Nashville Skyline

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.

One of the things that I have always liked about Nashville is howclosely knit and supportive members of the music community are. Thelevel of altruism around here is also quite impressive. Every May, theNashville AES chapter puts on the Audio Masters Golf Tournament, whichis sponsored by Quantegy andMix, and held at thescenic Harpeth Hills golf course south of Nashville. Proceeds from theevent and the accompanying auction go to the Nashville Engineer ReliefFund (NERF), which has aided many individuals and families in the localengineering community who have suffered from health and/or financialpredicaments. NERF is a nonprofit group, with all donationstax-deductible to the extent allowed by federal law.

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

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

Among those who played or hung out at this year's tourney were ChuckAinlay, Brian Ahern, Gary Hedden and Norbert Putnam, who was in finegolf form. The winning team for this year's Audio Masters GolfTournament was sponsored by Carl Tatz Design: members included DavidMalloy, Rob Henden, John Henden and D. Vincent Williams. Look forphotos from the tournament in an upcoming issue.

Recently, while I was bopping into Georgetown Masters to see whatthey were up to, I had the good fortune to catch up with John Nowlandof Redwood Digital, who has been Neil Young's engineer and archivewizard for years. Nowland came to Nashville to make productionmasters on four classic Young albums that are finally being releaseddomestically on CD: On the Beach, American Stars 'n Bars,Hawks & Doves and Re-ac-tor. To hear the master ofAmerican Stars 'n Bars, one of my favorite Young albums, onGeorgetown'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 LindaRonstadt.

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While I was at Georgetown, Andrew Mendelson turned us on to someprojects that were being recorded over at Bucky Baxter's new studio,Three Trees Recording. The sound and sensibility of the productionwas so intriguing, as was the story about the studio's creation, that Ihad 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 andRyan Adams. He has also recorded with R.E.M., Los Lobos, JimLauderdale, Suzy Bogguss, Sara Evans, Joe Henry and a host of othersover the years.

Three Trees Recording is Baxter's vibe-y recording compound tuckedaway in the heavily forested tall hills north of Nashville. While it isless than a half an hour from Music Row, Three Trees feels like itcould be in rural upstate New York, hours away from any municipality.“I just wanted to get off the road and create a reallycomfortable place to make music,” says Baxter. “I wanted toproduce records and write songs and also build a place for bands tocome 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 ofwhat you would pay for just the studio in L.A. or New York, or half ofthat.”

Three Trees' assemblage of buildings has an interesting history:Much of it is built out of old structures from the Opryland theme parkthat existed in Nashville for many years. The huge beams that framemost of the main studio building came from the Grizzly River Rampageroller coaster, while the tracking room was created out of the Oprylandgift shop. The piano room was originally part of a structure that solda lard-heavy confection called Elephant Ears. The cabin near the frontof the compound was once near the Opryland railroad line and housed allof 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 alaugh. “I dug 20 or 30 thousand dollars' worth of shrubs fromOpryland and moved them out of there.”

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

Matthews had been touring the Southern states and originallyapproached Baxter about producing an album of traditional blues, folkand roots music from the South. Baxter convinced her that she shouldtake these inspirations, create a body of original work and do it atThree Trees.

“The basic theme behind it is to take the music that turnedinto jazz and the blues and country music — which is basicallyCeltic music and black music — and have it re-collideagain,” states Baxter. “You will either like it or youwon't. We intentionally made this record to slightly offend people thefirst time they listened to it. 'Cause I really didn't care for all myfavorite records at first, either. Then I couldn't stop listening tothem.”

The resulting album, which just came out, is calledCockahoop, a word meaning “Over the Moon.” The soundon the album recalls the kind of intimate ambience of the first twoBand albums and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks or VeedonFleece. Baxter's production is very organic, with unusualinstrumental 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 ofNashville's finest up-and-comers. Brown has also produced modernpop/rockers Mod Lang (named after a Big Star song) andsinger/songwriter Troy Johnson. Shawn Camp also recently cut there, aswere overdubs for the upcoming Be Good Tanyas album.

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

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

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