Roots Music — and Recording — Flourish in WNC

The Asheville area might not immediately come to mind when thinking of recording music. Yes, the live music scene is vibrant in the mountains — but the recording business? It may surprise people to know that music recording and label management are vibrant, growing parts of the area’s economy and creativity.

The Asheville metropolitan area is home to some 20 recording studios. Echo Mountain Recording, in an old revamped church on the edge of downtown Asheville, generated buzz when country star Dierks Bentley recorded an album there in 2011.

But, the best-kept secret may be the Crossroads Music Company, a roots music business pioneer, tucked away in Arden, with state-of-the art recording studios and a bustling label management office.

How it began

Crossroads founder and co-owner Mickey Gamble, an Asheville native, has always been taken with music of Asheville and the mountains. It used to be that top-notch recording had to be done in music hubs like Nashville.

Gamble and friend Eldridge Fox, of The Kingsmen Gospel fame, wanted to record the ‘music of Asheville,’ and build the mountains’ musical legacy. In the early 1980s, Gamble started a recording studio on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville.

The Kingsmen came onboard and, later, bluegrass groups recorded at Crossroads. The business sprung up out of need for professional recording and grew fast. In 1995, Crossroads moved to its current state-of-the art studios and label management offices in Arden. Current owners Gamble, Jeff and Vickie Collins and Chris White keep production going for 40 – 50 national and touring artists under contract to Crossroads Label Group.

Encompassing ‘roots’ music

‘Roots music,’ a term gaining popularity, encompasses the genres of Bluegrass, Southern Gospel and Americana, all with fluid lines that cross-over into new musical territory.

“We’re ‘roots’ music specialists,” said Ty Gilpin, senior director of marketing Crossroads Label Group, and bluegrass mandolin player for Unspoken Tradition.

Crossroads encompasses several labels: Mountain Home Music (bluegrass); Horizon and Sonlite records (Southern Gospel); and Organic records (Americana) and is making music headlines with industry nominations for high-profile awards.

It’s impressive that Crossroads artists have been nominated for Grammys four out of the past five years and its Mountain Home Music Company garnered 20 nominations for its artists in the 2017 IBMA Awards. Nationally-known artists signed to Crossroads’ labels include International Bluegrass Hall-of-Famer Doyle Lawson, home-grown favorites Balsam Range, Flatt Lonesome, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, The Boxcars and Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters, the Kingsmen and many more.

Balsam Range is a notable success story, with five gifted Haywood County musicians playing together for 10 years. Not only has Balsam Range had numerous hits on the bluegrass charts, but they tour across the U.S. and recently in Europe. All six of the Balsam Range albums were recorded at Crossroads. Balsam Range band members and the group’s Mountain Voodoo album received eight 2017 IBMA award nominations, including Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year.

Another breakout group for Crossroads is Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters, on the Organic records label. The group sound has been described as “part country, part Appalachian folk, part honky-tonk, and wholly original” and the band enjoys a great following in the mountains and beyond.

Produced by musicians for musicians

Tim Surrett, Balsam Range bass player and vocalist, also works production, promotion, and marketing at Crossroads and produces for the Honeycutters. Surrett, who masterfully leads Balsam Range’s on-stage banter, takes music production seriously.

“When you produce for other groups, you have to know every note,” Surrett said. “The producer is responsible for how it comes together. I enjoy making records. It’s a magical thing when it all falls together.”

By the way, Surrett was nominated as 2017 IBMA bass player of the year and his heartfelt vocals in Balsam Range’s rendition of “Wish You Were Here” propelled the song to a 2017 IBMA nomination in the best Gospel category.

The recording studios, managed by producer, arranger, pianist and Crossroads co-owner Jeff Collins, are busy all week-long.

Chief music engineer Van Atkins, a musician himself, said recording is happening at Crossroads five to six days a week.

“Van is such a top level engineer,” Gilpin said. “We’re so busy, we have five albums finishing in the next four weeks.”

While recording starts the process, there’s much more to music production beyond recording, mixing and producing the master. Crossroads Label group has a full marketing staff to supervise graphics, sales, marketing to radio stations and the new streaming outlets. Importantly, Gilpin and his staff make sure the artists receive revenue from all the modern music platforms.

What’s trending

While Gilpin said Americana seems to be the fastest growing segment in the U.S. right now, “it’s a melting pot.”

Atkins pointed out that Americana encompasses everyone these days, from the Eagles’ Don Henley to the Honeycutters.

Crossroads’ other two genres are both doing well, too.

“Bluegrass is not only surviving, it’s growing and has progressed to include a larger ‘tent’ of music,” Gilpin said. “And, Southern Gospel is hanging in there and becoming more contemporary.”

Atkins is finishing mixing Balsam’ Range’s latest project — a Christmas album, titled “It’s Christmastime,” complete with a string section from Nashville.

Surrett said that the album will be ready for the Christmas season and Balsam Range’s Art of Music Festival Dec. 1 – 2 at Lake Junaluska.

“In fact, we’ll perform from the new Christmas album when we do the set with the Atlanta Pops mini-orchestra Dec. 2 at the festival,” Surrett said.

For information about the two-day festival, visit www.balsamrangeartofmusicfestival.com.

Balsam Range is a local success story, and one of many success stories at Crossroads. It comes down to having seasoned musicians producing, recording and promoting music for other musicians — and Crossroads delivers the whole package.

“What Crossroads is great at is producing niche forms of music,” Surrett said. “It’s very successful. As a musician, we love having Crossroads right here — it’s like having it all, with state-of-the art studios and production capability of the highest quality.”

It’s noteworthy that the ‘music of Asheville’ is being recorded, preserved and promoted to music lovers everywhere.

For information, visit www.crossroadsrecordingstudios.com.

By Carol Viau

 

Crossroads’ chief music engineer Van Atkins (at left), confers with Balsam Range bass player and music producer, Tim Surrett, inside the state-of-the-art Crossroads Recording Studios/ Carol Viau photo