Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Track Recorders: Silver Spring

NOTICE:  This piece has since been majorly revamped with much new content — in fact, DITCH THIS SEVERELY TRUNCATED VERSION in favor of the January, 2017 re-boot!

Perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future, Silver Spring will organize an event to celebrate all the music history attached to Track Recorders, a sound studio upstairs in the Cissel-Lee Building (directly above the present-day Urban Butcher) on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland – just over the DC line – that saw action in the 1970s, ’80s & ’90s.  Stevie Nicks may have been originally inspired by a name on an interstate sign, but as it turned out, her instincts were correct:  Silver Spring in the mid-to-late1970s was a focal point for a fair amount of musical magic, as indicated in the hyper-linked list below.

Downtown Silver Spring’s Last Spanish colonial revival – Track on 2nd floorTrack Recorders - 2009

Notable Moments in Track Recorders’ Music History
(chronologically speaking)

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  • The Slickee Boys‘ winner 1980 A-side “The Brain That Refused to Die” was recorded at Track, (while the flip side “(Are You Gonna Be There at The) Love-In?” was recorded at Bethesda’s famed Psyche Delly).
  • Black Market Baby‘s forthrightly rocking A-side “America’s Youth” was recorded in 1980 at Track.

Track Recorders 45-hhTrack Recorders 45-ff

Track Recorders LP-nnTrack Recorders 45-gg

  • Little Feat odds ‘n’ sods compilation released in the Netherlands, 1981’s Hoy-Hoy, includes tracks recorded at ten different studios — including Track.
  • Tommy Keene‘s Strange Alliance from 1982 – his debut LP – was recorded at Track.
  • Brother Ah & The Sounds of Awareness would record the Key to Nowhere album at Track on July 7, 1983.

Track Recorders LP-ooTrack Recorders LP-pp

  • Iwabo‘s early-80s rootical 12-inch single “Reggae Down” b/w “Smile on Your Face” was recorded (thanks, Popsike!) at Track.
  • Englishman‘s 1986 album Fighting to Survive (on which Augustus Pablo would perform as one of three synthesists) was recorded, in part, at Track.
  • Larry Carlton‘s 1993 album Renegade Gentleman was overdubbed, in part, at Track.

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DC-area historian, Marcie Stickle, writing in 2009 about the history of the Cissel-Lee building for Dan Reed’s Just Up the Pike blog, notes that this “significant two-story brick structure was Spanish Colonial Revival, all the ‘rage’ at the time.  With its unique black slate canopies angled around two sides of the roofline, the Cissel-Lee Building was the ONLY remaining such structure in all of the [Central Business District].”

Cissel-Lee Building in its current incarnation (sans Spanish Colonial):  Urban ButcherTrack Recorders - 2016

Silver Spring Music History Moment:  Linda Ronstadt at Track

This bit from Bob Kirsch’s “Studio Track” Billboard column in the April 27, 1974 edition:

Bill Tate, owner of Track Recording, Inc. in Silver Spring, Md., reports that Linda Ronstadt was in recently for three sessions.  Lowell George handled the production and also played on the sessions.  George Massenburg handled the engineering.  Columbia’s David Bromberg also played.  Track has recently put in a new quadrasonic control room, complete with a custom built Neve console.  David Harrison of Studio Supply in Nashville designed.  Finally, local bluegrass group Seldom Scene was in working on sessions.”

Skip Mahoaney & the Casuals – hitchhiking along the Potomac near Memorial BridgeTrack Recorders LP-h

You Could Be Track Recorders’ Next Recording Engineer!
Full text of ad from August, 1973 edition of dB Magazine

WANTED: RECORDING ENGINEER  $12,000 – $18,000/yr.  Negotiable

  • Do you have a total knowledge of all aspects of audio recordings?
  • Can you appreciate all forms of rock and soul and get along with all types of personalities?
  • Can you take raw musical talent and convert it into a sellable product on tape?
  • Do you know the sound of a hit?  Do you want to cut hits?  Do you want success badly enough to eat every top selling single and LP you’re not on?
  • ln short, are you a born winner?
  • If you can honestly answer “yes” to all the above, we want you to join us and we’ll pay whatever’s fair.  Track Recorders has had eight national chart records in the last year.  Washington, D.C. is the last major music frontier and we’re the leaders.  Our studio has all the standard quality equipment — 3M 16-track, 25-in/16-out custom console, EMT reverb, JBL 4320 monitors, Dolby, Kepex, varispeed, grand piano, Hammond B3 organ, amps, drums, excellent test gear and maintenance.  Your weekends will generally be free.  The Washington area offers great entertainment plus Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Valley, Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean.

Call or write to: TRACK RECORDERS, INC.
8226 Georgia Ave. #11-2, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.  (301) KL5-xxxx”

Track Recorders:  The Toddler Years
This bit from Sam Sutherland’s “Studio Track” Billboard column in the June 17, 1972 edition:

“From Silver Springs [sic], Md., Track Recorders has noted activities there.  That studio was D.C.’s only 8-track facility when it opened two years ago, and, last November, they became Washington’s first 16-track facility.  A custom-designed board built and designed by the studio’s personnel, uses API and Suburban Sound components.  The 16-track machine is 3M, and both the main studio (there are two rooms, but the second is incomplete) and the control room have been redesigned acoustically, with modifications now underway.

Founders Cotter WellsBill Tate, and Jim [Sennott] have been aiming the studio at the area’s local musicians, but they are now broadening their work to include outside artists, and in-house productions are also being considered.  Chief engineer and “small owner” (his words) Cory Pearson reported sessions by The Masked Men, produced for Musicor Records by Jim BurstonCarrCee Productions recording The Soul Searchers for SussexVan McCoy‘s productions for Whitehouse Productions and Mike Auldridge, working on a Takoma album [i.e., label owned by John Fahey].”

On Tuesday, May 25, 1971, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for Track Recorders Incorporated – as this link shows – by Track Recorders, Inc.  The trademark registration for Track, sadly, expired on June 7, 1993.

SONS OF THUNDER‘s Steve Halverson at Track Recorders – July, 1972

Track Recorders - July 1972

Another View of Track Recorders – July, 1972 – Courtesy of SONS OF THUNDERTrack Recorders - July 1972-b

John Kelly‘s review of Track Recorders from his DC-MD-VA studio overview
in the November 6, 1987 edition of The Washington Post

TRACK RECORDERS — 8226 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring.  589-4349.  $65/hour.

“Track just celebrated its 18th birthday and the list of major acts who have recorded there make it one of the most venerable studios in town.  Track alumni include Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Jimi Hendrix.  Local musicians, including Teresa Gunn, Random Samples and the Cultevaders, also take advantage of Track’s services. According to vice president/studio manager Mark Greenhouse, Track also runs its own vanity record label (it’s called, appropriately, Vanity Records).  The acts on Vanity put up the money themselves and are rewarded with an ultra-slick package that includes record, sleeve and promotional advice.  8-TRACK.”

Further Reading:  Track Recorders

John Kelly‘s March 14, 2015 column in The Washington Post that reveals the history behind the 1983 jingle for Mattress Discounters — a musical ad that haunts to this day.

Richard Harrington‘s August 13, 1986 Washington Post celebration of Track’s sixteenth birthday — and in which we learn that The Allman Brothers recorded an unreleased 15/8 instrumental jam (“Chet’s Tune”) and that Track’s staff were musicians too, thus “the work has a certain spirit and attitude, reflecting a more intense personal relationship between technicians and musicians,” according to Mark Greenhouse.

Richard Harrington‘s December 27, 1981 Washington Post piece about the recording of a live Nighthawks album at The Bayou by Bill McCullough of Track Recorders.

Bill Nowlin‘s history behind the recording of J.D. Crowe and the New South — an iconic album (re-released in 2016), and one that helped establish Rounder Records’ reputation.

Wilfully Obscure‘s ruminations (parts one & two) about the recording of Tommy Keene’s Strange Alliance album.

Fats Domino once recorded an album in 1982 at Track – or was it Big Mo in Kensington? Does anyone know which of the two Montgomery County studios it was?  (Marc D’Amico , as well as Track’s own Bill McCullough both concur:  Fats recorded at Track!  See comments at the end of the piece)

Russ ‘N’ Paul (inner sleeve):  in 1979 riding then new DC MetrorailTrack Recorders - Russ 'n' Paul


Midnight Lightning — Posthumous Hendrix album coming

“Once [producer Alan] Douglas had winnowed the 3,000 hours down to four hours of especially promising material, the tapes were turned over to [partner Tony] Bongiovi, who was expected to reduce the four hours of raw stock to the final product an eight-song, 36-minute album that will be entitled Midnight Lightning.

Bongiovi and his co-workers at Track Recorders, especially staff engineer ‘Obie’ O’Brien and session musician Lance Quinn, have gone to extraordinary lengths in their attempt to remain faithful to what seem to be Hendrix’s intentions.  Guitarist Quinn played a Fender Stratocaster, the same model that Hendrix used, for all his overdubs, and brought the strings down half a step to the F flat [!] tuning that Hendrix favored.  ‘But when we came in we weren’t trying to copy what he did or to make somebody sound like him,’ said Bongiovi.’  ‘We were trying to match the sound of the record.  So Hendrix is the star of the album; we just had to fill in all the air that was on the record with what Jimi had planned to put on later.’

And that’s why relatively anonymous session men like Quinn, drummer Alan Schwartzberg, and bassist Bob Babbit were used on Midnight Lightning. ‘We didn’t want to use any soloist guitarists like a Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton,’ says Bongiovi.  ‘Imagine if we had them on the album – they’re stars in their own right.  It would have ended up a guitar duel, and that’s not fair because Jimi’s not really here to defend himself.”

But even without the opportunity to solo and show off a bit, Quinn, a disciple of Washington’s Roy Buchanan and an admirer of England’s Jeff Beck, finds the Hendrix sessions rewarding.  ‘In some spots,’ says the corpulent [!] guitarist, ‘it was almost like playing in a band with him.  And you get a chance to hear him in situations that don’t turn up on record.  When we listened to the tapes, we heard the parts people never hear on record.  Some of the ideas he tried were amazingly creative things that might not work on record but which, as a guitar player, I could appreciate.  The guy was unbelievable.  He could really play guitar.  It wasn’t just that he had mastered the wah-wah pedal, feedback and the other effects.  He was a really great guitar player who took something that no one ever did before.  He just jumped into the space age all of a sudden instead of just playing rock & roll.  He was the most creative there ever was.  You can hear it in every note he played.”

“Recorded at Track Recorders – Washington, DC” — oops, close enoughTrack Recorders 45-ee

Crowd-sourcing the history:  What other notable recordings deserve to be posted here?

7 Responses

  1. There were many very memorable moments at Track …visits , demos just for fun recordings Little Feat, Kiss, The Allman Brothers to name a few. One correction for the article the included above and attributed above to Bobby Brown is actually the liner notes written by Steuart Smith for one of Bob Brown’s recent releases. Awesome recordings that were never heard or not heard until years after: Significant portions of Mark Greenhouse’s release Shore Leave. A Nighthawks album never released that included the studio version of the songs found on Ten Years Live. Annual recordings for the Howard University Jazz Band.

  2. Tori Amos, at 14, still Ellen Amos recorded at Track. Mark Greenhouse played me the demos which were fabulous so I went to see her playing in Georgetown. She was fabulous then!

  3. As a young engineer, I made a couple of records at Track in the 80’s. It had a great sound, great vibe. Mark Greenhouse was very nice to me.

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