THE REPRISE, GLENN FREY’S FORMER STUDIO RE-EMERGES
For me, it was love at first sight. First, Aspen itself. Then the studio.
My first trip to Aspen was in May 2016 for a songwriter’s retreat. I flew into the tiny airport just as the sun was setting over the mountains. I stepped onto the tarmac and stood there in stunned silence and awe for 3-4 minutes, completely enraptured by the rugged beauty of the Rockies in 360° splendor. It was truly a moment.
I discovered Mad Dog Ranch Studios on my return trip to Aspen for another songwriter’s retreat. Derek Brown, the retreat host and one of four partners at Mad Dog, asked if I wanted to go visit a studio that once belonged to Glenn Frey. As a lifelong Eagles fan, I couldn’t believe the opportunity! I hopped in the van with a number of songwriters who had planned a writing session at the studio that day.
THE LEGACY, THE LORE
Arriving there was like stepping onto hallowed ground. A freak May snowstorm was blowing through, so we arrived to a blanket of snow covering everything.
The two studio buildings sit just a few feet from a beautiful running stream and a covered walking bridge. We found out later that Mad Dog Ranch was named in honor of Glenn’s three dogs that used to roam free throughout the property. Glenn’s Mad Dog Ranch is not to be confused with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dog Ranch compound, located in Crawford, Colorado.
First, we stepped into the control room and listened as Ralph Pitt, the house engineer, described the studio’s legacy and lore. We then listened to a playback from a session with Derek’s local jazz ensemble. I was struck by how warm and genuine everything sounded. Indeed, there was something very special about this place.
Originally the property was owned by Jimmy Buffet, and the two creek-side buildings, built from logs cut nearby, served as his office and garage. When Glenn Frey acquired the property, he decided to turn the two buildings into a studio. He hired acoustic designer Frank Comentale, who had designed and built the Hit Factory in New York.
We found out that Glenn recorded his solo project, Strange Weather, there at Mad Dog. Given the May snowstorm that day, it was a strangely ironic introduction to the place.
Then we visited the piano room. Here it was – the piano: an 1885 Bluthner! Again, the piano originally belonged to Jimmy Buffet, and Glenn acquired it with the rest of the property. I couldn’t resist. I had to sit down and play “Desperado”.
When I looked up, my songwriter friends were singing along softly, gazing out the window at the falling snow, lost in the moment of what this timeless song meant to each of them and in the wonder of the creativity and artistry that this room had undoubtedly inspired. Glenn’s guest list at Mad Dog Ranch over the years included Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger and Joe Walsh.
MY FIRST SESSION
About a month later, some friends from Colorado invited me to come play piano on their session at Mad Dog. I jumped at the chance. Then I thought… why not take an extra half-day and just-for-the-fun-of-it, track a version of “Desperado” on Glenn’s piano and then add some vocals? The song is such a classic, but honestly, I’ve always preferred the reprise version at the end of the “Desperado” album with those cool Eagles harmonies. So, I did and it turned into one of those bucket list moments.
Not long after I was able to make a return trip. Why not add a bit more instrumentation to my track and make a music video of the whole thing while I’m there? Again, more bucket list moments.
The tracking session was pure studio heaven and my friend Steven captured it all on video, highlighting the unique vibe of the place.
The rough mix from the session sounded great, but we did the real mix the next day. Ralph has a special touch. The piano was smooth, warm and very “real,” the guitar and mandolin tracks just shimmered, and Ralph added some sub-harmonic frequencies to the cajon track that blended seamlessly with the bass. Again, pure magic.
THE POETRY OF THE REPRISE
Throughout the session, it began to dawn on me how perfectly poetic it all was. The reprise of Desperado. The reprise of Mad Dog Ranch Studios. And a reprise for me personally.
If you’re looking for a phenomenal and very unique recording experience, check into Aspen and Mad Dog Ranch Studios. Add your own chapter to this beautiful, amazing reprise story.