Blackbird Studio

From Dolly Parton to Pearl Jam, White Stripes to Snoop Dogg... this facility in Nashville is not just a recording studio but a teaching academy too. Steve Sutherland explains...

Name's Gregg...' We're some 30 minutes into the interview when the door to the cramped London hotel room opens and he stumbles in and collapses onto the bed. He's wearing headphones big as earmuffs and appears to be listening to something or other on his Walkman.


Drums being recorded in Studio A using its Neve 7078 console. The live room (inset) can be viewed in real time via a TV monitor

'Name's Gregg…' I'm repeating this bit because that's all that he says and he only says it the once. In ten minutes he will get up and stumble back out, leaving the rest of his band to mumble through what I must admit won't go down in history or anywhere else as a revealing insight into the whys and wherefores of The Allman Brothers Band.

Later I hear that he excuses himself from another lunchtime interview, large Cointreau in hand. This time it's a one-on-one. He promises to return in a minute or two. He never comes back.


Gregg Allman in 2010

The next time I run into Gregg Allman I'm in a trailer backstage on the banks of the Mississippi at a blues festival in Memphis with The Black Crowes. Gregg has been invited to join the Crowes onstage for an encore run-through of The Allmans' 'Dreams', due to proceed in just a couple of hours.

Tattooed Triumph
Gregg can hardly stand. He's a big man, festooned with tattoos and flanked on both sides and bolstered behind by a phalanx of bikers who look, to my uneducated eyes, as close as dammit to Hell's Angels. He's slurring a lot and I'm soon hustled out and away from the scene. The Crowes' version of 'Dreams' is fab, by the way, and Gregg... well he's stunning.


Southern Blood, which was partially engineered at Blackbird in 2016

There are a couple of reasons why I'm reminiscing about my close encounters with Gregory LeNoir Allman. The first is that he'd been a hero of mine ever since 1974 when his band headlined the first Knebworth Festival, kicking off my most sublime summer of teenaged gig-going which climaxed – via The Edgar Broughton Band in Cornwall and Global Village Trucking Company in High Wycombe – with The Grateful Dead at Ally Pally and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Band and Joni Mitchell at Wembley Stadium. Halcyon days!

Talking Bird
The second reason, and a bit more relevant to this piece, is that his final album, Southern Blood, was partially engineered at Blackbird Studio, which is the very establishment we're here to celebrate. Allman made Southern Blood over nine days in 2016. He was dying from liver cancer and didn't live long enough to see its release. Recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, producer Don Was took the tracks to Blackbird to do some additional engineering work before Allman gave his blessing to the mixes the night before he died.


Rapper, actor and Blackbird client, Snoop Dogg on stage in 2012

Blackbird Studio – 'the finest recording studio on Planet Earth' according to AC/DC and Def Leppard producer Robert 'Mutt' Lange – is located at 2806 Azalea Place, Berry Hill, Nashville, Tennessee, about five minutes drive south of downtown. It was opened in 2002 by John and Martina McBride. Martina is well known in the States as a country/pop crossover artist who has sold over 14 million albums and has been nominated for a Grammy 14 times.


Studio B houses a 48-channel API Legacy console and offers Pro Tools software

She's also famous for her work heading up campaigns on behalf of charities helping those who are threatened by, or subjected to, domestic violence, with a particular emphasis on education: 'A lot of teenage girls will be first dating and they'll think, "Oh he doesn't want me to see my friends. He just wants me all to himself. Isn't that sweet?"', she says. 'And then it turns into something else and it's controlling. They don't recognise that until it's too late. It's an ongoing education that you have to give young girls.'


Jack White of The White Stripes in 2012. The band's hit album Icky Thump was recorded at Blackbird in 2007

Her husband John started in the business setting up sound systems for clubs, then took to touring, working with such mega country artists as Garth Brooks and Charlie Daniels. As Martina's career took off – John produced the tape that secured her a record deal in 1991 – the couple looked to create their own recording facility, a notion that began with the idea of installing a vocal booth inside their garage. Looking for more practical premises, they acquired Creative Recording Studios and relaunched it as Blackbird.