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RCA Studio B Nashville

Nashville RCA Studio B “Home of a Thousand Hits”
(This article is by Club Member Stan Klusek who was on our recent USA Tour.)
Recently I did a music tour of the southern states of the USA. It was called “Elvis Presley Tour of the USA”. There were many highlights on this tour. One of them was RCA Studio B in Nashville. It is situated in a part of the city called Music Row, where there are many studios, song writers’ buildings and music publishing houses. Apparently, there are something like 1000 songs a day written in this area. Only a few ever get heard by the public.
So, we were able to have a tour through RCA Studio B, and had a very knowledgeable tour guide, Ron Harman, to take us on a great musical journey. Although not as well known as Sun Studio in Memphis, nevertheless, Studio B is a very hallowed place in the history of modern music recording.
The building is now mainly a museum, owned by the Mike Curb Foundation, (a nonprofit organizations to serve the needs of marginalised people) and also attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is still a functional recording studio for selected artists who still want a part of musical memories.
Ron first welcomed us into the main foyer or office area, where there are many photos of musicians who have recorded at Studio B. You did not have to be an RCA artist to record here. Some of the artist to record here include David Bowie, Dolly Parton (I Will Always Love You), The Everly Brothers (Cathy’s Clown, All I Have to Do is Dream) Brenda Lee (I’m Sorry), Willie Nelson (Crazy), Roy Orbison (In Dreams), Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, and many more. Over 47,000 songs were recorded here. 1000 of those became hits. Many renowned session musicians are also known to have created the “Nashville Sound” from this studio. Musician such as Floyd Cramer, Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore and later a group of session musicians called the Nashville Cats, such as Charlie McCoy, Bob Moore and Chip Young, Norbert Putman, David Briggs and Charlie Daniels (The Devil went down to Georgia).who worked with many of the above artists.
Recently, Musicians such as Marty Stuart, Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, and many others have followed the legends into this magical space. Stuart first recorded here as a 13-year-old with Lester Flatt.

(The two photos above are some of the artists that have recorded at Studio B)
Built in 1957, the studio, although it had walls and ceilings acoustically designed to absorb sound, had initial sound problems when artist recorded, so it was a work in progress getting the optimum sound for each artist. Roy Orbison recorded there, early in his career, and the simple solution to sound deadening was to string a blanket behind him.

Ron told the story of when Dolly Parton’s first chance to record at Studio B. Dolly had a brand-new car, and had not driven much before and admits that she wasn’t a great driver. Dolly was so excited to be recording there, but was running a little late. On arriving at the Studio B car park, Dolly ploughed into the side of the building. There were bricks tumbling on to her new car. But the recording session was paramount in her mind, so she left the car where it had crashed and went straight to the recording session. During the session someone came in and said “Someone has run into the damn building!” Dolly never said a word, but apparently there is a plaque honoring her mishap.
From the foyer, we moved into the actual recording room. The emphasis of the tour now shifted to the recordings of Elvis. From 1959, this was the default studio for Elvis to record, as it was only three and half hours’ road time to travel from Memphis. Elvis recorded over two hundred songs at Studio B. There is even a picture of him in his army uniform, prior to his deployment to Germany.
The standard belief during the 1960s, is that Elvis was making just mediocre music for mediocre movies. Partially true. Usually, these types of songs were recorded at RCA Hollywood, but in between films he would often record at RCA Studio B and the quality and choice was of a very high standard, for example the Bob Dylan song “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, a recording that Bob Dylan has said is one of his favourite covers. Musically Elvis could be amazing with how he interpreted a song. Unfortunately, many of these great tracks usually ended up as “bonus tracks” buried at the end of movie soundtracks albums, at the behest of the Colonel and RCA management
(Photo of the wall in the foyer of Studio B devoted to Elvis’s single recordings and a picture of Elvis in army shirt and tie standing behind the Steinway piano. At the bottom is Elvis with the backing singers, the Jordanaires and Millie Kirkman.))
Ron gave examples of how Elvis created environmental moods for a song. For “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, Elvis asked for the studio lights to be turned off, so the song was recorded in virtually totally darkness, creating a very sombre mood. For Elvis’s Christmas Albums, which were recorded around May-June (for a Christmas release), the studio would be decorated in a Christmas theme, to help create the mood of Christmas.
Ron played samples of some of Elvis’s tracks. A standout was “It’s Now or Never”. The acoustics of that room were fabulous for a song that was recorded in the early 1960s. Also, the Grammy winning “How Great Thou Art”.
When Elvis was trying to record “Guitar Man” he was not happy with the session musicians (Chip Young, Earl Bradley – top guitarists) attempts at the guitar licks in the song. So, they sent out a search party for Jerry Reeds, the writer of the song, and an expert finger picker of the guitar. Jerry loved fishing, and they found him somewhere out at one of his favourite fishing spots.
Jerry came in straight from his fishing trip, in his fishing gear, and met Elvis for the first time. His comment to Elvis was “Damn, if you ain’t the best-looking thing I have ever laid my eyes on!” They then resumed recording, and the mood of the session went sky high with the addition of Jerry’s guitar work.
Consequently, you can hear Jerry Reed’s iconic guitar on songs like “Guitar Man” “Big Boss Man” and “US Male”.
The actual recording room has what is called the “sweet spot” where the optimum sound for recording is achieved. Ron showed where that is. It is marked with a little black cross tapped on the floor. Of course, all of our tour party wanted to get individual photos of standing on the sweet spot.
Another story Ron had for us was how Elvis was trying to listen to some demos on a record player that would not play, and he lost his temper and kicked a hole in the cupboard below. That cupboard was never repaired because again it was a talking point for the future. More likely, Elvis was probably frustrated with the quality of the demos he was getting handed, by his publishing company.

There was also a Steinway piano used by many artists throughout the years. It was built in 1942, belonged to NBC Studios, and was bought by RCA and shifted to Studio B in 1957. It has become known as “The Elvis Steinway Piano” as he played it a lot. In fact, Elvis was probably a better piano player than a guitar player. It is at the opposite end to the sweet spot, so I guess the acoustics there, are also very good.
Everyone also wanted the opportunity to sit at this piano, and you can see a page on Facebook called “The Elvis Steinway Piano at RCA Studio B”.
The last song, according to Ron, that Elvis recorded at Studio B was “My Way”. One can only think that Elvis’s motive for recording the song, was that he had a feeling that his time on earth would be short.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this iconic studio, not as well known as places like Abbey Road or Sun Studio, but pretty amazing in its output of hits. This studio tour was a standout, among a lot of other things I saw on this tour.
Thanks heaps Ron, for sharing your depth of knowledge of this studio and its artists.
Web References
https://www.trolleytours.com/nashville/music-row
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_Row
https://www.countrymusichalloffame.org/experiences/studio-b
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Curb
https://www.mikecurbfoundation.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ElvisSteinwayPiano/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDwLGZtAnWQ

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