John Davenport, owner of this month’s cover studio, is quite a character. I had the privilege of spending a few days on his property along the Deep River this past month, listening to playback in the studio, riding on an ATV through creeks and forests, flying a drone. And I got to hear his stories, the ones that led from an unplanned, unpaid internship at Chelsea Sound in New York City to, 35 years later, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design of his home and studio.
The stories he tells from being in NYC studios from 1979-89 are a little slice from a magical time. Late-analog, pre-digital recording, with tape loops around a mic stand and kicking the 24-track to get one of the cards working. With utmost humility, he talks of riding with Michael Jackson in an elevator and working with Yoko Ono and the Rolling Stones. Bruce Springsteen. He’s not a name-dropper at all. He was an assistant, he keeps telling me. Most of his credits are as an assistant; when he was on the cusp of a full-blown engineering career, he took off for the West Coast, and a slight detour.
But he got to work with the best of the best, he emphasizes. People like Michael Kamen, Chris Kimsey, Jimmy Destri, Phil Ramone, Chris Lord-Alge, Tom Lord-Alge, Bob Clearmountain, Frank Filipetti and Eric Thorngren, among many others. He was an assistant engineer at Secret Sound Studios and then The Hit Factory in its heyday. Living the job 24 hours a day. He learned maintenance from Gus Skinas.
He “got to spend” two years in the studio with Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Plotkin, Toby Scott and the whole band and crew. They cut 75 songs, and he got an education in hard work and inspiration and creative genius. To paraphrase a song from the hit musical “Hamilton,” he got to be in the room where it happens.
He loved being part of the whole experience. He lived his whole 20s for the experience, and he spent the decade soaking up the knowledge of New York recording, from the masters. And he speaks of them reverently. I have no doubt he was a great assistant engineer. And then he took off to live another couple chapters of his life. To gain other experiences.
Deep River Studios represents a culmination of a life well-lived. It was 20 years from concept to completion, working with designer Wes Lachot the entire way. It incorporates touches of Davenport’s style and sensibility throughout, and it’s built for the way he likes to work and live. Frank Lloyd Wright is an overriding influence, as is hexagonal geometry and the way it works with sound. The studio feels intimate and relaxed.
He wanted an old-school analog sound into Pro Tools, so he went with an API Legacy Plus console, customized for his needs, and ATC monitoring. There’s a fireplace in the live room, made with bricks from a local kiln, and there’s 20 feet of glass looking out over the river. He says people have told him that their blood pressure goes down when they turn into the mile-long driveway and take in the hills, pastures and winding river.
He’s been blessed throughout the years, as he readily testifies, settling back into a family business that was later sold, allowing him to build a dream studio on a family property in the heart of beautiful North Carolina. But that’s not really his story. He worked hard, he lived life, he made his own stories around the world. And when the time came, he returned to his first love, making music.
Tom Kenny, Editor, Mix