Matt Ross-Spang Explains “Slapback Echo” at Sun Studio

 

Ever wondered how Sam Phillips got that great “slapback” echo sound on all those classic Sun Studio recordings? Memphis-based producer/engineer and Grammy-winner Matt Ross-Spang shows how it was done in this exclusive clip from Rolling Stone.  Elvis Presley – A Boy from Tupelo: The Complete 1953–1955 Recordings comes out July 28th from Sony/Legacy.

Royal Studios Announces 60th Anniversary Celebrations

Royal Studios held a press conference this week at the Orpheum Theater to announce their 60th Anniversary celebrations. Royal’s Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell detailed plans for three events over the summer and fall to mark the occasion, July 28th at Royal, October 14th at the Levitt Shell, and November 18th at the Orpheum Theater. Bob Mehr over at the Commercial-Appeal has the full story.

The Mitchell family

#1 Records From Memphis’ Matt Ross-Spang and Boo Mitchell

L: Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell, photo by Charles Nardi. R: Matt Ross-Spang, photo by Austin Miller

Congratulations to Memphis producer/engineer Matt Ross-Spang for a big week. Jason Isbell’s The Nashville Sound, which was engineered by Matt and produced by Dave Cobb, is the #1 Rock, #1 Country, and #4 overall record the week of July 8, according to Billboard. Matt also worked on the new Blind Boys of Alabama album, Almost Home, which is featured over at NPR’s All Songs Considered. In addition to doing some remodeling of the Studio B tracking room at Sam Phillips Recording Service, Matt recently took time sit down with Tape Op Magazine for their podcast. Congratulations, Matt!

It’s been another big month for Memphis producer/engineer Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell. North Mississippi All-StarsPrayer For Peace was produced by Mitchell at Royal Studios and hit on #1 on the Billboard Blues Album chart the week of June 24. The album is Mitchell’s first #1 as a producer. It supplanted yet another Royal release at #1 on the Blues Album chart, Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm. These albums make the second and third releases from Royal Studios hit #1 in the last 6 months (the first was Melissa Etheridge’s Memphis Rock And Soul). Last but not least in Royal news, congratulations to Charles Hodges, Leroy Hodges, and Howard Grimes (as well as the late Teenie Hodges and Al Jackson, Jr.) for Hi Rhythm’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association.

 

Recording Academy – Memphis Chapter New Member Celebration

Photo by Greg Campbell/WireImage for The Recording Academy.
The Recording Academy – Memphis Chapter had its New Membership Celebration Monday night at the Halloran Center. I’m happy to begin my first term as a chapter governor, and I’m honored to serve with such a great group of people, including our new chapter president, Gebre Waddell. Exciting young Memphis artists Julien Baker and Marco Pavé performed, as did the legendary Don Bryant. It was a great night and it’s an exciting time to be making music in Memphis, Tennessee. More photos over at our chapter’s Facebook page.

Sounds Around Town

Welcome to our semi-regular column, “Sounds Around Town”, all about who is recording what and where in Memphis. (Pictured, Jackie Venson. Photo by Pooneh Ghana).

  • Royal Studio‘s Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell was working last week with Austin, TX-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Jackie Venson.
  • Memphis by-way-of Louisiana swamp-soul chanteuse Marcella René Simien and her band, aka Marcella and Her Lovers, recently began their new full-length at American. Produced by High/Low Recording‘s Toby Vest and recorded and engineered by Pete Matthews, this is the maiden voyage for their new venture at the old American East building, later known as Easley-McCain.
  • Scott Bomar at Electraphonic Recording recently produced and engineered the debut release for Atlanta-based artist Liz Brasher. Scott has also been working with local singer-songwriter Mark Edgar Stuart on an upcoming project.

(Liz Brasher and Scott Bomar. Photo courtesy of the artist’s Instagram).

  • Jeff Powell has been busy cutting lacquers in his mastering room at Sam Phillips Recording, including a box set of Al Green’s complete Hi Records singles (a total of 26 7″ 45rpm records), as well as vinyl releases for Dr. John, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Gregg Allman. He engineered the recently released Afghan Whigs record In Spades in part at Phillips, and produced his wife Susan Marshall‘s upcoming covers album, named after the studio’s address: 639 Madison.
  • Speaking of Susan Marshall, she produced the debut from singer/songwriter McKenna Bray at Phillips, which husband Jeff cut the tracks for. The first single, “The Way I Loved You”, drops today on MadJack Records.
  • There’s been a lot of activity the past couple of months over at Music + Arts Studio. Back in March, rapper and activist Marco Pavé did pre-production for his hip-hop opera there. Jazz musicians and twin brothers Carl and Alan Maguire recorded an album with the legendary Donald Brown producing.  In April, Kevin Houston mixed the Kevin Cubbins-produced debut from young local band Summer Avenue, as well as the soundtrack to a documentary film about famed Memphis dancer Lil Buck. In May, the studio did a remote live recording of the Lovelight Orchestra (featuring blues vocalist John Németh) at Bar DKDC, for a live album produced by Ross-Spang and engineered by Houston. May also saw sessions at Music + Arts for Ruf Records artists Big Daddy Wilson and Dana Fuchs.

(Lovelight Orchestra at Bar DKDC. Photo by Nikki Boertman, Commercial-Appeal)

  • Speaking of Matt Ross-Spang, he recently finished work over at Sam Phillips Recording Service on a new record for California artist Nicki Bluhm. May also saw the release of the Ross-Spang produced Sweet Kind of Blue from British folk artist Emily Barker, recorded at Phillips last year and engineered by Jeff Powell.
  • Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records comes out this month. Produced by Tamara Saviano and Luther Dickinson for the Americana Music Society and engineered by Matt Ross-Spang and Kevin Houston, all proceeds go to St. Jude’s Research Hospital. The sessions were divided between Sun and Phillips, and feature performances of classic Sun material from artist like Valerie June, Jimbo Mathus, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Shawn Camp, Chuck Mead, Amy LaVere, and more. I was lucky enough to play guitar in the house band on the sessions, and I have my own track, a cover of Warren Smith’s “Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache”. (Thank you to Alex Greene at the Memphis Flyer for the write-up).

 

FOCUS: “Nothing Sounds Like Memphis”

I had the pleasure of writing this piece for the MAY+JUN 2017 issue of Focus Mid-South Magazine. Photos courtesy of Shenanigans Photography.

In the summer of 2016, rising British folk star Emily Barker found herself passing through the Bluff City. A native Australian, she relocated to the UK several years ago and launched a career there. Her group Red Clay Halo found success, and one of her songs was used as the theme for a popular BBC television show Wallander. After making several solo records in Britain, she recorded a side project in Nashville called Applewood Road. It was almost time for her next solo record, and the plan was to make it in Nashville as well.

On her way there, however, she stopped in Memphis for a couple of days to meet with producer Matt Ross-Spang. Matt gave her a tour of the newly revamped Sam Phillips Recording Service (est. 1960). After that visit, Emily decided she wasn’t going to make her next record in Nashville after all.

Instead, she made her new record, Sweet Kind of Blue, in Memphis, with all Memphis musicians, many of whom she’d never met until they started cutting. I was around at the time and I would describe Emily’s demeanor as beaming. Memphis swept her off her feet. I know the feeling.

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RED HOT Tribute to Sun Records Out 6/16; High/Low Moves to American East

Coming from the Americana Society of Memphis on June 16 is Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records. The album was produced by Luther Dickinson and engineered by Matt Ross-Spang at Sam Phillips Recording and Kevin Houston at Sun Studio. Proceeds go to St. Jude. (Full disclosure: I played on it, and have my own track, a cover of Warren Smith’s “Red Cadillac And a Black Mustache”). Bob Mehr has the full story at the Commercial-Appeal.

Also in the same article: Memphis’ scrappy upstart studio, High/Low, is moving into a new location: the old American East studio. The studio was originally built by Chips Moman in 1968 to handle overflow business from his American Studio, which at the time was one of the most in-demand recording studios in the US. A lot of great records were made in that building, especially in its later incarnation as Easley-McCain, where artists like Townes van Zandt, Sonic Youth, the White Stripes, and Wilco made noteworthy albums. Congratulations to owners Toby Vest and Pete Matthews!

Emily Barker: From Australia to London to ‘The Cape Canaveral of Studios’

Australian-born, UK-based singer/songwriter Emily Barker has a new record out this week, Sweet Kind of Blue. The album was recorded last year at Sam Phillips Recording Service was produced by Matt Ross-Spang, and features all Memphis musicians. London’s Financial Times visited Emily in “the Cape Canaveral of studios”.

Memphis in the sunshine is like a city in slow motion. Cars glide dreamily down Madison Avenue as they pass the tram stop and the minty-fresh looking Sam Phillips Recording Services building. The street is warm and soupy, and so quiet that it’s hard to imagine the Yardbirds belting out “Train Kept A-Rollin'” inside, or Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash drinking with Phillips at the bar on the penthouse floor, leaving cigarette burns in the Formica counter.

Emily has been a guest at my Lafayette’s shows a couple of times, and she stayed at my place some while she was here making the record, so I was lucky enough to get to hear some of it while it was being made. It’s a really lovely record.

Sweet Kind of Blue is out May 19.

Memphis Artist Marco Pavé Releases Debut Album

“If Memphis is looking for the next incarnation of its musical identity, this is it.” NPR’s First Listen takes a look at Memphis hip-hop artist and activist Marco Pavé and his debut LP, Welcome to Grc Lnd.  MTV News came to town last month to see Pavé perform the album live.

Welcome to Grc Lnd isn’t a single narrative, but it feels like it could be. Everything, at the end, is work that is facing home. When he writes about protest, he’s writing about Memphis. When he writes about overcoming poverty, he’s writing about Memphis. When he writes about family, his hopes, his dreams, he is writing about Memphis.

Marco will be celebrating the release of the album April 26 at the Halloran Centre.

 

 

Sounds Around Town

 Lucero records at Sam Phillips Recording Service. Photo by Jamie Harmon.

Welcome to “Sounds Around Town”, a semi-regular column about who is recording what and where in Memphis.