By Kurt Wolff
To some, a building—or even just a room—is capable of producing magic. To others, it’s just a room.
At least, that seems to be how the two sides of debate are lining up over the call to preserve the 50-year-old RCA Studio A in Nashville.
Last week, musician and producer Ben Folds made a passionate plea via an open letter that RCA Studio A, which is allegedly about to be sold, is worth preserving. Such legendary artists as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and and Willie Nelson all recorded in the space, which is larger than it’s better-known cousin RCA Studio B (the latter is now part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum). Folds has been a tenant at the RCA Studio A space for the past decade.
According to Folds, the asking price for the building is $4.4 million. The potential buyer is Bravo Development, which develops commercial and residential buildings in nearby Brentwood.
The building’s owners, though, feel differently. And one of the owners, Harold Bradley, just wrote an open letter of his own.
“What makes a place historic?” writes Bradley. “The architecture of the Nashville sound was never brick and mortar. Certainly, there are old studio spaces that, in our imaginations, ring with sonic magic; but in truth, it’s not the room; it’s the music.”
Note that Bradley is not just a property owner. Now in his 80s, he’s a veteran studio guitarist who was one of the original founders of the famed RCA studio—and, in fact, of the entire Nashville Sound of the late 1950s and ’60s. He and his brother, legendary producer Owen Bradley, built the famous Quonset Hut studio on Music Row in the 1950s, where artists such as Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Brenda Lee recorded. Later, Harold Bradley teamed with RCA executive and producer Chet Atkins to found the RCA Building, which included the studio now in question.
“Music city isn’t about a perfect room, or hanging just the right baffling,” Bradley continued. “Turns out, the architecture of Nashville’s evolving sound is a synergy of creative energy. That’s still here, and it has nothing to do with this building.”
Veteran land use attorney Tom White, who represents the Bradley and Atkins families, echoes Bradley’s words in a statement of his own, as quoted in the Nashville Tennessean. “There is absolutely no architectural uniqueness to the building in question,” he wrote. “It is the music and not the building which is the key focus in this industry.”
While Bradley and White may not feel the room is magic in itself, Folds disagrees. To him, studios like this quality and size are a rarity.
“I’ve recorded all over the world and I can say emphatically that ￼there’s no recording space like it anywhere on the planet,” Folds wrote in his open letter.
“I had no idea of the extent of legacy of this great studio until I become the tenant of the space 12 years ago,” he continued. “Most of us know about Studio B. Studio A was its grander younger sibling, erected by Atkins when he became an RCA executive. I can’t tell you how many engineers, producers and musicians have walked into this space to share their stories of the great classic recorded music made here that put Nashville on the map. …What will the Nashville of tomorrow look like if we continue to tear out the heart of the Music Row that made us who we are as a city?”
Bradley’s letter emphasizes that Folds is not an owner but a tenant. His letter also notes that the RCA Building has been on sale for 24 years.
Folds published a new statement today (July 2) on his website, emphasizing that he actually has nothing against Bradley or the building’s owners—he simply wanted to let the world know how special this studio really is from his point of view.
“I have no quarrel with [Harold Bradley] or his extended family,” Folds writes, “and I can sympathize with his plight and understand why he might take the history and acoustics of this room for granted. Maybe his generation can now appreciate that a musician of my generation or younger only has a few examples of the greatness of Studio A left on the planet. It’s a gift that Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins (and Harold Bradley) gave to the world, whether they knew it or not. By a few miracles it’s still standing.”
Folds also has said recently that he feels that the issue is growing into something larger. It’s not just a matter of holding onto one studio, it’s about preserving the legacy of Nashville’s Music Row.
“At first I thought this is an issue about our studio,” he told the Tennessean in a recent interview. “Then it was, ‘No, this is a Music Row issue.’ Well, now I think this is a Nashville survival issue, and some people consider it a music nationwide issue. I think it’s going to be really big.”
Nashville’s mayor Karl Dean has now also weighed in.
“Mayor Dean is proud of Nashville’s growth and progress,” Dean spokesperson Janel Lacy told the Tennessean. “The challenge for the city is figuring out how to balance community concerns about the impact of new development along with the need to ensure Nashville is positioned to continue to grow and prosper for years to come.”
Folds has also been asked why he doesn’t just by the building himself. The answer is rather simple. “I’m a touring recording artist and not a developer or real estate mogul,” Folds writes. “Four million plus clams is well out of my range.”