Cherokee Studios
The Unlikely Green Hero
By Tiffany Downey

 

 

Cherokee Studios’ famous Control Room One, with a double pane giant-size glass window looking out onto the studio floor, offers a vantage point on a space that has seen just about everything. For a recording studio that began its life as Republic Pictures in the heyday of the Hollywood thirties, transitioned into MGM Recording Studios through the decades of Basie, Presley and the Rat Pack, and then morphed into the legendary Cherokee in time to spawn disco, suffer the antics of eighties’ hair bands like Motley Crue, and survive Alice Cooper.

Suffice it to say this studio has borne witness to what has given music its well-deserved reputation for “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll”. Cherokee today is a step back in time. The vending machine still sells beer for a buck and a quarter, the last reminder of an era when there simply were “no rules”.

So, it seems kind of peculiar today, as I stare out the control room window looking at the same floor where Elvis gyrated to “Burning Love”. letting my imagination run wild, with images of all the insanity that must have been on display through this picture window.

I am absorbing those Cherokee “vibes”, and can almost imagine myself being in that inner-circle of rock stars, when I am introduced to the current guests in the control room — a scientist from Heal the Bay, a representative from the Natural Resource Defense Council, and a gentleman handing me a pamphlet from Bioneers.

This is the new face of Cherokee Studios being led into Generation Next by the youngest of the owner brothers, Bruce Robb. Today’s recording session is a special production of the Grammy-nominated band, The Duhks, for the radio station Indie 103.1, being recorded, produced and engineered live by Robb to raise environmental awareness.

So, why Cherokee? What inspired a multi-platinum award-winning music producer and engineer to become passionate about the environment and sustainability?

“Well, I think we have all had a free ride, looking the other way for a long time when it comes to the issue of the environment,” says Robb. “I totally admit that I wasn’t paying attention or thinking about the repercussions of anything. But, I don’t know how anyone could take that position today, especially after Al Gore’s movie. The evidence is everywhere. Now, we are just doing what we can to make a difference. Things like this project today — this is something we can do to help.”

Today’s production will result in four newly-recorded songs as well as a music video, from a band that is attracting attention for both their musicianship and their stance on the environment. The music will air on Indie 103.1, and be given to environmental organizations for their use to gain more attention for their causes. In between takes, the band members engage in conversation on everything from the prospects of touring with biodiesel to bringing their own organic food into restaurants when stuck out on the road. (Needless to say, Robb has recommended an organic vegetarian restaurant to cater today’s lunch, another shift from the days of indulgent excess.)

“The first day Sinatra came in here, we were a little nervous,” says Robb. “We were told he could be real tough to please. But, I think he appreciated us as soon as he saw the changes we had made to the studio environment, including the introduction of the first full bar to the control room and the retraction of the ‘no smoking’ rule from the days of MGM. Studios used to have a real stale, sterile vibe. We were definitely the first, or one of the first, to do away with that because it was totally counter-intuitive to the idea of art or anything creative being made. So, in the interest of allowing artists absolute freedom of expression over the years ­— yeah, maybe things got a little carried away.”

It is this reputation that makes Cherokee so ironic, and meaningful as the new “green” hero. Judging from the studio’s past, oxygenation is not something that was much of a concern in the more notorious times, except in the case of the tanks they kept around to revive John Belushi when they would find him passed out somewhere. And, well let’s just say, that an organic herbal garden probably had a different connotation back then.

But, even before Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, was released, Cherokee was showing signs of change. It started when they found themselves making a deal with a “green” developer to determine the future of their beloved studios. Cherokee had a good run for over three decades as one of the most famous independent recording studios in the world. But, the times have changed and the industry has shifted away from the bigger music production budgets, leaving big professional studios like Cherokee sitting on expensive real estate with high overhead, and not enough business. The future for the brothers was looking bleak.

Cherokee nearly became home to an antique replica furniture manufacturer, then a chichi Hollywood studio gift basket company — until the idea of developing the site was presented. By participating in developing this highly attractive real estate on Fairfax Avenue in the trendy Melrose district, the brothers would at least have a say in what would become of their sacred space that had earned them nearly 300 Gold and Platinum records. The icing on the cake was that their legacy would end up being good for the planet.

“Cherokee Studios will live on in its new incarnation, which is important to us because this place has always been about the ‘vibes’ and the enormous amount of creative talent that has left their residue in this space. I think those artists would approve of becoming something that represents integrity, ethics and sustainability for the planet. And, my brothers and I can sleep at night with this decision,” adds Robb.

Sustainability is a concept and philosophy present in nearly every conversation with Bruce Robb these days. Although his Cherokee days may be ending, he is committed to fighting for the future of music with his independent record label, Quarter2Three Records, and production company, Bruce Robb Productions. He made a big commitment to the planet with a music-oriented youth-sustainable lifestyle project called, Rock Your Planet!

“In the industry’s fervor and greed to create mega-sales from every music product, I truly believe they lost their way. They have chipped away at the very foundation that has sustained this business forever — the artists, the studios and the labels that used to worship talent. The sad thing is that rooms like these won’t be valued until they have killed them all off. We lasted longer than anyone ever believed. In fact, they only gave us six months when we moved in thirty-two years ago.”

The new Cherokee Studios Loft Project is slated to commence some time in late 2007 with RE-Think Development, who will be building a Green LEED Silver-certified mixed-use building on the historic Hollywood site.

To get in touch with Bruce Robb, please contact Cherokee Studios at (323) 653-3412.

Tiffany Downey has been working in the entertainment industry for almost twenty years. She is an entertainment business executive, independent film producer and writer, who enjoys physics and philosophy. She is passionate about sustainability as an environmental concept, as well as a social and business concept. You may e-mail her at: mail.tiffany@gmail.com  


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