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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ghosts of Nashville's Recording Studios, Part 1

By Randy McNutt


If you’re searching for record business ghosts, Nashville is a good place to roam. Buildings that once bustled with recording studios, record company offices, and publishing companies are around nearly every corner. All you need to get started is an address and some background.

     On my “ghost” tours, everything is game. I am looking for hits and history. Old studios fascinate me most, however, and there have been plenty of them in Nashville since the 1950s. Over the last several decades a number of the more high-profile studios have closed, despite their notoriety, success, and popularity at the time of their closing. When I think of them, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss, for many of the older studios were great places to record. (Their hits speak for themselves. They are from the tape era's golden days.)

     Here are a few of the more interesting ghosts that I discovered in Nashville town:


Woodland Sound, 1968-2001

 
In 1968 audio engineer Glenn Snoddy opened Woodland Sound Studios at 1011 Woodland Street, which was not on Music Row. But that didn’t matter. Music Row people came to Woodland because its sound was so good. By 1971 Snoddy was using tape recorders with one, two, four, eight, and 16 tracks; a few years later he upgraded with two 24-track Studer recorders. By 2000 new owner Robert Solomon added to the complex two recording studios (with Neve consoles) and a mastering room. By then, he was still attracting big-name clients. I recall what the place was like long ago. I mixed a single there in 1975, and the echo sounded terrific. Immediately Woodland became one of my favorite studios. I recall seeing it again in 1998, two months after a vicious tornado had ripped through downtown Nashville. The building’s exterior had sustained some damage, but inside business went on as usual. Unfortunately, Solomon closed Woodland in 2001, after some issues with the building’s owner, but the studio’s legacy remains in its hits. A few of them include “Honey” by Bobby Goldboro; “Knock Three Times,” Billy “Crash” Craddock; “Tennessee Birdwalk,” Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan; and A-1-A, the Jimmy Buffett album that featured “A Pirate Looks At Forty.”
 
     Woodland Sound was a winner. I won’t forget it.


                                          1998: Woodland after the tornado.
                                                Note damage to the facade.


Fred Foster Sound, 1964-1969

 

Fred Foster Sound Studios, 315 Seventh Avenue North, operated from 1964 to 1969, when the building was torn down to make way for an insurance office. At the time, Foster was the owner of Monument Records, the independent label that operated out of Nashville. Foster Sound was based on the top floor of the Cumberland Building, more commonly known as the Masonic Lodge. Foster’s place is sometimes confused with his other studio, Monument Recording, which operated in the Music Row area in the 1970s, after Foster Sound had closed. Fred Foster acquired his first studio from entrepreneur Sam Phillips, who had bought it in 1961 from Billy Sherill and Bill Cooner. Sherill stayed on as engineer and Phillips renamed the place the Sam Phillips Recording Service of Nashville. (This is the same Sherill who would become a producer at Columbia Nashville.) Three years later, Phillips sold it because he couldn’t devote enough attention to it while operating Sun Records and his other business holdings. Foster knew the studio would be a good acquisition.  "It was one of the best studios in town,” he once told me. “It was flexible for doing custom work as well as our [Monument’s] own.” He hired Bill Porter as engineer and later Mort Thomason and young apprentice Brent Maher. The studio’s three-track Ampex recorder was top-of-the-line for the early 1960s. The many hits cut at Foster Sound/Phillips studio included “Single Girl” by Sandy Posey; “Right Or Wrong” and “One Kiss For Old Time’s Sake,” Ronnie Dove; “What’d I Say,” Jerry Lee Lewis; “Mohair Sam,” Charlie Rich; “Hey, Paula,” Paul and Paula; “Down At Papa Joe’s,” the Dixie Belles; “GTO,” Ronnie and the Daytonas; and “Yakety Sax,” Boots Randolph.
     Too bad that I couldn’t see the building, for Fred Foster Sound was a magical recording studio—a place where great sounds and long-lasting music flourished.
  

Young ’Un Sound, 1969-1988


Session guitarist Chip Young founded Young ’Un Sound Studio in the late 1960s as his personal studio in Mufreesboro, Tenn., and later, as business increased, as a second, conventional studio at 114 17th Avenue South in Nashville. Nowadays, Young ’Un is remembered mainly for the home studio, which Young operated in a small log cabin on his farm, about 30 miles east of Nashville. Starting with a new 16-track Ampex recorder, one of Nashville’s earliest, Young recorded many clients—Delbert McClinton and Kris Kristofferson were among the cabin’s visitors—who sought the studio’s clean sound as well as Young’s reputation as a fine musician. The cabin studio was small—about 15 by 20 feet, including the control room. The walls and ceiling were made of logs, and the wood floor was covered with carpet. To ease space constraints, Young added a screened porch on which he could place the string players. He once told writer Richard Buskin that crickets can be heard on Buffett’s Havanna Daydreamin’ because they were chirping so loudly when the album’s strings were recorded. Young’s chief engineer was Glenn Rievf, but Young engineered many of the sessions himself. One of them was Billy Swan’s “I Can Help,” a bluesy pop hit from 1974. Young co-produced it with Swan at the cabin studio, using Young’s custom-built tube console. Despite the hits and the interest in his studio, Young didn’t get rich from owning it. It took too much of his time and money, so he closed his business in 1988. The building on Music Row later became Masterlink Studios.
     
     Sadly, the sounds of Young ’Un are no more.

These studios and many others are featured in 
Too Hot to Handle: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Recording Studios of the 20th Century, available through Amazon.com for $25.




Woodland rate card, 1978




3 comments:

James Gilmore said...

I worked at Woodland Studios as a mastering and maintenance engineer in the early 70's; it was a wonderful facility with a great staff. I still stay in contact with Glenn Snoddy; he is a great friend and mentor.
Jim G

John Castleman said...

A little known, talented, unique-sounding band called Felt also recorded their only self-titled album at Woodland Studios in 71. Here's a sample:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTCTc3cnOg4

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