In June of 1958, while Elvis was on two weeks leave from the Army,
RCA scheduled what would be Elvis' final recording session of
the 1950s. It was at their new facility on Music Row in Nashville.
It was his final session until he came back from the Army and the
first (aside from "Love Me Tender") to use "mainly" studio musicians.
It was becoming the norm in Nashville and elsewhere that, in the
studio, recording was done with the "house band", not the
"touring band". The last sessions with the original band,
aside from DJ Fontana, had been at Radio Recorders in February.
The band put together by Chet Atkins consisted
on bass, Floyd Cramer on piano and Buddy Harman along
with DJ on drums. The Jordanaires were brought in on vocals
with newcomer Ray Walker replacing Hugh Jarrett as the new
bass singer with the group from then on. Scotty and Bill Black
were not participants.
Chet had been named as RCA's Manager of Operations
in Nashville in early 1957. Dissatisfied with the limits of
the McGavock St. facility, he and Steve Sholes convinced
the label that it needed to build its own office and studio.
The success of "Heartbreak Hotel" recorded there in 1956
gave them the clout they needed. RCA contracted with local
businessman Dan Maddox to build it and lease it to them long-term.
Chet said in his autobiography "Bill Miltenburg [RCA's chief
engineer and recording manager] drew the plans for the building
out on a dinner napkin". Located on the corner of 17th Avenue
and Hawkins (now Roy Acuff Place) it took four months and
cost $37,515 to build and in November of 1957 it opened for business.
RCA Studio B - August 2003
It is basically a single story building with offices occupying
the front but the area of the studio and control room has
a second story that contained an echo chamber. The actual
studio itself measures 42.5' by 27' by 13'. In 1960 and 61 an
addition was added with office space and rooms for tape mastering
and a lacquer mastering lab. A larger studio was built on 17th
avenue in 1964 that they called Studio A and the existing studio
was named Studio B.
It's practically an injustice to have any discussion about Chet,
Studio B or their impact on pop country music that doesn't
include Owen Bradley and The Quonset Hut. In essence
Chet's accomplishments mirrored Owen's using the same
techniques and musicians. Owen's studio was one of the
first in Nashville and was actually the very first in what has
become Music Row.
Bradley's Studio (Quonset Hut) at 804 16th Avenue South.
Photo © courtesy R. Stevie Moore
"In 1952, Owen Bradley and his brother Harold built their
own recording studio (one of the first in Nashville), where
initially they produced short documentary films. However,
they also began to record singers such as Ernest Tubb and
Kitty Wells. By 1956, they had moved to larger premises
and had their famed Quonset hut studio on 16th Avenue South,
Nashville. It was only a surplus army building but it contained
superb recording equipment and facilities. It was here that
Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent recorded some of their
earliest sessions, although in the latter's case production
was by Ken Nelson.
Bradley also recorded several of the new country artists
of the time, including Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins."1
Brenda Lee session at The Quonset Hut
Brenda, Owen Bradley, Bob Moore Buddy Harman and Floyd Cramer in rear
Grady Martin, Hank Garland and unidentified in front
bass mic'd with an Altec 639A "Birdcage"
Photo © courtesy Kittra Moore
Owen at the Quonset Hut and Chet at Studio B are
responsible for developing what has been called the
"Nashville Sound". By lessening the use of steel guitars
and fiddles, adding mellow strings and backing vocal
choruses they essentially smoothed country out and gave
it a pop oriented treatment. It began to have a wider
public acceptance. Chet did it with pop and country artists
like Don Gibson, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves and the
Everly Brothers while Owen produced stars like
Patsy Cline, Red Foley, Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn.
Studio B looking towards control room wall
Studio B rear wall
Studio B side rear double-doors
The walls at Studio B were acoustically designed in
an accordion shape changing angles every 4 feet in an
attempt to make the room as 'dead' as possible. They are
covered in 1-foot square acoustic tiles all the way to the
ceiling beginning 3 feet from the floor. The floor itself
has a diagonal checkered pattern linoleum tile. It is
separated from the control room by a wall with two double
pane windows and accessible by either of two doors on
the control room wall or a large set of double doors at the rear corner.
amp stands of barn-board construction with amp inputs
studio entrance to control room rear
recorders in rear control room
In just about every RCA studio they recorded in was a
Hammond Organ and either a Hammond tone cabinet
or a Leslie speaker cabinet. Studio B also had
a Steinway piano and Xylophone. Most of the microphones
used, for vocals anyway, were Nuemann, made in Germany.
In the control room was a custom made RCA broadcast type
tube mixing console with 12 mic inputs and four outputs.
The recorders early on were single-track Ampex recorders
eventually updating to two, three and four-track as the new
The Everly Bros. at Studio B with a Neumann U47 long body (tube)
hanging in a 1950's RCA yoke
Dean Manuel, Jim Reeves, Mel Rogers, Leo Jackson and James Kirkland
Jim is singing into a Neumann U47 (tube) long body,
with a Neumann shock mount (c 1960s)
Though state of the art when it opened the musicians that
recorded there initially didn't like the sound of the room.
There were areas of standing waves and washy, muddy
acoustics. Bob Moore said, "Bill Porter changed the sound
of the room when he got there in 1959." Bill described how
he did it this way, "Tommy Strong and I went out and bought
these acoustical tiles, 24 inches wide and four feet long. We cut
those up into sections of three and made triangle tents out of them.
We hung them from different heights around the ceiling, and it
solved so much of the problems that musicians would come in
during playback and say, 'My God, it's never sounded so good in
"They called those tents 'Porter's Pyramids." The room took on
a neutral characteristic, so the signals from the instruments were
basically clean. We found dead spots where the standing waves
[sounds that double back on themselves] canceled each other.
Then we marked X's on the floor where we needed a lot of mic [level],
so we'd get minimal mic leakage. For our sound source we
beat on a tom-tom to get a low-frequency, resonant-type sound,
then we'd move the mics around."2
Chet Atkins and Bill Porter in the control room mixing
Bill's efforts and contributions at Studio B can not be overstated.
In addition to the many other sessions, it was Bill that engineered
and mixed Elvis' during the early '60s. He preferred the sound
of the stereo two-track stuff. The three track was, for him,
merely backup. Instead of the built in second floor echo
chamber Bill preferred to use a German-made EMT 140 echo plate.
It was paramount to his sound. "We kept the plates chilled,"
he explained. "The air conditioning was very chilly up in that room.
The cold air contracts the metal and the sound [of the plate] is
a little brighter."2
EMT 140 Echo Plate at Studio B
Photo © courtesy Kittra Moore
Scotty's first session at Studio B was in March of 1960 when
Elvis returned from the Army. Aside from a television
appearance soon after and a couple of charity benefits in 1960
and 61 the days of touring as a band were over while Elvis
went 'head on' into his movie career. Scotty and DJ both returned
as session players but this time with a much bigger band. In Nashville
they were augmented by members of Nashville's A-Team
consisting of Bob Moore on bass and at different times feature
guitarists like Hank Garland, Harold Bradley and Grady Martin
among others, Boots Randolph on Sax, Buddy Harman on drums
and Millie Kirkham and the Jordanaires on vocals.
Neal Matthews, Gordon Stoker, Millie Kirkham,
Elvis, Hoyt Hawkins and Ray Walker - May 1966
Photo © courtesy The Jordanaires
Sessions at Studio B were typically scheduled for 10:00, 2:00
and 6:00 (though often subject to musician availability times
could vary) with the standard expectation for a 3-hour session
to produce 4 cuts. With Elvis though, there was essentially
no clock. Gordon Stoker describes a typical Elvis session;
"He'd get into the studio around seven at night for a six o'clock
session. If he was hungry he'd order out for Krystal burgers,
then we'd eat and go sit with him around the piano. He liked
to get warmed up with old spirituals, gospel stuff. This would
help him get relaxed. After a couple of hours, we'd get around
to recording." Chet said he initially tried to keep up after
recording all day but eventually he would "just come down,
say 'hello' and go home to bed while they recorded all night."
Demo counter with broken barn-board door
Hill and Range, Elvis' publishing company, would have
demos for him to listen to that he'd play and decide which
to record. Scotty would usually leave the room and go for
a coffee so as not to be influenced by anyone's playing on
the demos. RCA had an inexpensive player on a counter
and in one instance during a demo the needle tracked across
the entire record scratching it. Elvis got angry and kicked the
counter, breaking the barn-board door. Neither he nor Chet in
their stubbornness would agree to pay for repairs and it remains
broken to this day.
On January 17, 1968 in Studio B Scotty played his last recording
session with Elvis*. Elvis' last session there though was on
June 10, 1971, 13 years to the day after his first. After a growing
power struggle between the musicians' union and the crew
at studio B the union threatened to close down B if the union
employees could not perform their "duties", deemed
superfluous. Their bluff was called and in 1977 after a
successful 20-year run Studio B was closed.
It remained closed and unused for many years.
On May 20, 1993 Dan and Margaret Maddox donated it
to the Country Music Foundation who on occasion
opened it for tours. The original RCA mixing board
from the control room along with other equipment used
on most of the hits is now on display at the Hall of Fame Museum.
Several times in 2001 Bob Moore approached Kyle Young
wanting to buy Studio B and also suggesting the
possibility of developing a business partnership
with the Foundation in the interest of "firing up Studio B
and producing some 'real' Country music once again".
Nothing became of it but on January 23, 2002 it was
bought by the Mike Curb Family Foundation who lease
it in perpetuity (with no expiration) to the Country Music Hall of Fame
booth with '70s Neumann U47 (Fet) mic and "Blue Christmas" sheet
It has since been renovated, "Porter's Pyramids" are gone,
one of the interior walls to the studio and control room have
been installed with large observation windows and the sound
of the room is no doubt altered forever. Tours are once again
offered by the Museum and it is also used as a learning laboratory
in conjunction with Nashville's Belmont University. The days
of the "hits' are now long gone but for one last look at what a
session was like there in its "hey day" watch the rare video
at the Jim Reeves fan club site.
James V. Roy
1 courtesy IceBergMedia.com Inc.
2 courtesy "Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios" by Clark, Cogan and Jones
*January 17, 1968 was Scotty's last studio recording session with Elvis but on June 29th of that year he performed with him for the very last time for a segment of Elvis' NBC-TV special in Burbank CA
Bob Moore, Grady Martin and Buddy Harman intimidating the engineer
Photo by Bill Porter courtesy Bob Moore ©