“H2O Gate Blues”: Silver Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also Recorded at D&B SoundThese 45s & LPs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Eyermann   Unity   1977   [LP]

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

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

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

Ace Visits King Records Archives

“There is an argument that it was all downhill for recording when music stopped being cut straight to disc.”

Ace Records UK has a catalog of reissues that is both all over the map and right out of this world.  I am hardly the first person to be knocked out by the amount of attention and care Ace lavishes on its subjects, one of them being the King Records musical legacy.  Ace’s website, unsurprisingly, documents the company’s journey in meticulous chronological fashion.  1993, for instance, would find Ace gaining the confidence and trust of IMG/Gusto, owner of the King master recordings:

Originally stationed in Cincinnati, Syd Nathan’s immense King Records was, by the 90s, located at Gusto Records in Nashville.  We had licensed the Scepter/Wand and Musicor labels owned by the same company for some time.  We finally got to access the well-organised King vaults and what a wonder they were.  Pretty soon, the Delmore Bros where rubbing shoulders with Freddie King, Wynonie Harris shouted the blues at Moon Mullican:  great sounding records from well-preserved tapes.  Some years later, we shipped the original 16” acetates that contained the first recordings to our studio.  We have been transferring them to digital ever since, releasing many previously unheard performances in pristine sound.  There is an argument that it was all downhill for recording when music stopped being cut straight to disc.

Twelve years hence, Ace’s work with the original King acetates would reach fever pitch:

In the wake of some intense tape research and unearthing original 16” acetates in Nashville, the King label was our big thing of the year.  Before recording on tape, music was cut directly to large discs which were then copied, processed and used to make commercial 78s.  These acetates are a remarkable archive.  In those 16” grooves are many previously unheard recordings.  Also, those that were released were often drenched in reverb.  Our first two releases from this source were a pair of contrasting sets, one with six new performances from the Delmore Brothers, and one with seven previously unissued sides by Roy Brown.

Ace UK’s Tony Rounce would serve as fly-on-the-wall reporter to document the effort – this information reprinted with the understanding that Zero to 180 readers will seek out and purchase these quality King reissues from an honest-to-goodness music store:

Ace Visits the King Records HQ in Nashville by Tony Rounce

As all R&B fans will know, Ace has long reaped the benefits of its ongoing access to the King Records catalogue, thanks in no small way to the cordial relationship we enjoy with the catalogue’s owner, Mr. Moe Lytle, his international representative Stephen Hawkins and the excellent, hard working team at King’s Nashville HQ.  Ace’s A&R team makes no secret of the fact that each of us loves multiple aspects of the King catalogue, and thus it’s never anything but sheer pleasure to be involved with the reissue of the company’s superlative recordings.

Through the kind auspices of Mr. Lytle, Ace’s A&R team has, or the past couple of years, been privileged to receive the ‘run of the vault’, during what has now become annual two-week trips to Nashville.  Under the supervision of Ace’s MD Roger Armstrong a team of the company’s senior A&R guys has been permitted to access the entire King tape inventory, and to copy as much repertoire to DAT as can be copied in the time we have available to us.  Happily for us, the friendly folk at King are more than amenable to putting in a few extra hours here and there to enable us to start early, and leave late, each day in our attempts to bring you as many quality reissues as we can assemble from two weeks worth of heads-down, no-nonsense copying.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone concerned, on both sides of the pond.

King’s formidable and extremely well-organised tape vault is complemented by a well-preserved collection of mint ‘library copy’ 45s and 78s, which between them contain a copy of virtually every record ever released on King, or one of its subsidiaries.  If this information is not itself enough to make most long-time R&B and soul collectors go weak at the knees, the knowledge that many of those vinyl and shellac masterpieces are blank label test pressings, with the label copy written in King founder Syd Nathan‘s own meticulous hand, will surely have most collectors reaching for the nearest comfy chair, while simultaneously clutching a bottle of maximum-strength smelling salts.

But that, as they say, is definitely not all, folks.  Until very recently, the King vaults also contained most of that company’s original acetates, cut between 1944 and 1951 (Syd, like many other indie operatives, did not initially trust the longevity of tape, and he insisted on cutting acetate ‘safeties’ until such times as the durability of oxide could be fully confirmed), and it also included a copious quantity of acetates from those labels King acquired along the way, such as De Luxe.  Most of the acetates had been in storage since Mr. Lytle’s Gusto Records purchased King in the mid 1970s, and most of them were in the same immaculate condition that they had been when they were first cut, over 50 years ago.

«          «          Zero to 180’s samples of King acetates          »          »

1953 tune penned by henry Glover + 1966’s “Stop Talking to Your Child, Mother-in-Law

Acetate of James Brown’s 3-part single from 1971

Those who are worrying about the use of the past tense here will be glad to know that it’s being used for a very good reason.  The acetates were in the King vaults, until very recently.  However, and as this piece is being written, those same acetates are now on their way from Nashville to Ace Towers, where each and every note of music they contain will be copied, downstairs at Sound Mastering Ltd over the course of the next year, to produce an unprecedented series of Ace CDs which will aim to present this historic and hugely important catalogue’s early masters as they have never been heard before (and, in many case, as they have never been heard, period!)

Ace had been discussing the possibility of undertaking such a task with Mr. Lytle and his team for some considerable time, so it goes without saying that we were all beside ourselves with happiness when permission was given for us to undertake the formidable task of decanting several hundred crumbling 25-count boxes of acetates into bigger and sturdier ones, for safe shipment from there to here.  My Ace colleague Alec Palao and I had the arduous, but ultimately very rewarding, task of packing over 60 boxes, each containing at least 60-80 acetates.  This might sound like a chore to some but, as we opened each box and steadily annotated the packing list, we were as excited as a couple of alcoholics with a month-long lock-in at their favourite neighbourhood bar.  It took us the best part of a week to work our way through the lot, but we couldn’t have been happier with the end result.

An incredible number of acetates have survived the passage of time and, in most cases, in a condition that could only be described as “Mint Minus”.  Unfortunately, a few of the earliest acetates were glass-based, and several of them had broken somewhere along the line, including, sad to say, some unique items that will now never be heard in anything other than ‘from 78’ quality.  However, the vast majority of the acetates were and are metal-based – so no fear of breakages there, although a few had corroded beyond salvation.  On the whole, though, the condition of these unique sound sources was, and is, superb, and the quality of the CDs that Ace will be able to produce from them ought to be nothing less than phenomenal.

As the chief ‘acetate-sorter-outer’, it fell to me to decide which slates to ship where there were multiple copies of the same one, thus I got to see every acetate as it moved from box to box.  I need not explain to any collectors how much of a thrill this was, as the original acetates for Wynonie Harris‘ “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, Cowboy Copas‘ “Filipino Baby” and just about all of Hank Penny‘s first session for King flashed before my eyes, en route from a small carton to a packing box.  Even more thrilling was the discovery that, contrary to long-held beliefs in the blues community, early De Luxe acetates that were believed to have been lost in a warehouse fire in 1948 mostly had not been.  At least one take of most of the multitude of unissued and unheard Roy Brown sides were present and correct, as were other potential delights from legendary New Orleans names like Smiley Lewis, Eddie Gorman, Annie Laurie, Paul Gayten, Chubby Newsome & Dave Bartholomew.  If this is not exciting news, then I’ll eat both my hat AND yours.

From a personal point of view, coming upon the original acetates for King 501 (Bob McCarthy a.k.a. Merle Travis‘ “When Mussolini Laid His Pistol Down” [1943 – audio unavailable on YouTube] was a thrill and a half, as was locating the acetate containing several takes of the Travis/Hank Penny western swing classic “Merle’s Buck Dance”.  Who among us could not have been delighted to find out that the unissued Roy Brown‘s were alive and well, or that the likes of Homer and Jethro, John Lee Hooker, and the early Delmore Brothers/Wayne Raney sides would soon be heard a quality comparable to that in which they were originally recorded.  Certainly not anyone who works at Ace, that’s for sure.

The acetate reissue programme will not happen overnight, of course.  Much prioritising has to be done, followed by much transferring.  But we at Ace hope that we will have the first releases in the special ‘acetate’ series on the market by late spring of 2005.  Once the first titles are out we will be issuing further packages throughout 2005 and 2006 and, well, effectively until we run out of acetates to reissue, really.  In general, the release of these packages should forever do away with anyone’s need to buy any more unauthorised Out Of Copyright issues of King material from this era, which can only be a very good thing, really.

Of course, we will not be neglecting our programme of “from tape” King reissues, either.  While we were ‘on site’ in Nashville we also transferred enough sides, from original mastertapes, to extend our King programme well into 2006, even without the ‘acetate series’.  The first fruits of this side of our labours will be available in January, with the first-ever legal reissue of The Lamplighters‘ great Federal catalogue in superlative sound, followed by a ‘5Royales package that obviously includes the hits but that focuses its attentions mostly on those King sides which have been reissued less often or not at all.  As 2006 unfolds there will be a second volume of King Rock ‘n’ Roll, two more volumes (at least!) of King Doo Wop [four volumes in all], the complete recordings of Dominoes/Drifters-affiliated group The Checkers, a package of the early recordings of The Royals/Midnighters, a second volume of Little Willie John [sets one and two] and much more besides.  As Roger A. made the majority of the tape transfers for these packages, the guarantee that these will sound better than any other reissue of this material comes straight from the top!

Here at Ace, King will always be King, and we’re firmly committed to continuing to send it victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over all vintage R&B and Hillbilly aficionados.  Long live the King!

King-Related Titles Available from Ace UK

Click on link - free shipping in UK when ordered from Ace

Various Artists:  Hillbilly Bop ‘n’ Boogie

Various Artists:  Beef Ball Baby!  The New Orleans R&B Sessions

Various Artists:  King Rockabilly

Various Artists:  Rockabilly Kings [Charlie Feathers & Mac Curtis]

Various Artists:  King Doo Wop (Vol. One, Two, Three & Four)

Various Artists:  King Rock ‘n’ Roll (Vol. One & Two)

Various Artists:  Honky Tonk!  The King & Federal R&B Instrumentals

Various Artists:  Chicago Blues From Federal Records

Various Artists:  Welcome to the Club [Chicago blues on Federal]

Various Artists:  New Breed Rhythm & Blues

Various Artists:  King Northern Soul (Vol. OneTwo & Three)

Various Artists:  King Serious Soul (Vol. One & Two)

Various Artists:  Soul Ballads from King, Federal & Deluxe

Various Artists:   King Funk

Various Artists:  Royal Grooves – Funk & Groovy Soul

Various Artists:  The Best of King Gospel

Roy Brown:  King & Deluxe Acetate Series [+ 1 other title]

The CheckersComplete King Recordings

Delmore BrothersFreight Train Boogie & Fifty Miles to Travel – Acetates

Bill DoggettHonky Tonk Popcorn

Brother Claude ElySatan Get Back!

The5RoyalesCatch That Teardrop + King Hits & Rarities

Herb HardestyDomino Effect – The Wing & Federal Recordings

Wynonie HarrisKing & Deluxe Acetate Series [+ 2 other titles]

Ivory Joe Hunter:  Woo Wee!  King & Deluxe Acetate Series

Little Willie JohnEarly King Sessions & Later King Sessions

Grandpa Jones (& Merle Travis):  King & Deluxe Acetate Series

Freddy KingBlues Guitar Hero:  Volumes One & Two

The LamplightersComplete Federal Recordings

Little Willie LittlefieldGoing Back to Kay Cee

Trini LopezSinner Not a Saint

Stick McGheeAnd His Spo-Dee-O-Dee Buddies

Moon MullicanMoonshine Jamboree & Seven Nights to Rock

The PlattersComplete Federal Recordings

The Royals/MidnightersThe Federal Singles

Smokey SmothersBack Porch Blues

The Stanley BrothersRalph & Carter – The Later King Years

Otis Williams & the CharmsThe King/Deluxe Recordings

The York Brothers:  Long Time Gone:  King & Deluxe Acetate Series

«          «          Additional King Reissues of Note          »          »

Various Artists:  Soppin’ Up the Gravy 1945-1954

Various Artists:  Another Taste of King 1946-1954

Various Artists:  Shuffle TownWestern Swing on King 1946-1950

Various Artists:  King Strings:  King-Federal-Deluxe Guitar Grooves

Various Artists:  Mark LaMarr’s Rocking Up a Storm

Various Artists:  Mark LaMarr Presents Mule Milk ‘n’ Firewater

Various Artists:  Jiving Jamboree:  Vol. 3 [King/Federal dance tracks]

Various Artists:  I’ll Go Crazy:  The Federal Records Story

Various Artists:  After Hours – The King Records Story 1956-1959

Various Artists:  Only Young Once – King Records Story 1962

Various Artists:  Crash of Thunder:  Boss Soul, Funk and R&B Sides

Various Artists:  King R&B Box Set

The fine folks at Rhino would issue their King Master Series in the 1990s, with volumes devoted to Roy BrownLittle Willie John; Hank Ballard & the MidnightersBilly Ward & His DominoesThe ‘5’ RoyalesWynonie Harris & Freddy King.

Also, Westside would issue CD anthologies for such King artists as Zeb Turner, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Tiny Bradshaw, Bonnie LouThe Stanley Brothers, plus a special collection entitled Groove Station – King/Federal/Deluxe Saxblasters.

Calvin Shields – Musical Pioneer

Hard to believe it was only 20 years or so ago I was having cheese coneys with The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s preeminent music writer Larry Nager and asking what it would take for the city to finally “own up” to its King Records history.  Last week, to my utter delight and amazement, the City of Cincinnati, under Mayor John Cranley’s leadership and with the support of City Council, leveraged the power of the state on behalf of music history — so now Zero to 180 will have to find something else to complain about.

Thanks to a $1 land swap deal, there will be no wrecking ball for the original structure used by Syd Nathan and his talented team to birth a musical enterprise that enabled King the ability to ship out in the morning a piece of music that had been recorded the evening before.  As Brian Powers point out in his King Records Scrapbook, no other label – including almighty Columbia – had the nimbleness to operate in this capacity.

Photo courtesy of Brian Powers

Unique among fellow King chroniclers and researchers, Powers organizes his King Records Scrapbook categorically — The Executives; A&R Men; Sound Engineers; Session Musicians; Recording Artists — rather than chronologically, while throwing in  fun tidbits, such as a King Records Timeline of historical highlights plus street addresses of selected King artists and executives, including Syd Nathan (who once lived in Bond Hill an easy walk from the home of drummer, Reg Grizzard, and about a mile and a half from my boyhood home in Roselawn, as the crow flies).

Rob Finnis, in his extensive liner notes for Ace UK anthology King Rockabilly, reveals some of the audio engineering aspects behind King’s legendary sound (e.g., “Fever” by Little Willie John):

The live, upfront studio sound attained by engineer Eddie Smith had the bass and drums leaping out of the speakers with maximum impact.  [Charlie] Feathers wasn’t the only beneficiary [“Bottle to the Baby“].  This sharp, larger-than-life ambience characterizes several other titles on this compact disc including “Move” [Boyd Bennett], “Peg Pants” [Bill Beach], “No Good Robin Hood” [Delbert Barker], and “Rock n’ Roll Nursery Rhyme” [Dave Dudley].  “That old King studio had a terrific sound,” explained Henry Glover.  “It had a very high ceiling, maybe 24 feet, and the control room protruded into the studio in a V-shape like the bridge of a ship so the engineer could see in front and to the side of him.  I sent for an engineer by the name of Eddie Smith who was a very good technical man.  He stayed with King for about 12 years and later worked over at Bell Sound in New York.

Everything was done at one time, there was no multi-tracking; you would continue making cuts until you got every instrument, every voice, on the 1/4 inch tape and that was considered your final mix.  In those days, we were even thinking of frequencies and emphasis on various instruments.  Out of the regular upright bass, we got a sound just like today’s electric Fender bass by close-miking it with a microphone called the 44BX and surrounding it with live-surfaced acoustic isolation panels.  The drum sound in those days was generally gotten by releasing the drum snares completely and you’d put a heavy object like the drummer’s wallet – or Syd Nathan’s wallet – on the snare and the really hard-driving backbeat stroke was actually a rimshot.

Glover would be even more emphatic in his praise for King as a facility with great sound in this passage from Arnold Shaw‘s classic roots rock historical critique, Honkers and Shouters (which includes a chapter devoted to King Records entitled “Record Company in an Icehouse”):

Shortly after he joined King Records, Glover moved to Cincinnati “because Syd Nathan had built one of the finest recording studios in the country and staffed it with Eddie Smith, a former musician who was a brilliant engineer.”

Calvin Shields behind the kit [photo courtesy Brian Powers]

Last year, on the eve of the city’s Historic Commission vote to consider the request for demolition, The Cincinnati Enquirer would subtitle Sharon Coolidge’s feature story on King in the Sunday edition, “Fight to Preserve the Legacy of King Records and Founder Syd Nathan at Crossroads” and include quotes from Patti Collins (Bootsy Collins Foundation), Elliott Ruther (Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation), Jon Hartley Fox (author of ‘King of the Queen City’), L.A. Reid (who actually grew up in Evanston), Otis Williams, Mayor John Cranley, former mayor Dwight Tillery, and Anzora Adkins of the Evanston Community Council.

Can you spot the gaffe?

Elliott Ruther, in the Enquirer piece, notes the progressive hiring practices employed by Nathan – in his attempt to extend his song publishing fortunes across the color line – that put King in the forefront of American race relations.  Powers point out that CalvinEagle EyeShields, in his studio work from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, may have been “the first black drummer to record country music.”

CALVIN ‘EAGLE EYE’ SHIELDS – 1950
[PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN POWERS]

Quotes from Henry Glover & Calvin ‘Eagle Eye’ Shields
[special thanks to Brian Powers*]

“I started using drums for the first time for country music with Moon Mullican.  He fell in love with a black drummer that I had been using on several dates around Cincinnati called Calvin Shields.  He was better known as ‘Eagle Eye.’  He was very, very friendly and dear to Moon Mullican.  He played on many of his sessions, and many of the other country & western records when they began to use drums, which they didn’t do when I first came to King.  [With] Moon Mullican, I would use a heavy backbeat that this drummer called Eagle Eye, that came there with Tiny Bradshaw a few years back and made Cincinnati his home, he was ideal for that, the backbeat.” – Henry Glover

“Moon had such a great soul.  He was just like a black man to me, you know, like he thought, felt, and expressed himself and everything else.  Like we would say he had a whole lot of soul, Moon did.” – Henry Glover

“Drums were a must for Moon.  Moon wanted drums.  And he fell madly in love with this drummer called Calvin Shields that we called Eagle Eye.” – Henry Glover

“Moon Mullican was the first to use a black band at King.  In just about every case, we had a black bass or maybe a black drummer with Moon in order to get the rhythm because Moon played like a black man and he even thought like a black man – in fact, I sometimes had my ideas about whether he was black or not!  He was the very first white man, I believe, that caught my eye as being not filled with bigotry or hatred … he found himself as comfortable among blacks as he did among whites.  And it’s a very funny thing – both races in those days were displaying standoff-ish attitudes — not Moon.  Moon would make most of the black clubs in the worst parts of town and all of his friends during the course of his stay would be black people.  He’d play in black clubs and they would give him a standing ovation.  It was very rare.” – Henry Glover

“Glover introduced us. I walked in and all those white cats sitting around wondering,  ‘Hey, he’s got a black man playing his music.’  So I don’t say nothing to them and they don’t say nothing to me.  So we played and that’s when I fell in love with him because it swung.  So Moon says ‘This is my drummer,’ so when he went to buy some whiskey for the group, he bought a bottle for them and a bottle of whisky for me and him.  He said, ‘Man, I want you to take me over to the Cotton Club,’ and I took him.  Tiny Bradshaw invited him up and he played nothing but Duke Ellington music.“ – Eagle Eye Shields

“When a cat becomes a studio musician, he’s a musician who plays anything they bring in front of him to play.  When I played with Moon Mullican, I enjoyed it.  When I played that Country music, I learned to swing with that Country-Western cause I got into their mood and into their groove.  When I got ready to play Rhythm & Blues, I got into their groove.  When I play dance music, legit music, I get in to a legit feel cause I am a musician.  I didn’t become a superstar.  My thing was to be good, in order to be in demand, to be sought after.” Eagle Eye Shields

[Moon had a number of hits in 1950 produced by Henry Glover including “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” “Mona Lisa” & “Goodnight Irene”; Mullican accepted the invitation to join in the Grand Ole Opry that year.]  “Then Moon said, ‘I want to take you on the Grand Ole Opry with me, man.’  I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go on that.’  He asked me if I would travel with him.  I told him if I’ll be out there in them towns, them junctions, you might not be around and they’ll done grab me and lynch me.’  But now I wish I had because, if I had got out with Moon, I might have made a name for myself.  I might have ended up with the big one – Willie Nelson.” – Eagle Eye Shields

Moon Mullican & Henry Glover

Shields, who took not only his father’s name but nickname as well, came to King through his membership in Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra.  Eagle Eye would conduct his session work for King in between performances with Bradshaw in town at Cincinnati’s Cotton Club and on the road in New York City.  Shields would subsequently serve as drummer for the Billy Williams Quartet (1957-1961), Della Reese (1967-1973) and music director/drummer for Redd Foxx (1978-1984).

Calvin Shields with Paul Bryant (organ) & Norris Patterson (sax) – 1962 in NV

Photo courtesy of UNLV Libraries Digital Collections

The index in King Labels:  A Discography, edited by Michel Ruppli (with assistance from Bill Daniels) helpfully identifies sessions where Calvin Shields served as the drummer, thus allowing Zero to 180 to compile a special list of suggested recordings — all of them captured on tape in Cincinnati (except Willis Jackson – NYC):

           Parlophone = Home of The Beatles                            French 10-inch LP

  King EP – US                                                          French EP

Abstract expressionist cover art for 1952 French LP

Furthermore, Eagle Eye is believed – as best as Brian Powers can determine – to have played on Moon Mullican‘s version of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Well Oh Well” [recorded July 3, 1950] and the classic “Cherokee Boogie (Eh-Oh-Aleena)” [December 8, 1950], written by Moon with Chief William Redbird, plus Hawkshaw Hawkins‘ version of Tennessee Ernie’s “Shotgun Boogie” [January, 1951] and Al Dexter‘s “Hi De Ho Boogie on a Saturday Night” [May 19, 1950] — all recorded at King’s Cincinnati studio.  Documentation from King’s early years, unfortunately, is often scant.

Shields would also keep time on an enchanting Latin-flavored instrumentalé tropicalé whose musical hook is a gloriously deep bass blast of the horn (B-flat):

“Ocean Liner (Bossa Nova)”     Bill Doggett     1959/1963

Ocean Liner” – penned by Henry Glover and Bill Doggett – would originally be released in 1959 but then “rebranded” in 1963 as “Ocean Liner Bossa Nova,” just in time to exploit the runaway success of Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba LP (only jazz album ever to top Billboard’s pop chart) of 1962

   *                                                 *                                                 *

Calvin ShieldsInspiration for Mack Rice’sMustang Sally“?

According to Douglas Green Associates:

Mack Rice wrote “Mustang Sally” following a visit to his friend, singer Della Reese in New York City.  Reese had off-handedly mentioned that she planned to buy her drummer a Lincoln for his birthday.  Calvin Shields, the drummer, appreciated the thought but reportedly replied, “I don’t want a Lincoln, I want a Mustang.”  Shields’ response confused Rice.  He could not understand why anyone would want the small Mustang instead of the bigger and more powerful Lincoln.  After returning to Detroit, Rice began work on a song titled “Mustang Mama.”  A serendipitous visit to Aretha Franklin’s house led to the name change to “Mustang Sally.”  Franklin believed that “Mustang Sally” fit better with the music. And so the song was born.

Obituary from the Las Vegas Review-Journal + personal remembrances

*Henry Glover quotes are from an 1980s interview with the Country Music Hall of Fame *Calvin Shields quotes are from an interview conducted by Brian Powers in 2009.

**Willis “Gatortail” Jackson played a pivotal role in Jamaican music history when spies working for Duke Reid identified the source of Coxsone Dodd’s theme song (i.e., “Coxsone’s Hop”) that cemented Downbeat‘s status as the superior sound system in Kingston:  “Later for the Gatorby Willis Jackson [1958 – sounds not a little unlike ska].  In those pre-Internet days, operators of competing mobile sound systems would use American 45s with the labels scratched off as proprietary source material.  Duke Reid’s discovery of Coxsone’s source material would prompt Dodd into creating an original Jamaican sound in 1962 – ska – in time for the birth of JA’s independence.  Much more direct evidence of the Cincinnati-Kingston connection can be found here and here

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