juarez, Mexico.
Diorama in Forced Perspective:
Track Recorders from a Father’s Vantage Point
“Control room in Silver Spring, MD where the artist’s son, Bill, was the Chief Recording Engineer in the 1980s. The console offers the engineer a selection of over 1500 lights, dials, switches, sliders, buttons, and meters to use as he managed the music being received from many microphones, through amplifiers and other electronics into the 16 track recording machine (shown on right wall) and then back to the musicians’ ears through headsets, speakers, or both. After the session, 16 tracks are mixed until the best of all performances is preserved and lesser passages are discarded. After the mix, the product is played through the machines at left, which had four track, or two track stereo output. The engineer monitored the performers through the studio window where you might see the instruments, stands, mikes, and other gear waiting for the next session. On the left wall was a ‘Gold Record’ earned by Track several years earlier.”
I think my first contact with Track was in 1971 or ’72 on a session produced by Caltrick Simone (née Jeff Stein), whose Secant Records released quite a few titles from DC-area groups in the ’70s and maybe ’80s. I believe he did all his recording at Track. And I’m pretty sure our session was his first as well as mine. How we hooked up I can’t recall. Perhaps an ad in the teen section of The Washington Star.
Guitarist overdubbing on floor – Secant session at Track Recorders – 1971/2
That session was to record two songs for a 45 by a very precocious 16-year-old from Springfield, Va., Jan Ince, who wrote and sang well beyond her years. “I’ve Been Waiting” b/w “Sailor” was Pick Hit of the Week on an AM station in Easton, Md. We all drove down when she was interviewed by the DJ. She later moved to England and married Nick Glennie-Smith, now a big-time movie soundtrack guy: Sadly, I don’t think she’s done any more recording. She was quite wonderful.
Jan Ince Takes Dave Nuttycombe’s Ludwig Drum Kit for a Test Drive – 1971/2
I did a few more Caltrick Simone sessions and a bunch of jingles and soundtrack sessions with ad man Dan Pasley and/or composer Demos Chrissos (who I believe was at one time the mayor of Gaithersburg). There’s a picture of my drums set up at Track on my site, along with some of the tunes I recorded there.
Mixing Decks at Track Recorders – 1971/2
Then the singer in my band, Fran Tate [no relation to Bill Tate], got a job at Track and I got to hang out there much more often. I was there when Buffy Saint Marie stopped by, for reasons unclear then or remembered now. I was also there when Emmylou Harris was recording “Coat of Many Colors.” Not sure if that version ended up on her debut album or if it was just a demo. It was pretty spectacular. Tommy Hannum, then of the Rosslyn Mountain Boys, was playing pedal steel.
Cerphe with Little Feat at Track Recorders
And then there was that pilot for a TV show in 1977 starring Cerphe and Tommy Curtis. I think the only thing that was filmed was an interview with Little Feat at Track. I was the photographer and snapped a bunch of shots. Feat keyboardist Billy Payne met Fran at Track and they got married. At which point I did more recording at Omega, then in Kensington.
Lowell George & Bill Payne behind the board at Track
My ‘claim to fame,’ such as it is, was playing drums on the Jerry’s Ford jingle (“Let the Competition Beware”). I think the session was in ’73, and that earworm played on Metro DC radio for a quarter century. In fact, the tape finally wore out and the jingle was recreated with synthesizers. I was driving home and heard the new version and my ears did a double-take, which may not actually be possible.
Not yet done with the Little Feat photos – Paul Barerre playing with the Neve
So I called up Jerry, planning to do a fun little piece for City Paper about this odd bit of local ephemera. Of course he didn’t know who I was; he was not at the session. Sadly, I can’t remember the producer’s name, but it was just him and the engineer and he just left it to the musicians to come up with…something. The original session was a trio — myself on drums, Gary Falwell (later of Smalltalk fame) on bass and Marc “Chopper” Chopinsky on guitar. We noodled around with all kinds of crazy stuff for hours until the producer got us down to a repeating riff of four descending notes. Horns and vocals were added later.
Final Feat foto = Cerphe & Paul Barerre in the midst of audio engineering
Got $25 for the session. If I’d asked for a nickel royalty I’d be rich today. The jingle was syndicated nationally. I was driving into Dallas one night and heard it on the radio, changed to something like “Frank’s Chevrolet makes it clear, let the competition beware.” And sure enough, there was a billboard for Frank’s Chevrolet with the slogan. I was driving a VW bug.
Anyway, I told Jerry that I was paid $25 for his jingle and he got very short and said, ‘I’m sure that was good money for the time.’ Then he cut me off and said he couldn’t talk any more about his ‘business dealings.’ Huh? I wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein coming to blow up his company. Sheesh. So no story. Until now, I suppose.
Unknown Band Rehearsing at Track Session Engineered by Co-Owner Bill Tate
Coda: One of the things I always liked about recording at Track was that there was a Little Tavern right across the street. That was pretty much the menu for every session.”
Perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future, Silver Spring will organize an event to celebrate all the music history attached to Track Recorders, a sound studio upstairs in the Cissel-Lee Building (directly above the present-day Urban Butcher) on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland – just over the DC line – that saw action in the 1970s, ’80s & ’90s. Stevie Nicks may have been originally inspired by a name on an interstate sign, but as it turned out, her instincts were correct: Silver Spring in the mid-to-late1970s was a focal point for a fair amount of musical magic, as indicated in the hyper-linked list below.
downtown Silver Spring’s Last Spanish colonial revival – Track on 2nd floor
DC-area historian, Marcie Stickle, writing in 2009 about the history of the Cissel-Lee building for Dan Reed’s Just Up the Pike blog, notes that this “significant two-story brick structure was Spanish Colonial Revival, all the ‘rage’ at the time. With its unique black slate canopies angled around two sides of the roofline, the Cissel-Lee Building was the ONLY remaining such structure in all of the [Central Business District].”
Notable Moments in Track Recorders’ Music History
The Soul Searchers‘ 1972 Sussex album We the People – featuring DC legend, Chuck Brown – was recorded at Track (a sealed copy fetched $405 this past October). Brown co-wrote the title track, which served as the group’s first 45.
[click on trianglebelow to activate recording]
“We the People” (Chuck Brown and) The Soul Searchers 1972
Track Recorders 45 History Spotlight: Julius Brockington Old Sounds Refashioned Anew
Julius Brockington‘s 1973 landmark 45 — “This Feeling” b/w “Cosmic Force” — would be yet another 7-inch record laid down at Silver Spring‘s Track Recorders that has been able to fetch three figures at auction within the last five or so years.
“This Feeling” + “Cosmic Force” Julius Brockington 1973
Pentagram recorded their fuzzed-out cover of “Under My Thumb” — with inspired dual guitar solo — at Track in 1974, produced by Skip Groff and Bob Fowler. Copies of the original 45 have sold at auction for over five hundred bucks.
Danny (Gatton) and the Fat Boys [Billy Hancock & Dave Elliott] would record their debut album in 1974 at Track and issue a 45 whose B-side (“Harlem Nocturne“) made folks sit up and take notice of the amazing new guitarist.
Johnny Castle started his musical career in the DC area with Crank – including guitarist Geoff Richardson – a popular hard rock outfit (vintage photos) who once opened for Hendrix and The Allman Brothers. Crank recorded at Track during the studio’s early years, when the band was able to get a sweet deal on a package that also included promotional materials. No recordings were ever released, but Barry Richards got hold of a tape of one song (“Used To Be Worried”) and, played it so often on his radio show, according to Castle, it made the Top 10 one week.
Johnny Castle would go on to record a number of other sessions at Track:
Switchblade‘s 45 “She Makes Me Rock Too Much” b/w “Tight Blue Jeans” (notable for its marriage of reggae rhythm with a rockabilly feel) from 1981 — with Ratso, Dougherty & Ste(w)art Smith. The A-side features a blood-curdling scream near song’s end that was recorded in isolation and nearly sent a piano tuner, who was intensely focused on his work, into cardiac arrest. Picture sleeve images and recording credits at this link.
Interrobang, featuring a young Linwood Taylor – “Washington, DC’s premier blues man” – who tells Zero to 180 that Castle played on two songs (“Suspicious” and “Last Goodbye”), one of which being a runner-up winner on a DC101 home tapes contest, resulting in free studio time at the Warehouse in Philadelphia!
Numerous “vanity” sessions on self-released recordings by local-area artists.
Castle would also join forces with Mark Greenhouse (guitars/keys/vocals), Steuart Smith (guitar), Pete Ragusa (drums), and Mitch Collins (keyboards) to record four songs at Track as a fun recording side project known as Dog Days Revue.
“Bill Tate, owner of Track Recording, Inc. in Silver Spring, Md., reports that Linda Ronstadt was in recently for three sessions. Lowell George handled the production and also played on the sessions. George Massenburg handled the engineering. Columbia’s David Bromberg also played. Track has recently put in a new quadrasonic control room, complete with a custom built Neve console. David Harrison of Studio Supply in Nashville designed. Finally, local bluegrass group Seldom Scene was in working on sessions.”
“[Linda] came down with the flu in 1974 while passing through Washington with a Jackson Browne tour and ended up staying behind to recover at the Bethesda house of John Starling, a member of the Seldom Scene whom she had met through her friend Emmylou Harris. A snowstorm came, and there was a houseful of musicians, one of whom was Paul Craft, who wrote ‘Keep Me From Blowing Away,’ which she decided to record as soon as she could.” [based on Ronstadt’s 2013 memoir, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir]
Worth noting that Lowell George is credited on one track – “Willin’” – which also must have been laid down at Track (see Billboard item above), with Sneaky Pete Kleinow on steel guitar.
Bill Holland & Rent’s DueIf It Ain’t One Thing was recorded & mixed substantially at Track in 1974-75 and released 1975. Blues Art Studio informs me that Holland had been keyboardist for The Nighthawks prior to forming Rent’s Due. [more info in upcoming history of Adelphi Records]
THIS JUST IN: Musical encyclopedia and beloved WHFS disc jockey “Weasel” blew Zero to 180’s mind with the bombshell that the mighty NRBQ recorded two songs at Track Recorders in 1975, one of which – “Cecilia” – would end up on 1977’s All Hopped Up.
Banbarra‘s classic 1975 A-side “Shack Up” — a sampler’s dream (A Certain Ratio, Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad, 3rd Bass, Stetsasonic, Gang Starr, Kool Keith, and Happy Mondays, et al.) — was recorded at Track and produced by Lance Quinn.
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 (cousin of Jon).
The Clovers – one of Ahmet Ertegun’s favorite groups from the doo-wop era – recorded a 45 at Track in 1975 that was written by Billy Hancock and co-produced by Hancock and Obie O’Brien.
The Reuben Brown Trio Featuring Richie Cole‘s Starburst album on Adelphi was recorded at Track in 1975 and released 1976 [more info in upcoming history of Adelphi Records].
Black Heat‘s farewell album, 1975’s Keep on Runnin‘ — recorded at both Track & Atlantic Records studios — was issued in Europe in 2016, three years prior in Japan). Soul version of “Drive My Car” would be issued by Atlantic as Black Heat’s final 45.
Jimi Hendrix‘s posthumous LP Midnight Lightning (with numerous session players overdubbed) was produced, in part, at Track and released in November, 1975 [*special bonus feature at the end of this piece]. Track would also be one of three studios used to produce Hendrix’s Crash Landing in similar fashion, released eight months earlier in March.
All of The Nighthawks‘ albums recorded for Adelphi Records involved Track Recorders to some degree: 1976’s Open All Nite, 1977’s Side Pocket Shot and 1978’s Jacks and Kings (with members of the Muddy Waters Band) were all engineered and mixed at Track — meanwhile, 1976’s Nighthawks Live was recorded at Bethesda’s Psyche Delly by Track recording engineer Obie O’Brien (and Roger Byrd of Sonority Sound), 1980’s Full House included unreleased tracks from Jacks and Kings, and 1982’s Times Four included 1977-79 studio sessions laid down at Track.
Track Recorders Musical Spotlight: The Nighthawks
Harmonica ace, Mark Wenner, certainly knows the inside of Track Recorders as “founding father” and remaining original member of The Nighthawks. Around the time The Nighthawks (with Jimmy Thackery on guitar, Jan Zukowski on bass & Pete Ragusa on drums) were recording their first album for Adelphi Records in 1976, Wenner recalls Obie O’Brien (engineer/producer) and Lance Quinn (studio guitarist) in the throes of recording intensely-layered (e.g., banjo lines) disco productions for the likes of Gloria Gaynor.
Younger readers may not realize that hewing to a classic blues (but “well-recorded”) sound was going against the grain at the time, but Open All Nite – four musicians, no external players – ending up being reasonably successful from a sales standpoint, Wenner tells Zero to 180. (1976, incidentally, would also be the year when Obie O’Brien would press Wenner and members of the Rosslyn Mountain Boys into service to record a novelty single with vocalist Bro Smith – “Big Foot” – that reached as high as #57 in the pop chart!)
c1976 Jonas Cash Promotions (picture sleeve) “Engineered by Obie” – 45 label
The band’s next studio effort, however, Side Pocket Shot – a ‘Revolver’ concept, with each song different from the other – was another kettle of fish altogether, with Billy Price’s Rhythm King Horns, for example, spilling out out of a limo one day with a bottle of whiskey and whatnot, recording their horn parts and then immediately rolling back out of town. Not to mention the addition of pedal steel, percussion, and backing vocals. In the wake of Obie O’Brien’s departure, however, the album would be engineered by Cap’n Jon and Gerry Wyckoff at Track.
Opening for Muddy Waters for three different runs at DC’s famed Cellar Door – in conjunction with block booking at Track Recorders – facilitated the band’s crowning achievement, Jacks and Kings, with Muddy Waters’ band members, Pinetop Perkins (piano), Guitar Jr. (i.e., Luther Johnson), Bob Margolin (guitar), plus Dave Maxwell (kick-off track: “For You My Love“). Engineered by Bill McCullough and Gerry Wyckoff, Jacks and Kings would be a big seller for Adelphi and one that would prompt the band’s first major tour outside of the mid-Atlantic area — Chicago, Denver, Austin, New Orleans, and Kansas City, a key distribution point.
Wenner remembers Track as not only a great place to hang (e.g., a big party for Jacks and Kings, with a refueling stop at Little Tavern and more than one cinema run to catch Raging Bull), but also an adventurous place to ply his trade (e.g., “triple-mic’ing” his harmonica in a stairwell, recording it at three different levels).
The Nighthawks (who appeared as themselves in the second season of The Wire) are still raging strong today, with Johnny Castle (bass), Paul Bell (guitar), and Mark Stutso (drums). 2010’s Last Train to Bluesville, recorded live and acoustic on B.B. King’s Bluesville channel on Sirius/XM (Pete Ragusa’s farewell appearance), would win the band their first-ever Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation, while 2015’s Back Porch Party features another well-received set of acoustic blues that mixes classics (e.g., Ike Turner’s “Matchbox” and Willie Dixon’s “Tiger In Your Tank”) with originals, such as Wenner’s “Guard My Heart” and Stutso’s “Down To My Last Million Tears.”
Q: How challenging was it to get permission from the Art Institute of Chicago to use the Edward Hopper painting on Open All Nite? A: $60 fee and use of their slide, with no printing over the actual picture.
Thomas Crawford‘s 1976 album The Peak Experience was recorded, in part, at Track, and one of two rather collectible albums for Bethesda boutique label, Integrated Performance Systems International Incorporated (e.g.,$216 paid for this LP at auction in 2015).
In 1976, Del McCoury & The Dixie Pals would record three tracks at Track (including “Foggy River“) that would later enjoy release on 1991’s Classic Bluegrass CD compilation.
Country Gentlemen‘s gospel album, Calling My Children Home, was recorded at Track between April, 1976 – August, 1977 (kick-off tune: “Place Prepared for Me“), as was 1976’s Joe’s Last Train and no doubt other albums released on Rebel Records (founded in Mt. Rainier, Maryland).
The Ramones‘ second album Leave Home from 1977 was mixed, in part, at Track.
Root Boy Slim, one-time Silver Spring resident, with backing from the Sex Change Band and the Rootettes, would record 1979’s Zoom (whose classic cover was designed by Dick Bangham) at Track. “World War 3” b/w “Dare To Be Fat” would be issued in the US, as well as the UK, albeit with the two sides flipped! This just in: Root Boy’s 1983 album Dog Secrets – recorded at Track – would enjoy the addition of a bonus track, “Go Go Girls Don’t Cry” (thanks to John Simson & Dick Bangham), when reissued in 2010 on CD.
Original Fetish‘s Warped 45 – “Standing in Line at Studio 54” b/w “I’m Glad That Elvis Is Dead” – was recorded in 1979 and engineered by Bill McCullough at Track (view original gatefold images of celebrities in caricature waiting at Studio 54 at this link). Dave Nuttycombe celebrates the 25th anniversary of the band’s dissolution in this 2005 piece for DC’s City Paper.
Bill Blue Band — Two Adelphi LP releases recorded and mixed at Track: Sing Like Thunder (recorded 1978, released 1979) and Givin’ Good Boys A Bad Name (recorded 1979, released 1980). [see upcoming history of Adelphi Records].
Howard University‘s Jazz Ensemble (featuring GregOsby) recorded one album each in 1979 and 1980 at Track.
Gregory Charles Royal‘s 1980 single “Pain” b/w “Take a Ride to Heaven” (reissued in 2016 on Swiss label, High Jazz – and currently sold out) was recorded at Track. Royal, who would be invited by Art Blakey to join his Jazz Messengers while still a tenth-grader, later founded the New York Jazz Film Festival and currently serves as artistic director of DC’s American Youth Symphony.
John Simson’s Track History Spotlight: Tori Amos
American University professor, John Simson — one-time recording artist who became a manager (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Switchblade) and thirty-year entertainment lawyer (Chuck Brown, Government Issue, Root Boy Slim), as well as frequent lecturer on music industry and copyright issues, Executive Director of SoundExchange, and Chair of the Board of the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, among many other accomplishments — informed Zero to 180 that a teenage Tori Amos had recorded some of her earliest demos at Track Recorders.
The youngest person, at age five, to win a Peabody Conservatory scholarship, Tori (and her family) would later move from Baltimore to Silver Spring in 1972 so that her father could serve as pastor at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in the Adelphi section (coincidentally) of Silver Spring. As an underage performer, Tori would be chaperoned to Washington-area piano bars by her father, who would also mail tapes of her own original recordings to record labels.
Mark Greenhouse once played a demo cassette of demonstration recordings made at Track to John Simson, who was impressed enough with her talent to travel to Georgetown to hear Amos perform live. This Wikipedia page claims that “Baltimore” – submitted in response to a Baltimore Orioles theme song competition – was recorded in 1979 at Track, with guitar accompaniment by Max Welker. This past August, Welker would post an audio clip of a demo Amos made for “Walking With You” that is said to have been recorded at Track in 1980.
Curious coincidence — Julius Brockington was once signed to Today Records, a subsidiary of Perception Records: the label that released John Simson’s 1971’s album.
The Muffins‘ album <185> – with Fred Frith in the producer’s chair, as well as performer – was recorded in 1980 at Track and reissued in 1996 on Silver Spring’s own Cuneiform! The band moves from longer to shorter form on this album, as evidenced by “Under Dali’s Wing.”
Little Feat odds ‘n’ sods compilation, 1981’s Hoy-Hoy, includes tracks recorded at ten different studios, including Track — so says this catalog record for the version released in the Netherlands. However, I just discovered that the catalog record for the 1990 German release includes much more detailed recording info — but no mention of Track Recorders. Which raises the question: Did Little Feat (not just Lowell George) ever record at Track? Bill McCullough actually answered this question in September, 2016: Little Feat (as would The Allman Brothers and Kiss, et al.) recorded demos only for “fun” at Track.
Harvey Reid‘s 1981 debut album Nothin’ But Guitar – his first of six for the Woodpecker label – was recorded at Track.
Tommy Keene‘s Strange Alliance from 1982 – his debut LP – was recorded at Track (listen to title track). Album engineered by Mark Greenhouse & Jim Crenca and mastered by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk.
Billy Hancock would hold three recording sessions at Track in 1983 – as detailed in 2002 Ripsaw CD release Wanted: True Rock ‘n’ Roll [thanks, Bill Hanke!] – that would yield a total of ten songs. As co-producer Jonathan ‘The Spider’ Strong recalls in the liner notes:
“Martha Hull did the female side of the duet on this 1957 Fats Domino number [“When I See You“]. One of the vivid memories of this session was The Velons and Martha, in between recordings, singing The Dominoes’ ‘Sixty Minute Man’ together in the studio hallway. Adding excellent piano and sax overdubs many years later were Daryl Davis and Chris Watling, respectively. Daryl had almost become a Ripsaw artist more than 20 years earlier. He had played piano on the original version of ‘Redskins Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ which songwriter David Nelson had submitted to Ripsaw in 1980.”
Tex Rubinowitz‘s debut full-length album release would feature five “new” songs — including two written with Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets, “Rock -n- Roll Ivy” and “No Club (Lone Wolf)” — that were laid down at Track Recorders in 1985. Tex’s first single would come out in 1978 on DC-based Alladin, whose roster included Danny & the Fat Boys, The Nighthawks, Powerhouse, and the aforementioned Clovers.
Englishman‘s 1986 album Fighting to Survive (on which Augustus Pablo would perform as one of three synthesists) was recorded, in part, at Track (and Lion & Fox), with engineering by Mark Greenhouse and Jim Fox, along with Philip Smart. Sample: “Political Illusion.”
Root Boy Slim‘s Left for Dead – recorded at Track in 1987, with Ernie Lancaster and Steuart Smith both on guitar – was engineered & mixed (in part) by Bill McCullough. Album released in the US on King Snake Records, in the UK on Bedrock.
Fats Domino, according to this FAQ – has at least two unfinished albums, including an album recorded in 1982 “in a suburb of Washington, DC” that is either Track or Kensington’s Big Mo. Track’s own Bill McCullough, along with Marc D’Amico, would both concur: Fats recorded at Track!
Do you have a total knowledge of all aspects of audio recordings?
Can you appreciate all forms of rock and soul and get along with all types of personalities?
Can you take raw musical talent and convert it into a sellable product on tape?
Do you know the sound of a hit? Do you want to cut hits? Do you want success badly enough to eat every top selling single and LP you’re not on?
ln short, are you a born winner?
If you can honestly answer “yes” to all the above, we want you to join us and we’ll pay whatever’s fair. Track Recorders has had eight national chart records in the last year. Washington, D.C. is the last major music frontier and we’re the leaders. Our studio has all the standard quality equipment — 3M 16-track, 25-in/16-out custom console, EMT reverb, JBL 4320 monitors, Dolby, Kepex, varispeed, grand piano, Hammond B3 organ, amps, drums, excellent test gear and maintenance. Your weekends will generally be free. The Washington area offers great entertainment plus Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean.
Call or write to: TRACK RECORDERS, INC.
8226 Georgia Ave. #11-2, Silver Spring, Md. 20910. (301) KL5-xxxx”
Track Recorders: The Toddler Years
From Sam Sutherland’s “Studio Track” Billboard column in the June 17, 1972 edition:
“From Silver Springs [sic], Md., Track Recorders has noted activities there. That studio was D.C.’s only 8-track facility when it opened two years ago, and, last November, they became Washington’s first 16-track facility. A custom-designed board built and designed by the studio’s personnel, uses API and Suburban Sound components. The 16-track machine is 3M, and both the main studio (there are two rooms, but the second is incomplete [note: historical foreshadowing — read Zero to 180’s follow-up piece on Adelphi Records!] and the control room have been redesigned acoustically, with modifications now underway.
Founders Cotter Wells, Bill Tate, and Jim [Sennott] have been aiming the studio at the area’s local musicians, but they are now broadening their work to include outside artists, and in-house productions are also being considered. Chief engineer and “small owner” (his words) Cory Pearson reported sessions by [Masked Man & the Agents, below], produced for Musicor Records by Jim Burston; Carr–CeeProductions recording The Soul Searchers for Sussex; Van McCoy‘s productions for Whitehouse Productions; and Mike Auldridge, working on a Takoma album [i.e., label founded by John Fahey].”
John Kelly‘s review of Track Recorders from his DC-MD-VA studio overview
in the November 6, 1987 edition of The Washington Post
“Track just celebrated its 18th birthday and the list of major acts who have recorded there make it one of the most venerable studios in town. Track alumni include Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Jimi Hendrix. Local musicians, including Teresa Gunn, Random Samples and the Cultevaders, also take advantage of Track’s services. According to vice president/studio manager Mark Greenhouse, Track also runs its own vanity record label (it’s called, appropriately, Vanity Records). The acts on Vanity put up the money themselves and are rewarded with an ultra-slick package that includes record, sleeve and promotional advice. 8-TRACK.”
Richard Harrington‘s August 13, 1986 Washington Post celebration of Track’s sixteenth birthday — and in which we learn that The Allman Brothers recorded an unreleased 15/8 instrumental jam (“Chet’s Tune”) and that Track’s staff were musicians too, thus “the work has a certain spirit and attitude, reflecting a more intense personal relationship between technicians and musicians,” according to Mark Greenhouse.
“Once [producer Alan] Douglas had winnowed the 3,000 hours down to four hours of especially promising material, the tapes were turned over to [partner Tony] Bongiovi, who was expected to reduce the four hours of raw stock to the final product an eight-song, 36-minute album that will be entitled Midnight Lightning.
Bongiovi and his co-workers at Track Recorders, especially staff engineer ‘Obie’ O’Brien and session musician Lance Quinn, have gone to extraordinary lengths in their attempt to remain faithful to what seem to be Hendrix’s intentions. Guitarist Quinn played a Fender Stratocaster, the same model that Hendrix used, for all his overdubs, and brought the strings down half a step to the F flat [!] tuning that Hendrix favored. ‘But when we came in we weren’t trying to copy what he did or to make somebody sound like him,’ said Bongiovi.’ ‘We were trying to match the sound of the record. So Hendrix is the star of the album; we just had to fill in all the air that was on the record with what Jimi had planned to put on later.’
And that’s why relatively anonymous session men like Quinn, drummer Alan Schwartzberg, and bassist Bob Babbit were used on Midnight Lightning. ‘We didn’t want to use any soloist guitarists like a Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton,’ says Bongiovi. ‘Imagine if we had them on the album – they’re stars in their own right. It would have ended up a guitar duel, and that’s not fair because Jimi’s not really here to defend himself.”
But even without the opportunity to solo and show off a bit, Quinn, a disciple of Washington’s Roy Buchanan and an admirer of England’s Jeff Beck, finds the Hendrix sessions rewarding. ‘In some spots,’ says the corpulent [!] guitarist, ‘it was almost like playing in a band with him. And you get a chance to hear him in situations that don’t turn up on record. When we listened to the tapes, we heard the parts people never hear on record. Some of the ideas he tried were amazingly creative things that might not work on record but which, as a guitar player, I could appreciate. The guy was unbelievable. He could really play guitar. It wasn’t just that he had mastered the wah-wah pedal, feedback and the other effects. He was a really great guitar player who took something that no one ever did before. He just jumped into the space age all of a sudden instead of just playing rock & roll. He was the most creative there ever was. You can hear it in every note he played.”
Track Recorders: A Postscript
On Tuesday, May 25, 1971, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for Track Recorders Incorporated – as this link shows – by Track Recorders, Inc. The trademark registration for Track, sadly, expired on June 7, 1993.
cissel-lee building in its current incarnation (sans spanish colonial): Urban Butcher
I was recently reminded that Stevie Nicks wrote a song in 1976 that was intended for Fleetwood Mac‘s multi-platinum (i.e., 40+ million) Rumours album but, in the end, used only as a B-side. This song, interestingly enough, is named for the place where my children were born and educated — Silver Spring, Maryland — a small “city” that, unfortunately, is unincorporated and thus impossible to define.
It is unclear, for instance, whether Silver Spring includes the nearby communities of Lyttonsville, Forest Glen, Wheaton, Kemp Mill and White Oak — all unincorporated areas, like much of Montgomery County itself.
Hilariously, Nicks misremembered the name in the plural – “Silver Springs” – not singular, a not uncommon occurrence and easy way to spot folks who are from “out of town.”
However, the decision to exclude “Silver Springs” from the album’s final running order was no laughing matter and would serve – I now know – as a source of tension that would help drive a wedge between Nicks and the rest of the band. Ironically, notes Joe Benton in his “September 6th” Stevie Nicks interview, “Silver Springs” would be the comeback single twenty years later for Fleetwood Mac’s live reunion album, The Dance:
“Besides ‘Sara,’ there’s another song that’s very special to Stevie Nicks. It’s called ‘Silver Springs,’ and it was supposed to appear on the Rumours album, but without her knowledge, at the last minute it was pulled and relegated to a B-side, only to emerge twenty years later as the song that launched the band’s reunion.”
“I wrote Silver Springs uh, about Lindsey [Buckingham]. And I ~ we were in Maryland somewhere driving under a freeway sign that said Silver Spring, Maryland. And I loved the name. …Silver Springs sounded like a pretty fabulous place to me. And uh, ‘You could be my silver springs…’ that’s just a whole symbolic thing of what you could have been to me.”
~Stevie Nicks, Classic Albums: Rumours, video 1998
“I wrote it for Rumours, and fourteen years ago I walked into the studio and the record was basically done. It was at the Record Plant, and Mick said, ‘Stevie, I need you to come outside to the parking lot cause I need to talk to you for a minute.’ And I knew it was really serious ’cause Mick never asks you to go out to the parking lot for anything.
So we walked to the huge Record Plant parking lot and he said, ‘I’m taking “Silver Springs” off the record.’ And, of course, my first reaction was, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘There’s a lot of reasons, but because basically it’s just too long. And we think that there’s another of your songs that’s better, so that’s what we want to do.’ Before I started to get upset about ‘Silver Springs,’ I said, ‘What other song?’ And he said, ‘A song called ‘I Don’t Want To Know.’ And I said, ‘But I don’t want that song on this record.’ And he said, ‘Well, then don’t sing it.’
And then I started to scream bloody murder and probably said every horribly mean thing that you could possibly say to another human being, and walked back in the studio completely flipped out. I said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna sing ‘I Don’t Want To Know.’ I am one-fifth of this band.’ And they said. ‘Well, if you don’t like it, you can either (a) take a hike or (b) you better go out there and sing ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ or you’re only gonna have two songs on the record.’ And so, basically, with a gun to my head, I went out and sang ‘I Don’t Want To Know.’ And they put ‘Silver Springs’ on the back of ‘Go Your Own Way.'”
~Stevie Nicks, BBC radio interview, 1991
“Silver Springs” (MD) Fleetwood Mac 1976
Mick Fleetwood, on the other hand, would provide a different take on the matter when interviewed by Hit Parader for their May, 1977 special “Interviews” issue: