Nashville Skyline

Jul 1, 2003 12:00 PM, by Rick Clark


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One of the things that I have always liked about Nashville is how closely knit and supportive members of the music community are. The level of altruism around here is also quite impressive. Every May, the Nashville AES chapter puts on the Audio Masters Golf Tournament, which is sponsored by Quantegy and Mix, and held at the scenic Harpeth Hills golf course south of Nashville. Proceeds from the event and the accompanying auction go to the Nashville Engineer Relief Fund (NERF), which has aided many individuals and families in the local engineering community who have suffered from health and/or financial predicaments. NERF is a nonprofit group, with all donations tax-deductible to the extent allowed by federal law.

The tournament is also a great chance for local engineers and producers to get together, brush up on their swings and hang out. The range of golf expertise runs from serious players to total novices. Local studios and companies sponsor the holes and provide swag, spirits and food. My personal fave stopover was the Paragon Studios/Studio Network Solutions sushi tent, also a hit at last year's event. (Paragon was also the scene of the pre-tournament party the night before, with plenty of great food and drinks.)

The Audio Masters Golf Tournament began in 1998, but its genesis was in the fall of 1997, when the AES Nashville Section and NAPRS held the First Audio Yard Sale at Belmont University to help out a local engineer. “This came out of the recognition that someone in particular was having a serious health issue, and we said, ‘Let's just go have a yard sale and raise some money, just like any group of people might do,’” says Jim Kaiser, director of technology at Master Mix, as well as chair of the NERF board and a member of Audio Masters' committee. “After the yard sale, we recognized there ought to be something here that we could carry on with. The idea of the golf tournament piqued everybody's interest because it seemed like such a fun thing to do. The first tournament went really well, certainly due to a lot of hard work on many people's parts and a lot of generosity and good luck, and we've continued each year since.”

Among those who played or hung out at this year's tourney were Chuck Ainlay, Brian Ahern, Gary Hedden and Norbert Putnam, who was in fine golf form. The winning team for this year's Audio Masters Golf Tournament was sponsored by Carl Tatz Design: members included David Malloy, Rob Henden, John Henden and D. Vincent Williams. Look for photos from the tournament in an upcoming issue.

Recently, while I was bopping into Georgetown Masters to see what they were up to, I had the good fortune to catch up with John Nowland of Redwood Digital, who has been Neil Young's engineer and archive wizard for years. Nowland came to Nashville to make production masters on four classic Young albums that are finally being released domestically on CD: On the Beach, American Stars 'n Bars, Hawks & Doves and Re-ac-tor. To hear the master of American Stars 'n Bars, one of my favorite Young albums, on Georgetown's mammoth system was a big highlight for me, especially “Like a Hurricane” and “Hold Back the Tears,” featuring the angelic harmonies of Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt.

While I was at Georgetown, Andrew Mendelson turned us on to some projects that were being recorded over at Bucky Baxter's new studio, Three Trees Recording. The sound and sensibility of the production was so intriguing, as was the story about the studio's creation, that I had to go check it out.

Baxter is probably best known as the ace pedal steel, banjo, dobro, guitar, all-'round musical utility guy for Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and Ryan Adams. He has also recorded with R.E.M., Los Lobos, Jim Lauderdale, Suzy Bogguss, Sara Evans, Joe Henry and a host of others over the years.

Three Trees Recording is Baxter's vibe-y recording compound tucked away in the heavily forested tall hills north of Nashville. While it is less than a half an hour from Music Row, Three Trees feels like it could be in rural upstate New York, hours away from any municipality. “I just wanted to get off the road and create a really comfortable place to make music,” says Baxter. “I wanted to produce records and write songs and also build a place for bands to come in and rent by the month. We'll take care of them in every way. You can get this place with lodging and everything for the price of what you would pay for just the studio in L.A. or New York, or half of that.”

Three Trees' assemblage of buildings has an interesting history: Much of it is built out of old structures from the Opryland theme park that existed in Nashville for many years. The huge beams that frame most of the main studio building came from the Grizzly River Rampage roller coaster, while the tracking room was created out of the Opryland gift shop. The piano room was originally part of a structure that sold a lard-heavy confection called Elephant Ears. The cabin near the front of the compound was once near the Opryland railroad line and housed all of the theme park's computers and P.A. gear.

“When the demolition crews were crushing up Opryland, we cut [the buildings] up and moved them here,” Baxter says with a laugh. “I dug 20 or 30 thousand dollars' worth of shrubs from Opryland and moved them out of there.”

The facility's first project came to them before the doors were officially open. It was Cerys Matthews, the female lead singer from the popular Warner UK band, Catatonia.

Matthews had been touring the Southern states and originally approached Baxter about producing an album of traditional blues, folk and roots music from the South. Baxter convinced her that she should take these inspirations, create a body of original work and do it at Three Trees.

“The basic theme behind it is to take the music that turned into jazz and the blues and country music — which is basically Celtic music and black music — and have it re-collide again,” states Baxter. “You will either like it or you won't. We intentionally made this record to slightly offend people the first time they listened to it. 'Cause I really didn't care for all my favorite records at first, either. Then I couldn't stop listening to them.”

The resulting album, which just came out, is called Cockahoop, a word meaning “Over the Moon.” The sound on the album recalls the kind of intimate ambience of the first two Band albums and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks or Veedon Fleece. Baxter's production is very organic, with unusual instrumental arrangements he and Jim Hoke scored. Throughout, Matthews' voice runs from frail vulnerability to an almost punkish brashness, sometimes in a single phrase.

The project was engineered and mixed by Chad Brown, one of Nashville's finest up-and-comers. Brown has also produced modern pop/rockers Mod Lang (named after a Big Star song) and singer/songwriter Troy Johnson. Shawn Camp also recently cut there, as were overdubs for the upcoming Be Good Tanyas album.

In the meantime, Baxter is looking to refine Three Trees: “We are currently building some cabins up around the crest of the hill for people to write and sleep. The main thing is this is just a really comfortable and affordable place to work.”

Thanks to Andrea Pizzano, Nicole Cochran, Jim Kaiser and Andrew Mendelson for help on this go-around of the Skyline.

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