WE ARE EXCITED TO BE EMBARKING ON THIS JOURNEY TO RESTORE THE FAMOUS RECORD PLANT STUDIO AND TO SERVE THE MARIN AND GREATER BAY AREA MUSIC COMMUNITY. PLEASE BE PATIENT AS WE ATTEMPT TO RESPOND TO INQUIRIES.
Fleetwood Mac producer sparks effort to buy Sausalito’s historic Record Plant Studio
Forty-one years ago, record producer Ken Caillat loaded his dog in his car and drove from Los Angeles to the Record Plant in Sausalito to work on an album by an up-and-coming band named Fleetwood Mac. The album that came out of four months of intense recording sessions was “Rumours,” a blockbuster that would go on to sell more than 45 million copies worldwide and earn critical acclaim as one of the greatest pop records of all time.
In recent days and months, Caillat has made that same trip with his dog (not the same one) many times. This time his purpose has been to help form the Marin Music Project, a three-member group that’s on a mission to save the long-shuttered Record Plant as a piece of Marin’s storied rock ’n’ roll history.
The preservation campaign started for him when he held a book signing at the decaying studio in 2015 for his memoir, “Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album.”
“It was dirty, the wood was flaking off and I thought, ‘I’m gonna wake up one morning and read that it burned down,’” he said. “I’ve seen so many great studios that either burned down or were turned into computer places or real estate offices or coffee shops. I said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to try and save this place.’”
So he hooked up with Novato marketing consultant Kevin Bartram and Frank Pollifrone, a sports and entertainment marketer from Los Gatos, to launch the Marin Music Project.
NEW MUSIC CENTER
After several months of meetings and negotiations, they are now “in contract” to buy the legendary recording studio for $3.5 million from Marin Mortgage Bank, which foreclosed on the redwood-sided waterfront landmark in 2009. Being in contract means that buyer and seller have agreed on terms and have entered into a binding agreement for this special piece of rock real estate, where many of rock’s greatest hits were recorded, including Stevie Wonders’ “Songs in the Key of Life,” Rick James’ “Street Songs,” Prince’s first album, “For You,” and “Sports” by Huey Lewis and the News.
“As a whole, the place will basically be an integrated music center with active recording studios, a performance school and exhibits that celebrate the history of the Record Plant and its role in Marin and Bay Area music,” Bartram said.
Over the past eight years, a couple of other preservation efforts have tried and failed to buy the studio, which opened in 1972 as a sister studio of Record Plants that had opened earlier in New York and Los Angeles.
After Mick Fleetwood, founder of Fleetwood Mac, made a nostalgic pilgrimage to the studio in 2009 and was shocked to find it closed and padlocked, he enlisted in an ultimately unsuccessful preservationist campaign led by Mari “Mack” Tamburo, a singer who lives in Mill Valley with her husband, Arne Frager, a recording engineer and former owner when it was known as the Plant Studios.
In 2013, a local group calling itself 2200 Sound after the studio’s 2200 Bridgeway address, stenciled in big letters above the front door, couldn’t raise a $1.5 million down payment and abandoned plans to reopen it as a recording studio and community music center for young musicians.
Until the Marin Music Project stepped up with a business plan and a committed investor, hope that the iconic studio would be saved seemed to be fading as fast as its distinctive redwood siding. Despite its deteriorating conditions, it still has its fun house mirrored corridors and its excellent examples of hippie-era woodwork by the same carpenter who did the storied Trident restaurant in Sausalito. The padded, paisley-patterned wall decorations in psychedelic colors are still there. So are velvet clouds on the ceiling that looked down on some of the world’s biggest rock stars at work … and play.
Visitors have been known to feel as if they’re surrounded by the ghosts of rock ’n’ roll past as they peer in at the graffiti in the bathroom and check out the yin-yang wooden invitations in the lobby for the studio’s Halloween party opening. These days, the only signs of life come from Harmonia, a wellness center that rents a portion of the building that had once been the decadent lair of the notorious Sly Stone.
Although many once-thriving studios have become victims of the digital revolution and the decline of major record labels that used to pay to have their artists record in them, Caillat believes that there is nothing quite like the sound from a first-class studio like the Record Plant in its glory days.
As it’s currently configured, the interior consists of Studio A, where Metallica literally raised the roof to record “Load” and “Reload” in 1996 and ’97, and Studio B, where Caillat co-produced “Rumours” in 1976.
“What I love about Studio B is that it’s nearly exactly the way it was 40 years ago,” he said. “It will perform exactly like it did then. You could make a Prince record, or a Stevie Wonder record or a Fleetwood Mac record and it would sound exactly the same. We just need to put equipment back in.”
The father of Grammy winning singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, he aims to get the Record Plant up and running as a commercial studio while at the same time launching a school that would be similar to Artist Max, an “artist development” academy he founded and runs in the Village Studios in Santa Monica for aspiring performers to learn the fundamentals of recording and performing in today’s music industry from established pros and mentors.
“I’d like to entice the young artists in Marin to come down and work with vocal coaches, record their voices like I do in L.A. and maybe we’ll find some new talent,” he said. “These studios lend themselves perfectly to that.”
Bartram, who worked on the now defunct Marin Rocks history project, is focused with Pollifrone on community outreach and historic preservation, programs that will be under the nonprofit arm of the Marin Music Project. They met putting together a rock history project in San Francisco for the 50th celebration of the Super Bowl.
“We envision that the way we can get the most out of the building is to have it be a working studio, but also set it up like a gallery space with memorabilia on the walls and instruments in the studio for people to come in and see and experience,” he said. “What we’re trying to do with the place as a whole is create an experiential venue, a place where people can make music and experience others making music. Being from Marin, I want the Marin Music Project to have a public element that will help us connect with the community.”
That public element includes scholarships for under-served youth in Marin who may not be able to afford to pay for classes and workshops in the re-purposed rock palace.
Over the next few months, the three men will be meeting with investors and gathering community support. Escrow is expected to close by June. After that, work can begin on refurbishing Marin’s first major rock preservation project.
“I’ve driven by that place and had fantasies about rebuilding it and turning it into something experiential,” Pollifrone said. “As a music fan, I love to hear stories about what went on there. But in another generation, this amazing, rich rock ’n’ roll history will evaporate into time if we don’t save it.”