Ardent Recording Studios
Ardent Recording Studios has been a historic destination for recording great music in Memphis, Tennessee, since 1966. This wonderful facility has hosted many legendary artists and performers throughout its rich history-- including: The Box Tops, Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, Leon Russell, The Staple Singers, ZZ Top, Big Star, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Albert King, R.E.M., Robert Cray, Soundgarden, Gin Blossoms, The Jeff Healey Band, Travis Tritt, Little Texas, Bob Dylan, DC Talk, Margo Price, and The Raconteurs— and this list is just a sampling of the artists that have made their way to Memphis, Tennessee, to record there. It is a four-room facility which has an amazing and accomplished staff who are ready to record your next great performance.
The new SSL Duality console in the control room of Studio C in the historic Ardent Recording Studios complex in Memphis, Tennessee. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
Since 1966, Ardent Recording Studios has been a premier destination for recording every single genre of popular music. While Sun Studios has just reopened and has been a major tourist destination for quite some time, quietly Ardent has emerged as the Queen of Memphis recording studios. It is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in the recording studio world— a recording studio facility that has a rich history for recording some of the best acts in the history of popular music for more than fifty years.
A list of those who have recorded at Ardent Recording Studios could easily include: The Box Tops, Booker T. and the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, Leon Russell, The Staple Singers, ZZ Top, Big Star, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Albert King, R.E.M., Robert Cray, Soundgarden, Gin Blossoms, The Jeff Healey Band, Travis Tritt, Little Texas, Bob Dylan, DC Talk, Margo Price, and The Raconteurs— which is just a sampling of the artists that have made their way to Memphis, Tennessee, to record there throughout its long and storied history. One look at the list will reveal that artists who have recorded at Ardent Recording Studios are from the genres of rock, country, pop, gospel, Christian contemporary, punk, jazz, and of course, the blues. But, Ardent Recording Studios is also a survivor.
It is that classical recording studio facility that opened in the mid-1960s, which continues to attract top artists of every genre of music to come and complete their records. It has made its way through all of the changes in the recording studio landscape— the rise of the digital audio workstation, the growth of the home studio market, and even a decline in the music business itself. Through it all, Ardent Recording Studios is a place that has retained a top-notch staff, the best recording equipment in the business and a dedication to being a place in the land of the delta blues where great music will always be made.
The legendary John Fry established Ardent Recording Studios in 1966. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
The roots for Ardent Recording Studios were planted long before it opened the doors for its first recording sessions in 1966. As a young man, John Fry, wanted to make music and so he opted to get into the radio business. But, after stumbling into a recording studio that had primitive equipment at best in 1958, he decided to create his own small record label and a studio— in his parents garage, in what at one point had been his grandmother’s sewing room. Though he was able to release a few records that became local favorites, he went back into the radio business until a local artist convinced him to restart his record label. In order to successfully compete, he felt the urge to create a larger studio facility that could record more artists and generate more business for the venture— and so he made a move, relocating his operation from his parents home on Grandview Avenue to a new location on National Street in 1966. Ardent Recording Studios was born.
From the beginning, the new studio would feature important trademarks that have come to define the company throughout its history— it would feature the latest in technological gear and it would feature a staff of engineers who were dedicated to achieving great sounds for their clientele. In 1967, Memphis became a hotbed for recording rock, soul, and the blues. In nearby Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and just across town in Memphis at Stax, great music was being recorded and hits were being made. However, there were so many artists making great music that the two venerable studios could not record them all. Ardent with its investment in new technologies, which included a Spectrasonics console that was just like the one at Stax, and great gear, soon began to take on some of their clients. It became a place where both hits and legends were being made.
In 1966, with John Fry not just managing the enterprise, but also stepping behind the console to engineer along with Terry Manning, a number of Stax hit-makers would also come to do their work at Ardent Recording Studios. The famous Stax artists, Booker T. and the MGs found their way to Ardent to work on their album, Soul Limbo in 1968. Other hit-makers came to Ardent to do their work, as well. The Box Tops, also were a popular Memphis-based band and after having a hit single with the song, “The Letter,” in 1967, came to Ardent to record their second hit single, “Cry Like a Baby,” in 1968. The studio would also host legendary blues guitarist, Albert King, whose 1968 album Live Wire/Blues Power would in part be engineered at Ardent. But, it was the release of Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes in 1969, tracked by both John Fry and Terry Manning, that would put both the performer and the studio on the map. It was a classic— Hot Buttered Soul, would reach number-one on the R&B chart in 1969, and launch Isaac Hayes to stardom. As a new decade unfolded, Ardent Recording Studios would become a place where great soul and blues records continued to be recorded, but legendary rock acts were also taking notice of the great new studio in Memphis, and that would come to mean two things— a change in location and that new clients would be knocking on their doors.
From 1966-1971, Ardent Recording Studios was at this historic location on National Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
In 1971, Ardent Recording Studios moved to its present location on Madison Avenue, in Memphis, Tennessee. With its fabulous gear and great engineering staff, legendary rock and roll acts begin to book the studio to make their records. Among the first of those acts to come to Ardent to create their records was none other than Led Zeppelin. While much of their 1970 album, Led Zeppelin III, was recorded in the United Kingdom using the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio— the album was mixed at Ardent Recording Studios while the band was on a tour of the United States by Terry Manning. In 1971, the very popular performer, James Taylor, made his way to Ardent to record the horn overdubs (using the legendary Memphis Horns) for his album, Mud Slide Slim and The Blue Horizon. Another major rock and roll act began their long and storied association with Ardent Recording Studios in 1973, as ZZ Top would record their third album, Tres Hombres, in the facility. During the 1970s, ZZ Top would record the following albums at Ardent: Tres Hombres (1973); Fandango (1975); Tejas (1976); The Best of ZZ Top (1977); and Deguello (1979).
In 1971, James Taylor made his way to Ardent. He is pictured in this image with the legendary engineer, Terry Manning. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
The legendary soul, gospel and R&B group, the Staple Singers recorded much of their work at Ardent from 1971-1974. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
Ardent continued to be a place where legendary blues and soul music was recorded in the 1970s. The legendary R&B, gospel and soul group, The Staple Singers also made their way to the facility to record and mix their music at the facility and in the process, three albums were created at Ardent— The Staple Singers (1971); The Staple Swingers (1972); Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972); and City in the Sky (1974). The popular hit single and one of the most memorable songs of the civil rights era, “I’ll Take You There,” came from The Staple Singers and was mixed at Ardent by Terry Manning. It was a cut from the groundbreaking album, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself which was released in 1972. Isaac Hayes continued to record groundbreaking music at Ardent. Other acts which recorded seminal albums at Ardent during the decade included: Leon Russell, Alex Chilton, Freddie King, Big Star and the popular rock band, Cheap Trick. But, changes were also occurring at Ardent as the facility expanded and by 1975, John Fry, moved from behind the console into managing the facility. A new and extremely talented young engineer, Joe Hardy, began to work at the facility, having been brought by ZZ Top to engineer their records and now stepped into the seat behind the console alongside the venerable Terry Manning.
John Fry presenting the platinum records to ZZ Top and their engineer, Joe Hardy for their classic album, Eliminator. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
Legendary engineers Jim Dickinson and Joe Hardy take a break in Studio B. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
The 1980s saw changes to the studio facility and a crop of new acts making their way to record at Ardent. The studio expanded in 1981 to its present size to be able to accommodate the changes and the sheer number of acts which began to record in the facilities. In the mid-1980s, the studio installed the current SSL 6000E console and not long afterward, a Neve VR 60— both featuring automation. The mic locker expanded and the studio continued to furnish top-notch gear and a team of top-flight engineers. And to open the decade, the band ZZ Top would record three hit albums— all at Ardent, that would cement the reputation of them as a legendary rock and roll act, including: El Loco (1981); Eliminator (1983); and Afterburner (1985). From Eliminator alone, which was released in 1983, came the following classic hit singles from the band, “Gimme All Your Lovin,’” “Legs,” “Got Me Under Pressure,” and the signature classic— “Sharp Dressed Man,” each of which were engineered by both Terry Manning and Joe Hardy. Rockers Joe Cocker and Joe Walsh also would make their way to record albums at Ardent in the mid-1980s.
Throughout its history, Ardent has always groomed amazing engineering talent. The first engineers to sit behind the console at Ardent were the legendary John Fry and Terry Manning. After 1975, John Fry stepped into a management role, and a few years later, Terry Manning became a freelance engineer and producer. However, another incredibly talented engineer, Joe Hardy, began to work sessions behind the console and he would soon be joined by another legendary engineer, John Hampton. Joe Hardy first came to Ardent to record as a musician in 1972-- later he joined the staff and remained with the studio facility until leaving it to work with ZZ Top. John Hampton was a different story. A fabulous musician, Hampton, originally started at Ardent as the nighttime technician, but his incredible knowledge of how to use the gear and innovative work behind the console soon made him the engineer on the staff at Ardent who would also bring the studio into the decade of the 1990s. With Hampton and Hardy behind the console, Ardent continued its string of producing hit records for rock, pop, blues, Christian contemporary, gospel and country music acts.
With its new engineering team in place and new equipment in its control rooms, Ardent continued to be a place where cult hit classic songs were recorded. During the 1980s a pair of acts who would define Southern rock, George Thorogood and The Georgia Satellites would record their work in the facility. In 1988 R.E.M. came to record at Ardent and that album, Green, would feature the smash hit classic singles— “Orange Crush,” and “Stand.” The album, Green, would help to propel R.E.M. to international stardom and open the rock and pop music scene of the 1990s. But, another act who came to Ardent in 1988, also made a tremendous impact with a hit album. Country rocker Steve Earle left Nashville in 1988 and his hit album Copperhead Road was recorded and mixed by Joe Hardy at Ardent because he could not get the gritty sounds that he wished to achieve in Nashville. It started a trend at Ardent Recording Studios that would be showcased in the upcoming decade, as top country music acts would make their way west to record their music at Ardent Recording Studios and some of the greatest country music in the 1990s— the decade of country music at its height and popularity— came from Memphis, not Nashville. The country, pop, rock and blues acts that made their way to Ardent in the 1990s would encounter a new engineering team at the venerable facility that was soon to become legendary in its own right.
R.E.M. came to Ardent Recording Studios to work on their ground-breaking album, Green, in 1988. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
In the 1990s, country music experienced its greatest popular boom. Throughout the decade, Ardent would record hit records in country music with the following popular acts: Steve Earle, Travis Tritt, Little Texas and McBride and the Ride. Travis Tritt would have a number of hit records throughout the decade of the 1990s, and his first album, Country Club, was his first experience working at Ardent. However, the next album for Travis Tritt entitled, It’s All About to Change, would rock the world of country music and the following hit singles from it were each mixed by John Hampton at Ardent: “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin (a duet with Marty Stuart),’” “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares),” and the number-one hit single, “Anymore.” The third album released by Travis Tritt, T-R-O-U-B-L-E, also contained number of hit singles and each of these were also mixed by John Hampton at Ardent, including: “Looking Out For Number One,” and “Can I Trust You With My Heart,” the latter of which went to number-one. Another country music act to bring their music to Ardent was Little Texas. The debut album for Little Texas, First Time for Everything, was released in 1992 and in part engineered at Ardent, and contained a number of hit singles including: “Some Guys Have All the Love,” “I’d Rather Miss You,” and “You and Forever and Me.” Their second album, Big Time, was released in 1993 and contained three hits that were also in part engineered at Ardent, “What Might Have Been,” “God Blessed Texas,” and the number-one hit single, “My Love.” Their third album, Kick a Little, was released in 1994 and also in part engineered at Ardent. McBride and the Ride was another country music act that would have their 1992 album, Sacred Ground, mixed by John Hampton at Ardent. Other country music acts would also record at Ardent during this period including: Aaron Tippin, Rhett Akins, Perfect Stranger, Tanya Tucker, Waylon Jennings and Mark Chestnutt.
But country music artists were not the only ones having tremendous success with their work that had been engineered at Ardent during the 1990s. The Jeff Healey Band had their album, Feel This, engineered at Ardent by Joe Hardy and it featured the cult classic single, “Cruel Little Number.” In 1992, singer-songwriter Tom Cochrane recorded his ground-breaking solo album, Mad, Mad World, at Ardent. The album, Mad, Mad World, would feature the cult hit-classic single, “Life is a Highway.” Blues artists such as Robert Cray, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan would each record critically and commercially acclaimed albums at Ardent. Throughout the decade, Gin Blossoms would record a number of their highly popular albums at Ardent including: Up and Crumbling, New Miserable Experience, and Congratulations, I’m Sorry— the last two of which, recorded in 1992 and 1996, respectively, both went platinum. The album, New Miserable Experience was produced and engineered by John Hampton at Ardent in 1992 and featured the cult-hit single, “Hey Jealousy.” For their 1996 release, Congratulations, I’m Sorry, John Hampton both engineered and produced the album and it featured the cult-hit single, “As Long As It Matters,” which was nominated for a Grammy-Award in 1997. Christian contemporary and gospel artists were also having tremendous success at Ardent, as well and the following artists would make records there in the 1990s— including: DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, and the Reverend Horton Heat. Other legends continued to come to record at Ardent in the 1990s, including The Allman Brothers and also, Bob Dylan. As the facility stepped into a new century, Ardent continued to crank out the hits in multiple genres of music, and by this time, it had become a mythical place to record.
The Smashing Pumpkins came to Ardent Recording Studios to work on the Guitar Hero World Tour, in 2008. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
The list of hit-makers at Ardent continued to grow into the new century. Hip-hop artists made their way to Ardent for the first time in the new century. A number of film soundtracks were developed at Ardent, and the studio continued to be a very busy place for making great popular music. Artists such as Three Six Mafia, Juvenile, Al Kapone, the North Mississippi Allstars, Three Doors Down and the Smashing Pumpkins came to record at Ardent in the first decade of the new century. The Christian contemporary group, Skillet would record their highly successful albums at Ardent, including: Ardent Worship, Invincible, Alien Youth and Collide. The Raconteurs also came to Ardent— and their 2005 album, Broken Boy Soldiers would be mixed by John Hampton and was nominated for the Best Rock Album at the Grammy-Awards in 2006. In terms of film soundtracks, the following were recorded at Ardent: Hustle and Flow, Forty Shades of Blue: Music From the Motion Picture; I’m Not There; Black Snake Moon; The Great Debaters; and High School Musical 3: Senior Year. Ardent has also done a number of voiceovers for multimedia programs. The studio has worked on music for a number of highly popular television shows such as Nashville (ABC); NCIS: New Orleans (CBS); Game of Silence (NBC); and Sun records (CMT). It has also worked on a number of highly popular video games, too. But fast-forward to the past decade, Ardent continued to be busy with local artists, pop artists, blues artists, Christian contemporary and gospel artists, and even artists who had recorded in the past at the facility continued to come to make their records in Memphis. Hitmakers continued to come through the doors. In fact, in terms of sheer volume in the discography of the long and storied history of Ardent Recording Studios there have been more acts recording at the facility in the past decade than during any other. Ardent is more than just a studio facility— it has had a prominent record label attached to it throughout much of its storied history. Artists from the record label have had the fortune of having one of the greatest recording studios in the history of popular music to do their work. Highlights during this period leading up to 2019 include Margo Price’s 2016 album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, which reached into the top ten on multiple charts.
In 2018, a familiar face returned to Ardent, as singer-songwriter Keith Sykes, became the new chief manager. At the time, Ardent looked to be on pace to continue its track record of being a busy place for recording great music, but then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and like a number of other great recording venues around the world, the legendary recording studio facility closed its doors and began to operate on just a skeleton crew. But, when it is safe to do so— under the leadership of Keith Sykes and the work of its incomparable staff, the facility has been preparing for the day when it will be able to fully return back to the business of making great music once again. Ardent has a lot to offer for anyone who wants to step into their legendary recording studio facility to record their music.
The legendary Studio A at Ardent Recording Studios. This room is perfect for recording great music. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
Ardent Recording Studios is a legendary facility built for the purpose of recording great music. As such, it has an impressive array of outboard gear, a venerable mic locker and four rooms featuring the best in both vintage analog and impressive new digital gear to offer for its clients to be able to use to record their music. Each of the studio rooms feature amazing analog consoles— Studio A has the vintage Neve VR-60 Legend (w/Flying Faders automation); Studio B has the vintage 56-channel SSL 6000E; Studio C has an SSL Duality (48-channel); and the Audio Production Suite features a custom-built vintage Spectrasonics 16-channel mixer. The studio has also gone through a series of recent renovations— initiated by technical director, Chris Jackson, in 2011, in which the new SSL Duality console was installed in Studio C. Studio A is still a classic space for cutting tracks. Studio B is an excellent room for mixing. While Studio C, is a large space that offers clients the best of both worlds— a tracking space with a new console and a control room that is also perfect for mixing. The Audio Production Suite was added to the facility in 2012 and is perfect for either overdubs or editing.
The amazing mic locker at Ardent has had a few upgrades recently, but, at its core, it has some of the most beautiful sounding microphones that can be found anywhere in the world. At the heart of its extensive microphone collection is a vintage Neumann U67, and three vintage Neumann M249 microphones which sound close to perfect. Recent upgrades to the mic locker include new ribbon microphones— an AEA R88 (stereo ribbon microphone), an AEA A440 (active ribbon) and a matched pair of gorgeous-sounding Royer R-121 microphones. The mic locker has quite a number of both large and small diaphragm condenser microphones, as well as a vast array of dynamic microphones. With forty-seven vintage and classic microphones in their mic locker, there is a great microphone that can be used to record any project.
A drum kit set-up for a recording session in Studio A. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
In the racks behind the consoles in the four control rooms at Ardent Recording Studios is an array of impressive vintage and classical gear, plus, the facility has the latest, cutting-edge digital gear to offer its clients, as well. The following are just some of the highlights of what you can find in the outboard gear racks at Ardent. As far as external mic-preamps are concerned, Ardent can give you access to the rare and vintage Spectrasonics preamps that also feature the original and highly-coveted equalization sections. The studio also has a tube-based DW Fearn Mic Preamp. It has Sontec, Collins and even vintage Pultec equalization processors. The facility has— and this is unbelievable— a classical pair of Fairchild 660 compressor/limiters, and a Fairchild 670 stereo compressor/limiter. There is also a vintage collection of UREI, Altec, DBX, Cranesong, Summit Audio and Valley People dynamics processors. Ardent also a number of vintage and classical reverb, or timing processors, including: two tube-based EMT 140 reverb units and an EMT 140 solid-state reverb unit; a classical Lexicon 480L reverb unit; an AMS RMX-16; and classical processors from Eventide, Delta Labs, and Quantec, as well. The studio also features two original echo chambers— something that is rare to see in the recording studio world of today. Ardent has a number of powerful Apple Macintosh computer systems running the latest in digital audio workstation software from Avid (Pro-Tools) and an array of terrific plug-ins from Universal Audio, plus converters from both SSL and Burl Audio. But, if you are a musician visiting Ardent to record, you will be pleasantly surprised by the number of amazing vintage amps that are available for your use as a client. Their collection of vintage and classical amps features more than thirty units (some of which date from the 1960s) from such manufacturers as— Fender, Marshall, Vox, Ampeg and Marshall. As I noted earlier, I have only hit the highlights of what can be found in the racks behind the amazing consoles at Ardent and in the mic locker. The facility is also working on acquiring a Dolby Atmos System, as well.
The legendary engineering staff at Ardent Recording Studios. Pictured in this image are the following individuals: Back-- L-R: John Fry, Paul Ebersold, and Jody Stephens. Seated-- L-R: Jim Dickinson and John Hampton. Sadly, Mr. John Fry who created Ardent Recording Studios passed-away in 2014 at the age of 69. Images courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
But, Ardent is not just a world-class facility because of its gear, consoles, and mic locker. In 1966, Ardent opened as a small recording studio facility and since that time it has recorded some of the greatest acts in the history of popular music. From the beginning, it has always featured great teams of producers, engineers, technicians and managers. It is a place where history has been made in the production of popular music. And it remains, despite the shifting landscape of digital audio workstations and home recording studio ventures— one of the very best places in the world to record your great music.
If you wish to learn more about the amazing and historic Ardent Recording Studios, in Memphis, Tennessee, please visit their website for further information at— www.ardentstudios.com.
How can I listen to the great songs that were recorded at Ardent Recording Studios?
With either the Apple Music, the Spotify, or the YouTube playlist, you can listen to the music and watch the music videos from the groups and artists who were listed in the article that was written about the legendary Ardent Recording Studios. Some of the greatest and most memorable songs in the history of popular music have been recorded in this fabulous and historic Memphis, Tennessee, recording studio facility. Each playlist features a collection of just some of those great songs that have been recorded there since it opened its doors in 1966.
Click to Listen or Watch
The following images are on the carousel of pictures above:
1. The Legendary Staff at Ardent Recording Studios-- Back (L-R): John Fry, Paul Ebersold and Jody Stephenson; Front (L-R): Jim Dickinson and John Hampton
2. The Smashing Pumpkins have recorded at Ardent Recording Studios.
3. John Fry established Ardent Recording Studios in 1966. He led the facility throughout his life and is one of the truly legendary figures in the history of popular music recording.
4. This is a picture of James Taylor working with the legendary Terry Manning as the engineer behind the console in 1971 at Ardent Recording Studios.
5. The legendary gospel, R&B and soul group, the Staple Singers recorded and mixed many of their hits in the early 1970s at Ardent Recording Studios.
6. ZZ Top would record many of their greatest hits throughout their long and storied career at Ardent Recording Studios.
7. The legendary popular music act, R.E.M. did much of the work for their ground-breaking album, Green, at Ardent Recording Studios.
8. The legendary blues guitarist, BB King, has also recorded at Ardent Recording Studios.
Each of the images appear through the courtesy of Ardent Recording Studios.
Special Thanks and Acknowledgement
I would like to take a moment to thank both Mr. Keith Sykes and Mr. Jody Stephens for their assistance with this project. Ardent Recording Studios has been recording the best in popular music since it opened its doors in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1966. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful people who have worked at Ardent Recording Studios over the years who have made it a wonderful place to record great music.