“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.”

One thought on ““H2O Gate Blues”: Silver Spring

  1. Great detective work Chris, even I didn’t (in retrospect) know of that actual “physical” location, though I WAS vaguely aware of DB, but more as a “rental” supplier of AV gear.

    Your next “mission impossible” is to come up with the name of the “final” (non-addressed) Silver Spring recording studio (in the 1970s) and the owner/engineers — hint, it was an 8 track studio, and they also acted as a “sub-distributor” of “bulk” Sotch Recording Tape…. final Hint – they were located just off Colesville Road, near what was once known as the “Fire Fountain” Hotel… and contemporaneously, a mere two blocks from AFI…. go for it, unless you’ve already covered it, it which case “My Bad”! 🙂
    Best, Gene R.
    PS- I often bought multiple case lots of Scotch (Tapes that is) from them in the mid 70s! – GR

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *