Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The culture or its music? Regardless of your stance, so many cultures can be defined by the music they celebrate and produce, and vice versa. In some cases, the two meld so perfectly that it’d be hard to think of one without the other. The gritty blues of the South, Samba during Carnival or the sweeping EDM swells across the clubs of Ibiza are just a few examples of that symbiotic harmony of a region and its rhythm over the decades.
To wholly experience a travel destination, understanding the music that is born of its region is as important as its museums, monuments and cuisine. Some of the world’s most well-known recording studios throughout history have done a service to permanently capture an embodiment of the inspiration that comes from their backdrops. Through quarter inch reels and decades-old sound boards, we can experience the same inspiration of these regions that some of our favorite artists bottled to create their masterpieces.
We’ve put together a list of some of the inspired studios of past and present that have captured the sounds of their region, culture and generation. Enhance your next journey to any one of these regions with a glimpse into their musical time capsules.
CHICAGO – CHESS RECORDS
Chess Records operated for 25 years from 1950-1975 and was an influential part of the blues and R&B scene that grew out of Chicago during the period. In addition to the studio, which changed locations several times throughout its history, the Chess Records label was the home of many famous pioneers of blues and R&B, later branching out into soul, gospel and rock n’ roll.
It was merely by chance that Polish immigrants Leonard and Phil Chess would find success in the record industry. Becoming exposed to the regional music through the opening of a small nightclub in the south side of Chicago, the Chess brothers would eventually take a chance on recording the music of some of the club’s performers. In Chess’ first decade of operation, the label unleashed a signature sound into the world that included now legendary names such as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf.
The impact of the music and artists to come out of Chess during its heyday was far reaching, inspiring covers of its original recordings by Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones even took their namesake from the Muddy Waters’ song “Rollin’ Stone,” and Keith Richards and Mick Jagger are said to have connected after Richards spotted Jagger one day with some Chess-era records under his arm.
Though Chess Records is no longer in existence, the studio’s arguably most famous location at 2120 Michigan Avenue is the current home of Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation – an organization dedicated to assisting musicians, educating the public about blues history and nurturing young artists to ensure the future of the blues.
Famous Artists/Recordings: Sail On – Muddy Waters, Back Home – Chuck Berry, Have Guitar Will Travel – Bo Diddley
LONDON – ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS
Gaining worldwide notoriety in the 1960s, it’s hard to believe London’s Abbey Road Studios was founded nearly three decades before bands such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd ever walked through its doors and committed their legendary sounds to tape.
Even if you’ve never been to London or Abbey Road, the nearby zebra-striped walkway is an instantly recognizable landmark thanks to the popularity of The Beatles’ 1969 Abbey Road album cover. Possibly one of the most famous album covers of all time, it has been paid homage to by countless other bands, movies and TV shows.
The Beatles’ Abbey Road name and cover almost didn’t happen, however. The album’s original album was going to be Everest as a tip to the style of cigarettes most fancied by the album’s sound engineer. It was later suggested by Paul to simply head outside and shoot the cover there in the interest of finishing the album more quickly.
Famous Artists/Recordings: Abbey Road – The Beatles, Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd, Duran Duran – Duran Duran
IBIZA – SONIC VISTA
Sonic Vista may be one of the youngest studios on this list, founded in 2004, but its location is rich with history. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Sonic Vista is housed within a 400-year-old Villa in the hills of Ibiza. A stark contrast to the high-energy club scene in its host city, Sonic Vista offers artists a peaceful retreat to focus on their craft.
The studio space itself took cues from two other well-known recording facilities, Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas and “The Mansion,” Rick Ruben’s Los Angeles studio. Producers and audio recording enthusiasts might be interested to know that the studio was the first to bring the popular recording suite Pro Tools HD to Ibiza.
Famous Artists/Recordings: Songs for Sounds from Nowhere – Ting Tings, Mastering for iTunes Exclusive – Goldfrapp, Mastering for iTunes Exclusive – Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mastering for iTunes Exclusive – No Doubt
VANCOUVER – LITTLE MOUNTAIN SOUND
One of the most famous recording studios in Canada’s history, Vancouver’s Little Mountain Sound boasts an impressive list of hit records spanning three decades, and was the launch pad for the success of acclaimed producer Bob Rock – who started out as an engineer under fellow producer Bruce Fairbairn.
While the name Little Mountain Sound has since dissolved, the space that committed so many legendary recordings to tape lives on in Vancouver as Greenhouse Studios to this day.
Under the new name of Greenhouse studios, this legendary space has still played host to the recording & production of big names in the music industry such as k.d lang, Nickelback and Queensryche.
Famous Artists/Recordings: Slippery When Wet – Bon Jovi, Get a Grip – Aerosmith, Sonic Temple – The Cult, Dr. Feelgood – Mötley Crüe
SHEFFIELD – MUSCLE SHOALS SOUND STUDIO
Founded by a backing band known as The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio came to prominence during the Southern rock surge in the 70s, with many of the bands of that era filling out its roster. The studio has changed locations since its inception, with the original building slated for a possible music museum, but still carries over the legacy of its roots with modern rock bands such as The Black Keys recording their Grammy-winning Brothers there in 2009.
Standing the test of time and various location changes, Muscle Shoals remains one of music’s most relevant and important recording studios, even being the focus of a recent documentary currently streaming on Netflix.
Famous Artists/Recordings: Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones, Night Moves – Bob Seger, Street Survivors – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Put on Your Headphones – and take a moment to appreciate the history from the outside of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to the tune of “What’s Your Name?“ by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Take off the headphones before you enter. There will be more than enough to satisfy your senses once inside.