Sunday, 16 December, 2007 4:13 PM
RCA Studio B: "The Home
of 1,000 Hits" (CMA)
Courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
RCA Studio B exterior building.
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
Country Music has its
hallowed places, and among one of the most revered is Nashville's
RCA Studio B.
The outside of this rectangular
brick building at 1611 Roy Acuff Place is nondescript, save for
the chink a nervous Dolly Parton put in the wall with her car as
she arrived for one of her early recording sessions. Even so, it
didn't take long, after opening its doors, for this studio to become
known as "The Home of 1,000 Hits."
Studio B's first sessions
transpired in November 1957, a milestone celebrated this year by
the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum through tour packages,
live broadcasts from the studio, recording workshops and panel discussions,
all of which have a rich history to examine. Researchers are still
trying to verify the very first artist who recorded there, but some
of the earliest include The Stanley Brothers and Don Gibson, whose
"Oh, Lonesome Me" was the first big crossover hit to emerge
from the facility.
Eddy Arnold's majestic
"What's He Doing in My World?," Bobby Bare's "Detroit
City," The Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown," Waylon
Jennings' "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line," Roy Orbison's
"Only the Lonely," Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors,"
Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight," "Good
Luck Charm," "It's Now or Never" and "Little
Sister," and smashes by Skeeter Davis, Donna Fargo, Don Gibson,
Hank Locklin, Jim Reeves, Porter Wagoner and many more are all part
of Studio B's legacy.
Dan Maddox built and leased the facility to RCA Records to accommodate
the label's local recording interest and in particular its hot young
Country producer, Chet Atkins. But it was seasoned by the work of
Nashville's top session musicians.
Although many of the
players had rural roots, they were a sophisticated lot with a strong
grasp of music history. Some were classically trained. Some played
in jazz bands and were deft improvisers when not obliged to follow
charts. They were also dedicated craftspeople who wanted to get
the best performances at every turn.
"They were really
committed to studying the room right from the start," said
John Rumble, Senior Historian, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum,
"so they'd know how to adjust their own sound to get excellent
results for the artists they were supporting."
The musicians often held
Sunday afternoon picking parties around a galvanized tub of cold
beer. Chief Engineer Bill Porter's tapes of these jams revealed
that the room had a problem with "standing waves" - points
where an amplified sound would bounce off a wall and cancel out,
or where volume would swell suddenly. To remedy the problem, Porter
cut pieces of acoustical ceiling tile into small pyramids and hung
them at different levels to break up the waves. "The session
musicians called them 'Porter's Pyramids,'" Rumble recalled.
Atkins' A-Team included
guitarists Harold Bradley, Ray Edenton, Hank Garland and Grady Martin,
bassist Bob Moore, pianists Floyd Cramer and Hargus "Pig"
Robbins, drummer Buddy Harmon, saxophonist Boots Randolph, harmonica
ace Charlie McCoy and others whose names recur on credits for the
35,000 songs cut at Studio B during its 20 years of operation.
The same players would
also record at the Bradley Film and Recording Studios, which included
a surplus Army "Quonset Hut," located on 16th Avenue South,
a stone's throw from RCA Studio B. In fact, Studio B was built to
compete with the Bradley studios, which were owned by Bradley and
his brother, producer Owen Bradley. They ran their operation from
1955 until 1962, when Columbia Records purchased the Hut and operated
it until 1982. Throughout the decades it was the home of hits recorded
by Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Burl Ives,
George Jones, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.
"I don't think Studio
B compared favorably to the Quonset Hut for sound," said Harold
Bradley, who still does sessions and is President of the Nashville
chapter of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM 257). "The
Hut was very large and my amp was at the very back of it. So I was
35 or 40 feet away from Patsy Cline when we were recording 'Crazy'
there, but you could hear everything well, which was important since
that was before they started using headphones in studios.
he continued, "whether we recorded at the Quonset Hut or Studio
B, the songs turned out great and I always got the guitar sound
I wanted on tape."
Rumble agreed that Studio
B was not a remarkably designed room. "It's concrete block
construction. There's nothing fancy about it. Between the engineers
and the players, there was a genuine esprit de corps. They were
aware that they were doing something special in Nashville and building
its reputation as Music City U.S.A."
The product of these
historic interactions between the players, engineers, producers
and vocalists, defined what would become known as the "Nashville
Up to that point, Country
spun on an axis of fiddle- and guitar-driven honky tonk, or the
jazz-inspired beat of Western swing, or the high and lonesome strains
of mountain folk or bluegrass. In the mid '50s, sales declined as
rock 'n' roll lured young listeners. In response, Country record
label executives signed Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and other rockabilly
artists to reach this burgeoning market, while also helping hard-edged
Country acts update their sounds and adapt to changing tastes.
Additionally, to appeal
to the pop audience - and, as Atkins later joked, to keep their
jobs - he and Bradley replaced Country's raw fiddles, weeping pedal
steel guitars and down-home singing with lush string sections, cocktail
piano and crooners nestled on cushions of three- and four-part harmony
from vocal backing groups.
In 1957 Atkins applied
this formula at Studio B to produce Don Gibson's catchy "Oh,
Lonesome Me." Two crossover classics, Jim Reeves' "He'll
Have to Go" and The Browns' "The Three Bells," further
proved the Nashville Sound's viability in the marketplace.
Aside from occasional
projects such as Gillian Welch's Time (the Revelator) in 2001, Studio
B has been closed as an active recording center since 1977. It is,
however, far from mothballed. In 2002, The Mike Curb Family Foundation
purchased the studio from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum,
to which Maddox had donated the facility in the early 1990s. It
is operated now by the Museum and Nashville's Belmont University
as a tourist attraction and learning laboratory. Students in Belmont's
Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business get hands-on
experience on its vintage gear, which is augmented now by a computer-based
Digidesign Pro Tools system used exclusively for mixing two-track
mission is not just to preserve what's here at the studio but to
preserve the history of recording," explained longtime RCA
Studio B Manager Michael Janas. "We literally make students
relive the entire history of recording at Studio B. They start with
16-track tape. When they're ready to mix to a master, they do it
to quarter-inch analog two-track tape and then to the two-channel
Pro Tools system so they can see the similarities."
Except for the computer,
all of Studio B's gear is either original or was manufactured during
its halcyon years. That includes a 1972 API recording console that
is historic in its own right. It came from a mobile recording unit
used for The Band's The Last Waltz, Peter Frampton's Frampton Comes
Alive! and U2's Rattle & Hum, as well as concert tapings by
Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young with Crazy Horse.
"The music that
came out of RCA Studio B in the late '50s and early '60s not only
changed Country Music," reflected Janas, "it also influenced
what The Beatles and countless other artists wrote and recorded.
It affected how we make and listen to music in Western culture."
On the Web:
Courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Chet Atkins works the consoles as Waylon Jennings observes after
recording a track.
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