Engineer Will Dawson (left) and Jimbo Mathus
They say that Delta blues was born in Clarksdale, Miss., a town where “all of the original conditions that created the blues still exist, unmovable,” according to songwriter, producer and Squirrel Nut Zippers founder James “Jimbo” Mathus. A love of that time-warped atmosphere partially inspired Mathus to open Delta Recording Service (www.jamesmathus.com), located in the former WROX-AM 1420 broadcast studio. “A lot of musicians want to check out [the city] and go to juke joints,” says Mathus. “It just makes sense that while they're here, they'll cut some stuff. My studio is real old school — no comping to Pro Tools, nothing. It's an extension of Clarksdale.”
The year-old facility's small but opulent equipment list includes RCA 44 (with original ribbon) and 77 ribbon mics, among others, as well as four channels of 1950s Telefunken preamps “with brand-new, old-stock Telefunken tubes,” which run directly into three Alesis ADAT xt20s, using a Mackie 24×4×2 for monitoring. “We get the crunch on the front end,” says chief engineer Will Dawson. “We're set up to run fast all the time. People here aren't looking to come in for three months. These are real, raw, juke-joint boogie people.”
A few of those blues meisters include Cedric Burnside, the Jelly Roll Allstars (featuring some of Muddy Waters' old backing band), and, in a different genre, Elvis Costello, who recorded “Monkey to Man,” from his latest album, Delivery Man, at the studio.
Mathus also recorded his new album, Knockdown South, at DRS, and did so just like most clients — quick, raw and live. “I balance off the mic; if an amp's too loud, we just face it the other way,” he says. “We get a lot of room sound naturally. We leave all the amps and mics on all the time; we can walk in and be recording in 20 minutes.”