Jeff Krulik was the first to inform me that back in the mid-to-late 1980s, one could exit Silver Spring’s Track Recorders and walk about a mile or so up Georgia Avenue to reach another commercial sound facility: Central Recording Studio.
Silver Spring historian, Robert Oshel, wrote about this very parcel in Home Sites of Distinction: The History of Woodside Park (published in 1998):
Another problem area was the acre lot at Georgia Avenue and Grace Church Road, opposite [Grace Episcopal] church. This lot had been sold by the Noyes heirs directly to Mrs. Archibald Small shortly before their sale of the rest of Alton Farm to the Woodside Development Corporation. Mrs. Small built a house on the lot. By 1974 the house was vacant and in disrepair.
A Dr. Barkin proposed to purchase the property, demolish the house, and replace it with a 6,000 square foot medical clinic with parking for 30 cars. Eleven people would have worked in the clinic. This proposal caused considerable controversy within the neighborhood. Some saw it as a means of eliminating problems resulting from a vacant house; others feared the precedent of construction of a clinic building on Georgia Avenue. The Association voted to oppose the project in January 1975.
In 1976 the property was sold and repaired for use as a residence. This did not end controversy concerning the property. The new owners, the Morales family, ignored zoning requirements and used the basement of the property as the “Central Recording Studio,” a commercial sound recording studio.
Would you believe a 24-track recording facility once resided here?
When one pulls up the entry for Central Recording Studio in Discogs and then clicks on the “Year” tab to place these items in chronological order, the earliest recording in this set belongs to a quartet of artists that include Delbert Barker, the one-time recording artist for King Records, interestingly enough, while the next item listed, Milta Freeman‘s Best of the Old Songs, is likewise from 1980 and bears a Delbert Barker connection. Both items, I am quite certain, were recorded at a different sound studio bearing the name, Central Recording Studio. Thus, it is the third release listed — Kenny Allen‘s 1982 twelve-inch single “All I Want Is You” b/w “Make Love All Over” — that is one of the earliest known recordings made at the Silver Spring studio.
No Trend at Central Recording Studio
Thanks to Dean Evangelista, a participant at the recording sessions for No Trend‘s startlingly off-kilter “avant-punk” album Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex, I have a much deeper appreciation for the sequence of events that impelled Kevin Morales to install an impressive sound studio in the basement of a Silver Spring residence in the leafy neighborhood just north of the downtown commercial district.
Evangelista tells me in 1980 his friend, Daniel Jones, a concrete finisher, introduced Dean to Dan Few, a painter/contractor who also enjoyed audio engineering. Evangelista also befriended Daniel’s younger brother, Greg Jones, a keyboardist, as well as drummer Kevin Morales, who initially responded to Greg’s classified ad looking to form a “progressive” band. Few invited the musicians over to his home studio, and soon a friendship developed between Dan and Kevin.
Morales recorded several demos for Baltech, formerly Balloons for the Dog, while he was a drummer for the band. Few mentored Morales in the use of a soldering gun and helped Kevin upgrade his own home studio – named “Skebbie” – while it was in Few’s basement, according to Evangelista, who once served as a roadie for The Muffins.
Flyer for DC show
April 21, 1985
(Source: Teen Teen Beat)
Evangelista joined up with Jeff Mentges‘ “noise rock/hardcore punk” outfit, No Trend, by the time of the group’s second full-length release, 1985’s A Dozen Dead Roses (on which Lydia Lunch contributed vocals and lyrics). Evangelista had previously served in The Indentured Servants with Brian Nelson (brother of Minor Threat’s Jeff Nelson), who also studied at Boston’s Berklee School of Music. Mentges would link up with “outsider artist” Butch Willis, also an associate of Evangelista, during this early period.
(Photo: Gregory Carlson)
Evangelista states that it was he who had recommended Central Recording Studio to Mentges for No Trend’s groundbreaking third long-playing release, Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex. By this point, Morales had already relocated his studio from Randoph Hills near Rockville to the basement of his parents’ Silver Spring home on Georgia Avenue, where Woodside Park abuts Montgomery Hills. Evangelista, who already had a high regard for Morales original home studio, was blown away upon stepping foot for the first time into the “new” Central Recording Studio — Silver Spring’s first 24-track facility. Morales, in fact, was so intent on utilizing every inch of space within the basement space that, according to Evangelista, he had the original staircase removed in lieu of pull-down stairs!
No Trend @ Central Recording Studio
(Photo: Gregory Carlson)
Sessions for the Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex album went fairly quickly — Evangelista estimates it took maybe a week and a half to lay down all the tracks. Many of the musicians adopted a nom de guerre, with Mentges (vocalist/lyricist) as Cliff ‘Babe’ Ontego, James Peachey (drummer) as Fuzz, Bob Strasser (bass) as Smokey, Brian Nelson (tenor sax) as Johnny ‘Bubba’ Ontego, and Eric Leifert (guitar) as Leif. Other musicians on this album include Evangelista (keyboards), along with “The Trend Tonal Brass Ensemble” – Nick Smiley (alto sax), Scott Raffel (baritone sax), and Paul Henzey (trumpet) – plus Chris Pestelozzie (percussion), Ragelio Maxwell (cello), and Bobby Birdsong (on steel guitar – for real). Evangelista’s keyboard of choice for these sessions was a Casio, the ubiquitous 1980s electronic musical instrument.
Photo montage by Gregory Carlson used for album’s inner sleeve
Person of interest: Kevin Morales
“Overweight Baby Boom Critter” is Zero to 180’s pick for an A-side, from its opening bass line, to the tight horn arrangements and sly ending that unexpectedly pulls up short. Evangelista doesn’t flinch when I ask if, by chance, James Brown might possibly have served as musical inspiration. Indeed, the Godfather of Soul’s classic funk sound was what they were going for, affirms Evangelista, who recalls that guitarist Leif changed his initially distorted sound to something much more “clean” at the urging of bandmates.
Central Studio’s sumptuous wood paneling threatens to steal the show —
Side two label for Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex
(Source: Gregory Carlson)
The album cover’s stark image — perhaps an ironic statement (i.e., “musical suicide”) on the band’s own confrontational aesthetic — was taken by Washington Post‘s staff photographer of 30 years, Bill O’Leary, with airbrush and graphics work supplied by Rip Bang‘s Dick Bangham. Credits from the cassette release indicate the recording sessions to have taken place August, 1986. Zero to 180’s search of the music industry trade literature turned up little beyond this one-liner from Linda Moleski‘s “Indie Grass Route” column in the August 1, 1987 edition of Billboard:
“Chicago-based Touch and Go has graced us with its latest tastefully packaged release, Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex by No Trend.”
Life is a Michelob Light commercial –
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988
Trouser Press‘s Ian McCaleb is unqualified in his praise for the album, which he declares “a thoroughly amazing chunk of plastic crammed full of surprises, including a horn section, bells, a cellist, guitarists who don’t want to be Keith Levene, and a sorely needed sense of humor,” and adds that from start to finish, “Tritonian Nash is a nearly indescribable aural romp of punk, funk and pop, with dashes of lounge music and some dreadful country twinges. Find this record and buy it.”
Discogs has an entry for the test pressing of this album, which was released by hardcore punk label, Touch and Go, who (curiously, perhaps) deemed the band’s follow-up album as too bombastic/weird for release, as noted in Strausmedia’s 2015 biographical profile, “No Trend Didn’t Just Go Against the Grain, They Shoved It In the Faces of the Pretentious Hardcore Fans.” This final album for No Trend — recorded at both Central Recording Studios (November, 1987) and Boston’s Downtown Recorders (December, 1987) — includes the “effervescent backing vocals” of Paula Cole, who matriculated at Berklee College of Music with Brian Nelson, a quirky bit of music trivia from the Strausmedia No Trend profile that may one day end up on TV’s Jeopardy (pssst: Gregory Carlson also reports that the tall glam boots inside the closet on the front cover once belonged to Butch Willis).
Big Takeover‘s Jack Rabid, who penned the liner notes for this final No Trend project that was finally released in 2001, was gracious enough to share this information with yours truly (which required at least thirty minutes of decoding an old electronic file that was in serious disarray before the CD booklet – praise Jah – was able to be located). The paradox for the band was, as Leif told Rabid, “we felt outcast within the circuit we were in,” and yet, as Mentges notes, “the [hardcore] people didn’t want us, and we weren’t arty enough for the art crowd, so no one knew what to do with us.”
No Trend’s final two albums, primarily recorded at Central, “were an evolution away from that whole punk rock/hardcore style we’d begun with” Leif told Rabid. Mentges affirms this point, telling Rabid that “it was a progression, a conscious evolution, out of boredom, not wanting to do the same thing.” Even though initially Touch and Go was receptive to an early demo for Tritonian‘s follow-up that was submitted “on a cheap Radio Shack cassette,” label owner Corey Rusk was rather put off by the final set of mixes for the album that had been recorded in both Silver Spring and Boston. As Mentges recounted to Rabid, “[Rusk] said, ‘We’re not a funk label.’ I said, ‘It’s not a funk record.’ He wasn’t sure if the audience thought we were serious or a joke. I thought our essence was to straddle that line. Corey liked the basement version better, without the 40-piece orchestra.”
Gregory Carlson‘s rear cover Tritonian artwork
Joe’s Record & Tape Paradise‘s Wheaton parking lot
[Fuzz (drums); Leif (guitar); Bubba (tenor sax); Smokey (bass) & Babe (vocals)]
“We loved the LP,” an unrepentant Leif told Rabid. “We were into every type of music. Cliff had a phenomenal, staggering record collection. We liked Chet Atkins, Kenny Burrell, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ennio Morricone, Tom Waits, dub, Butthole Surfers, Fela Kuti, Buck Owens, New Orleans R&B, Amos Milburn, T-Bone Walker, jazz, cajun, and Brooks Arthur, the godfather of muzak.” But the rejection of the band’s second full-length effort for Touch and Go made it difficult if not impossible for the band to continue. As Mentges told Rabid, “After Touch and Go, we sent the tape to every label we could think of, SST, Dischord, Caroline, Enigma… But we got no response. We thought this was our best lineup, but we were losing the drummer to Illinois grad school. We had insurance and van payments. And it was a crushing blow to not put this record out that had taken so much effort. So we just figured, ‘What’s the point?'”
After the band’s dissolution, Mentges shifted his focus to filmmaking and in 1990 completed the John Holmes biopic Of Flesh and Blood, a low-budget forerunner to 1997’s Boogie Nights and a point of connection for fellow filmmaker Krulik, who first met Mentges when the future documentarian was a program director at University of Maryland’s WMUC radio station in the early 1980s and organizer of a student “mixer” event on campus at La Plata “beach” where No Trend (who brought the PA) served as the opening band. Bandmate Steve Jacobs remembers Mentges at this show playing some of the early tape loops he had assembled at home over the PA. Buck Parr — No Trend guitarist and co-compiler of the band’s box set of earlier material, Too Many Humans / Teen Love — tells Zero to 180, “The band made a bunch of these [tape loops] and would play them under a couple of their terminally long instrumentals. You can get a taste of that from “Happiness Is,” the last song on Too Many Humans. They also made a bunch from pop radio station jingles.”
Gag photo of No Trend ingesting white powder –
as “required” per rock star rules
Rear musician is wearing the hat of photographer, Gregory Carlson
Carlson reports that at the conclusion of this photo session, another band arrived to do some recording and, upon seeing a mound of white powder, made a beeline and inhaled deeply before realizing that the substance was not, in fact, derived from the coca plant but rather sugarcane. Needless to say, much laughter ensued.
Jeff Mentges & Brian Nelson on a sugar high
(Eric Leifert’s photo courtesy of Jack Rabid)
Check out Jack Rabid‘s Big Takeover weekly radio show
Betty Green & Mother’s Band at Central Recording Studio
Unless you have a Washington, DC connection, it is quite possible you may be unaware of Betty Green & Mother’s Band. Despite a visit to Silver Spring’s premier 24-track sound studio, there are no vinyl or compact disc offerings, sadly, that the general public can lay its hands on, as Betty Green & Mother’s Band was essentially a performance ensemble whose primary mission was to “serve the people.” Washington Post‘s John Kelly, who paid tribute in 2018 to “DC’s Bass-Playing, Band-Leading, Go-Go Grandmother,” notes that Green and her musical family would bring the music to where the people lived and were especially adept at playing non-standard venues, such as senior living facilities, community centers, Lorton Correctional Complex, St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital, and the city-run DC Village. Compassion was the calling card for Green, who was “hard not to love,” says Jeff Krulik, and therefore able to attract some of DC’s top young musicians to help carry out her musical ministry, observes Kelly.
Betty Green – With Santa
(source: Jeff Krulik)
Fortunately for humanity, Krulik has assembled over twenty different video clips that feature Betty Green and her large ensemble in live performance, including their appearance on Regis & Kathie Lee, as well as a segment on USA Today’s Across the USA television program.
Betty Green working the board at Central
(all studio photos: Jeff Krulik)
Krulik was on hand to document the band’s recording sessions in December of 1986 at Central Recording Studio, with Kevin Morales serving as chief engineer.
Betty Green (on Fender Jazz bass) & Ty Campbell (of Young Senators Reloaded)
Krulik characterizes the bandmates who recorded at Central Recording Studio as professional musicians who were supportive of Betty’s vision, teammates who ended up bankrolling the recording venture.
Tam Sullivan & Greg Boyer of Mother’s Band –
with Kevin Morales
Lino Druitt, for instance, percussionist with The Soul Searchers from 1970-1975, was part of the ensemble that recorded the group’s debut Sussex album at Track Recorders in 1972, with the hard-hitting title track written by vocalist/guitarist Chuck Brown and keyboardist/trombonist John Buchanan, Jr.
Lino Druitt at Central Recording Studio
Drummer Eddie Anderson thoroughly enjoyed his recording experience at Central Studios. Anderson recently told Zero to 180 that his time with Mother or the band “were the best of times,” as “the standards of musicianship were very high and the camaraderie between us has lasted until this day.” Anderson, who is still musically active, is the bandleader behind The Eddie Anderson Project.
Eddie Anderson at Central Recording Studio
Anderson recalls that approximately five to seven songs were recorded at Central, with at least four of them being original compositions:
- “We Got To Go Ya’ll”
- “M.O.T.H.E.R. B.A.N.D.”
- “You Got My Love”
- “Party in the Mother’s House”
Betty Green & Mother’s Band at Central Recording Studio
When asked whether Mother’s Band pressed any copies of recordings for distribution to friends and fans, Anderson indicated that was something he himself had pushed for but Betty felt to be unnecessary given how well known she was on radio, TV, Jet Magazine and the like.
Mother’s Band 11th Anniversary Concert (1988)
Power Trio From Hell –
Music Industry Machinations
Kevin Morales, a highly-skilled engineer, was also a formidable drummer with an unerring sense of time, according to Evangelista, who described him, essentially, as a human metronome. Johnny Tsakanikas (a.k.a., Johnny Blaze and Johnny Rushmore), founder of Rushmore Custom Guitars, has known Morales since he was 14, the two having played music together for the past 40 years, most notably in The Power Trio From Hell, whose album American Man was released on Reprise in 1993. Tsakanikas states emphatically that Morales was “a helluva technical engineer” who would go to the extent of recording drum tracks, for instance, on a Studer two-inch 24 track tape recorder and then immediately “flying them over” to digital to prevent them from “sagging,” since the bass drum in particular is prone to sounding “soggy” on analog tape.
Rushmore Custom Guitars –
including one-piece designs
Tsakanikas tells Zero to 180 that he helped Kevin Morales build Central Recording Studio from the ground up, installing all the cables in the floors and walls, among many other tasks. According to Tsakanikas, Morales modified his Harrison console, increasing the rate at which electricity ran through the preamp in order to optimize audio fidelity and obtain noticeably bigger (in fact, maximum) “head room.” Sonically speaking, Central was the “best” in the DC area, says Tsakanikas. And the motivation for creating this state-of-the-art sound facility, curiously enough, was directly linked to a bitter experience with an internationally-renowned power trio’s manager, who absconded with the demo recordings (and copyrights) of an early batch of songs.
Tsakanikas, who remembers meeting Dan Few in his 4-track basement studio in 1978, would be crowned “Hottest Guitarist in DC” a year or two later at the Capitol Center arena in a competition sponsored by radio station “DC 101” (WWDC) in which each contestant had 101 seconds to show his/her stuff. The future Johnny Blaze received a guitar on stage that night from members of REO Speedwagon.
Meanwhile, roughly around this same period of time, three musicians — Dave Lizmi (guitar), Brian (Stuart) Fox (bass), and Kevin Morales — formed a group and then produced some recordings of original material (c. 1980-81) that aroused the interest (and ultimately ill intent) of the manager of the aforementioned (though unnamed) power trio in an act of brazen thievery that, for most of us, would have tamped out any further desire to engage with the music industry machinery. Morales, however, channeled his frustration instead into engineering a first-class sound facility, as witnessed first-hand by Tsakanikas, who later worked sessions for hire as a guitarist at Central Recording Studio.
Business card –
“Gold” credit card concept
(Source: Jeff Krulik)
Eyewitness to History:
Filling in the Gaps of the Early Years
Andy Bittner, author of Building Washington’s National Cathedral, is exactly the right person who can provide historical context for this photo of Kevin Morales that Dave Lizmi has posted on Instagram:
“From left-to-right you are looking at Greg Jones, Brian Fox, Kevin Morales, David Lizmi, and me. This is a scan of an old print in my collection. I have other prints from this roll sitting near me. The color on the print is weird, because that carpet on the wall was pink, if I recall correctly. I think this must be early in the summer of ’81. Probably right around the 4th of July. Dave and I had been playing almost nothing but Rush with Mark Smoot and Kevin in that basement since the fall of ’80. I don’t remember the “why” of it all but by the summer of ’81 Dave and I were working in two separate camps. We were playing Yes with Mark Smoot and a drummer whose last name was Rathgens (R.I.P.) out at Mark’s house in Ashton. At the same time, along came Brian Fox and Greg Jones to Kevin’s basement and we were working on everything from The Police, to Rush, to the U.K. instrumental “Presto Vivace.” The thing that sticks with me from that period is that Greg Jones couldn’t just play. He had to have everything charted and have that chart in front of him. That fall I did a semester at Montgomery College, and by the next spring, I had fallen away from everything musical. I know that Kevin, Dave and Brian called themselves Zeus shortly after I fell away, and I seem to recall them playing some kind of showcase at The Bayou as Zeus.” [see comment attached to this piece for additional info]
In the wake of the thieved demos, bassist/vocalist Brian Fox, relocated to Los Angeles for an extended period and later implored Dave Lizmi to join him out on the West Coast (c. 1985-86) as guitarist for Power Trio from Hell, along with Brian Walsh on drums. At one point the group even did some demo recordings at Central Studios, flying all the way out from the West Coast, because Morales gave them a good deal, according to Tsakanikas. By 1988, Tsakanikas – as Johnny Blaze – would make the big move to LA to take over on guitar for The Power Trio From Hell after Dave Lizmi left to form The Four Horsemen, who signed not too long after with Rick Rubin, owner of Def American and producer of their 1991 debut album, engineered by Brendan O’Brien.
Blaze, however, who was unhappy with the state of the band, returned to Maryland for the summer and refused to return until Fox promised they would “attack the record industry” and actively seek out a record deal, rather than “practice for eight hours a day” without a clear sense of mission. So with Blaze back on board working the telephone and sending out letters to prospective labels, the band’s fortunes started to turn around.
Blaze, who was living a block away from Capitol Records, managed to attract the interest of one of its A&R executives, Nigel Harrison, bassist for Blondie. Harrison was impressed with the Central Studio demo recordings (“I hear King Crimson in your music”) and told Blaze he wanted to check out the band play live at their upcoming show at The Troubadour. Once Harrison made it known, given his position at Capitol, that he loved the demo tapes recorded at Central, “that’s all it took to get every other label to send an an A&R guy out to see us play that night at The Troubadour,” says Blaze (whose extracurricular activities include playing “droning and moaning guitar parts” for Freddie Mercury‘s first solo recording “Love Kills” [on this “Wolf Euro mix“] from Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 restoration/edit of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis).
Blaze then continued to work the telephone and arranged private rehearsals with each A&R person, thereby stoking a “bidding war” among seven different labels. In the end, The Power Trio From Hell signed with Reprise — originally Frank Sinatra’s own subsidiary label, now part of WEA International — for a $700,000 two-album deal, reports Blaze. However, at some point very late in the process, to Johnny Blaze’s surprise and deep consternation, Fox fired Brian Walsh and brought in Kevin Morales (listed in the credits as “Kevin Mora“) as the new drummer.
With the consummation of the deal came the recording sessions for the band’s first album that began in 1989 at Burbank’s Alpha Studios under the direction of Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin). One of the early sessions at Alpha, according to Blaze, was primarily a test to see if they could get a good sound out of Blaze’s guitar powered by a stack of eight Marshall amplifiers. Lo and behold, this “test” recording — “Guitar From Hell” — ended up being part of the final mix for the album:
“Guitar From Hell“
The Power Trio From Hell
Even though he was only involved with the project for five months, Kramer — who got a straight fee plus points on the album, according to Blaze — would end up getting producer’s credit for American Man, even though the album required an additional two years of recording sessions in at least three other sound studios. The drums and most of the bass tracks, says Blaze, were recorded at Bearsville in Woodstock New York, while the guitar tracks were done in LA two weeks later. Billboard‘s June 20, 1992 edition reported that “Power Trio From Hell was in [Alpha’s] Studio B working on material with engineers ‘G.G.’ Garth Richardson and Richard ‘US’ McIntoch,’ while the September 5, 1992 edition noted that “Power Trio From Hell was in Paramount Recording’s Studio C completing its new album for Warner Brothers,” with Lou Hernandez engineering.
Rare DJ promo CD single
Reprise rejected the album delivered by Kramer, according to Blaze, who felt he had no choice but to go back in and produce the album himself. The label ended up liking the album delivered by Blaze, provided that someone be brought in to give the tracks a proper mix. Blaze ended up selecting Paul Lani to mix some of the material recorded by Kramer.
Review of 4-song EP
The Hard Report — 4/30/93 (p. 38)
“We’ve been waiting for this release for quite some time, as it’s been subject to quite a few delays already. But, here is the first installment of songs from the forthcoming (Eddie Kramer produced) American Man album (which is in stores May 25th). PTFH are actually really a trio (these days you can never be sure they really mean it), who hail from the Washington D.C./Maryland area of our vast country. A band (Kevin Morales-drums, Brian Stewart Fox-bass and guitarist Johnny Blaze) who thrive on wild musical delinquency. Rough with attitude and aggression, the music is a strange brew of bluesy hardcore, thrash and punk — a kind of free-for-all of styles, within a metallic structure. So what you have here, are four very different songs to wail through, and as you’ll hear they offer up a rather well-rounded portrait of this hard hitting band. First up, the tough guy thrust of “Nineteen.” Angular stark guitar lines backed up against a prodding rhythm section, creates the heavy background for the raw sometimes distorted vocals. Second, is the galloping blues trod of “Lost Souls” — kinda like Prong meets Circus Of Power. Sort of. Song three is the crunchier slice of the Power Trio — a grinder from start to finish, and therefore, the one that clings more generously to my memory cells. It’s catchy but still heavy and to me, one of the most interesting of the songs so far. “Thrash Epic” is pretty cool too though, with its chugging riffs and wild guitar bits that hail back to the very format it celebrates — very thrashy, brash and hard. Ya gotta like that. Of course, it’s slice through with some more melodic and ear catching moments… Cool song. So there you have it, your first taste. Don’t forget there’s more coming at the end of the month.“
Over time and much to everyone’s chagrin, Blaze discovered that the $700,000 from the label would be entirely consumed in studio costs, with the band charged at double rate by the record company, who then got the resulting kickback. The label, according to Blaze, “booked us in studios and kept us in there writing songs for two years till all the money was gone.” This explains why there is only one Power Trio From Hell album, not two. With the advance money gone, the band soon broke up.
After the dissolution of Power Trio From Hell, Blaze recorded a set of “blues demos” and sent them to independent promoter, Bruce Kaplan (ZZ Top), founder of Blue Mountain. Kaplan, who was excited to hear in Blaze’s playing the spirit of such players as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter, and Jimi Hendrix, indicated that he would ask his contact at MCA to underwrite a new set of demo recordings. Unfortunately, the subsequent purchase of MCA and its consolidation within Universal Music Group resulted in the termination of the very A&R person empowered to green light a recording budget.
Undeterred, Blaze continued to look for new opportunities. Open mic nights at Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern in Herndon, Virginia soon proved fortuitous, as Blaze’s guitar artistry caught the attention of Dan Pajic, a pub patron who also had a family connection (via marriage) to Michael Lang, one of the primary organizers for the original Woodstock music festival, as well as the one held in 1999. Lang managed to catch Blaze’s open mic set at Jimmy’s on Christmas, 1998 and was very impressed. So much so, in fact, that Lang ended up inviting the guitarist – who now went by Johnny Rushmore – to grace the stage at Woodstock ’99 a mere two weeks before the event.
During this same late 1990s time period roughly, Kevin Morales was working as a chief mixing engineer at BET when the cable television channel was still based in DC. Morales’s old bandmate, Johnny Blaze, meanwhile suddenly found himself being offered a spot on Woodstock ’99’s “Emerging Artist” stage by Michael Lang despite being without a band. Blaze immediately contacted Morales, who said he would only play Woodstock 1999 if the set list comprised “our tunes — yours and mine.” Rushmore agreed without hesitation.
Johnny Rushmore with Michael Lang
Thus united, Rushmore and Morales then recruited Mark Nickens to play bass for their set on the Emerging Artists stage at Woodstock ’99, which took place on Thursday, July 22, 1999, as confirmed by Wikipedia. The band’s set, which was very well received by the Woodstock crowd, was recorded by Chicago Mobile, whose engineer raved about the quality of performance to Rushmore afterwards.
Mark Francis Nickens –
Bassist for Johnny Rushmore & Kevin Morales’s Woodstock 1999 set
But alas, these high-quality recordings would suffer a sad fate, as MP3.com, who sponsored the stage where Blaze, Morales, and Nickens mightily rocked the crowd, failed to pay the event organizers. In order to retrieve the tapes from Chicago Mobile, Rushmore would have to cough up $28,000.
In retrospect, this Woodstock ’99 performance turned out to be the last big hurrah from the two longtime musical compatriots, Rushmore and Morales. The first decade of the new century found Rushmore shifting his professional focus to making custom high-end electric guitars as founder/owner of Rushmore Guitars, while Morales linked up with a hip hop-influenced modern rock outfit named Violet Says 5, whose debut album dropped in 2011. Morales can be seen romping it up with bandmates in the goofy video produced for “Who’s the Man Now.”
Violet Says 5‘s “Who’s the Man Now” video
Morales in the yellow cap
Violet Says 5’s 2011 album appears to be Kevin Morales’ most recent musical sighting — would love to know what Kevin is up to these days.
Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex‘s Spiritual Descendents
Silver Spring historian, Robert Oshel, quietly turns the last page —
The [Woodside Park Civic] Association finally was able to end this use [i.e., recording facility] in conjunction with efforts by the owners to subdivide the property and create three new lots in addition to a lot for the original house. The subdivision plan could not be approved while there was a zoning violation on the property. In 1990 approval was granted to create a lot for the original house and two new lots, one facing Georgia Avenue, with access from Grace Church Road, and one facing Grace Church Road. Large houses were built on the new lots.
In October 2020, Zero to 180 knocked on a couple of doors to see if current residents of the neighborhood might have some “intel” of particular relevance to this story. Local resident, Kevin Erickson, was indeed receptive to my query to learn more about the former recording studio located next door to his home: As it happens, Priests‘ Nothing Feels Natural — a respected album from 2017 and one that was influenced, in part, by No Trend’s Tritonian album — had been started at Don Zientara‘s vaunted Inner Ear in Arlington, VA but then overdubbed/mixed at a small home studio on Grace Church Road (Swim-Two-Birds) immediately adjacent to where Central Studio once stood! Had I not paid a visit, this bit of musical synchronicity might have gone unnoticed for history’s sake. Discogs contributor findog3103 praises the album thusly: “All of the best punk records of 2017. Political, catchy songs. Good stuff.”
2017 album that took shape in Woodside Park
Erickson informs me that Swim-Two-Birds is the name carried around from place to place by husband/creative partner Hugh McElroy, a practice that likely originated at his parents’ Bethesda home, and adds that final mixes for the Nothing Feels Natural album (above) were done at Takoma Park’s Airshow sound studio, now renamed Tonal Park.
Erickson’s own probing of the web leads him to conclude that Morales shifted Central’s studio operations to nearby Bladensburg, Maryland by 1990-91, in all likelihood. There is a Discogs entry for the Bladensburg studio, and if you discount the first three items from 1988 (in all likelihood, recorded at the Woodside Park location), then yes, it appears that Kevin Morales’s second commercial operation (now known simply as Central Studios) was up and running by 1990. Among the clients who recorded at the new Bladensburg facility are Toni Braxton, who recorded her debut album for Arista/LaFace in part there (disclaimer: Central was but one of nine studios used for these twelve tracks) and another notable, Faith Evans, who recorded her debut album in part at Central Studios — one of four studios used, including NYC’s The Hit Factory. Also worth pointing out that Citizen Cope‘s Clarence Greenwood Recordings album was recorded at a number of “heavy hitter” recording facilities: NYC’s Electric Lady, Berkeley’s Fantasy, Avatar (i.e., the former Power Station) – and Central Studios. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that DC’s premier go-go band Rare Essence recorded 1992’s Work the Walls album, in part, at the Bladensburg studio.
Central Recording Studio
<With links to streaming audio (where available) via highlighted song titles>
Kenny Allen — “All I Want Is You” b/w “Make Love All Over” 12-inch single — 1982
Engineer: Bill Plummer
Executive Producer: Greg Wells & Wayne Curry
Producer: Greg Owens & Kenny Allen
T-N-T featuring Chuck Brown — “Babies Making Babies” 12-inch single b/w [instrumental mix] — 1986
Vocals: Chuck Brown
Written & Arranged by Todd Marshall & Chuck Thompson
Engineers: Bill Mueller & Kevin Morales
Executive Producers: Bill Mueller & T-N-T
Producers: Chuck Thompson, Reo Brown & Todd Marshall
Note: Song also issued in 1986 on 12-inch as the b-side of a live version of “Family Affair” (Sly & the Family Stone) by Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers.
Tony B. & The Boys — “Check My Mic” b/w “The Start of Something New” — 1986
Written by Anthony Bethea
Music by Ebonee
Produced by The Boys
Hot, Cold Sweat — “Wiggle Your Body” b/w [instrumental mix] — 1986
Written by Charles Fenwick
Produced by Charles Fenwick & Reo Edwards
Mixed by Reo Edwards
Engineered by Kevin Morales
Hot, Cold Sweat — “Do Your Thing” b/w [instrumental mix] — 1986
Written by Charles Fenwick
Produced & mixed by Charles Fenwick & Reo Edwards
Engineered by Kevin Morales
The Crimestoppers — “Hangin’ Around” b/w “Why Baby” — 1986
Note: According to The Crimestoppers’ own website, “In December 1985, the band moved into Lenny’s basement in Silver Spring, Maryland, and opened the new year with a basement blow out to break in the new home.” The Crimestoppers have opened shows for Toots & the Maytals, Root Boy Slim & Papa John Cream, and were once joined by Nils Lofgren on stage at Bethesda’s famed Psychedelly for a 15-minute version of “Stand By Me.”
No Trend — Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex — 1987
Engineered by Kevin Mora
Mixed by Kevin Mora & No Trend
All music by No Trend
All lyrics by Cliff Ontego (except “Choco-Jet” – Lydia Lunch & Cliff Ontego)
Horn arrangements by Johnny Ontego
Note: Opening of “Cry of the Dirtballs” (on which Bobby Birdsong uses a Sho Bud Pro I steel guitar) is taken from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Starpoint — Hot to the Touch — 1988
Engineered by Bill Plummer
Produced by Bernard Edwards, Ernesto ‘Mr. Music’ Phillips & Lionel Job
Executive producer = Lional Job
Note: Album recorded at NYC’s Unique Recording & Silver Spring’s Central Recording Studio — released on Elektra and distributed in Europe. Link to streaming audio of the title track, “Hot to the Touch.”
Zero Hour — “Heat of the Nite” — 1988
Written, arranged & produced by Greg Owens
Engineered by Bill Plummer
Lead vocal by Linda Clowe
Note: Includes additional mixes: radio edit, instrumental, extended, and “bonus beat” — mastered at Atlantic Studios.
DJ Kool — “How Low Can You Go” — 1988
Produced by DJ Kool
Mixed by DJ Kool
Mixing engineer: Mike Neal
Note: Recorded at The Studio & Central Recording Studio.
Big Tony & the T.F. Crew — “Bust the Beat” — 1988
Music written & arranged by Big Tony
Lyrics by C. Martin, REO, E. Nixon & Big Tony
Produced & mixed by REO & Big Tony
Note: Engineered at Rockville’s Omega Studios & Silver Spring’s Central Studios.
Hot Cold Sweat — “Shake Your Rump” — 1988
Written by Leroy Battle & Charles Fenwick
Produced & arranged by REO Edwards & Leroy Battle
Engineered by Kevin Morales
Mixed by REO & Leroy Battle
Note: Engineered at Central Studios.
E.U. — “Taste of Your Love” — 1989
Note: E.U.’s 1989 album Livin’ Large was primarily recorded at DC-area studios, with one of the ten tracks “Taste of Your Love” recorded at Central Recording Studio — other tracks recorded and/or mixed at Rockville MD’s Omega Studios and Kensington, MD’s Black Pond Studios, including “Da Butt ’89.”
By 1990, as noted above, Kevin Morales appears to have shifted operations to the new Bladensburg sound facility that went by the simpler title, Central Studios. Thanks to the label credits on the 12-inch release, we know that “Lock It” from 1992’s Work the Walls by Rare Essence was recorded the previous year at Morales’ new studio.
Rebel Soldiers Marching Down Georgia Avenue
Grace Church & the Obelisk: A Civil War Legacy
150 years or so prior, Confederate soldiers had once traveled southbound on Georgia Avenue on foot past the future Central Recording Studio en route to the Battle of Fort Stevens in Washington, DC, a wartime event observed first-hand by the sitting president and one where Lincoln “came under direct fire from an enemy force.” One can honor the fallen Union soldiers from the Battle of Fort Stevens by visiting the Battleground National Cemetery — created and dedicated by President Lincoln — on Georgia Avenue north of Piney Branch Road (next to the Safeway). I suspect, however, I am not the first person to have left this cemetery (“one of our nation’s smallest“) without initially comprehending that this burial site only honors those soldiers who fought for the Union. So, where are the fallen Confederates from the Battle of Fort Stevens interred?
Silver Spring’s Confederate memorial
Photo: Confederate Veteran (Jun. 1901)
Robert Oshel wrote about this vivid chapter in the history of the (unincorporated) city due north of the Federal District for 2014’s Silver Spring and the Civil War:
Perhaps the unfortunate [1896 Grace Church] fire ultimately contributed to a degree of reconciliation concerning the Civil War. That might not have been evident when a committee of Confederate veterans was formed before the fire in 1895 to build a monument to their seventeen fallen comrades buried at Grace Church, but it was evident by the end of the monument’s dedication ceremony on November 14, 1896, five months after the fire.
The monument’s creation and dedication began as a Confederate Veterans Association effort. Possibly in reaction to news that a trolley line was to be built along the road [Georgia Avenue] in front of Grace Church near the line of graves, Confederate veterans’ “camps” in Washington and Rockville decided to move the graves and erect a Confederate monument to honor of the fallen soldiers. The proposed monument was said by the Evening Star to be the first Civil War monument in Montgomery County.
After the Confederate veterans raised the necessary money, the graves were moved from in front of the church to what is now the corner of Georgia Avenue and Grace Church Road. A new nine-foot-high granite monument was erected. On a cold Saturday afternoon, a large crowd, including large contingents of Confederate veterans from both Rockville and Washington, attended the dedication ceremony. Many of the Washingtonians had taken the 12:50 pm train from Washington to the B&O’s Woodside Station, which was only a few blocks from the church. After band music, opening remarks about the creation of the monument and a prayer, Robert E. Lee’s General Orders No. 9 — his farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia — was read. “The Bivouac of the Dead,” a poem by Theodore O’Hara, was then recited by three Woodside girls. This was followed by the reading of a letter from Brigadier General William R. Cox, who had commanded the seventeen fallen soldiers’ unit during the war. Then came the oration. This time, the orator was Judge Samuel S. Blackwell, the third auditor of the Treasury. Judge Blackwell had been a colonel in the Confederate army and was active in the Confederate Veterans Association. His message was very different from that of twenty-two years before. He “remarked on the almost total obliteration of sectional lines and said that both North and South alike should now stand for the perpetuation of patriotism and the flag. Then “Mr. Paul Jones, a well-known citizen of Washington, whose father died fighting for the Union, arose and said that as a member of the Loyal Legion [a Union officers’ veteran association] he claimed the privilege of recognizing the valor of the Confederate soldiers by laying at the foot of the monument a large bunch of white chrysanthemums.”
Confederate Memorial Defaced While Former Recording Studio Looks On
Photo: Source of the Spring (Jun. 15, 2020)
The Confederate monument was later vandalized further and toppled. Oshel reports that the the memorial was ultimately moved and re-erected at Confederate Memorial Park in Point Lookout, Maryland. Oshel also notes that the Church replaced the obelisk with a simple flat stone mentioning the soldiers buried there but not saying they were Confederates.
Betty Green & Jeff Krulik at Central Recording Studio
Far out! Exceptional research & perspective as always. Much love to you and yours!
This is a very interesting article. I’m not sure all the dates are correct though. I was the singer for a band that played in Kevin’s attic before the move to the basement, although that band separated from Kevin soon thereafter. That was in the fall of 1978. I was back at Kevin’s, singing for Dave Lizmi (guitar), Mark Smoot (bass), and Kevin on drums. We played, almost exclusively, Rush material, with a little Yes thrown in on the side. That was the summer of 1980 into the spring of ’81. Kevin’s basement walls were covered with acoustic foam and an ugly red carpeting that probably came from the dining room of some Italian restaurant. As it started to morph into a legit recording facility, I wanted to call it the Red Dungeon Studio. I still have some sample business cards printed in the spring of ’81. At the time, Kevin was probably the best drummer I’d ever seen in the world… Bar none. Gadd? Bruford? Copeland? Bozzio? He was right there on that level. By the summer of ’81, things shifted. Mark Smoot started working with another drummer (with whom Dave Lizmi and I played a few times) and Kevin started working with Greg Jones and Brian Stuart Fox. Dave and I also played with that line-up. I remember that line-up working on, among other things, Presto Vivace by U.K., and the intent was definitely progressive, although there also started to be some Police on the song list. Kevin’s nickname was “Skippy”, which became “Skebbe”. By the end of ’81, Brian, Kevin, and Dave were Zeus, I was falling out of music, and people were calling Kevin’s basement “Skebbe”. I visited another studio in someone’s basement in Rockville, just a year or two later, that was being called Skebbe Studio. This was probably around the time that Balloons for the Dog became Baltech. I believe the local jazz fusion band, Tangent, recorded in that basement.