Alongside Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens is the likable drummer and only other constant member of Memphis' legendary rock band Big Star. Big Star was basically created out of John Fry's generosity towards younger musicians, allowing original members Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and their friends to come in an learn the recording ropes. Since then, Jody's been working at Ardent for several decades now, in various capacities.
Your introduction to Ardent Studios was through Andy Hummel and Chris Bell?
Andy said, "Hey, some of my friends and I are putting a band together. Do you want to come out and jam a little bit?" We got together in Chris Bell's back house that was on his parent's property. Terry Manning was there, maybe Tom Eubanks, and Chris, Andy and myself — maybe Steve Rhea, too. It was loose and everything, but there were all these suggestions of something really creative coming out of it. That led to late night sessions at Ardent.
How did that lead into Ardent?
Chris Bell was friends with John Fry. Chris, Andy and Steve Rhea were getting into the studio in the off hours and I think Steve was getting ready to go to college. He played drums, so they were looking for another drummer. I got introduced to Ardent via Chris and Andy and played in the off hours and really didn't see much of John Fry. It was like Disneyland for somebody into music. I thought what Chris and Andy and Steve were doing was so different from what everybody in Memphis was doing at the time. It's what I was into — very, very British invasion. I've always been fascinated with the whole creative process and how things just spring from people's minds. I felt pretty lucky.
So, Big Star — you go through the era of that — 1975 was the last recording for Big Star's Third?
Yes. I came back to Ardent in January 1987. I was on the fourteen-year program at the University of Memphis. I started in '70 and graduated with a marketing degree in '84. I continued to wait tables for a while and then had a pretty straight gig for a year and then was looking to change jobs. I handed in a resume to a radio station and I called John Fry to let him know that I'd used him as a reference. I hadn't talked to him in a while and he said, "I'll say something nice about you." He rang me up the next day and said, "Hey wait a minute. We're creating a new position here at Ardent — somebody to do the marketing." I managed to wind up with the job and I was ecstatic. My first day in the studio I discovered The Replacements were here — I didn't know who The Replacements were at the time, mind you. I was really lucky because it was the time Joe Hardy was developing as a producer/engineer. John Hampton was developing as a producer/engineer. We had Terry Manning here. We had just exceptionally talented people to work with. Also John Hampton and Keith Sykes, a fairly well known singer-songwriter here, were doing a little artist development themselves and had a guy named John Kilzer. John Kilzer's project became the first that I shopped. I wound up placing it with Geffen, but it open the door to relationships at A&M and some other places. The next project to shop was a band called Tora Tora. I wound up placing them with A&M and again, developing other relationships in shopping this band. Then there was the Eric Gales Band. We had talented producers and engineers and we also had this talent pool that we were drawing artists from. The guys that produced the demos were able to produce the records when the artists got signed.
Yeah, keeping things in-house. At that point, were you a studio manager, did you stick with doing the label type thing?
No, we had a dedicated studio manager at that point. My efforts were focused on the production company and the marketing. The production company helped tremendously with marketing because A&R people don't necessarily want to hear about a studio over and over again. But they were always interested in new artists. Ardent Productions was a potential source of a future signing for them. I'd talk a bit about the artist and the engineer/producer that did the demo, so we gained a lot of exposure for our talent behind the board and to our artists.
Is there still some of that going on here or is...
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