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Ardent Studios Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Ardent Studios of Memphis and founded by John Fry is celebrating 40 years in business. The studio’s earliest clients included Sam & Dave, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Hayes, Leon Russell and the Staples Singers. Ardent produced hits in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s with such artists as James Taylor, ZZ Top, REM, George Thorogood, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, and Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The legacy continues with the White Stripes, 3 Doors Down, Cat Power, North Mississippi Allstars, The Raconteurs and award-winning music for such films as Hustle and Flow. To date, Ardent has recorded more than 70 Gold and Platinum albums and singles.

The Ardent story began when teenage Fry built a studio in his family’s garage, where he recorded his first Ardent Records 45s. “In 1966, I was done with school and my family sold our house,” Fry recalls. “I felt it was time to make a career commitment to recording music.”

He found a new store building on Memphis’ National Street, which he shared with a bookshop. The original equipment came from the garage operation: an Altec tube console, Ampex 2-track, Pultec EQ and Neumann mics-some of which are still in use today. Tom Dowd was consulting with Auditronics on an early multitrack console for nearby Stax Records, and Fry ordered the same input modules for his second board. Next came a Scully 4-track, the first EMT plate reverbs in the area, and the beginnings of a world-class collection of gear.

As a young studio owner, Fry was fortunate to get overflow work from Stax Records. Fry hosted Hayes, Booker T. & The MGs, The Bar-Kays, Johnny Taylor, Rufus Thomas and Albert King, as well as Leon Russell and artists on his Shelter label. “It was great to have the chance to work with all these great artists and producers,” Fry says. “We were amazed that they would take a chance on a bunch of young kids.” Top artists came back and brought their friends.

Ardent became home to young producers and engineers such as Jim Dickinson, Terry Manning, Joe Hardy, John Hampton and Paul Ebersold, and later Skidd Mills, Jeff Powell, Jason Latshaw and Pete Matthews.

In 1971, Ardent Studios moved to its present location on Madison Avenue, followed by the acquisition of 24-track recorders, bigger consoles and more gear. Today, Ardent has three studios equipped with large-format Neve and SSL desks alongside Pro Tools rigs, and is managed by Jody Stephens.

The more recent incarnation of Ardent Records, a contemporary Christian music label, was launched with Big Tent Revival in 1995 and has released 36 albums to date, with a string of Grammy-nominated albums in the Rock Gospel category.

Fry cites several reasons for his continued success. “We’re flexible and we’ve always strived to adapt to the changes in the recording industry,” he says. “We’ve also been fortunate to have so much talent on our staff and long-term relationships with successful artists and producers. Also, having a production company, a record label and a publishing business has allowed us to be one of our own best clients.”

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