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AES Salutes Electric Lady’s 40 Years

by Christopher Walsh. New York (August 30, 2010)--Jimi Hendrix, only weeks before his death, bestowed Electric Lady Studios on the recording community. On August 24, the Greenwich Village institution was saluted on its 40th anniversary by the AES New York section and some of the key figures in its birth and life.

Audio and music professionals gathered to salute Electric Lady Studios at a 40th anniversary
event hosted by the AES New York section. Pictured (l-r) are Lenny Kaye, Bob Margouleff,
studio manager Lee Foster, Tony Platt, Eddie Kramer, David Bialik, Janie Hendrix, John Storyk
and Malcolm Cecil. Photo: Cheryl Fleming
by Christopher Walsh.

New York (August 30, 2010)–Forty years after his untimely death at age 27, Jimi Hendrix remains one of music’s most revolutionary artists. In a too-brief career, he redefined the guitar, far surpassing both forbears and contemporaries in innovation, intensity and outright ferocity.

Fortunately for his fans, tape was usually rolling during the artist’s recording sessions and live performances. Experience Hendrix LLC, helmed by stepsister Janie, continues to restore and release his music. Most fortunate for audio professionals and artists however, Hendrix, only weeks before his death, bestowed Electric Lady Studios on the recording community. On August 24, the Greenwich Village institution was saluted on its 40th anniversary by the AES New York section and some of the key figures in its birth and life.

Four decades on, the three-room Electric Lady surveys a very different studio landscape. Gone are many of the multi-room commercial studios of legend, while innumerable smaller, often private studios exist throughout New York City and the world. Yet this remains an in-demand facility: recent clients include Coldplay, Sheryl Crow, the Strokes and Interpol, while engineer Michael Brauer recently made Studio B his base.

Like its founder, Electric Lady manifests innovation on many levels. Although the Record Plant, which launched in Times Square in 1968, is widely held to be the first U.S. recording studio catering more to artists and creativity than technicians, the artist-owned Electric Lady took that new paradigm quite a bit further. (In an bit of synchronicity, the first project at Record Plant was Hendrix’s 1968 double album,  Electric Ladyland.)

At the August 24 event, held in Studio A and streamed live via the AES New York section website, participants in some of Electric Lady’s finest hours spoke movingly about the experience. “This was Jimi’s home; he loved the studio,” recalled Eddie Kramer, who engineered most of Hendrix’s recordings. “Jimi actually started recording prior to the official opening–May, June, July, August. When he first started recording here, he was so happy he didn’t want to leave. When the studio finally did open to clients, if he was booked at 7:00, he would actually show up at 7:00–that was unheard of! He was so thrilled to have his own space, and he had a great work ethic.”

“Jimi more or less gave me one directive personally, which was I had to think ‘soft,’ ‘curved,’ ‘changing lights,'” said John Storyk, who, at age 22, was charged with designing the studio. “The concept was very simple: a large, Olympic Studio-style room, where Eddie had come from,” along with “a gracious, more spacious control room.”

Previously, Storyk explained, “control rooms were for engineers, musicians were on the other side of the glass. Jimi and Eddie had a different vision. Control rooms were to be big and spacious, and were to be rooms for artists. For the first time, an artist was building a studio. It’s happening in a few pockets all over the world, but no place more famous than here. It took an artist like Jimi, an engineer like Eddie and management like Jim [Marron] to put this together.”

Case in point: Not long after Hendrix’s passing, sessions for two of Stevie Wonder’s legendary albums, Music of my Mind and Talking Book, were brought to Electric Lady after sessions at the defunct, Midtown-based Media Sound proved unsatisfactory.

Media Sound, said Bob Margouleff, “was a wonderful place in its way, but was really an old-school studio; most of the engineers had little pocket protectors and were employed by the studio. Media was basically geared toward recording commercials during the day. When [we] really started working, there were a lot of problems. We would be displaced in the morning by a Crazy Daisy toilet paper commercial.”

Margouleff knew of Electric Lady, and recalled his notion that “‘It’s crazy, but there’s something going on down there that I really like.’ This changed our lives. Studios today are built like this: all the studios that you see–even my studio in Los Angeles–come from a place of being a friendly place to make art. It changed the course of the music business, and it was really out of this room that all the great music came.” Here, Margouleff added, “the studio really was an extension of the musician, an extension of the instruments. This studio is an instrument.”

“In 1969, this was an adventure; this was really new territory,” Storyk reminded attendees. “You didn’t order consoles; you built them. You didn’t look up this stuff in textbooks; there were no studio design/builders or architects.”

Engineer Tony Platt also recalled the vibe produced by the unique pedigree and characteristics of Electric Lady. After he and producer “Mutt” Lange recorded AC/DC’s Back in Black at Compass Point in the Bahamas, “we needed somewhere [to mix] that was going to give us the same kind of space and same kind of acoustic attitude. I chose Electric Lady Studios. When I walked in here, it just felt like home.” Platt also recorded the multiplatinum Foreigner 4 at Electric Lady.

Electric Lady, says longtime Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, “is a really great place for us to experiment, to explore. Sitting in that control room, I can remember many great moments where what you’re hearing over the speakers just turns you inside out. It’s a wonderful place, and the best thing about it is it’s still here. Electric Lady is here, and the music is in the walls.”

On the day after the AES event, Kramer and Janie Hendrix were back at Electric Lady, working on an upcoming Experience Hendrix release. “This is a part of Jimi,” Janie Hendrix said of the studio. “His heart–his spirit–does live here.”

Electric Lady Studios

AES New York section