by Mike Corrigan
Black Coffee Recording is on the move to bigger, better and certainly more conspicuous digs. Once a nearly invisible and almost completely unknown adjunct activity clandestinely carried out within that oasis of coffee, music and metal, THE SHOP, Black Coffee Recording will soon annex the old Bop Tech studios on South Freya -- that is, just as soon as the papers get signed.
"We were supposed to close on it yesterday," sighs the Shop's Robert Hartwig. "I'm hoping we'll get the right papers in the right hands today."
For two years, Hartwig has been at the helm of Black Coffee, the modest but well-equipped recording studio tucked into a small side room of the coffee house/art studio/performance space. Black Coffee has an excellent reputation as one of the premier live recording facilities in town. Performers who play at the Shop are routinely recorded with as little fuss as possible -- a technique Hartwig uses to capture (with amazing fidelity) the spontaneity, passion and spirited audience interactions that are the hallmarks of a great live recording.
But according to Hartwig, Black Coffee's stellar live recording credentials have at times worked against the studio's greater potential and sense of purpose.
"I'm still amazed at the number of people who don't realize we've been doing recording up here beyond the live music thing," he says. "Even bands that have played here seem amazed that we do studio stuff, too. Now we're going to have a place that actually looks like a studio."
Almost from the start, Black Coffee's partners (Hartwig, Mark Camp and Jason Williams) had been looking to expand the studio's operations into a space that would allow for greater acoustic and sonic control and a more measured approach to recording.
"We looked at some warehouse spaces and that kind of stuff, but we'd basically be leasing raw space somewhere, which was expensive and wouldn't really make sense for us."
Meanwhile, the property on the corner of Fourth and Freya known as Bop Tech studio (owned by recording engineer Patrick Parr) sat dormant. Parr, who moved to Seattle a couple of years ago, ran an ad in a local paper indicating his intent to sell. As soon as the Black Coffee crew spied the ad, things moved swiftly.
"We're buying the building and the property and the equipment," Hartwig says. "The whole ball of wax."
Bop Tech was used in the late '90s by Parr to record a number of local bands. The studio is acoustically superior to The Shop and is loaded with gear.
"They a had pretty decent set-up and that's one of the things that's kind of cool. We're going to be able to add some of the equipment we need to expand. And for him, you know, he had a bunch of people who were looking at buying the building and turning it into an office or something like that. Well, he's looking at all the time and money that went into creating recording spaces in there and he was thinking he'd have to tear all that out, plus part out all the equipment."
Though the main operations will soon be located at the former Bop Tech studio, Hartwig says Black Coffee will continue to maintain a presence at The Shop.
"We'll still do the live thing here. I want to make sure everyone understands that. And as far as the average person walking in the door [goes], they shouldn't really see any difference here except that a lot of the extra computers and crap will be gone. And hopefully, we'll be able to get a few more chairs in here. Other than that, we're still going to do the live music, we're still going to do live recordings. I figure, you know, the new studio will be Black Coffee Studio A and this will be Studio B or whatever."
Hartwig says he expects to have Black Coffee Studio A up and running within a month or so but admits the next couple of weeks will be hectic as improvements are made, gear is transported and paint is applied.
"We'll see what happens. We're hoping the weather will warm up enough so that we can get that outside painted before the grand opening. It's pink and gray right now," he laughs. "That has to go pretty quick."
While I'm on the subject of the Shop, I might as well take a moment to mention CHRIS PROCTOR, a nationally recognized fingerstyle guitarist who will be performing at the coffeehouse on Saturday night.
Proctor's credentials are impressive. He is a performer, composer, recording artist and senior clinician for Taylor Guitars. He has produced several instructional books and videos and writes extensively for the guitar press. He has a guitar that bears his name -- what else but Taylor's Chris Proctor Signature Model?
But all this would be irrelevant were it not for the fact that Proctor is also a world-class communicator, articulating the seemingly infinite potential of his six- and 12-string instruments with astounding originality, clarity and precision. His music spans a considerable range of guitar styles. Though rooted in the classic American fingerstyle sound, he draws liberally from folk, Celtic, jazz, pop and classical, a talent he utilized on his latest album, the impressive Under the Influence on Sugarhouse Records.
Proctor, well known for his remarkable body of original work, took a slight detour with Under the Influence. It's a cover album of sorts, but one that is hardly discernible as such. The album is, in essence, an exploration of Proctor's diverse and formative musical past, touching on '60s and '70s folk, Bach, Irish jigs, bluegrass and rock (he tackles both the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" and Neil Young's "Ohio").
"I wanted people to enjoy the pleasures that great, recognizable music provides," he notes. "And be transported to new terrain at the same time."
This weekend you can double your pleasure -- blues style! The Inland Empire Blues Society is sponsoring back to back nights of kick-ass rockin' blues (Friday and Saturday night) that you dare not miss. Both shows, it should be noted, feature the unique stylings of some of the Northwest's most celebrated mouth harp masters.
TOO SLIM AND THE TAILDRAGGERS and special guest CURTIS SALGADO will start things off this Friday night at the Met Theatre. This legendary hometown favorite (with Tim "Too Slim" Langford, John "Midnight" Cage and Tom "The Stomp" Brimm) marks its 16th anniversary in 2002 and as frosting on the cake, KSPS-TV will feature the trio on an upcoming installment of Northwest Profiles. The Met show will be filmed and recorded by KSPS for use in the documentary. Soul Man Curtis Salgado is -- as anyone in Spokane with a love of music and a pulse should know -- nothing less than a living legend of Northwest blues.
The following night it's time to batten down the hatches, Katie bar the door and get ready, steady... go for HARP ATTACK 5 at the Masonic Temple, a balls-to-the-wall celebration of blues harmonica playing. Locals Charlie Butts & amp; The Filter Tips are on tap, along with Boise talent Fat John Nemeth and the night's big gun, Kim Field from Seattle.
In more than three decades of performing with a variety of groups, Kim Field has appeared on bills with such rhythm and blues legends as Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, James Cotton, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton and Albert Collins. His way with the mouth harp has earned him national recognition in print (in Sound Choice, Option and The Seattle Times, no less) and in the hearts of Northwest blues aficionados.