This article first appeared on musicnewsnashville.com.
Nick Autry is known to some in Nashville as a singer/songwriter/recording artist who, in addition to being a solo act, has fronted local and North Carolina bands like Hollywood Cowboy (he actually is a distant relative of Gene Autry’s), the Jaggs and others. But for his day job, Autry serves as general manager of Black River Sound Stage, one of Music Row’s most important recording studios. Overseeing the operation of the studio from booking to even engineering, Autry routinely works with some of the giants of country music and the people who write and produce their material, as well as legends of blues, pop and other genres. Names like Buddy Guy, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, Miranda Lambert and others have worked at Sound Stage in recent months, and Autry has been on hand for it all.
Writer Rick Moore, who has known Autry since the two of them first arrived in Nashville little more than a decade ago, sat down to ask Autry a few questions.
Nick, you’re a North Carolina boy who came up listening to acts like Waylon and Whiskeytown, and not the blues, especially Chicago blues, so much. So what’s it been like working with blues monsters the likes of Buddy Guy and James Cotton at Sound Stage?
I realize now that a lot of what I did come up with came from the blues in the first place. I really need to thank (drummer/producer) Tom Hambridge for schooling me on the blues. The first blues project I worked on with Tom was on Murali Coryell, (jazz guitarist) Larry Coryell’s son, and after that I really started to dig into it, went back and listened. I listened to Waylon and Hank growing up, and I began to realize it all comes from soul no matter what it is. Blues and country are both old soul in that respect.
You put out a CD called The Cause and the Cure last year, where you wrote with Caitlin Cary from Whiskeytown, and played with a couple members of the Cardinals, both bands that you followed seriously coming up. What was it like to work with them after so many years of listening to them?
Writing with Caitlin was the biggest thing ever for me because I grew up on Whiskeytown. When I was in high school, people I knew in Raleigh listened to Whiskeytown as much as they did Garth, kids my age anyway. I was mad at Ryan Adams when he left Whiskeytown, but then after seeing him and the Cardinals live they became my favorite band. They were the best band I’d ever seen live. So it was pretty surreal to be in the studio with (steel player) Jon Graboff and (drummer) Brad Pemberton. I was sick as a dog when we were doing my record, but it worked because every idea those guys had – that includes (guitarist) Audley Freed and (bassist) Hags Haggerty, who also played on the record – was so much better than any of my ideas, and (producer) Justin Francis and I usually just rolled with it. They were all amazing.
So many artists – the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, some country acts – have their own studios now. Where does that leave Sound Stage, Ocean Way and other major Nashville studios in terms of staying booked?
You better be creative. And though more artists do have their own studios, a lot of them don’t or prefer not to. You always hope to have two or three anchor clients and you want to make sure they’re happy, and there are certain engineers and producers in Nashville who are always busy at our place. But if something happens to one of them you’d better have a backup plan. We’re fortunate to have some great producers who call Sound Stage home. But at the same time, we still have to work hard. One thing I do is reach out to unsigned artists who don’t have a studio home yet.
You came up playing in cover bands, original bands, working behind the scenes at concerts, going to engineering school, doing whatever you could to be a part of the business. Now you’re face-to-face on a daily basis with some of the biggest stars in the industry. Do you have to pinch yourself sometimes, or has it settled in to business as usual?
It’s pretty much settled in. But I guess maybe it can depend on who it is. Being in the studio with Buddy Guy, when he tells you to grab a pen and a piece of paper because he’s got a song idea, and you start writing it down while he talks…that’s a moment you’ll never get back. And working with people like (Rolling Stones pianist/music director) Chuck Leavell on the last James Cotton record…people back home don’t even know who he is, but it’s like, this guy was in the Allman Brothers and I’m recording him! It’s also been cool to see people I’ve known for a while like Thompson Square break through and really start to make it. And some of the songwriters I’ve recorded…I guess maybe I was a little starstruck working with Dean Dillon, what a great writer, he’s the man behind so much George Strait material. I covered half the songs he wrote playing in bands in high school or whatever. So I might actually be more impressed with some of the writers than the artists.
Eric Church, Ben Folds, Tony Brown, John Coltrane, even Andy Griffith and on and on – a huge number of big time, even legendary, artists come from North Carolina like you do. How can so many of these people come from such a relatively small state?
(Laughs) I don’t know, but some of those people are icons for sure. Andy Griffith had a music degree from UNC. One of the first things you hear growing up there is Andy’s comedy tape about football.