BJ Blanchard: Notes from Glen Ellen, April 7

There are marvelous things happening at the revitalized Jack London Village. New winding footpaths, the sun-dappled creek alongside, the outdoor cafes, the fiesta-night lighting and the sensational sculptures among the foliage.

This was the original settlement in the area, beginning with the sawmill Gen. Vallejo built here at the confluence of the Asbury and Sonoma creeks in 1839, and has morphed over the years as a stage coach stop, a grist mill, a distillery, a winery, and is the oldest building in Glen Ellen. Aventine houses a creek-side bar and restaurant which makes for a great date night, and a pretty place for locals and vacationers alike. Yeti Restaurant is an exciting Indian-Nepalese tandoori experience, Wine Country Chocolates will satisfy your sweet fang, and the charming Hopscotch is perfect for that last-minute gift.

But here’s something about Jack London Village few people remember. In the basement of that fine old building, almost directly below Horatius Coffee and Portuguese Vino establishment, is the old, dusty, decrepit remains of, wait for it… a recording studio.

Probably built while the colorful Charles Beardsley owned the property, the recording studio originally was set up by Decca Records, and may have been part of an early “concept album” of “Jesus Christ Superstar” before its Broadway debut in 1971. There are also rumors, according to the Glen Ellen Historical Society which has researched it, that Janis Joplin and Van Morrison used to hang here, when it was Charles Beardsley’s Mill and Wine Village, a little arts and cultural center. However, the intriguing Charles Beardsley did not purchase the winery from the Paganis family until 1969, and Janis died in 1970, and so was probably not a visitor here. Van Morrison did live in Fairfax but in 1973 moved back to Europe, and so — although again possible — it is unlikely that he used the studio.

What is documented by the Glen Ellen Historical Society, is that by 1973, “Valley of the Moon Recording” was run by Larry Bangheart with a 16-track Ampex and a 24-channel mixing board. Jeffrey Norman was Bangheart’s recording engineer until 1976. Check out a 1974 recording of “Boogie Blues” by the Mystery Group, which can be found at youtube.com. The studio is recognizable in this scrappy video – same low ceiling, same dark ambiance. Jeffrey Norman is still active in the recording industry at Mockingbird Mastering in Petaluma (mockingbirdmastering.com).

By 1975, the studio was known as Salisbury Studios and run by bass player James Stewart. Michael MacDonald lived beneath the general store above, sold leather items out of the “Tower” (originally a Grainary and now Jim Shere’s office), and played keyboard with Brian Keith on the guitar at Juanita Musson’s restaurant called Juanita’s Galley (now Aventine). Various people recorded and ran the little studio on and off over the next decade.

Jump to 1985, enter a young group of shaggy kids calling themselves Death Angel, who recorded “Thrashers,” “Kill As One,” and “The Ultra-Violence,” produced by Kirk Hammett of Rebel Productions in January 1985, at “Jack London Studios.” This is probably where the rumor about Metallica using the studio originates, as Hammett is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band’s guitarist.

Brian Johnson remembers visiting the recording studio when it was named “Sonoma Sound” in 1985, and was run by Arron Johnson for a year or so before moving the studio to his house.

Norton Buffalo ran the studio until it closed in 1998. Peter Carlson worked with Norton Buffalo on his album “King of The Highway” at this time. Carlson rewired the equipment from 4 or 8 track to 24-track for Norton, using 3 ADAT 8-track machines borrowed from Steve Miller. In 1998, Norton Buffalo closed the studio when he bought a home on Highway 12 and turned the upstairs into a home studio.

Want to see what remains of this historic recording studio before it disappears? Better get down there fast. It is currently being remodeled. Into… a tasting room.