John Fry in 2006. MEMPHIS, TN—The Memphis music community and the recording industry at large was rocked when, just six days after the passing of Ardent co-owner John Hampton, Ardent Studios and label founder John Fry suffered a cardiac arrest and died at age 69 on December 18, 2014. Fry was inducted in November into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, alongside the band Big Star, which he mentored and produced. While he was a pioneering engineer/producer and a successful businessman, the word “mentor” was the most oft descriptor of Fry. He readily shared his knowledge and experience, and generously aided countless engineers and artists in reaching their full potential.
In its coverage of Fry’s passing and legacy, Memphis daily, The Commercial Appeal, quoted Jody Stephens, Big Star’s drummer and an Ardent employee for the past 28 years: “For such a long time, Ardent and John Fry have been beacons to a lot of creative people. He would open the doors to people wanting to start that adventure. It was a place and John was a person who could help you make your dreams come true.”
Fry served as a SPARS (Society of Professional Audio Recording Services) member beginning in 1982, serving as SPARS president in 1995- 96 and Board Chairman in 1996-97. Across his career, he also served as Chairman of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment, and Music Commission; Chairman of the Memphis Film and Music Commission; President and National Trustee of the NARAS Memphis Chapter; and Chairman of the University of Memphis Music Industry Advisory Board. Fry was a current member of the Audio Engineering Society, which he joined in 1965.
Industry chronologist David Goggin. shares, “He was a down-to-earth, quiet man who was always a gentleman, always treating others with common decency and honesty. As a recording engineer and studio founder, John Fry’s contribution to the music emanating from Memphis to the world is unparalleled and timeless.”
Fry founded the Memphis, TN-based Ardent Studios in 1966. Early classics by Sam & Dave, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Hayes, Leon Russell and The Staple Singers were all recorded at Ardent. Over his 48-year career, Fry poured his passion for music into producing more than 75 gold and platinum records through the studio with artists including ZZ Top and R.E.M.
The Ardent story began when the teenage Fry built a studio in his family’s garage, where he recorded his first Ardent Records 45s. Eventually, he found a new store building on Memphis’ National Street, which he shared with a bookshop.
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.
In 2011, Fry cited several reasons for his continued success in a business, which had few survivors from the early days. “We’re flexible and we’ve always strived to adapt to the changes in the recording industry,” he said. He is survived foremost by his wife, Betty, and by a legion of friends and admirers.