While browsing books on Amazon, I found a book about recording studios in unique locations and out of the ordinary buildings. My first impulse was to start a new blog category about ridiculously amazing studios combining my love of music and historic points of interest. My second impulse was to write about a studio right here in Memphis fitting this very description. And as a bonus I happen to have recorded there. What studio is it you ask… Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studio’s.
Royal Studios 101:
- Located in Memphis,Tennessee
- Established in 1956 (one of the oldest continuously operated music recording studios in the world)
- 1915 – opened as the Shamrock Theatre, a silent “nickelodeon” theater
- The Rex Theatre took over the Shamrock
- 1920’s – the theater added sound and was named the Royal Theater
- 1956 – Rented by Hi Records who turned it into Royal Recording Studio
- Early 1960s – Hi Records hired Willie Mitchell as a recording artist and producer
- 1970 – Joe Cuoghi, Hi Records founding president, died and Hi Records restructured. Attorney Nick Pesce became President and Willie Mitchell was promoted to Vice President.
- 1970 – The Royal Studios facility came under the direction of Willie Mitchell and was renamed Mitchell’s Royal Sound Studio.
- Today and into the future – in operation at the original location under the management of Lawrence“Boo” Mitchell, one of the sons of Willie Mitchell.
Since the studio is now officially a historical site, they are limited on the types of renovations and updates that can be made to the studio which in my opinion, makes it an even more desirable location for recording.
From the second you walk in, you can feel the good music vibes permeating from the space. Part of that vibe is certain to be emanating from the collection of studio grade vintage reel-to-reel tape machines and vintage instruments the studio has amassed over the years. Just one look at their equipment list and any musician partial to warm tones and classic textures is sure to drool. Naturally, they do also have a Pro Tools rig to satisfy modern recording needs, giving artists the best of both worlds.
As Barbara Blue mentions in the short piece on the studio, there really is something to be said for singing into the same mic used by the likes of Al Green and Ann Peebles. Not only are you sure to dig deep and give it your best in honor of those who have recorded before but there is a little bit of luck, or something approximating luck, that seems to be attached to this place and the pieces within.
The overall experience of recording at this studio is not just about the inanimate aspects of the studio, however alive the space may feel. The people you work with bring it all together. Even though my recording time at Royal was very brief, Boo struck me as genuine, easy-going and super knowledgeable with a great ear. When you are in the studio, it is priceless to have someone like that behind the board.
Okay, enough about the history, the gear and so on. Let’s let the music speak for itself. Here is an abbreviated list from the “Notable Recordings” list on the studio’s Wikipedia page to give you a glimpse into the masterworks recorded at Royal.
- 1967: Bobby Blue Bland – A Touch Of The Blues (USA)
- 1967: Chuck Berry – Chuck Berry In Memphis (USA)
- 1968: Ike and Tina Turner – Too Hot To Hold (USA)
- 1969: Ike and Tina Turner – The Hunter (USA)
- 1970: Al Green – Get’s Next To You (USA)
- 1971: Al Green – Let’s Stay Together (USA)
- 1972: Al Green – I’m Still In Love With You (USA)
- 1973: Al Green – Livin’ For You (USA)
- 1973: Al Green – Call Me (USA)
- 1974: Otis Clay – Trying To Live My Life Without You (USA)
- 1974: Ann Peebles – I Can’t Stand The Rain (USA)
- 1974: Al Green – Explores Your Mind (USA)
- 1975: Al Green – Al Green Is Love (USA)
- 1975: Al Green – Full of Fire (USA)
- 1975: Rod Stewart – Atlantic Crossing (USA)
- 1976: Al Green – Have A Good Time (USA)
- 1985: Al Green – He Is The Light (USA)
- 1988: Keith Richards – Talk Is Cheap (UK)
- 1989: Al Green – As Long As We’re Together (USA)
- 1994: Tom Jones – The Lead and How To Swing It
- 2000: De La Soul – Art Official Intelligence (USA)
- 2001: Robert Cray – Shoulda Been Home (USA)
- 2003: My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves (USA)
- 2005: Buddy Guy – Bring ‘Em In (USA)
- 2006: The Bo-Keys – Barnyard The Movie Soundtrack (USA)
- 2006: John Mayer – Continuum (USA)
- 2008: Anthony Hamilton – Soul Men The Movie Soundtrack (USA)
- 2008: Denise LaSalle (USA)
- 2009: Rod Stewart – Soul Book (USA)
- 2010: Solomon Burke – Nothing’s Impossible (USA)
- 2011: Sir Cliff Richard – Soulicious (UK)