John Fry, founder and owner of legendary Memphis recording facility, Ardent Studios, passed away on December 18, 2014 at Methodist LeBonheur Germantown Hospital, where he was taken after suffering a cardiac arrest at his Germantown home.
John was know by so many in the music industry, but was also a good friend of many of SPARS past and present board members. Fry joined SPARS soon after the organization was founded and was a board member for many years, culminating in serving as SPARS Chairman of the Board 1995-1996. John Fry was one of those rare entrepreneurs who seemed to anticipate future trends, always meeting each challenge with insight and determination. Among his many insights, he anticipated how music would be used in television and film, going so far as to establish Ardent Film as a part of the Ardent family.
But as talented an entrepreneur and businessman as John Fry was, he was far more the consummate mentor. From those with whom he worked to those who walked in off the street, John Fry would take the time to meet. For them he was always available to network, encourage and share his vast knowledge of the business. Since his death just a few days ago, social media has been awash with comments from scores of music professionals who are mourning his passing. The fact is, we may never know how many lives he touched. But those of us who knew him and were lucky enough to have been the partakers of his talents, will miss him dearly. (do not miss the tribute at the end of this post – includes NAMM interview)
Ardent Studios was founded by John Fry and was initially a studio in his family’s garage, where he recorded his first Ardent Records 45’s. In 1966 the operation moved into a new store building on Memphis‘ National Street, which was shared with a bookshop. The original equipment came from the garage operation: Altec tube console, Ampex 2-track, Pultec EQ and Neumann mics–some of which are still in use today. Tom Dowd was consulting with Auditronics on an early multitrack console for nearby Stax Records, and Fry ordered the same input modules for his second board. Next came a Scully 4-track, and the first EMT plate reverbs in the area.
Ardent became home to young producers and engineers such as Jim Dickinson, Terry Manning, Joe Hardy, John Hampton, Paul Ebersold, and later Skidd Mills, Jeff Powell, Jason Latshaw, and Pete Matthews. In 1971, Ardent Studios moved to its present location on Madison Avenue, followed by the acquisition of 24-track recorders, bigger consoles and more gear.
Ardent came to have three studios equipped, all with large format Neve and SSL desks alongside Pro Tools rigs. It is managed by Jody Stephens (also drummer for Big Star) — an early Ardent group whose first two albums appeared on Ardent Records label in the early 1970s. All three Big Star albums were named in Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 albums of all time, and “In The Street,” from their first album, became the theme for “That 70s Show.”
Early on the studio recorded Sam & Dave, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Hayes, Leon Russell and The Staples Singers, and in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s recorded James Taylor, ZZ Top, R.E.M., George Thorogood, The Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, and Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the 2000s younger artists such as The White Stripes, 3 Doors Down, Cat Power, North Mississippi Allstars, The Raconteurs and Guy Sebastian have recorded at Ardent, and the soundtracks for Hustle and Flow and Black Snake Moan were produced at Ardent as well. To date, Ardent has recorded over 70 gold and platinum albums and singles.