Estates of Bradley and Atkins Release Response Regarding RCA Studio A

Harold Bradley

Harold Bradley

[Updated, July 2]: Musician and RCA Studio A tenant Ben Folds has responded to Harold Bradley’s letter regarding the sale of RCA Studio A. (Scroll to bottom.)

Folds also stated via a Facebook post on Wednesday morning that he is attempting to put together a plan to purchase the studio for the owners’ reportedly $4.4 million asking price.

“I’m a touring recording artist and not a developer or real estate mogul. Four million plus clams is well out of my range,” says Folds. “As a tenant I’ve been trying to put together a scenario that brings the owners’ asking price, establishes the historical status of the property for preservation, and provides a cash flow for interested developers…Now, with all the players we have on the sidelines, we have more time and I’m positive we can help pull this ambitious plan off.”

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[Original post]: While RCA Studio A tenant Ben Folds and Bravo Development’s Tim Reynolds have both spoken publicly regarding the sale of the studio, and a gathering has been held in support of saving the property, one party has kept silent until now: the sellers, the estates of Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins. A letter addressing the sale was sent to members of the Metro Council this afternoon (July 1) and obtained by the Nashville Scene. Titled ‘Fact v. Fiction,’ legendary musician Harold Bradley (brother of the late Owen Bradley) and other members of the estates report that the property has been available of purchase for the last 24 years—thus, Folds has had ample opportunity to buy it.

The letter also takes issue with the attempts to obtain a historic overlay for the Music Row area, stating that it would restrict the future creative community in Nashville. Harold Bradley also refutes the long-standing claim that legendary entertainer Elvis Presley recorded in RCA Studio A, and goes on to say that the property was originally purchased as a long-term investment.

The letter reads:

Re: 30 Music Square West
Fact v. Fiction

Dear Nashville,

We write to you today with an eye toward history—in fact, several generations of music history—beginning with our forebears (and architects of the “Nashville sound”) Chet Atkins and Owen and Harold Bradley.

These families have a longstanding commitment to Music City. Owen and Harold Bradley built their first studio in 1952, one at the corner of 2nd and Lindsley and the other in Hillsboro Village. But the Quonset Hut is where it all started. With no money in their pockets, Owen borrowed $15,000 against his insurance, and Harold agreed to work for free for ten years…and with that bold move, the Bradley brothers helped establish Nashville as Music City, U.S.A., and kept the music from moving to Jim Beck’s studio in Dallas.

The brothers erected the foundation for that storied Nashville sound in a squat little house on 16th Avenue. They stuck on a surplus Army quonset hut, assembled an “A-Team” of session players (the Nashville Cats), and reimagined country music as something bigger…and more marketable. By the time Brenda Lee recorded “I’m Sorry” and Patsy Cline channeled “Crazy” at the Quonset Hut, a new industry had emerged.

In the 1950s and 60s, anybody who wanted to be a part of that big new sound came to Nashville, because the Quonset Hut and RCA Studio B were producing it. These studios are where the Nashville sound was created and where the classic hits were recorded— which is why they are worthy of being called historic. Thanks to generous donations and investments by the Maddox family, Mike Curb, and the Bradleys (who bought and preserved Studio B equipment and sold it at cost to the Country Music Hall of Fame), those early, important studios still exist for students and visitors to enjoy.

What makes a place historic? The architecture of the Nashville sound was never of brick and mortar. Certainly, there are old studio spaces that, in our imaginations, ring with sonic magic; but in truth, it’s not the room; it’s the music. Billy Swan recorded his hit song “I Can Help” in Chip Young’s house. Should we force the owner of that house to register it as a historic landmark? Joan Baez, Dan Fogelberg, and Neil Young recorded hits in Quadrafonic Studios. Jimmy Buffett recorded Margaritaville there, yet Quadrafonic was sold without protest.

Of the three men who built 30 Music Square West, one of them is still living. Harold Bradley worked in that room as much or more than anyone. He knows the history of the building. He knows who recorded there. Elvis was not on this list. Elvis In Nashville, Don Cusic’s definitive book on Elvis’ time in Music City, confirms Mr. Bradley’s memory. Elvis Presley never recorded in that building.

Mr. Atkins and the Bradleys built 30 Music Square West in 1965 for RCA Studio A as an inducement to keep the music group in Nashville. The Bradley-Atkins play worked: RCA rented the 30 Music Square West offices and studio for 25 years. Nostalgia wasn’t a factor. This was business. When Chet Atkins and Owen and Harold Bradley built 30 Music Square West, Owen said, “One day we might not have anything, but if we buy this property and build this office building, we can at least have something to sell.” It was an investment in their futures.

Mr. Atkins and the Bradley family listed 30 Music Square West for sale 24 years ago, just after RCA moved out. They’ve been trying to sell it ever since. Mr. Folds leased space in the building about 12 years ago on a ninety-day lease. That ninety-day lease has been extended nearly 50 times, with the anticipation that someone might want to buy the building.

The building is now, finally, under contract for sale to Bravo Development. Mr. Folds, who has no ownership interest in the building, has made an impassioned plea to “Save Studio A” as a historic landmark. (He’s now asking, hyperbolically, to “Save Music Row.”)

Historically, Metro Council has been hesitant to grant restrictive overlays without the consent of the land owner. When a tenant, with no ownership in the property, requests restrictions to a property without the owners’ consent, he effectively hijacks the owners’ original risk and the possibility of a good return on their investment. The Atkins and Bradley families have skin in the game as property owners, and Mr. Folds would ask them to just walk away.

An overlay for the entire area would be a downzoning of the worst order, diminishing value almost immediately, and potentially stymieing future creative endeavors. Such restrictions would likely prevent two brothers from slapping a Quonset hut on an old house and trying something new.

Music City isn’t about making a perfect room, or hanging just the right baffling. Turns out, the architecture of Nashville’s evolving sound is a synergy of creative energy. That’s still here, and it has nothing to do with this building.

Sincerely,

Harold Bradley,
The Owen Bradley Family
The Chet Atkins Family Trust

Folds’ response reads:

I would agree that ‘Nashville’s evolving sound is a synergy of creative energy.’ As I said before, I believe that our music heritage should be protected and preserved. It’s up to our city and business leaders – working alongside the people who make and support our local music scene – to find the right balance between progress and preservation.

But as those folks weigh in on what’s best to do, I hope they recognize from a musician’s perspective that great spaces like historic Studio A – the only such space left in the world with its unique sonic and acoustic design – are integral ingredients in the recipe that fuels our ‘synergy of creative energy.’ It’s frankly a testament to the genius of both Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins that both historic Studio A and B are still state-of-the-art. These two spaces and their approaches to acoustics have stood the test of time. We are grateful that the current building owners have allowed musicians like me to work with and collaborate with some of the greatest artists of our generation to keep these spaces alive and busy. If we didn’t have these and other uniquely Nashville music assets, in time I believe we would cease to be relevant to current and future generations of music makers.

Folds is currently on tour in Europe.

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Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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