On the Cover: Memphis Meets Music City at House of Blues

May 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Tom Kenny


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L to R: Michael Rhodes (session bass player), Gary Belz (owner, House of Blues Studios), Kenny Greenburg (session guitar player), Darrell Brown (producer/songwriter)

L to R: Michael Rhodes (session bass player), Gary Belz (owner, House of Blues Studios), Kenny Greenburg (session guitar player), Darrell Brown (producer/songwriter)

“Studio B is where I got my start,” says studio manager Mike Paragone, who joined East Iris in January 2002 out of MTSU and was running the place by the end of the year. “We expanded the room by about 400 square feet for the 4000 E Series, and we brought in Michael Cronin to do a proper acoustic treatment. I'm pretty proud of this room because of its success and the way it sounds.” B was the site of a recent Golden Globe-nominated Trina Shoemaker mix of John Travolta and Miley Cyrus for the recently released Disney movie Bolt. It's a noted favorite spot for Shoemaker and producer/engineer David Leonard.

The Studio B remodel was soon followed by the addition of a house next door, now home to rooms for Mitch Dane and Vance Powell. The buildout continues, meanwhile, on a house across the street that will become Studio C, a Pro Tools production room with two iso booths that is expected to open this month. But the big move is coming in June/July of this year, when the Berry Hill neighborhood will be shut down for the oversized trucks to roll up and drop in Studio D from House of Blues Memphis — lock, stock and barrel — on the newly poured foundation right behind Studio C across the street.

“I'm really doing it,” Belz says. “We hired this guy, JC, who does this kind of thing all the time. We can't drive it up the interstate; we have to take the back roads and we have to take the roof off to get under a couple of places. But it's such a great room. And we'll take care of Ralph Sutton there in Memphis because he doesn't want to move and that's his room. But I believe in the synergies of things working together, and that will complete the House of Blues picture. We have variety and segmentation, and we can offer something for everyone, no matter how they want to work.”

“The next couple of months are going to be crazy,” adds Paragone, citing the beyond-the-call-of-duty contributions of assistant engineer Heather Sturm and chief tech Ted Wheeler in the whole process. “Studio C will be positioned as something more than you can get at home, with more choices in mic pre's, mics or outboard gear. But I don't want to compete with myself, so it will be more focused on production. And then the historic Studio D will be getting the API that Gary used to have in House of Blues Encino before he put in the Neve. It's classic '70s API, one of the first built, with that vintage 550A EQ, transformers, wires, the famous 2520 op amp. Real, real simple, and it sounds amazing. We get calls all the time for an API room. Now I'm going to have one.”

The API, built originally for a remote truck and said to be a favorite of T Bone Burnett, David Leonard and others, was given to Belz by Dan Aykroyd. “Danny came over right after I moved [to Los Angeles] in 1990,” Belz recalls. “He's always loved music, of course, and at the time I was using the control room as a meditation center and the studio as my office! He said, ‘Gary, you need to put music in this studio.’ And he brought over the console. That was after we'd started Memphis, and it got me going in Los Angeles. And now that console is going to Nashville.”

The fact that Memphis Studio D and the vintage L.A. API are meeting in Nashville seems a fitting manifestation for a man whose life, professional and spiritual, has had its own fill of circuitous and synchronous moments. As he says repeatedly, he's not a businessman; he just takes all his friends' best ideas and tries to make special places. He certainly has one in Nashville.

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