Memphis, TN (November 10, 2006)–Ardent Studios, founded by John Fry, is celebrating 40 years as a center of unforgettable music emanating from the heart of Memphis, Tennessee.
The studio began its rich history with early classics by Sam & Dave, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Hayes, Leon Russell and The Staples Singers, then scored 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 in the new millenium with hits recorded by 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 amassed over 70 Gold and Platinum albums and singles.
Ardent Studios founder John Fry holds a Joint Proclamation from the City of Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee, proclaiming Monday, October 30, 2006 as “Ardent Studios 40th Anniversary,” presented by Shelby County Mayor A. C. Wharton (pictured, right). David J. Bennett, Director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, announced the statewide “Ardent Studios Day,” declared by Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen. The University of Memphis declared John Fry as the 2007 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award from the College of Communications and Fine Arts, the highest award the University can bestow. Photo by Steve Roberts.The Ardent story began when the teenage John 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,” he recalled. “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: Altec tube console, Ampex 2-track, Pultec EQ and Neumann mics–some of which are still in use today. The legendary 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 the overflow work from Stax Records. Walking through the Ardent doors came Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and 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 said, “We were amazed that they would take a chance on a bunch of young kids.” Top artists came back, and brought their friends.
Memphis’ Beale Street management presented a Beale Street Brass Note, honoring Ardent Studios, which will be embedded in the sidewalk along with historic Notes which honor distinguished artists and music industry figures and organizations. The Note was sponsored by The Memphis Film Commission, Craig Brewer (director of “Hustle and Flow” and “Black Snake Moan”), and Ira Sachs (director of “40 Shades of Blue). Pictured are (l-r): Herbie O’Mell, Chairman, Memphis Film Commission; Craig Brewer, film director; Jody Stephens, Ardent Studios manager; John Fry, Ardent founder, holding Beale Street Brass Note; Toni Turner, Performa Entertainment; Cato Walker, Performa Entertainment; Darren Fant, Performa Entertainment. Ardent became home to young producers and engineers such as Jim Dickinson, Terry Manning, Joe Hardy, John Hampton, Paul Ebersold, and later, many other successful figures who are part of the Ardent family circle, which includes 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 hi-resolution Pro Tools rigs, and is managed by Jody Stephens, who also does double duty as the drummer for Big Star–an early Ardent group which continues to perform today. Their first two albums appeared on the Stax-distributed Ardent Records label in the early 70s, and the catalog has continued to win new fans for more than three decades.
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.
John Fry cites several reasons for his continued success in a business which has few survivors from the early days. “We’re flexible and we’ve always strived to adapt to the changes in the recording industry. 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.”