City Center Recording Studios carry the mantle of Bristol’s music making into the future | Local News


BRISTOL, Va. – Music has delivered Bristol to a global audience.

This is from 1927, courtesy of Ralph Peer, Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family and company.

Today, music made in Bristol is part of everyday life. Several recording studios stand on the shoulders of 1927 as living legacies. These are not museum exhibits. They reside on, around the corner and close to the downtown shopping thoroughfare, State Street.

“This is where the spring came out of the mountains,” said Clint Holley, owner of The Earnest Tube, a recording studio with a vintage flair in Bristol, Virginia.

Destinations such as the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots meeting cater to domestic and international tourists. They come for a taste of Bristol Sessions and the current state of music and culture as delivered to Bristol city centre.

Recording studios intervene in an ongoing narrative.

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Matt Smile, owner of Audioasis on State Street in Bristol, Va., adjusts a mix to “Thunder and Lightning,” a newly recorded song by his band, The Buddz.

Tom Netherland / Special for the Herald Courier

“There’s an energy to Bristol that’s unlike any other,” said Matt Smile, owner of Audioasis, a recording studio on State Street in Bristol, Virginia. “I want to embody that energy with my studio. That’s why we’re on State Street. It was like a blessing from God.

Such studios, including Mike Stephenson’s classic recording studio, carry the mantle of Bristol’s musical creation into the future. Dozens of local, regional and national musicians have recorded singles, EPs and full albums at Classic.

“I recorded 15 albums at Classic,” said Moose Roberts, from Bristol, Tennessee.

The classic, Roberts said, provides an exceptional space and atmosphere for recording artists, novice or professional, to permanently cement their music. It attributes much of the comfort to its owner.

“It’s Mikey,” Roberts said. “It’s easy to work with him. I don’t feel inhibited, I don’t feel judged. He takes it as it comes. If you have an idea, he finds a way to make it happen. It’s not just a compliment; It’s the truth.”

BHC 01312021 Bristol Recording Studios 04

Jon Atkinson, owner of BigTone Records in Bristol, opened the vintage recording studio in 2017.

Tom Netherland / Special for the Herald Courier

Jon Atkinson’s BigTone Records, on Spurgeon Lane off Commonwealth Avenue, uses vintage gear to record new records.

“Everything is analog. All I have is a period,” said Atkinson, who started BigTone in December 2017. “This studio is based on analog, which came out in 1948. My sound is based on tube and tape technology. analogues from the 1940s and 50s.”

BigTone’s clientele resonates with local to national musicians. Their motto “the classic sound in the modern age” attracted former Fabulous Thunderbird singer Kim Wilson, as well as Esther Rose from New Orleans. Local musicians from Bill and the Belles of Johnson City to 49 Winchester of Clintwood recorded at BigTone.

“Vaden Landers did our first session,” Atkinson, 32, said. “He ended up doing two albums with us.”

Of the four studios, Classic has the deepest history. His roster of yesteryear includes late bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and country superstar Kenny Chesney.

“I played a lot of music in the Bristol area during that time (his college days when he attended East Tennessee State University in Johnson City) – and even made my first album there- low while still in college,” Chesney said in a statement ahead of his performance. at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016.

Located next to Eatz on Moore Street at the corner of State Street, Classic hosted Chesney in 1989.

“Kenny asked me to produce his record,” said Bluegrass Highway’s Tim Stafford, who produced and played guitar on Chesney’s album. “It was called ‘Good Old Boy At Heart’.”

At the time, Chesney was playing guitar in ETSU’s bluegrass band. Today, copies of the album – which he sold for $5 at his concerts – are extremely rare.

“He wanted something to sell at his local salons,” Stafford said.

Each of today’s studios approaches music in different ways. For example, when recording a song at The Earnest Tube, Holley then cuts the song directly onto a lacquer disc, from which vinyl record copies can be made.

“Laquerware records are basically blank records,” Holley, 49, said. “If you’re making a record for mass production, your song has to be burned onto that record before it’s mass produced. To bring that into the modern age, we transcribe them into a computer.

Holley, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, opened The Earnest Tube – a play named after country music pioneer Ernest Tubb, in 2017. A wide range of musicians have recorded at The Earnest Tube, which is located in corner of the Bristol Hotel. . They include Bristol’s JP Parsons and Johnson City’s Amythyst Kiah.

A step inside her space reveals a wall of record albums to the right and a long wooden church pew to the left. Between the two, a recording console overlooks a large oriental carpet and a space from which the musicians record.

They are time machines, The Earnest Tube and BigTone. Look inside for visions of the past.

“It’s my dream space,” Holley said. “I want to give musicians the opportunity to experience the recording experience in a way they may not have. I want to help connect their music to the music that was created here in 1927.”

Led by producer Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company, the Bristol Sessions provided a springboard from which Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family became national stars. The sessions became the basis for the development of the country music industry. As a result, author Nolan Porterfield called the Bristol Sessions “country music’s big bang”.

In the PBS documentary, “American Epic,” actor Robert Redford said of Peer and Bristol, “He… caught lightning in a bottle. It was the first time that America got along.

Johnny Cash went even further. The Bristol Sessions were, according to Cash, “the single most important event in country music history”.

Peer was modern in 1927. Smile’s Audioasis as well as Stephenson’s Classic operate as studios steeped in modern ways of making music today. Audioasis’ customer base reflects its forward-thinking way of operating.

“I worked with Brent (Hinds) of (progressive metal band) Mastodon, who used to play with the band West End Motel,” said Smile, who opened Audioasis in 2019. “They were walking down State Street, and just walking Next thing I knew we were recording a song.

The twinned visions of Matt and his wife, Kayla, have become modern and inviting Audioasis.

“It’s an oasis,” said Pat Green, who recorded his entire debut album in Smile’s studio. “I had never been in a studio, but Matt made me feel comfortable.”

Holley’s Earnest Tube and Atkinson’s BigTone create in the present while listening to the past.

All tread in the enveloping trade winds of historic Bristol recording sessions in 1927. As a result, people come to Bristol from places as far afield as Russia and Japan to watch history. And people are making records in downtown Bristol, steps away from history and nearly 100 years on.

Music history has been and continues to be written in Bristol city centre.

“That’s the source, man,” Holley said.