These men captured the sound of Music City – The Tennessean
Without recording engineers, there is no such thing as Music City.
Sunday afternoon at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ford Theater, engineers Jimmy Lockert, Charlie Bragg, Neil Wilburn, Al Pachucki, Mack Evans and Ernie Winfrey received lifetime achievement awards from the Audio Engineering Society’s Nashville Chapter.
The AES designated these men, largely unknown by the general public yet essential in the recordings of classics by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Righteous Brothers, Etta James, Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Guy Clark, the Beach Boys and many more, as “audio architects of the Nashville Sound.”
“We’re celebrating the scope of work that these men did over their lifetimes,” said the event’s moderator, Michael Janas, who teaches at Belmont University’s Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business.
That scope was readily apparent as the afternoon unfolded, with stories about the engineers, and about recording sessions that spanned musical genres.
Lockert was a part of Bradley’s Film & Recording, the first studio on what is now Music Row, where he recorded country and rockabilly music of the mid-1950s. He wound up in Los Angeles, capturing and blending sounds for the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” The Righteous Brothers “(You’re My) Soul & Inspiration” and other mammoth productions.
Bragg recorded the first live album made at a prison: Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison.” He helped create what is now called country-rock by recording The Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” sessions, he engineered Ray Price’s classic “For the Good Times” and he also recorded Lynn Anderson’s signature hit, “Rose Garden.”
“We sat and listened to that song over and over,” Anderson recalled, telling of the night that song was recorded, when musicians and producers gathered for a boozy celebration of what sounded immediately like a smash record. “Charlie made it special.”
Wilburn recorded Leonard Cohen’s “Songs From a Room” album, Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA,” Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline,” Guy Clark’s “Old No. 1″ and many more.
Pachucki — who retired in the 1980s and tends to refuse interview requests — recorded Grammy-winners including John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” Elvis Presley’s “He Touched Me” and Cortelia Clark’s “Blues in the Street.” He also helped create country music’s “outlaw” movement by engineering “Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies” and Waylon Jennings’ “Honky Tonk Heroes.”
Evans helped engineer “Etta James Rocks the House” at Nashville’s New Era club on Jefferson Street, Ringo Starr’s Nashville-based solo album and even some Nashville Symphony performances, and he founded pioneering mastering company Masterfonics.
Winfrey was the only honored “architect” present at the ceremony: Pachucki didn’t attend, Evans has been in poor health and the others have died. Known for his work with Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Wilson Pickett and Neil Young, and for his 22-year stint at Nashville studio SoundShop, Winfrey brought a video clip of him interacting with McCartney during the recording of “Sally G” in Nashville.
Reach Peter Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@tnmusicnews.