American Sound Studio was set up in 1964 at 827 Thomas Street, North Memphis, by producer Chips Moman and Don Crews.
Moman had helped owner Jim Stewart develop Satellite Records and then set up in the new venue as Stax Records, but a dispute between them over royalties led to Moman leaving Stax, with a $3000 settlement. He spent the next year in Nashville but then returned to Memphis, with plans to open a recording studio of his own.
It didn’t take Moman long to start building up the new American Sound Studio’s reputation, so that he was able to attract some of the industry’s biggest names. Amongst those who came to American to record were Elvis Presley, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond and Dusty Springfield from the UK.
Just as at Motown, FAME and Stax, American had its own house band. They became known as the “827 Thomas Street Band” or “The Memphis Boys”, with drummer Gene Chrisman, bassists Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech, guitarist Reggie Young, pianist Bobby Wood and organist Bobby Emmons. In 2007, they were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
L to R: bassist Mike Leech, drummer Gene Chrisman, Chips Moman [seated], guitarist Reggie Young, organist Bobby Emmons, & piano man Bobby Wood
American Sound Studio and the Memphis Boys became so popular that work was being farmed out to other studios in Memphis and the surrounding area. Moman and Crews therefore decided that a second studio should be acquired. In 1968, they purchased the Onyx Studio at 2272 Deadrick Avenue in East Memphis. This had been set up just one year before and was, at the time, the only purpose-built recording studio in Memphis. It was renamed American Recording Studio East or “the Annex”. The studio was equipped with stereo echo chambers and its size meant that it was particularly suited to large-scale horn and orchestral recordings.
Between 1967 and 1971 around 120 hit songs were produced at American Sound Studio, with a chart appearance in the Billboard Top 100.
The American Sound Studio closed in 1972, when Moman and Crews decided to split their partnership, and the original building was demolished in 1989. Moman moved to Atlanta and then Nashville, involving himself more with Country music. The Annex carried on, still owned by Crews, reverting to its original name Onyx. After Crews retired in 1978, the studio was leased out, until a fire in 2005. Remarkably, thanks to the work of Brad Dunn, his father Robert Dunn and his uncle Donald “Duck” Dunn (Booker T & the MGs’ bass player), a trust was set up to preserve the site. The studio was finally re-opened in 2011.
Much was achieved over the eight years that Moman and Crews owned American Sound Studio. Here are some songs you might know that were recorded there.
Elvis Presley: “In the Ghetto”and “Suspicious Minds”
Neil Diamond: “Sweet Caroline”
Dusty Springfield: “Son of a Preacher Man”
The Box Tops: “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby”
Merrilee Rush: “Angel of the Morning”
Sandy Posey: “Born a Woman” and “Single Girl”
James Carr: “Dark End of the Street”
BJ Thomas: “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”
Bobby Womack: “What Is This” (his first chart hit), “It’s Gonna Rain” and “More Than I Can Stand”
The variety stands out, maybe a sign of Moman’s desire to attract a wide range of performers to maximise the studio’s success, but maybe also an indication of Moman’s broad taste in music of many genres.
Lincoln Wayne “Chips” Moman, studio owner, record producer, songwriter and guitarist, died in 2016 in his home town of LaGrange, Georgia.
Photo: Jeremy L. Roberts 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)