John Storyk is not just a famous studio designer and architect; he's also a master of details and implementation, sharing an innate creative sense that many of his longtime clients also possess. His talent and combination of right brain-left brain attributes enabled him to quickly gain the trust of diverse clients such as Jimi Hendrix, Albert Grossman (famous Dylan manager and developer of the Bearsville complex), Alicia Keys and over 2,000 studios and institutions worldwide. Thirty-seven years in, John, along with partner and wife Beth Walters, has built a mini-architectural empire of his own, Walters Storyk Design Group (WSDG), which is truly international in flavor and diverse in its scope. While he concedes that his favorite thing is designing recording studios, he is a classical architect at heart. He wants to leave a memorable impression through physical spaces, just like his favorite architectural predecessors — people like Antoni Gaudí and Frederick Kiesler.
In building WSDG, which currently has offices in the U.S., Switzerland, Argentina and Brazil, Storyk has had a knack for choosing leaders, many of them originally his own students, to move the business forward in each region. WSDG has been built largely on Storyk's own intuition, the special management style of Beth and by delegating responsibilities to each respective regional leader (Dirk Noy in Europe, Sergio Molho in Argentina and Renato Cipirani in Brazil). WSDG maintains the same standards of excellence in all its design work around the world, but interestingly the company has evolved its own "best practice" centers that cross-pollinate. For example, the New York office of WSDG may be producing architectural drawings for a project that the Latin American office is working on, while the European office might be doing advanced acoustic modeling for a project underway in the United States.
One legacy that your name is synonymous with is Electric Lady.
I always wanted to be an architect, since I was 11 — I knew pretty early. When I was at Princeton in the sixties, I studied architecture and played in several rock and blues bands. During that year, we used to come up to the city to go to this little club in the basement of the Eighth Street Cinema, it was called the Generation. They used to have blues guys there, so we would listen to Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, the Blues Project, Al Kooper. One night, there was a funny left- handed guitar player on the stage by the name of Jimi Hendrix, who the world was just meeting in 1966. In June of '68, immediately after graduation, I moved to Manhattan and started working for a more conventional architecture firm. Two months later a very strange event occurs. One evening I noticed a Village Voice ad looking for carpenters to work for free on the construction of a new experimental nightclub. I answered it because I was kind of bored. I said to myself, "You know, that would be fun. I'm kind of handy." So I meet the club owners and in two weeks, I find myself redesigning the club — two months later we build the club on Broome and Crosby in an area that's now called SOHO.
So was this effectively your first acoustic job?
No, there weren't any acoustics on this project. I was the architect and the lead carpenter, all rolled up into one effort. We had a lot of fun and it was a lot of work. Before this, I had only designed one house, and I designed a bookcase for a friend in college. At this point I still haven't left my day job! So we build the club — $3,000, no permit — it opens, it's a huge success. It's called Cerebrum. There are floating platforms and smoke and projectors — we're way ahead of our time. It was very cool. If you came to New York, you came there. "It was the time of my life," as they say. Well, one night, Jimi Hendrix was there. Little do I know but at the same time in early '69 his manager, Michael Jeffries, decided to buy that club in the basement of the movie theater. As I'm told, I think the tab got so big that they decided to buy the club, which had been a polka dance club for 30 years before becoming the Generation. Jimi, accordingly, tells him, "I was at this club downtown — find out who designed Cerebrum so that he can design my club." So I get a call one day from Michael Jeffries' office.
How bizarre is that?
Well that's pretty bizarre at the age of 22. Would you like to design a club for Jimi Hendrix? "Well, let me check my schedule."
How confident did you feel in your abilities at that point? Did you just want to go for it?
I don't think I thought about it. They were crazy times and I honestly don't even remember. I think in reality, my wife took the call. The next thing you know, I'm having a meeting with Michael and Jimi. Their offices were on Park Avenue, and I get hired. I take a few weeks, I design Jimi's club in the evening — remember, I am still working during the days, so I do the drawings at night. I get a call one Sunday night. The presentation is Monday, "The project has been scrapped." Heartbroken. Why has it been scrapped? Because Eddie Kramer, Jimi's producer, has talked him out of the club and into a recording studio. Then he said, "You can still do the recording studio." I say, "I've never been in a recording studio." "No problem. We'll slow the project up a month." I agree to quit my job. My wife is a waitress — we figure it out. Money was different then. Eddie and Michael said, "We'll hire a young producer who could help a little bit on some of the layouts and technicalities and he'll show you some...