Richard Nisley

Dave Grohl and the Star-Making Machinery of Sound City
Pop Culture Released - Aug 24, 2019
Something miraculous happened. Nirvana was merely one of several hundred faceless punk bands, looking for gigs and making a living as musicians, until 1991, when they entered the Sound City Recording Studio in Van Nuys, California, and recorded "Nevermind." To everyone's surprise, the album topped the charts and achieved multi-platinum status. Overnight, Nirvana was the toast of the record industry. One of the band members, drummer Dave Grohl, never got over it.

What the "Sound City" documentary is really about is Dave Grohl's search for what had happened. He hadn't been a member of Nirvana all that long, when the band packed its gear in a van, departed its home in Seattle, Washington, and drove down the West Coast to Southern California to make a record. Grohl doesn't recall who chose Sound City or picked Butch Vig to be their producer; what he does recall is not being all that impressed with the grungy Sound City studio, until seeing all those shiny platinum records on the Wall of Fame. He never dreamed that one day Nirvana's record would be among them.

This documentary chronicles Grohl's search and what he discovered, which was the star-making machinery of the Neve Sound Board ("Neve" rhymes with steve). The one-of-a-kind 8028 Neve Console was custom built for Sound City in 1972 for a whopping $76,000. By comparison, a house in nearby upscale Toluca Lake sold for $38,000. "That board totally changed my life," says Grohl. Imagine his surprise when he discovered the Neve recording console with its analogue tape recording system, was for sale, having been made obsolete by newer digital sound boards. "I thought it would end up in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame," says Grohl. Obsolete or not, the board still produced a fantastic sound. He bought it and had it shipped to his 606 Recording Studio in nearby Northridge, where his current band the Foo Fighters now records, and where Grohl and famous friends (Paul McCartney, Rick Springfield, et al) now jam.

What the 8028 Neve console does exceedingly well is capture the striking sound of the rock drum kit, which brings us to drummer extraordinaire Mick Fleetwood. In 1973, the Englishman was in L.A. looking for a studio to record in; his band Fleetwood Mac would soon be in need of a guitarist. Someone tipped him off to Sound City in Van Nuys. The day he arrived guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his songwriting girlfriend Stevie Nicks were listening to a playback of their debut album. Mick Fleetwood was knocked out by what he heard. That day, he decided he'd found the perfect recording studio to capture his unique drum rhythms, and, in guitarist/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham, a first-rate replacement for Bob Welch, who would soon be departing. There was a hitch however. When the time came, Buckingham would not join the band unless his girlfriend came, too; it was a package deal. One thing led to another–Welch departed, and Buckingham and Nicks were both invited to join the band. In early 1975, the reconstituted Fleetwood Mac recorded their first album at Sound City. The album spawned several hit singles and topped the charts, eventually becoming the first of several platinum albums that would follow.

Among the bands to follow Fleetwood Mac's lead were Santana, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kansas, Foreigner, the Grateful Dead, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, and singers Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Elton John, Pat Benatar, and Rick Springfield.

With the advent of Punk Rock in the later-half of the 1970s, a host of punk-rock bands followed, including Rage against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Fear. By 1991, when Nirvana arrived, Sound City had pretty much fallen out of favor. However, when their album, "Nevermind" sold 30-million copies worldwide, the phones at the studio that had been silent, began to ring again, and would not stop ringing. It was, as someone put it, "like Fleetwood Mac all over again."

Dave Grohl wrote and produced the Sound City documentary. Besides being one heck of a musician (he's proficient on drums, bass and guitar) he's one heck of a storyteller. Which should not be too surprising, as he is one heck of songwriter, which, in itself is a form of storytelling. The video also chronicles a number of jam sessions featuring the Neve Sound Board, including: "Cut Me Some Slack" with Paul McCartney on guitar and vocals, and two-thirds of Nirvana (Grohl on drums, Krist Novoselic on bass); and "You Can't Fix This" with Stevie Nicks on keyboard and vocals, Grohl on drums, and additional musicians; and the outrageously funny punk send-up, "Your Wife is Calling" with Lee Ving on vocals, Grohl on guitar, and additional musicians.

The Sound City documentary includes comments from studio owner Tom Skeeter, plus a number of producers who performed their magic at Sound City (Butch Vig, Jim Scott, Rick Rubin, and the man who co-produced the first platinum Fleetwood Mac album, engineer Keith Olsen).

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