Pictured is Jonathan Pekar, Director of Ardent Studios’ Film Department, holding his Emmy award for Best Commercial Spot.
Ardent Studios is proud to announce that their mild-mannered Director of the Film Department Jonathan Pekar has won the 27th MidSouth Emmy award for Best Commercial Spot for creating the animated Memphis Music Foundation commercial.
Pekar commented, “I’m stoked to be a part of the entertainment scene in Memphis. The intense level of creativity that goes on here is inspiring.” This project also showcases the talents of painter Lamar Sorrento and Singer/Songwriter Keia Johnson.
Pekar is presently developing a new television series called Kids of Memphis. It is set to air in November 2013.
We are sad to report the loss of another pivotal Big Star figure: Ice Water drummer and Ardent Records promoter Steve Rhea.
From Studio Manager Jody Stephens:
Our very good friend, Steve Rhea, passed away today. He was an integral part of Ardent’s history. Steve was introduced to John Fry and Ardent Studios in the late 60s and by the early 70s he had become a part of the creative evolution of what was to become Big Star. He played with Chris Bell in The Jinx and then Ice Water, a late night studio project which involved Andy Hummel. Steve had been playing drums on the projects with Chris and Andy and his return to college in Texas left an opening for a drummer Jody Stephens. Upon graduation, Steve returned to Memphis and Ardent, this time enlisted by John Fry to promote Ardent Records’ releases. His projects included Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. We will miss him.
Steve Rhea, a key figure in the history of legendary Memphis rock group Big Star has died.
Rhea, a drummer in Big Star precursor bands the Jynx, Rock City and Icewater, as well as an Ardent Records staffer, died on Wednesday morning at his home. The 62-year-old Rhea, who became a successful banker and financial planner, had been diagnosed with cancer last year.
“Steve’s playing just struck me pretty powerfully,” said Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, who took over for Rhea behind the kit in 1971.
“From my perspective, he was such an integral part of Big Star’s evolution,” said Stephens. “And yet, he was somebody fun and very laid back, always great to work with.”
Rhea’s death is another blow for fans of Big Star, which has lost band members Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel, group producer Jim Dickinson, and various other associates, including photographer/logo designer Carole Manning and songwriter Tommy Hoehn, over the past three years. The period has also seen a renewed international interest in the group’s history, thanks to a Grammy winning box set Keep An Eye on the Sky, and documentary film, “Nothing Can Hurt Me.”
A pivotal player in the early Ardent studio scene of the late 1960′s and early 1970s, Rhea was a gifted musician and occasional songwriter. He joined future Big Star founder Chris Bell in the high school garage band the Jynx, before following — along with bassist Hummel — in subsequent outfits like Rock City and Icewater.
Rhea’s greatest contribution was as the writer and singer on the Icewater song “All I See Is You.” The song came out on the 2008 collection Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story and 2009 Big Star anthology Keep An Eye on the Sky.
Rhea left the Ardent fold in order to attend college at Southern Methodist University in Texas in 1970. His departure opened up a spot for drummer Stephens who joined the soon to be rechristened Big Star. Rhea would return to Ardent to work as a promotions man in 1972, helping on the campaigns for Big Star’s first two, ill-fated, LPs.
After his involvement in the music business, Rhea went onto a successful career in finance in the Mid-South where he served as a vice president at Leader Federal Bank, Union Planters Bank of Memphis, and the Union Planters Corporation.
He eventually left to work with his father, S. Herbert Rhea, as a consultant at Rhea Financial Corporation. Most recently, Rhea had been the principal at Summit Asset Management.
Rhea is survived by his wife Leigh, and daughters Emily Rhea and Elizabeth Rhea Cook.
In the photo above: Steve Rhea and Chris Bell at the National Street location of Ardent Studios.
A private graveside service will be held on Friday morning May 18th. Visitation will be at Second Presbyterian Church at 12:30 pm on the same day followed by a memorial service in the Sanctuary at 2 p.m. Memorials may be sent to the Second Presbyterian Church Foundation, 4055 Poplar Memphis 38111, to WKNO, 7151 Cherry Farms Road Cordova 38016 or to the Church Health Center, 1210 Peabody Avenue, Memphis 38104. Memorial Park Funeral Home, “Behind the stone wall”, 901-767-8930. Condolences may be offered at www.MemorialParkOnline.com
Ardent Studios is proud to announce the complete renovation of Studio C! In conjunction with the 45th anniversary of the studio, we’re in the process of upgrading just about everything in the control room – new console, new acoustics, new aesthetics, and much more. You can keep up to date with the changes to Studio C by visiting thenewstudioc.com. Meanwhile, read more in our official press release below:
Ardent in Memphis Guts Famed Studio C for New SSL Install
“Appetite for Construction” Celebrates 45th Anniversary of Venerable Studio
Pictured at Ardent Studios in the shell of the new Studio C control room are (L-R) chief technical engineer Chris Jackson, founder John Fry, and studio manager/Big Star drummer Jody Stephens.
Memphis, TN, August, 2011 – As an integral part of its 45th Anniversary, Memphis’ venerated Ardent Studios is celebrating with an “Appetite for Construction” and completely gutting the control room of Studio C in preparation for the installation of an SSL Duality console. The studio’s prized workhorse Neve V 40 x 40 console has been decommissioned and will be reborn as a classic sidecar to accompany the state-of-the-art Duality, giving Ardent the best of both vintage and new.
“It was time to bring Studio C into the highly competitive 21st Century world of recording,” stated Ardent founder and the studio’s first engineer John Fry. ”This room has a legacy that includes landmark work by Bob Dylan, ZZ Top, 3 Doors Down, R.E.M.,and B.B. King, among so many other great artists, and we are keeping that traditional acoustic tracking space alongside our new control room with SSL’s flagship console.”
Adjacent to a 32′ x 26′ tracking room with three isolation booths, Studio C’s control room will house an SSL Duality SE 48-channel console with in-board patchbay (RHS). Also, the SSL I/O package consists of one Delta Link HD-MADI unit and two Alpha Link converter units for a total of 48 analog I/Os. With consoles in place worldwide, Duality has established a new industry standard for professional audio production.
Chief technical engineer Chris Jackson decommissions the Neve V 40×40 console in Studio C control room.
Ardent Studios started off with early classics by Sam & Dave, Led Zeppelin, Al Green and The Staple Singers, then racked up hits in the 70s and 80s by ZZ Top, REM, George Thorogood, The Allman Brothers, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Ardent continues today with recent triumphs by such artists as Sir Cliff Richard, Jack White, Huey Lewis and the News, Smashing Pumpkins, Montgomery Gentry, and Klaus Voorman. Of significant note is John Hiatt’s “Master of Disaster,” produced by the late Jim Dickinson in the studio he embraced for over 30 years.
The Solid State Logic Duality’s innovative hybrid approach combines a traditional analog path and signal processing along with exceptional DAW control, all within a single hardware surface. Duality has a diverse user base that includes many of the world’s most prestigious commercial recording facilities, on-air broadcast production studios, educational establishments, film & TV score specialists and a growing group of notable private owners.
John Fry cites several reasons for Ardent’s longevity in a recording world that has few survivors from the early days. ”We’re flexible and we’ve always strived to adapt to the changes in the technology and recording industry. We’ve also been fortunate to have so much talent on our staff, and long term relationships with successful artists and producers. Also, having a production company, a record label, and a publishing business has allowed us to be one of our own best clients. We expect our new Studio C will be a perfect fit for our continued momentum.”
To learn more about Ardent’s new Studio C, visit: http://www.thenewstudioc.com
For information about Ardent Studios, visit: http://www.ardentstudios.com
For Big Star fans and record collectors the world over, April 16 is going to be a big day. BIG. Aside from just being Record Store Day, it also marks the release of the newest Big Star reissue: The ultimate version of the mysterious, occasionally misunderstood, and almost always under-appreciated Third. Along with a Buck Owens 7″ (featuring early and unreleased recordings), this special edition of Third will be the inaugural release from Omnivore Recordings, and it’s a doozie. Take a look at this exploded view:
From Omnivore’s official press release:
Big Star Third [Test Pressing Edition] is a special edition vinyl release limited to 2,000 pieces worldwide. The album has been described as a lost record re-discovered years after it was recorded, one that has seen many track listings, titles and album covers. It’s been dubbed a classic, and an enigma. The Omnivore Recordings edition comes complete with replicas of the original tape box, tracking and lead sheets, mastering card and is pressed on 180 gram vinyl. The new pressing was cut from the original assembly reel, on the same lathe at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis and by the very same engineers who cut it the first time, Larry Nix and John Fry. Pressed on high quality vinyl at RTI, this is the definitive version of this album. In the limited run of 2,000, five copies of the original test pressings signed by Big Star’s Jody Stephens, original mastering engineers Larry Nix and Ardent’s John Fry will be available at retail, randomly, worldwide. Take a peek inside Larry Nix’s Mastering room at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis as Larry, John and Jody prepare the actual new master being used for the new “test pressing” edition on YouTube.
About Omnivore Recordings:
Founded in 2010 by long-time, highly respected industry veterans Cheryl Pawelski, Greg Allen, and Brad Rosenberger, Omnivore Recordings’ vision is to preserve the legacies and music created by historical, heritage and catalog artists while also releasing previously unissued, newly found “lost” recordings and making them available for music-loving audiences to discover. Distributed by EMI in North America and Ace Records UK in Europe, Omnivore Recording’s current artist projects include limited edition releases by Big Star and Buck Owens with future projects by Townes Van Zandt and Leon Russell to be announced soon.
Omnivore Recordings official website: http://omnivorerecordings.com/
Become a fan on Facebook: www.facebook.com/omnivorerecordings
Readers of this blog may remember a story about a very special performance of Big Star‘s Third that ran for two nights at the Cat’s Cradle in Carborro, North Carolina in December of 2010. The same performance was reprised in March of this year in New York City. The performance featured (as did the first) a string section to recreate Carl Marsh’s arrangements on the original record, and an impressive guest list, to say the least: Michael Stipe & Mike Mills (REM), Matthew Sweet, M. Ward (She & Him), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Mitch Easter, Chris Stamey (The dB’s), Tift Merritt, and Will Rigby (The dB’s), among others.
Jody Stephens (Big Star’s original and current drummer, and the last surviving original member of the band) had this to say about the conceptualization of the original performance:
Sometime around last December John Fry and I got an email from Chris Stamey (The dBs, and producer of the Big Star Third live production). In the email he talked about producing a live performance of Big Star’s Third LP and was asking if I would participate. He also was hoping Alex would join in. I walked over to John’s office to see if he had read the email… he had. I think we both said “Is he crazy?”
Chris approached Carl Marsh (brilliant Third arranger and player) about recharting the string arrangements. Carl agreed, then John agreed to pull the stings off the multitracks to facilitate the process. The project was moving forward… slowly.
Alex’s passing away in March added a new sense of purpose to the project and we all started thinking that Chris’s crazy idea was actually a very sincere way for us all to share a fascinating experience.. it became a blue moon in the sky.
We got this email from Chris: “We just had our first reading of the string parts for the Big Star Third concert. just with a quartet of the four first-chair players, all excellent musicians. It was an unforgettable experience to hear that music come back to life in the room. I wish you all could have been here. I guess you will, eventually.
We didn’t get the score for ‘For You’ until 10 minutes before they arrived, at 10 AM this morning. We started with it, and the room filled up with that great beauty. After that it was revelation after revelation.”
When we all came together at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC on Decembner 8th for the first rehearsal together it was indeed revelation after revelation. Odd how a dark and melancholy record can bring out the best spirits in people. Everyone was so committed to the performances.. players and audience alike. I wish everyone could have been there.
All the crazy ideas are the best ones!
This show precedes another very exciting piece of news for Big Star fans and vinyl enthusiasts: the re-release of Third on vinyl through Omnivore Recordings, set for Record Store Day 2011. From the announcement on Omnivore’s website:
We’ve got a brand new pressing of Big Star’s Third on 180gm vinyl! This is the Test Pressing Edition that commemorates the original 14-song version of this album among albums and comes stuffed with replicas of the studio tracking sheets and lead sheets. This limited edition is being cut from the original assembly reel, on the same lathe at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis and by the very same engineers who cut it the first time, Mr. Larry Nix and Mr. John Fry! Pressed on high quality vinyl at RTI, this should be the definitive version of this album.
Randomly inserted into this limited edition run (1,000 for the US, 1,000 for Europe) will be five copies of the original test pressing from ’75 courtesy of Big Star’s Jody Stephens—signed by Jody, Larry Nix and John Fry of Ardent Records. You KNOW how hard these are to come by! All we ask, is that if you’re one of the lucky five to find an original in your package, please send us a picture of it, or of you and it, or of it and your favorite stuffed animal. We’ll post the photo on our Big Star page so you have bragging rights and we know they’ve all landed in a happy, loving home.
(In the photo: Jody Stephens during Big Star’s Third, live in New York City. Photo by Conni Freestone.)
Our long-time client and friend Chikuzen returned to Ardent recently to mix a new project with John Hampton at the helm and Adam Hill assisting. Our previous projects with Chikuzen were solo ventures, but for this project Chikuzen was reuinted with his band, called Sing Like Talking.
Band members include Sato Chikuzen (vocals, guitar, keyboard), Fujita Chiaki (synths, keyboards, BGVs), and Nishimura Tomohiko (guitar).
The band, who took a hiatus between 2003 and 2009, have been playing together in Japan for more than 20 years. Their debut came in 1988, and they have seen the top of the charts many times, producing a body of work spanning twelve full-length albums. This includes the most recent one, mixed here at Ardent by John Hampton. The album is entitled Empowerment, and it will be released on April 6th, 2011.
The band also has a reputation for putting on sensational live shows. They’ve toured many times throughout Japan and have even performed with Hall & Oates in Nippon Budokan. Their much awaited national tour is scheduled to start soon after the release of the album.
We’re proud to announce that Keep an Eye on the Sky, the Big Star Box Set, won the GRAMMY this year in the category of Best Album Liner Notes. Robert Gordon, the author of said liner notes, was not in attendance at the GRAMMYs this year. Ardent Studios manager/Big Star drummer/Memphis GRAMMY chapter trustee Jody Stephens stepped up to accept the award in Gordon’s place.
The boxed set, a labor of love for all those involved, was released in late 2009 to great critical and fan response.
A video of Jody’s acceptance speech can be viewed here: http://www.grammy.com/videos/53rd-annual-grammy-awards-pre-telecast-album-note
Read more GRAMMY nominations and winners at the official site - http://www.grammy.com/nominees
In the picture: Jody Stephens with George Flanigan, Chair of the Board of Trustees.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – October 26, 2010 – The GMA Foundation (GMAF) will induct Johnny Cash, DeGarmo & Key, Golden Gate Quartet, and Bill “Hoss” Alleninto the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame on January 24, 2011.
From the GMA’s official press release:
From coffee houses to MTV, the legendary Christian rock duo of DeGarmo & Key did more than just leave their mark on the world of gospel music – they changed the very face of it.
Friends since the first grade, Eddie DeGarmo and Dana Key grew up together in Memphis, Tenn., listening to “old blues guys” performing street-side on egg crates and apple boxes. At the age of 16, Eddie and Dana landed their first record deal. It was shortly after this record deal that the friends were brought to Christ, and the direction of their lives and careers took a sharp turn.
Over the next 17 years, DeGarmo & Key created 15 albums of faith-filled, blues-influenced rock music, earning seven GRAMMY and 17 Dove Award nominations. The duo created some of the first in-roads into the world of Christian music videos and was the first contemporary Christian artist to be aired on MTV. Inspired by the work of Larry Norman, the group consistently made it their goal to get their music and the message of the Gospel to those who did not know Christ, expanding the world of Christian music beyond the boundaries of their day. Billboard Magazine once raved that DeGarmo & Key’s albums contained “one of the most consistently inventive bodies of music in Christian music.”
Always looking for ways to use their music as a ministry, they also created a 13- week Sunday school curriculum based on songs from their album Go To the Top, worked with Zondervan to promote the NIV Student Bible, contributed efforts to the ”True Love Waits” campaign and the Biblical Literacy Foundation, and gave away over 150,000 copies of their D & K album to unsaved youth.
DeGarmo and Key disbanded in 1995, but both Eddie and Dana continued to influence gospel music through their roles as executives – together the two co founded Forefront Records with Dan Brock. Today, Eddie continues as an executive in his role as President of EMI CMG Publishing, while Dana served as pastor of TheLove of Christ Church, which he founded in Memphis. Dana Key passed away on Sunday, June 6, 2010.