Little Hollywood owner and chief engineer Danny Ramsey
Photo: Rick Clark
Last month, I introduced some of the wonders of my neighborhood: East Nashville. When I started gathering information on recording happenings in the 'hood, I showed the article to several of my musically creative neighbors, who quickly added loads of other candidates within walking distance.
Down my street — Forrest Avenue — is a club called The 5 Spot. It's a place where all sorts of cool acts appear, such as Kenny Vaughn, Tim Carroll, Goose Creek Symphony, Wayne “The Train'' Hancock, Walter Egan and Blue Mother Tupelo. Late one slow afternoon, my next-door neighbor, Mark “Sergio” Webb, was sitting at the bar when former Attorney General Janet Reno popped in with a friend for a drink and watched a band they knew during soundcheck. You never know who will show up here, but you aren't surprised.
Every Tuesday night, you can hear Joe Venuti — and Stephane Grappelli — style jazz courtesy of the Nashville Swing Band, featuring violinist Buddy Spicher. Spicher lives right behind The 5 Spot, where he has his own recording studio called the Fiddle House. Across the street from his studio is one of Nashville's classic studios, Woodland Studios, where Spicher cut countless sessions when it was a commercial facility.
Since he first arrived in Nashville in 1959, Spicher has been the go-to guy for that extra something. He was also in the highly regarded local “A-list” session player's band, Area Code 615. It's Spicher's fiddle that you hear behind many famous recordings by Kitty Wells, Jimmy Martin and Hank Snow, Bob Wills, George Strait, Linda Ronstadt, Hank Thompson, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Garth Brooks, to name a few. He received the Country Music Association's Musician of the Year award in 1983 and 1985.
I mentioned Spicher to producer and former Area Code 615 bandmate Norbert Putnam. “Buddy's one of the most creative violinists,” Putnam says. “He was the guy who got the call when you wanted more than what a country fiddler could give you because he was so well-versed in pop, rock and jazz. He can really handle it all.”
Spicher's Fiddle House studio has been the scene for a number of fine projects since its opening in 2000. The studio includes a Mackie HDR 24-track/96kHz hard disk recorder and Digital 8 Bus console. The mic collection includes Neumann TLM 103s, Audio-Technica 4050s and 4033s, and models from AKG, Earthworks, Audix and Shure. Avalon and PreSonus mic pre's are featured, as well as a Yamaha C7 concert grand piano.
Spicher's sons, Matt and David, and Kurt Storey handle engineering duties. Matt Spicher's engineering credits include Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart and Pam Tillis, while Storey has worked with scores of Nashville artists, including the great fiddler Mark O'Connor, bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and, more recently, the Grammy-nominated bassist Victor Wooten. Both of Spicher's sons have “mirror” studios in their homes, allowing them flexibility to work on projects outside of the Fiddle House while maintaining a continuity of methodology.
When David Spicher isn't producing and engineering tracks at the Fiddle House, he plays upright bass for Pam Tillis, Crystal Gayle, John England and the Gypsy Hombres.
Recently, the Fiddle House was the place where Buddy Spicher and Vassar Clements (another violin legend) recorded a fine album called Runaway Fiddle for the OMS label.
Pictured from left: Roswell East's engineer/producer Jordan Richter, Starlight Drifters producer/guitarist Chris Costello and guest vocalist Kenneth Brian
Photo: Rick Clark
Just half-a-block away in a house on Forrest Avenue is engineer/producer Jordan Richter's two-room facility with full tracking rooms and lounge called Roswell East Studios. Upstairs is a mix and overdub room run by engineer and Nuendo expert Steve Mabee. Both rooms are built on the Steinberg Nuendo software and hardware and accommodate all Pro Tools clients. The main tracking room showcases a refurbished Neotek Series III and an MCI JH-16 2-inch 16-track. Main room monitors include Meyer Sound HD-1s and Yamaha NS-10s powered by a Bryston 4B amplifier. In addition to a wide array of outboard gear, Richter is also proud of his large collection of pedals, guitars, amp heads and cabinets, making it an ideal studio for rock recordings.
Roswell East's client list has included singer/songwriter Matthew Ryan, Sixpence None the Richer, the Legendary Shack Shakers and pop/rocker Neilson Hubbard, as well as Ginny Owens, Margaret Becker, Steve Hindalong, Regie Hamm and others.
“This neighborhood has been exploding with business within the last three years,” says Richter. “We're one block from the best coffee shop in the city, and between one block and one mile are some of the best restaurants and bars in town. There are great art galleries within an easy walking distance and an overall creative vibe to the whole area.”
Two streets over on Ordway is Brent Truitt's Le Garage. Truitt is one of the city's most highly regarded multi-instrumentalists, primarily on mandolin. During the years, he's toured with the Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Vassar Clements, John Hartford, Holly Dunn and Jon Randall. As a producer and engineer, Truitt's credits include a Grammy for engineering Riders in the Sky's Monsters, Inc. and Woody's Roundup — Toy Story 2, both for Disney/Pixar. Truitt also recorded the music for Birds on a Wire, the Oscar-winning short film that was featured before Monsters, Inc. He also recorded and performed on the soundtrack for the HBO movie The Grave.
This year, Truitt engineered and co-produced guitar great David Grier, did engineering for an upcoming Nitty Gritty Dirt Band CD, mixed the new release by bluegrass group the Lonesome River Band, and produced several bluegrass and Americana projects for various labels.
“The artistic community in East Nashville has gotten huge in the last few years,” says Truitt. “There are more songwriters, young country stars and management-type folks in the neighborhood. There are little studios everywhere. This seems to be the area of Nashville that musicians are drawn to, and it's not because of the cheap housing anymore. Maybe it's the sense of community or the feel of an old-fashioned neighborhood. Or it could just be the Bongo Java Coffee Shop.”
A short walk from Truitt's Le Garage is a several-block clump of unique Spanish Mission — style homes called Little Hollywood, where numerous music folks call home. At 1804 Lakehurst Dr. is Little Hollywood studio, which has been owned and operated by Danny Ramsey for the past seven years. It's the former home of Marty Robbins, who bought it from Grady Martin, one of Nashville's top session players in the '60s and '70s.
“I'm a one-man studio, and my past work and word of mouth have kept me self-employed,” says Ramsey, who worked as a mastering engineer for many years. “Working in Nashville for so long, I've gotten to really know the styles and strong points of the local musicians and vocalists. The ultimate rush for me is to bring in people on a project who I believe in and watch the whole thing come together.”
The week I bopped over to the studio, Ramsey was involved in a session with Dave Roe (bassist for Dwight Yoakam), Chuckie Burke (Little Milton drummer), Mike Holmes (T. Graham Brown keyboardist) and Larry Hanson (guitarist for Alabama). Brent Mason, one of the most highly regard guitarists in a city flooded with them, has been a client of Little Hollywood, as have Walter Egan, Victor Wooten, Ronnie McDowell, The Jordanaires and players like Bobby Keys, Jeff Cease, Albert Lee, and D.J. Fontana and Scotty Moore.
The fact that I can't walk a block from my house without encountering someone that speaks the language of music, art and recording is a real blessing. The interesting thing is, I know that folks in Sylvan Park, Inglewood, Madison, Goodlettsville and a number of other places around the area would probably have much the same enthusiasm for the scene as I do. I'm certain I'll be hearing from them, too. Hey guys, I'll get to you in the coming months.
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