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Cherokee Studios

Remember a time before music was streamed and downloaded — when wireless was a radio?

And from that radio came the sound of hearts and souls laid bare.

Now it seems it’s more about the performance than the music. Art and passion have taken a back seat to the technical and bankable.

While there’s still plenty of good music recorded by talented artists sharing stories and touching lives — these days their road to fame and fortune seems harder than ever.

But maybe that journey is about to get a little easier.

Cherokee Back

Ten years after closing, the legendary recording studio — Cherokee — is back for an encore.

For 35 years it was renowned as a creative safe space for some of the biggest and would-be-biggest names in the industry to record their unforgettable hits.

A studio with a sound, a mood and atmosphere like no other — and as owner and founder Bruce Robb told CNN’s John Vause, that’s exactly how they plan to do it again.

To understand Cherokee’s magic you have to go back to the beginning of rock n’ roll when artists were starving for to be heard.

“Most studios were owned by record labels and there were few private studios back then,” Robb recounts. “We couldn’t get into their studios, so we thought, ‘We’ll build our own studio in the barn.'”

And that is one mighty understatement. A bit like Steve Jobs saying he decided to build a computer in his garage.

The Robbs 1

Bruce Robb and his brothers, Dee and Joe, are the biggest names in the music industry that you have probably never heard of.

In the 1960s, The Robbs toured the country as a supporting act to The Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buffalo Springfield and more… even performing on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”

Their fame and fortune would not be made on stage but in the studio — and not performing. Somehow the walls at Cherokee brought out the best in the greats.

“First off, that room is magic,” according to Henry Rollins who recorded several records at Cherokee. “If you know the room and you know how to mic something. Good mics. Then, you’ve got a good record. And that’s what these guys had.”

studio guitar

Legendary filmmaker, painter, musician, actor, and photographer David Lynch also made music at Cherokee. He said Cherokee had “a great vibe and a killer sound. Phat. Beautiful. Smooth. Great stuff.

“When you feel good in a place and you’re getting a great sound, you go to Cherokee to see Bruce.”

A sound and a place so unique, so special that The Beatles producer, George Martin, called Cherokee, “The best studio in America.”

And for three decades, it was like the Dew Drop Inn for the icons and legends.

Del Shannon and Zane Ashton were among the first artists to record there. As word spread, industry giants began making their way to the barn.

“One night, Little Richard pulls up. Well, of course, he does, and comes into the studio and wants to make a country record,” Robb recalls. “And I’m thinking that’s a great idea.”

steely dan 1

© Roger Nichols

Cherokee also helped revive Steely Dan’s career. Robb said, “We did ‘Pretzel Logic’ and that exploded. That was our first huge record.”

After that, Cherokee became a monster recording portions of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” and Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes” and “Hard Promises.”

Cherokee awards

There’s been no shortage of awards — hundreds of gold and platinum records collected over the years.

But far more important, it seems, are the stories and memories of working with the biggest names in music.

david bowie“We get a call and they say, ‘David Bowie is out front’ and as a band we go ‘Oh wow!'” Robb said. “We go out and David walks in and says, ‘I’d like to make my album here.’ We say ‘Great!'”

And “Station to Station” was born.

Ringo Starr, Barbara Streisand, George Clinton — even the notoriously difficult Frank Sinatra came knocking.

“Sinatra walks in and opens the door and says, ‘So this is Cherokee.’ I said, ‘I’ve heard that.'” Robb said.

“He says, ‘So you’re a family. I like families.’ Joe, my brother, right on cue rolls in a bar cart and he looks at it. He’s the only person who could smile with his eyes. So we make him a drink and he sits down in the control room with the orchestra there and for an hour tells us road stories.”

Rod Stewart 1Another performer left his calling card on the ceiling in the vocal booth.

Rollins remembers it well, “Someone took a spray can and drew an image — it’s probably not family friendly — and people would come in like, ‘ Well.. um there’s something on the ceiling. Oh, that’s Rod Stewart. He puts one of those, everywhere he works.’ And I spent so much time in the 80s and 90s looking up at that ceiling and saying, ‘Rod Stewart has been here.'”

“We’d take it off and he’d do it again. So we thought, ‘Leave it,'” Robb conceded.

Over the years, Cherokee has done more than just record music — it helped usher in entire genres, cutting the first ever disco song, “Get Dancing” with Bob Crewe.

Some of rap’s deepest roots are here including Public Enemy and Ice Cube.

henry rollins

Punk music found a platform at Cherokee, too. When a young Henry Rollins had something to say… Cherokee helped him say it.

“So I come from Washington D.C., I find myself in Los Angeles singing for the notorious Black Flag,” Rollins said. “The Robbs would just leave the door open and say, ‘It could get weird ya’all.’ I spent nights in there. And you’d come out and there’d be someone like, ‘You want something to eat?’ And I’d say, ‘You’re still here?’ (They’d say) ‘Cause you’re still here.’

“You need maniacs around you, fanatics around you to really make it happen. And that’s why Cherokee lasted and people kept coming back.”

In 2008, Cherokee held its last supper. David Lynch, Henry Rollins and Bruce Robb were all there as the studio went dark.

Ten years later, the men back together for the first time for this CNN interview… and there’s reason to celebrate.

Cherokee_Bruce_h2wu12

Cherokee is back in business — again recording the soundtrack of a generation. But, in a way, back to the future — using the same equipment from the studio famous for its signature sound… a Trident analog sound board, 1961 Hammond B-3 keyboard and 1940-50s-era Neumann microphones.

Years from now, when they talk about Cherokee, all Bruce Robb wants people to say is that “those guys made a lot of great records.”

And Steve Jobs made a lot of good computers, too.

Written by: Ben Bamsey and John Vause. Produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”

ben, bruce & team

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