Industry Profile: Greg Hunt of Rosewood Studios
Tucked away in downtown Tyler, Texas - off of the music industry’s Los Angeles, Nashville, New York beaten path – Rosewood Studios has earned a reputation for consistently engineering and producing songs and albums that can compete with recordings cut at any studio in the world. The reason Rosewood has gold and platinum albums lining the walls is more than just the product of their great recording gear and a Russ Berger designed acoustic space. The reason Rosewood is recording the best sounding records of various artist’s careers is because of people, not technology. Owner Greg Hunt has racked up 2-score-more than the requisite 10,000 hours to become a master at his craft. In fact, he’s well into his 43rd year as a music industry professional, all the while calling Texas home.
Our interview series leans back and stretches out during our talk with Hunt, mainly because Hunt has a lot of wisdom to impart.
TMO: Our first question: We always like to go backwards a little bit and discuss your path to how you got to where you are you today. Did you grow up wanting to have a career in the music industry? Did you play instruments when you were growing up?
Hunt: "I did play guitar when I was growing up. When I was 17 years old, there was a friend of mine that had a band…we recorded an album, and ever since that moment, I was infatuated with the process of modern recording. At that time, I was a student at Tyler Junior College."
TMO: When you had your high school band, were you growing up in Tyler?
Hunt: "I did. I grew up in Tyler. I was born here. And you know, my mom and daddy were here. So I had to be here (laughs)."
TMO: Was your high school band one of the numerous 1960s, garage-rehearsing rock bands?
Hunt: "...absolutely. Learning the current Dave Clark Five songs, and songs like that. It was a cool band, but I don’t ever recall tuning up with the band...a little scary.
"I went to Steven F. Austin University, and was a music student there. I played in the jazz band on a partial scholarship. I made some incredible friends that are still friends today, in the jazz band era. From that jazz band, the rhythm section and I went to a studio in Garland, TX called Autumn Sounds, where Phil York was the engineer, and they had just done Red Headed Stranger, with Willie Nelson, at that studio. I was 19 years old by then. I just got more and more interested in music and recording. Then I had the opportunity to buy the first Tascam. They were called TEAC back then. And they came out with their 3340S, which was the first consumer 4-track machine.
"There was pro recording equipment available, but the semi-pro stuff was within my reach. I bought a TEAC 3340S 4-track, and a Pioneer RT 1050 2-track. I thought the Pioneer was the coolest thing in the world because it was truly a 2-track, not quarter-track, and it would run at 15 ips. And that was a big deal because before that, I had a Sony with sound-on-sound (laughs). I would sit in my room and play rhythm guitar parts and solos over them all day.
"In 1975, I got married. My wife and I moved to Nacogdoches to go to school and to work. There was a fellow music student, looking for a house to live in for the upcoming fall semester, and I just so happened to be looking for a house to put a studio in…(boom...my new partner) So that’s how the first location for Colony Sounds came about."
TMO: With that first studio in Nacogdoches…when did you open Rosewood?
Hunt: “When Rosewood (formerly known as Colony Sounds) opened, the first session for hire was on October 22nd 1976.
"A Friday night, the client: Larry Heston, a jazz musician. He owned the local music store in Nacogdoches at the time. Shortly after opening Colony Sounds, an english student at SFA, Chris Grooms, approached me to record a celtic guitar album. His open tuning and style of playing was amazing, and very hypnotic. So I borrowed a Nuemann U87 and KM84, to start the recording. After finishing, Chris had the opportunity to play the record for Transatlantic Records, an RCA affiliate, in London, England. They bought the master, and sent me a check.
"I knew nothing about this business of music at the time, but from reading, studying, and visiting with the folks at BMI, I understood the importance of retaining the publishing of Chris’ music."
TMO: I’d like to back-track a bit: How did you get from the Nacogdoches studio to Rosewood Studios?
Hunt: "In 1977, I met David Stallings of Global Music Distributors. This was a small regional distribution company. He distributed for all of the major labels along his rural routes through eastern Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, & Oklahoma. He came to me with the idea of doing instrumental records of the Top 10 Billboard songs from various years. With a distribution company in place, it enabled him to sell these albums under the name, Delta Records. We hired the musicians, with Johnny Gimble (fiddle) & David Musgrave (steel guitar) as guest artists to record the instrumental melodies for the songs. A few of the records we did were: “Texas Dancehall Favorites," “More Texas Dancehall Favorites,” “Honky-Tonk Hurtin’ Songs,” “Cotton Eyed Joe,” etc.
"We did a lot of those records. I remember the control room and the studio being very small and hot, and everyone smoked. Our first sessions for Delta Records, we cut two albums in one weekend. Delta had a great logo, great artwork, and with the kiosks in place throughout his distribution route, Delta sold a ton of records. As my company and his company grew, the budgets for recording became more substantial, which allowed me to move my company, Colony Sounds, to Tyler, TX in 1980, at which time I changed the name to Rosewood Studios. I found an affordable building, and signed the lease. A friend of mine, Russ Berger, was invaluable helping with the design of the control room and studio. After finishing the construction, the equipment installation crew were literally walking out, as The Texas Playboys were walking in. Our very first session at Rosewood Studios in Tyler.
"David signed the original Bob Wills Texas Playboys. The band consisted of Leon Rouse (vocals), Al Strickland (piano), Joe Frank (doghouse), Smokey Dacus (drums), Eldon Shamblin (guitar), Leon McAuliffe, (steel guitar). All original guys. On fiddle, we had Gene Gasaway and Bob Boatright. The Texas Playboys spent a full week recording at Rosewood Studios during the Summer of ‘81."
TMO: Russ Berger of the Russ Berger Design Group?
"Yes. Russ was working at Arnold and Morgan Music in Garland. The Russ Berger Design Group didn’t exist at that time. I met guys like Dennis Low, Chuck Chiles, through Russ, during the equipment installation."
TMO: Is there anything you remember that you learned from working with the Bob Wills original?
Hunt: "Yes. Absolutely. I was taught by Leon Roush, and Joe Frank, the importance of the clarity of the bass and the vocals. And when I was in college, Darrell Holt, a professor at Stephen F. Austin, taught me the importance of the bass supporting the fundamental harmonics of the key of a song. Leon and Joe Frank, with their years of experience, reinforced those early lessons taught to me by Darrell.
"Leon was always asking me to 'turn up the doghouse and vocals.' He called the bass 'the doghouse.'
"The clarity of the bass and vocals, as well as all the other instruments, are important. But at the end of the day, consumers want to hear the vocals and feel the bass...and that’s a fact."
TMO: It seems to go full circle back to your jazz band college music classes. Playing in jazz band, those guys didn't have racks of gear and pedals and all that stuff.
Hunt: "Yes. Years ago, at Stephen F. Austin University, The Count Basie Band band played a concert. I met the guitarist for the band, Freddie Green. His strings were a quarter inch from the neck, and he didn't play with an amp. I had the opportunity to visit with him about his role as a guitarist with Count Basie. He told me that the purpose of the guitar in a big band is for the tuning and chord structure of the brass & wind section. He said, 'My role is to give the chord structure to the band. I'm not amplified because it is for the band to hear and to tune by.'"