Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chuck Mead returns to Nashville's Quonset Hut

When former BR-549 frontman Chuck Mead decided his next solo album would be strictly old-school country, the natural choice of venue would be an old-school Nashville studio. And what better place than The Quonset Hut (aka Bradley Film & Recording Studios) – the first joint recording music in the neighborhood which eventually became known as Music Row. But Mead didn't stop there, oh no, he went a step further and reunited some of Music City's famed "A-Team" session hands, namely Harold Bradley, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Bob Moore and Buddy Spicher  to back him on a selection of twelve timeless classics. And then he invited pals Bobby Bare, Elizabeth Cook, Jamey Johnson and Old Crow Medicine Show to come along for the ride that ultimately became Back At The Quonset Hut (Ramseur Records).

Johnny Cash recording at the Quonset Hut in 1958.
The Quonset Hut was originally an attachment to the old Nashville rooming house (at 804 16th Avenue South) that songwriter, arranger and producer Owen Bradley bought with his brother Harold in 1954 and turned into a recording studio. Once the Bradley boys began notching hit after hit with the tunes they were cutting inside the Quonset Hut's arched walls with the original "A-Team" of Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Buddy Harman and Bob Moore, artists from everywhere started beating a path to the Quonset Hut door including Ray Price, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Tammy Wynette, Simon & Garfunkel, Clyde McPhatter, Gene Pitney, Bob Dylan, George Jones and Johnny Horton, among others.

Of course, all good things come to an end and Bradley sold the Quonset Hut to Columbia Records (now a division of Sony BMG) and the acoustically unique studio closed for recording in 1982. Evidently, the Columbia/Sony brain trust decided that the hallowed ground where Patsy Cline first sang Crazy, Roger Miller recorded King Of The Road and Marty Robbins did El Paso would make for cozy office space so the historic studio was unceremoniously gutted. 

"When I first saw the inside of the Quonset Hut," recalls Mead, "it was being used as the art department for Sony Records. It was 1999 and my band, the country music outfit BR5-49, had just moved over from Arista Records and we were touring our new label’s building. I remember standing in the spot where Patsy Cline sang “Crazy” amidst Dixie Chicks promo photos and album mock-ups, looking at the big old ceilings, imagining how great the sound was in there. I would never have believed that I could have the chance to find out for myself – but fate put me “Back At The Quonset Hut"

"When Sony moved out amidst the record label conglomerations of the 2000s, the Quonset Hut sat empty until Mike Curb donated funds to turn it back into a studio and a classroom, placing it in the hands of Belmont University’s music program. Students learn about recording techniques and are invited to work on sessions that are taking place."

Mead parted ways with BR-549 in 2005 and went on to release his solo debut, Journeyman’s Wager in 2009. More recently he's been working as the musical director for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Million Dollar Quartet which is now running in New York, Chicago and on tour with Broadway Across America. It wouldn't be long before Mead would again be bitten by the recording bug.

"When it came time to figure out what my next record should be. I decided it would be a good idea to make an album of classic country songs. I called my friend, neighbor, and original BR5-49 producer Mike Janas, who is a Belmont University instructor and studio manager for RCA’s historic Studio B as well as the newly renovated Quonset Hut.

"I wanted to make the record the old way – you know, with all the musicians playing together in one room so you have to listen and react to one another. We decided it would be perfect to record my classic country record at the Hut – the quintessential Nashville studio – with Belmont students helping. I liked the idea because I could make my record the way I wanted, and Mike liked it because his young engineers could catch the vibe of the way the old-timers did things – an experience they could carry on through their own professional careers as music moguls or pizza delivery drivers.

"So I recorded the album with my band, The Grassy Knoll Boys and, as very special guests, four members of the “Nashville A Team” – studio players Harold Bradley, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Bob Moore and Buddy Spicher who played on most all of those aforementioned classic songs. I also invited some great friends who are on the same page as me musically and cosmically to join in. Old Crow Medicine Show, Elizabeth Cook, Jamey Johnson and the legendary Bobby Bare all showed up and sang with me to create some pretty stellar moments. We also filmed it just to be able to share our killer weekend making music with everybody."

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