'Heartbreak Hotel' studio coming down
The Nashville recording studio where Elvis Presley cut the RCA hit Heartbreak Hotel, the King's first breakout hit, is being torn down to make way for that unmistakable sign of urban progress: A parking lot.
The studio, wedged between Broadway and Demonbreun at 1525 McGavock St. and purchased by auto-dealership magnate Lee Beaman in 1999, was the longtime home of the United Methodist Television, Radio and Film Commission.
Its most recent occupants of note were the television duo Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase, who used the studio to tape shows well into the 1990s.
Doug McClanahan, president of Beaman Automotive Group, said he hadn't known about the studio's Elvis connection despite having been familiar with the site for more than 20 years.
McClanahan added that Beaman had purchased the nearly half-acre property under his own name and had been leasing it until recently, when the dealership decided that it needed additional customer parking.
"Later on, our plans might include another building for either service or sales," he said, noting that the area will be paved over within the next 60 days. As of yesterday afternoon, only the building's façade remained.
The studio, used by RCA in the mid-1950s before what's now known as Studio B came along in 1957, is hardly the city's oldest or most famous. But it had plenty of stars come through its doors.
During Presley's Heartbreak Hotel session — which lasted only three hours and took place on Jan. 10, 1956, almost 50 years ago to the day — Presley also recorded Ray Charles' I Got A Woman, according to John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Other big-name artists recorded hits at the studio, Rumble said. In 1957, Jim Reeves cut one of his biggest hits, Four Walls. Chet Atkins, The Everly Brothers, Johnnie & Jack and Hank Snow also all recorded at the McGavock Street studio.
Rumble said there were other studios in town that were bigger and may have sounded better but New York-based RCA had a union obligation to use its own engineers and technicians when making a recording for the label.
By the early 1950s, RCA found it harder to consistently book the time it needed at one of the studios in Nashville, most of which were downtown.
Then, Rumble said, by 1955, RCA happened upon the usually empty recording facility on McGavock Street owned and operated by the Methodists.
One of the people who wasn't especially fond of the studio was Chet Atkins, who at the time was organizing recording sessions for RCA artists along with company executive Stephen Sholes. Rumbles said Atkins thought the studio let sound roll around too long.
But Gordon Stoker of The Jordanaires, Presley's primary background vocalists from 1956 to 1968, has fond memories of recording in the McGavock Street studio.
"I thought it had a real clean sound. I think it had as good a sound as Studio B," said Stoker,
81, of Brentwood. "It's sad to see it go."
Stoker sat in on the Heartbreak Hotel session and sang on Presley's I Want You, I Need You, I Love You, which was recorded at the studio on April 14, 1956. He also recorded with Jim Reeves and many others coming through at the time.
"It's hard to remember all of them. Fifty years ago was, well fifty years ago," he said with a laugh. "That's a long time."
The success of the McGavock Street studio—along with a sound that label executives in New York weren't altogether happy with—convinced RCA to find a studio it could use exclusively.
That studio became what's known today as Studio B, at the heart of Music Row between 16th and 17th avenues. RCA didn't own the building, but leased it exclusively for its artists to record in.
Stoker said Elvis would go on to record more hits in Nashville and many other places, including his home in Memphis.
"I'm disappointed that the studio is being torn down," Stoker said. "But you can't hang on to everything your whole life."
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