Secret Nashville

Starday-King-Sound-Studios-by-Robbie-Jones

Nashville’s story revolves around music. Rightfully so. We are Music City, after all. For two years, city leaders have been reassessing how we treat the landmarks where our music history was created. Music Row has been ground zero for the conversation. But, our music industry heritage is sprinkled around the city, in places like Berry Hill, Inglewood, and Madison.

From the 1950s-1970s, Madison was home to dozens of recording artists, talent agents, musicians, sound engineers, and recording studios. One of the most important, yet forgotten, landmarks is the Starday-King Sound Studios, located at 3557 Dickerson Pike. Built in 1960, the modest Mid-Century Modern architecture of this nondescript concrete block building belies the musical magic that took place here.

This building was once home to the Starday and King record labels and one of the busiest studios in Nashville, rivaling RCA Studio A and Owen Bradley’s Quonset Hut on Music Row. Starday and King were powerhouse independent labels known for traditional country, bluegrass, rockabilly, gospel, and R&B music. In its heyday, stars like Dottie West, Minnie Pearl, Jim Reeves, Archie Campbell, Cowboy Copas, Reece Sisters, and Mike Higashi of Tokyo all recorded here.

From 1962-1965, Jimi Hendrix played guitar at Starday with artists such as Billy Cox, Johnny Jones, and Frank Howard and the Commanders. In 1968, Nashville’s local disc jockey Bill “Hoss” Allen recorded “He Went to the Mountain Top” here as a tribute to MLK, Jr., soon after he was murdered in Memphis.

The biggest superstar to record at Starday was James Brown, who recorded several songs here, including “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” and “Super Bad” in 1970 and “Hot Pants” and “I’m a Greedy Man” in 1971. Folks still refer to this building as “James Brown’s Starday-King Studio” and according to legend, the studio was painted brown in his honor.

Vacant for 15 years, the historic landmark is overgrown, neglected, and showing signs of deterioration. What the future holds for this legendary recording studio is unknown. Metro Councilwoman Nancy VanReece hopes the property owner will “recognize its place in our history and work toward restoration or seek a qualified new owner that will respect the history created there and support the potential renaissance.” Two years ago, the city came together to save RCA Studio A from the wrecking ball. Will we do the same for James Brown’s Starday-King Studio?

pictured: Starday-King Sound Studios
photo courtesy of Robbie Jones