Ben Jack's Recording Studio

Ben Jack's Recording Studio

On Friday, November 6, 2009, Ben Jack unexpectedly passed away. It was at Ben Jack's Recording Studio in Ft. Smith that I got my first introduction to recording engineering and playing session drums. In 1970 I moved to Ft. Smith to work in the radio market there. At the same time I started moonlighting as "wannabe" engineer and occasional session drummer for Mickey Moody at Ben's studio. It was a 16-track studio with all the "name brand" gear that is associated with professional recording. It was there that I was in the right place at the right time, and got the opportunity to play as session drummer on the Freddy Fender hit "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights".

This excerpt is from my book, "Face The Music":

"I started hanging around Ben Jack's recording studio in Ft. Smith on my off hours. Ben owned the largest music store in Ft.Smith and also ran a recording business in a sound studio located by the Interstate bypass. I suppose he originally built the studio to record his own material in, as he was a popular steel guitar player at the time and had several records out. The gear was all first rate. He had a large Steinway 9-foot grand piano, a B3 Hammond and Leslie, a set of vibes, several drum kits, and many expensive and exotic microphones. The studio was an MCI 16 track and had an Auditronics console that was custom built in Memphis. They also had Ampex 440 8-track, 4-track, 2-track and mono tape decks, an EMT plate reverb, as well as an acoustic echo chamber in house. The manager of the studio was Mickey Moody. As a disk jockey I talked my way into the studio and befriended Mickey. Soon I was allowed to hang out during some of the sessions there. Sometime I would even be the "gofer", bringing back pizzas and burgers for the band. Soon Mickey and I became great friends and shared a lot of laughs. More importantly he allowed me to see how the magic was made. I learned many recording secrets and microphone techniques from him. I gradually moved from gofer to apprentice engineer to second engineer under Mickey's tutelage. We shared some pretty wild times during those sessions.

While I was working as a 2nd Engineer on a session doing an album project for a band who's "producer" was also the band's "Daddy Warbucks". In other words, he was paying for the session. This guy was a 50-year old local businessman who knew as much about producing a session as I know about wrestling alligators. However, he was a control freak so naturally he sat at the console throughout the entire session barking out orders and shaking his head every time either Mickey or I touched a knob. It was indeed a session from hell and we were wondering what to do when it came time to mix. Well, this console had a channel strip at one end that used to be hooked up to a tape transport but was no longer active. It had 4 big square buttons and two knobs on it. When it came time to mix, Mickey sat the "Producer" down in front of that strip and told him "Whenever you hear something you don't like or would like to change, just adjust the sound using these two "Producer's knobs" and it will "fix" the mix one way of the other. No matter WHAT we do, these two knobs will override the final mix." So, every time the guy wasn't satisfied or needed to assert his authority he just leaned over the console and tweaked one of those knobs, then leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms with a satisfied smile on his face. At one point we stopped tape for Mickey to do a punch in and the man leaned up and pushed one of the disconnected buttons and said, "It's okay, go ahead. I got it". It took ALL of our composure for the rest of the session not to let the cat out of the bag. We never told him.

At about the same time we had a typical rock ' roll group come in to do some songs. We spent most of the day doing basic tracks. By mid afternoon we had started working on guitar overdubs and the singer was getting restless doing nothing hanging around in the control room. His girlfriend showed up and they spent the next half-hour huddled up on the couch that was situated in front of the console looking through the glass into the studio. After a while the guy gets up off the couch and comes up to me and whispers "Hey man, is there a place we can go around here that's private?" I informed him that the only room around here with a door on it was the reverb room. Mickey slyly says "Yeah, NOBODY'S ever in there and it's completely soundproof." For the uninitiated, the reverb room is a 12 X 20 empty room with the walls covered in aluminum, a 12" speaker at one end up at the ceiling, and a microphone on the floor at the other. This was long before the age of digital reverbs. Well, the two of them go into that room and shut the door. While still running the overdub session, Mickey directs me to load up a reel of tape on the mono machine and routes the reverb room mic send to the reel to reel and we continue on with the session. About 15 minutes later the two of them come back out into the control room looking disheveled and pulling at their clothes. The guitarist leans down by me as they exit and whispers "Wow! Man, that was a WILD EXPERIENCE!" Now I ask you, how could you NOT go back after the session and listen to that tape? "


The "Rock Bottom" studio session at Ben Jack's


"The Man, Hisself!" : Ben Jack
PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVE MATTHEWS

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