“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 StudiosGil 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 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 [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.

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 [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.”

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

Bonus reading!  Richard Harrington‘s cover story of Gil Scott-Heron for the June 1975 edition of Unicorn Times.

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

Thanks to the Silver Spring Historical Society’s own copy 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 Da[m]ian, proprietors] once stood at 8037 13th Street in Silver Spring, Maryland, just over the Maryland-DC line.  Additionally, Ryan Little’s Washington City Paper article from the May 17, 2012 edition, “Soul Survivor:  The Lost Recordings and Magic Touch of Robert Hosea Williams,” links the name “DB Sound” to a 1974 Sarasota Tribune Herald piece that describes Williams as “the magician, a journeyman engineer who has had long experience and is part-owner of DB Studios in Silver Spring, right across the district line.”

[* 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 Production revisits 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: 
These 45s & LPs (in chronological order)

Note:  click on all song and album titles (above/below) for streaming audio

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

Michael Lloyd   “I’ll Go On” b/w “Search for Youth”   1973

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

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

The 2nd Amendment Band  “Backtalk (Pt. 1)” b/w “Backtalk (Pt. 2)”    1973

Note:  45 reissued in the UK in 2006 on Funk45, imprint of Jazzman Records.

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]

Eddie Drennon & B.B.S. Unlimited   Collage   1975   [LP]

Note:  Album titled/packaged differently for the Phillipines market –

Note:  Album also titled/packaged differently for the UK & German markets –

Worth noting the number of countries to which this album was distributed.

Dyson’s Faces   Dyson’s Faces   1975   [LP – listen to entire album here]

The True Tones   Let’s Get It Together   1975   [LP – “Let Them Talk“]

J.I. Henderson (Soul Country Man)   Give a Helping Hand   1975   [LP – title track]

Promise   “I’m Not Ready for Love” b/w “I Wonder”     1975

According to the YouTube contributor who uploaded this song —

“[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.”

*Source:  NPR profile of Robert Jose Williams from April 25, 2012

Promise   “Love on the Line” b/w “Open Up the Door”     1975

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”   1975/76

Note:  Single would get UK distribution in 1977 on the Grapevine label

Black Horizon   “Black Horizon (Pt. 1)” b/w “Black Horizon (Pt. 2)”     1976

Note:  The “Black Horizon” 45 can earn three figures at auction

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:  Also recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound — album issued on Casablanca, and released in Canada, UK & France.

E.L. James   The Face of Love   1977   [LP – listen to title track]

Note:  Album also recorded at Track Recorders and Future View Recording

Tim Eyermann   Unity   1977   [LP – sample track “A Time Past“]

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

Hilton Felton   Family and Friends   197?   [LP – reissued 2012 in Japan]

Sample tracks:  “Spreading Fever” and “Never Can Say Goodbye

Hilton Felton   Listen Lord!!   197?   [LP]

Hilton Felton   A Man For All Reasons   1980   [issued 2011 & 2012 in Japan]

Sampler alert30-second drum break loop from “Be Bop Boogie

Charanga 76   Manhattan Groove   1983   [LP – also released 1985 in Venezuela]

Also, these 45 releases on the db label from years unknown:

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

“At DB 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.”

{Note:  This article was updated extensively on March 21, 2019}

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

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