TOM HEDDEN MUSIC, inc.
Electric Lady Studios
Greenwich Village, New York
“Electric Ladyland” (the album) is a landmark in the evolution of recording. It was the first time an artist with the musicianship, budget and vision had freedom to fully realize the power of “modern” recording technology. Sure, The Beatles and The Beach Boys had made records with layers and layers of tracks but that was the birth of a new age and they were still using largely 4-track formats. For Hendrix, 16-track tape was becoming the industry standard and he used it in a whole new way. You could work in London AND New York. You could build rhythm tracks as overdubs and then re-record the drums. You could do fifty takes of one song or multiple takes of an overdub and then bounce them to a single track and start over on the next instrument. Hendrix had found his element. He brought all of his perfectionism to the process and no small dose of his lifestyle as well. He burned-off the original producer of the record and took over the job, himself. He brought in “guest artists” for cameo roles and virtuoso musicians to replace parts. He wrote the rules and broke them and rewrote them. “Abbey Road”, “The White Album” and “Pet Sounds” (along with “Good Vibrations”) were unquestionably ground breaking recordings but “Electric Ladyland” built on that foundation and changed the game forever. Following George Martin’s and Brian Wilson’s examples, Hendrix completed the transformation of the recording studio; he turned it into a fully-expressive musical instrument. He redefined the process of making records and he spent a mountain of money.
At the same time he was finishing Electric Ladyland, Hendrix had been considering opening a club in Greenwich Village. He changed his plans to accommodate this new found passion for working in the studio and hopefully, save on the vast expense of his new and evolving production style. This is how Jimi Handrix, along with Eddie Kramer, drawing on their experience making Electric Ladyland set about building the perfect recording studio. The first step was to hire studio designer John Storyk. The equipment would be state of the art and the ambience would be the perfect creative environment. They began with another mountain of Hendrix’s money. While the building site had a great artistic pedigree, it had been the site of a nightclub and an artist’s gathering place, it also happened to be situated right in the middle of an underground river. Repeated floods cost time and money and the building project took more of both than anyone had been expecting. Hendrix’s label was tapped for more funds, and finally, as completion neared, Hendrix moved in and began to work. And then, almost immediately, he was gone. He spent only four weeks working in the studio he had designed and built to meet his every creative need.
The facility however, has proven to be the ultimate survivor. The list of artists who have temporarily called it home shows how the music business has roiled and changed over the past forty-odd years in New York City. Practically every genre is represented and the diverse list also clearly indicates that the studio has been able to attract top-shelf talent over a very long period of time. Just a slice from the discography of Electric Lady Studios: Dylan, The Stones, U2, Bowie, Dave Matthews, Zappa, Beyonce, Madonna, Lou Reed, Kanye, Daft Punk, Anthrax, Coldplay, Billy Joel, Green Day, The Clash… you get the idea. This is not a one-size-fits-all kind of place.
The gear is in no way a “museum of recording technology” or an homage to state of the art, circa 1970; it has evolved to meet each new era’s needs, even when those needs call for some vintage “throwbacks”. While the original wall art is regarded with deep reverence (and it is amazing), the consoles and racks change with the times. One piece of equipment, of which I was lucky enough to make use, does remain: a custom, purple SSL 9K. I love that board.
The layout feels less like it was built by inspired artists than dug by burrowing critters. The building has a very low profile at street level where it seems to be flanked by an endless variety of shoe stores catering to the feet of the tragically hip. As you descend into the complex, it expands into a network of curved hallways with turnouts into the various control rooms and studios. This organic feeling is no accident and is perhaps the deepest imprint left from the original design.
“Mix”, recently did a piece on the current state of affairs at Electric Lady:
It’s cool to think that while the world was tragically robbed of having Jimi Hendrix guide the evolution of guitar playing and grow old, showing us how rock stars could age gracefully, at least he was able to leave this facility, which has touched so many other musicians with a small piece of his artistry.
A quick note:
From the outset of writing this, I figured there would need to be adjustments and course corrections. So far, the big alteration to the original plan is the loss of The Comments Section. While there were a few kind words and pertinent questions, mostly I was getting advertising for discounts on Chinese-made Dwight Howard jersey knock-offs. I guess there’s a big market… We tried adding a few security features but I was still getting 35 emails a day requesting approval of these essential product pitches. By the end, the emails were mostly in Mandarin. This is what brought about the end of the Comments Section. If you’re not trying to sell stuff and do want to contribute you can still send me an email from the link at the bottom of the Profile Page and I’ll work it into one of my posts or give you an entry all your own. I’m also happy to continue to answer any questions.