RCA Victor Studio B marks the birthplace of the “Nashville Sound.” It’s home to 1,000 hits by country music greats like Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins and many others.
The Victor Talking Machine Company propelled country music onto the world stage in the early 1920s. The company established one of the first recording studios in Nashville on McGavock Street in the 1950s. Three years later it expanded opening a new location on Music Row.
“Historic RCA Studio B is one of the oldest studios in Nashville and one of the most historically significant studios in the country,” said Justin Croft, Studio B manager.
The outside of the building is bare and unassuming. The inside of the building is covered and with mementos that embody the spirit of country music.
This well-preserved ‘Temple of Sound’ opened its doors in 1957. Croft gave News 2 a tour inside. “So, this room was originally the office and reception area so the artist would come in and sign-in and then be able to go back into their sessions.”
Croft said visitors can see a timeline with photographs that give an overview of the history of the studio as well as the highlights. Croft said he came to Nashville wanting to pursue music. “Studio B was a big draw to Nashville for me. So, it’s kinda crazy I ended up being the manager here. It’s serendipitous.”
Croft now gets to walk the sacred ground of country music almost every day sharing his love for music and its history with hundreds of thousands of guests each year.
One of the first recording sessions at Studio B was with Columbia Records’ artist Jo Davis.
“This studio was known for having great sound and inviting character, as well as a lot of musicians took to it easily and loved working here,” said Croft.
Studio B was born from an effort to create a new space that would fit the needs of a growing recording industry in Nashville. Singer, songwriter Chet Atkins and RCA Executive Stephen Sholes were the masterminds behind the facility. It was built by Dan Maddox and managed by Atkins.
“Inside this room, all of your musicians would be set up in your various positions. Your drummer would be along the wall there. Usually, a standup bass player here,” demonstrated Croft.
The notes plucked and the songs crooned inside the four walls deepened Nashville’s roots as the home of country music. Studio B was also instrumental in creating what’s known as the “Nashville Sound.”
“This was played by all of the session greats,” Croft pointed to a piano in the room. “You can see all of the finger markings from over the years. It has had some work done over time, but we were careful not to paint over any of this age.”
Less than a year after Studio B opened, one of the biggest names in music history joined with RCA Victor Records – Elvis Presley. “Harder to get bigger than Elvis,” exclaimed Croft.
Elvis’ first recording session at Studio B was held in June 1958. “All of the major Elvis records and his Gospel stuff was done at this piano,” Croft said while pushing on the keys.
Many more country music legends also made their mark while using Studio B. Croft listed, “Bonnie Smith, Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold all did a lot of recordings here. Early Waylon Jennings, Early Willie Nelson – it’s a wild swath of artists throughout that period.”
Croft didn’t leave out Tennessee’s country queen, Dolly Parton, “She’s everything you think she is. She’s fantastic.”
RCA Studio B holds a well preserved snapshot of what recording music was like before modern era technology. “This is a time capsule of where recording was at the time,” Croft said.
Studio B, in particular, played a critical role in getting the sound right. “There’s a lot of equipment on display that was really significant in this studio coming to life. Then really the cumulation ends in the room itself where the instruments are and the importance of that very space,” said Croft.
While musicians played in the background, the singer stood in a “sweet spot” up front that made the sound complete. Croft explained, “You can look down at the floor and see the blue x on the floor where literally hundreds of hundreds of vocals were recorded with the singers standing right there – whether it was Roy Orbinson or Dottie West or whoever it was.”
After 20 years of recording songs, the studio shut its doors. “In 1977, we closed down commercially and almost right away people were coming in wanting to see where Elvis recorded,” Croft added, “They had been trying to get in for years. They used to have to sneak in disguised as like a delivery man or something.”
Meanwhile public interest only grew, and eventually the Country Music Foundation acquired the building. “The tourism seed kind of started there,” said Croft. “It evolved a lot to the point of the Hall of Fame running tours seven days a week.”
In his six years working at Studio B, Croft has seen a countless number of visitors walk the halls of history. “We get a lot of people coming through. This was their music growing up. So, it holds emotional attachments to the music of their youth.”
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum runs the tours for Studio B. “This place is filled with energy. You know it’s not your static museum experience,” Croft encouraged others to visit. “It’s a place you walk through and interact with and has a lot of emotional resonance for folks.”
To learn more about tours for Historic RCA Studio B click here.