Joe Hardin

Why Record an Album?

I don’t think I ever felt truly at home until the first time I entered a recording studio.  I was living in Florence, Alabama, which is part of the “quad cities” of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals.  Muscle Shoals, as you know, is the site of an incredible history in recording—Aretha, Dylan, the Stones and just about everybody who was looking for an authentic Southern sound without the slickness of Nashville has recorded there.  An entire genre—Country Soul—was invented there.

I can’t remember whether I was in Fame or in Wishbone studios in Muscle Shoals first, but both of them seemed to me to be actually breathing.  It was like being inside of some kind of organism—lights blinking, the clunking of the tape mechanism, the low hum of amps.  I had come into both of those studios as a guest, so I wasn’t actually recording anything myself, but I was overwhelmed.  My heart felt a longing to sit at the mixing board and to sing in that booth.  That didn’t happen until a few years later when I was asked to record some piano tracks for a songwriter in Memphis.  I don’t remember the name of the studio, but I remember that playing piano into a tape machine with other musicians I felt like I was alive for the first time.  It was a few years later that I got to work on my own project in a studio in Huntsville, Alabama, called Small World Sound.  A whole month in the studio.  Absolute heaven.  One of my favorite moments in the studio came later working in Joe Osborn’s son’s studio in Shreveport producing a guitar track by James Burton on a song for Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs.  These names might not mean much to you, but Burton and Osborn were members of The Wrecking Crew.  These guys played on everything from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra.  You may not know them, but you know their music.  To see them work in the studio was an entire education in the course of just a few hours.

The problem with being a junkie for the studio is that it’s hard to get the gig on a regular enough basis to satisfy the jones.  In most areas, they don’t really need lots of studio musicians.  For years, if you needed a keyboard player in Muscle Shoals, you called Clayton Ivey.  In Nashville, you called Hargus Robbins.  They didn’t need me.

So, like lots of musicians, I built my own studio to satisfy my need to record.  Actually, I’ve built several for myself.  And plenty of musicians have.  Unless you’re Burton or Osborn or Ivey or Robbins it’s the only way to get your fix once you get addicted.

The thing is that as the record industry has ground to a halt none of the big names make their money in recording, which is why they’re constantly on tour.  Touring is really the only way to make money at that level now.  People don't own music, although that may be changing now.  The cool thing is that Vinyl and CD ownership are coming back to life.  The DIY recording industry is also growing.  It’s become an artisanal industry like craft beer or organic farming, and it’s a lot like those industries in that the focus is on authenticity—real instruments, played by real people, playing songs that weren’t written by a Nashville committee.

So that’s why and how Come On, Highway came to exist.  I’ve spent the last two years writing and recording these songs and it’s been an amazingly fun trip.  In the end, I’m happy with the album but for me, as with many musicians, it’s mostly an excuse to spend long days and long nights doing what I love to do.

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