Most of “Three Chords and the Truth” is being recorded in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, on historic, original vintage studio gear that can only be described as the holy grail of recording equipment. Some tracks and overdubs have been recorded at my home studio in Johnson City, Tennessee called The Hit Pit, and others at Bigtone Records in Bristol, Virginia, a studio with lots of beautiful, old-school equipment.
If you haven’t read the article titled “The Rest of the Story”, which we’re posting here, I urge you to do that also. It will fill you in on the truly miraculous way this record happened, how ludicrous it was for me to be there at all, cutting on original equipment that was built by the man known as “The Father of Modern Recording”, Bill Putnam.
The imprint left on the audio world by Bill Putnam knows no tangible boundary: The modern control room is Bill’s concept; multiband EQ on every channel of a mixer is Putnam’s idea; he built the world’s first recording console, and the first multi-band EQ; he invented reverb and the vocal booth! Putnam broke new ground on virtually everything he touched. Without Bill Putnam, modern recording as we know it might not exist. With this gear, Putnam recorded some of the most iconic American artists of the 20th Century.
The sounds coming out of Putnam’s Universal Studios in Chicago, and later from United Western Recorders in Hollywood literally changed the world and those records became the soundtrack of our lives. And believe me…there is nothing in the world that sounds like that gear except that gear! So for me to sing into a mic that Elvis and Sam Cooke sung into was an experience that I can’t put into words. But very soon you are all going to hear for yourselves how great it all sounds!
Putnam’s first studio, Universal, was located in Chicago, where he recorded everyone from Duke Ellington and Muddy Waters to Patti Page, The Platters, and Hank Williams. Then, thanks to the coaxing (and bankroll) of his friends and clients Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, he moved west in 1957 and opened United Western Studios on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. This is where Sinatra and Dean Martin, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny and Cher, Richie Valens, the Mamas and the Papas, Johnny Rivers, the Righteous Brothers, the Grass Roots, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, the Byrds, Ricky Nelson, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, and scores of others recorded million seller after million seller, producing some of the biggest hit records of the pop era, and some of my favorite records ever.
According to the book Temples of Sound, “No other studio has won more technical excellence awards, and no studio has garnered as many Best Engineered Grammys as this complex of studios on Sunset Boulevard.”
The award-winning 2008 documentary “The Wrecking Crew” beautifully showcases United Western and its stable of studio musicians Glen Campbell, Candy Kaye, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Joe Osborn, Earl Palmer, Leon Russell, Barney Kessel, Larry Knechtel, Dr. John, Jim Gordon, Plas Johnson, and many others who had the Midas Touch in making hit after hit after hit. And by the way, the film “The Wrecking Crew” was made by a Kickstarter campaign just like this one!
Producers like Phil Spector created his “Wall of Sound” around these musicians, this studio, and this gear. “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, “Da Doo Ron Ron” by The Crystals, and Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” are examples. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys created his masterpiece here, his album “Pet Sounds” that heavily influenced everyone including The Beatles.
United Western produced so many hit records in the 1960s it’s mind-boggling, and impossible to list even a small portion of them. The same goes with TV themes. “Hawaii Five-O”? United. “Mission: Impossible”? United. “Batman”? United. “M.A.S.H.”? “Beverly Hillbillies”? Twilight Zone”? “Bonanza”? “Green Acres”? You guessed it. United! Iconic movie soundtracks and themes poured from United Western as well. Timeless tunes like Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” and “Pink Panther” themes.
In the spring of 1971, gobs of gear from United Western was sold to a Canadian named Jack Herschorn, and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to a studio named Can-Base. Among the equipment included in the sale was Bill Putnam’s original Universal Audio mixing console from Studio A at United Western Recorders in Hollywood, that had recorded the songs that had sold billions of records. Can-Base was later renamed Mushroom Studios.
Examples of artists who recorded at Mushroom Studios are Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Heart, and Led Zeppelin.
In 2006, Hipposonic Studios bought the Can-Base building, but not the equipment therein, and for four years the original equipment remained there. But in 2009, Putnam’s console and all his electronic gear were purchased by John Wozniak of Marcy Playground fame, who moved it all cross country to a new location in Toronto, Ontario. Reclaiming the name Mushroom Studios, Wozniak operated there until 2016, when he moved it all to an unmarked warehouse location in Hamilton, Ontario, where a very unsuspecting Tennessean named Lightnin’ Charlie, with his wife Beth, his brother-in-law Joe, and a couple guitars, came innocently boppin’ in off the street at the end of July 2019. How great is our God??!!! And who does this record belong to? It belongs to Him, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think!
Bill passed away in 1989, and his old United Western Recorders building at 6050 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood is now operating as a modern recording studio. But the original equipment–the stuff that’s making me sound like a million bucks on “Three Chords and the Truth”–is still in the unmarked warehouse in Ontario, awaiting its move next year to a new, swanky downtown location. But in July of 2019, it was awaiting the arrival of the tall Tennessean and the humble beginnings of our treasure called “Three Chords and the Truth”!