Like virtually every other industry, the recording business has been transformed by advances in digital technologies. Some argue that cutting-edge digital “effects” and electronic “sweeting” can make even a mediocre performance sound good. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I can speak from experience, having played bass on a couple of professional recordings, in saying the post-production recording tools available today ensure that singers and musicians are given every advantage to shine.
With that in mind, I recently paid a visit to Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, where they still make records the old-fashioned way, with just a handful of microphones, a simple control board and a reel-to-reel mono tape machine. The only voices and instruments heard are those that are actually in the room. And yes, the final product ends up on vinyl. It’s the way they did it when Sun first opened its doors in 1950. It’s the way Elvis Presley recorded his first hit single, “That’s all Right,” at Sun Studio 60 years ago this weekend. Others who recorded here include Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Howlin Wolf, and Carl Perkins.
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Sun Studio is a National Landmark and little has changed since the late Sam Phillips founded the tiny storefront studio, from the faded acoustic tiles lining the walls and ceiling, to the plain linoleum floor. Tourists come by daily to view the studio, see the framed pictures of famous artists who recorded here, and take pictures posing in front of the very mic Elvis sang with. By night, working musicians anxious to capture the simpler raw sound of the pre-digital era still come here to record. Studio engineer Matt Ross-Spang has painstakingly restored the studio with vintage, but fully functioning, equipment.
During our visit, veteran Sun session musicians, drummer J.M. Van Eaton, and bassist David Roe, joined guitarist Jerry Phillips, son of the studio’s founder, along with pianist Rick Steff and Country singer Dale Watson for a late night recording session. Roe, who recorded here with Johnny Cash, says at Sun, “You kind of get a blend like you would at a rehearsal or at a live gig.” Matt Ross-Spang calls the sound “real.”
For musicians, Sun is a sacred place. A revered piece of American history. And so it was both an honor and a thrill when David Roe handed over his upright bass and invited me to join the guys in playing the final tune of the night. This cut would be only for us. A little jam in the key of F, with Dale on vocals. There were no headphones to wear, no studio monitors, and no one to “auto-tune” or dub in some extra accompaniment. It was just us, along with the echoes of some of the greats who recorded here, playing our hearts out with the knowledge that every note we played — for better or worse — would be faithfully reproduced. Refreshingly authentic. The way it used to be.
First published July 5 2014, 1:03 PM
Lester Holt is the weekend anchor for the flagship broadcast â€œNBC Nightly News,â€ and is also the co-anchor of the weekend edition of â€œTODAY.â€ In addition, Holt serves as fill-in anchor and correspondent for â€œNightly News with Brian Williamsâ€ and the weekday â€œTODAYâ€ program. He also contributes to MSNBC, NBCâ€™s 24-hour cable news network.
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Holt has reported from many of the world's hot spots. In 2006, he reported from the front lines in Lebanon on the war between Israel and Hezbollah and from London, he reported on the terror threat to U.S. bound-airliners from the UK. In 2005, Holt was on the ground for Hurricane Katrina covering events both in Louisiana and Mississippi, and later that fall covered Hurricane Rita in Texas.Before becoming co-anchor of "Weekend Today," Holt anchored "Lester Holt Live," a daily news show on MSNBC in which he covered breaking news and provided news updates and analysis. Holt has also served as the lead anchor for daytime news and breaking news coverage on MSNBC. He has served as a primary anchor for MSNBC's coverage of the biggest news events of the last several years, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war in Afghanistan, and he was the lead daytime anchor for MSNBC's coverage of Decision 2000. Holt also served as anchor of "Countdown: Iraq," a nightly news telecast concentrating on the latest developments surrounding the war with Iraq, from October 2002 through March 2003.
The award-winning broadcast journalist came to MSNBC from WBBM-TV in Chicago, where he spent 14 years. His duties at WBBM-TV included anchoring the evening news. Holt not only worked at the anchor desk in Chicago, but he also reported extensively from trouble spots around the world including Iraq, Northern Ireland, Somalia, El Salvador and Haiti. He has contributed to the CBS News broadcast "48 Hours," earning a 1990 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award for his work on "48 Hours: No Place Like Home."
Previously, Holt worked as a reporter at WCBS-TV in New York City from 1981-82. In 1982 he transferred to sister station KCBS-TV in Los Angeles as a reporter and weekend anchor and returned to WCBS-TV a year later as a reporter and weekend anchor.
Holt majored in government at California State University in Sacramento. He resides in New York City with his wife and family.