Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Hidden Landmark

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

The Hidden Home of America's Music

So where did Bing Crosby record "White Christmas" and Elvis Presley record "Jailhouse Rock" and Sam Cooke record "You Send Me" and so on?  Behind this green door.

Radio Recorders, on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, Hollywood

Not many people outside the business read the trade journal Mix, but in last October's "L.A. Grapevine" section, Bud Scoppa noted this -

    At Radio Recorders, located on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, an ongoing effort is underway to restore the oldest studio in Hollywood - the birthplace of Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife," Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," the Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda," Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Elvis Presley's early RCA sides - to its former glory. Clearly, this is an ambitious undertaking, as the operation attempts to compete with the numerous nearby high-profile facilities. On one side of the nicely landscaped entrance to the building, which was built by RCA Victor in 1928, a recently erected sign denotes Radio Recorders' status as a historic landmark; on the other, a homeless person sleeps on a bus stop bench - the contrast is a microcosm of the challenge facing partners Paul Schwartz (who has operated the studio for the past two decades), Michael Dumas and Pride Hutchison.

    Drummer/producer Hutchison and Dumas, who has done Dwight Yoakam's live sound for years, were scouting studios to work in when they came upon the building, then called Studio 56, and offered to enter into a partnership with Schwartz, who welcomed the infusion of cash, energy and vision. They new co-owners began the renovation in 2000, installing the requisite Neve console (a VRP60) in Studio A, turning Studio B into a Pro Tools suite with a Sony DMX-R100, putting a cherried-out Trident MTA-90 in C and setting up the cavernous Studio E, where all of the above-mentioned classics had been recorded, as well as a soundstage for video shoots and live recordings. The partners refaced the walls and floors, being careful not to tamper with the details that make the facility unique, and brought in their ample collections of vintage gear.

It's in a nasty area of town - warehouses and grit, small post-production outfits and sad little houses here and there, in the flats south of Sunset. But it's there.

Radio Recorders, on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, Hollywood

As for the Elvis Presley business, and before he was around, see this -

    In September of 1956, while Elvis was in Hollywood filming "Love Me Tender", RCA Victor booked time at Radio Recorders for the band to go in and record what would become Elvis' second album.  After "Love Me Tender" Elvis insisted on doing soundtrack recording with his own band in a regular studio setting as well.

    The studio, located at 7000 Santa Monica Boulevard on the corner of Orange Drive in Hollywood was at the time known to be the best recording facility in LA.  It contained 3 studios for recording with the band mostly using the largest, Studio B (in 1959 Studio B rented for $32.50 per hour).  Finding the facilities, the engineer, Thorne Nogar (Thorny), and his assistants Jim Malloy and Bones Howe much more conducive to the bands productivity than the motion picture soundstages, while in Hollywood, they would score many of the subsequent movies and albums there commencing with "Loving You" in January of 1957.

    The studio was built in 1929 by the Victor Talking Machine Company, no doubt in attempts to get into the new sound-on-film business, and completed sometime after the acquisition of Victor by RCA on March 15, 1929.  Variety Magazine advertised at the time that at a cost of $250,000 the complex went from Orange Drive to Sycamore Avenue between Santa Monica Blvd. and Romaine St. Though now officially RCA Victor, the company was still being referred to simply as "Victor" and record labels did not carry "RCA Victor" until much later, sometime in the late 1930s or early '40s. One of the first stars on its label to record there was Jimmie Rodgers in July of 1930 accompanied by Louis Armstrong on trumpet.

    Radio Recorders itself was founded around 1933 and the 1937 Broadcasting Yearbook lists it as being located at 932 N. Western Ave. By 1949 they had taken over the facilities at 7000 Santa Monica Blvd. and were on the road to becoming one of the largest independent recording studios in Hollywood.  Mostly all of the major labels used Radio Recorders' studios because most of them did not have facilities on the West Coast initially. Capitol Records did all their early recordings there and then stole away some of their engineering staff when they built their own studios.  In addition to popular music the facilities there were also extensively used to record jingles, commercials and shows for broadcast radio.

Elvis' 1957 Hollywood sessions -

  • January 12: "I Believe," "Tell Me Why," "Got A Lot O' Livin' To Do," "All Shook Up" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • January 13: "Mean Woman Blues," "Peace In The Valley," "I Beg Of You," "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • January 15: "Lonesome Cowboy" (Paramount Scoring Stage, Hollywood, CA)
  • January 16: "Teddy Bear" (Paramount Scoring Stage, Hollywood, CA)
  • January 17: "One Night," "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" (Paramount Scoring Stage, Hollywood, CA)
  • January 18: "Hot Dog" (Paramount Scoring Stage, Hollywood, CA)
  • January 19: "It Is No Secret," "Blueberry Hill," "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You," "Is It So Strange" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • January 21: "Party" (Paramount Scoring Stage, Hollywood, CA)
  • February 23: "Don't Leave Me Now," "I Beg Of You," "One Night," "True Love," "I Need You So" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • February 24: "Loving You," "When It Rains, It Really Pours" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • April 30: "Jailhouse Rock," "Young And Beautiful" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • September 5: "Treat Me Nice," "Blue Christmas" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • September 6: "My Wish Came True," "White Christmas," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Silent Night," "Don't" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)
  • September 7: "O Little Town Of Bethlehem," "Santa, Bring My Baby Back," "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (Radio Recorders, Hollywood, CA)

And here we see the soundtrack for "King Creole" was recorded at Radio Recorders studios and Paramount Studios Scoring Stage in Hollywood, California during January and February of 1958. The album was released to coincide with the film.

March 18, 1958 it was Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Irving Berlin Songbook - and January 16, 1961 she did The Harold Arlen Songbook here.

And as for Sam Cooke and "You Send Me" - that was recorded here on June 1, 1957, and the producer was Bumps Blackwell, with that great name.  That session started at 1:30 in the afternoon, if you care.

Stomping around the web you can find the dates of all the west cost jazz recording made here - Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and such.  And there was that Canadian pianist, as in Oscar Peterson Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book -

    This album was recorded at Radio Recorders in December 1952. Radio Recorders was among the best studios in the country at that time. Fred Astaire recorded a two disc album with Oscar Peterson that same month and it is crystal clean. Also Ben Webster recorded there with the Ravens in December 1952 as did Anita O'Day - all with good clean results.

It's an interesting place.

Radio Recorders, on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, Hollywood
Radio Recorders, on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, Hollywood
Radio Recorders, on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Orange Avenue, Hollywood

If you use any of these photos for commercial purposes I assume you'll discuss that with me.

These were shot with a Nikon D70 - using lens (1) AF-S Nikkor 18-70 mm 1:35-4.5G ED, or (2) AF Nikkor 70-300mm telephoto, or after 5 June 2006, (3) AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor, 55-200 mm f/4-5.6G ED. They were modified for web posting using Adobe Photoshop 7.0

The original large-format raw files are available upon request.

[Hidden Landmark]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik