Archival photo of one of the tracking rooms in the Record Plant Photo: courtesy of Ken Caillat
Archival photo of one of the tracking rooms in the Record Plant (Photo: courtesy of Ken Caillat)

Running the Record Plant, Part 4: The Rebirth

Running the Record Plant, Part 4: The Rebirth

Walk into one of the two rooms that used to function as studios in the building that used to be the Record Plant, and you’d have a hard time imagining that classic albums like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours were recorded here. It’s nearly empty.

The sole reminders of Studio B’s storied past are the florid semi-mural of shapes that can’t seem to decide whether to be clouds or balloons, and the partition dividing the main floor from the control room. But Ken Caillat doesn’t have a hard time remembering what it looked like during its glory days.

“When we did ‘Go Your Own Way,’ Mick Fleetwood’s drums were on that wall,” he motions. “John McVie’s bass amp was on this wall. Christine McVie had her grand piano over here, and next to the piano was the big B-3 organ and the Rhodes keyboard. So she had a little keyboard station over there. Lindsey Buckingham was back over on that red curtain.”

Into The Mix -400 X 400-02

Caillat, who co-engineered and co-produced much of Rumours in this Sausalito building, is in town to breathe the studio into life again. With partners Kevin Bartram and Frank Pollifrone, he recently formed the Marin Music Project. Their goals aren’t just to reestablish the Record Plant as a top recording center. They also hope to use the facility to coach young talent, train studio technicians, and stream live performances. On top of that, they want to use part of the space as a museum gallery of sorts honoring rock and R&B from Marin and the rest of the Bay Area.

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It’s an ambitious plan to revive the hallowed space. After weathering legal and financial problems that periodically threatened its survival since it was founded in the early 1970s (see KQED Arts’ three-part series on the Plant from last year), the studio seemed to have closed down for good almost 10 years ago. Caillat might seem an unlikely savior, given how stormy the Rumours sessions were back in 1976.

Fleetwood Mac “were living in Los Angeles, and didn’t want to have so many of their friends come down and hang out,” he explains. “So they wanted to get up here, get everybody alone, and be able to really focus on their record. Nobody realized that when they were packing their bags, they were also packing all their breakup energy,” with both romantic couples in the band splitting around this time.

“I was sitting right there and I turned around, and the girls threw champagne in John McVie’s face because he was trying to bring his girlfriend up to the sessions," Caillat said. "I never saw that before in a rock band. It was just fight after fight, screaming and yelling at each other about not records, but personal stuff. And I had to learn the room from scratch, basically, under fire.” Much of Rumours was later recorded and mixed in Los Angeles-area studios, though “the record was in my opinion 80% done by that time.”

So why revive a studio home to such troubled times, even if it helped birth one of the top 10 bestselling albums of all time?

“I’m an old-fashioned guy and cherish history,” Caillat explains. “Where Jackson Browne was sitting and playing piano with me in studio three in Wally Heider’s [San Francisco studio, at the time one of the best in the country] is now a coffee shop. Texas Opera House in Austin [where] I did a couple albums with Willie Nelson, they put up a concrete computer store. I’m afraid that one day I’m gonna get a call and somebody’s gonna say ‘Hey, the Record Plant burned down.’ So I’m just doing my best to save it.

“You can, if you’re good enough, make a Songs in the Key of Life,” in Studio B, Caillat maintains. “You can make a ‘Go Your Own Way.’ It just seems like it’s got the sort of magic built into the walls, that all I have to do is put some equipment back in here and paint some things, and we can create great music.”

Unknown band having fun at the Record Plant
Unknown band having fun at the Record Plant. (courtesy of Ken Caillat)

Drawing on his experience as founder of the music mentorship program ArtistMax, Caillat also wants the coaching of budding performers’ vocal, videography, and engineering skills to be a big part of the Plant’s purpose. Working with his daughter, the Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Colbie Caillat, “I realized that bringing that kind of expertise into the artist’s life can accelerate their career by 10–15 years.”

“Our intention going into this is to provide access to those folks that are qualified to be able to come in and to want access," adds Kevin Bartram, "and to be able to provide professional training to youth and others with talent who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it."

Gold Record for John Fogerty's 'Centerfold'
Gold Record for John Fogerty's 'Centerfold.' (Richie Unterberger)

There's another goal for the group, too. Unless you're a musician or aspiring to work in the business, you normally wouldn't be able to see the gold records by the likes of John Fogerty and Heart that still adorn the walls, or walk through Studio A, where Metallica recorded. But that could soon change.

“Part of the plan is to have essentially an experience space, a gallery, and interactive exhibits that would bring to life the music that’s been created here at the Plant, and music from Marin and the Bay Area in general,” says Bartram. “If we have it set up where people can come in in small groups and see someone actively creating music and learning how a recording studio works, we want to try to figure that out. Most people wouldn’t really know that until they’ve experienced it and seen it.

“Another thing we need to explore is, there’s this surface of all the big hit records and the ones that are kind of easy to call out,” he adds. “But then it’s all those other layers.” For instance, “the Rolling Stones came here and recorded. They didn’t record albums. But when they were in the area for a show, and they needed to do some recording, they got helicoptered in, went to the Trident, partied at night, and came here. Those are the kind of stories that we’re in the process of trying to collect.”

Record Plant's Studio B today
Record Plant's Studio B today. (Richie Unterberger)

It’ll take a lot of time and money to get everything up and running, though the three partners plan on getting at least some part of the project in operation here by fall 2018. The trio are trying to line up investors to buy the building, part of which is now rented by Harmonia wellness center.

“We have 10,000 square feet here, plus additional space outside,” Bartram points out. “That’s enough to be able to do what I think we want to do. But it will require that every inch of this space is really thought through and used effectively.”

Caillat returns to the scene of Rumours in Studio B to illustrate how that particular space could be utilized. “How cool it would be to duplicate that setup, with the exact same instruments,” he enthuses. “I have the multitracks of the whole Rumours album. So you could, on certain Sundays or certain Wednesdays, set the room up like it was set up. You could go out there and hear the multitracks playing through speakers at each drum station, and each instrument station.

“One of the secrets that we never told anybody: we tuned Mick Fleetwood’s drums every single day. So if you’re an aspiring drummer, you might want to come see, and maybe play ‘em.”

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