Front and Center

By Victoria Moon

A landmark of Louisville music is leaving the city with very little fanfare - only those most intimately connected with the local music scene may be aware of it. A historical landmark of Louisville's music scene -- from the start of rock-n-roll to the present -- is quietly closing its doors, rolling up its rugs and moving away. It seems fitting, then, to take a moment and say goodbye to the Allen-Martin recording studio on Taylorsville Road and celebrate its place in making Louisville part of rock-n-roll history.

First, the facts: the Allen-Martin recording studio is Louisville's oldest and arguably one of its best recording studios. Over the past decade it has evolved and split off into successful video production as well as being connected through ownership with Innovative Electronic Designs, Inc. or IED, the hugely successful manufacturer of commercial audio systems, computer-controlled sound systems and audio system management tools.

The audio recording side of Allen-Martin had lain dormant since last summer when Todd Smith, who had been running the studio and acting as its engineer, left to join forces with Distillery Sound Studios in Louisville. When J.D. Miller, owner of Miller Melodies of Versailles, Kentucky and former engineer with Allen-Martin, heard about this, he immediately contacted Hardy Martin and Ray Allen of Allen-Martin to talk about a partnership.

"I made an appointment with them and told them `look, we were successful for a long time together, and I would really like for us to utilize your assets and build on our tenure together,'" said Miller in a recent interview. "They were excited about the proposal, so what we worked out was that the equipment they had invested in was moved to my facility, and we're just picking up from where we left off and going from there.

"Basically, they're bringing their equipment and years of experience, and I'm bringing my expertise as a producer".

Now the audio equipment from the recording studio, which will retain the Allen-Martin name, is in the process of being moved to a new, state-of-the art location in Versailles, Kentucky. The video production side of Allen-Martin, currently run by Regan and Ann Thomas, will remain in the Taylorsville Road location of Allen-Martin and will expand into the space where the recording studio had been housed.

Miller is enthusiastic about the new 30,000 square-foot facility in Versailles and has incorporated many of the elements that made Allen-Martin so successful here in Louisville.

"We have rebuilt every wall of this space from the ground up," said Miller, "and we've copied some of the ideas used in the Allen-Martin studio because they worked so well. The recording room was a great space, and even though it was built over twenty years ago, it was built right. So we've copied some of their ideas but also incorporated some materials that were not even manufactured back then, so we were able to design a space even more effective at controlling the sound."

Another draw to the facility is that along with Miller Melodies the Allen-Martin studio will be in the same building as Planet 3, Lexington's largest recording studio. "We're basically taking three studios and combining all the gear and clientele and putting them in one building. I don't think there will be another studio in the state that has all the bells and whistles, the gear, and the acoustic design that we'll have here. It will be unparalleled in Kentucky".

But as exciting as Allen-Martin's future is, the history of the studio warrants some attention as well, and it is bittersweet to watch something that has played such a leading role in Louisville's music history leave the area. It is fitting, then, to take a moment to look back and say farewell.

Started as Sambo Studios in the mid-1950s, the studio's name "Sambo" came from the last names of its owners, a local deejay named Jack Sanders, and current owners Ray Allen and Hardy Martin. It was a full-service studio and booking agency at the start, centered around the band the Trendells. Sanders helped the studio place some of its earliest acts until he left the area.

Wayne Young, a former studio musician with Allen-Martin/Sambo Studios who still lives in Louisville, recalled some of its history in a recent interview.

"The studio remained Sambo Studios probably into the mid-1970s, when they moved from a former location across the street into where they are now and changed the name to Allen-Martin. Jack Sanders had left the area by that time. I was a studio musician with the studio and an engineer for about a year while it was still Sambo, and it was during that time when they really built up the archives they have".

(The Allen-Martin archives are worth noting, too: hundreds of masters from the earliest of this area's pop and rock scene, such as the Carnations, the Monarchs, the Trendells and Paul Penny to the most recent with artists such as Chaz, the Kentucky Ramblers and even superstars Days of the New.)

"I recorded with the Carnations and the Trendells before they even had a studio, "Young explained, "...and from there they set me up with Cosmo. I was their bandleader. Then I went to Soul, Incorporated which was essentially a studio band for Allen-Martin and we backed people like Lonny Mack, Albert Washington, The Casinos - a lot of the Cincinnati/Dayton area acts that would come through Louisville. Also, Charlie Daniels used to come and produce there, working with artists like Ruby Winters. So it was great - we got to work with all these artists."

From the Louisville bands such as The Monarchs with number-one hits in the early 1960s, to the attempts to make Louisville the next Motown later that decade, to the 1990s rise of Days of the New, Allen-Martin has seen it all, done it all and lived to tell the tale. As we congratulate Hardy Martin and Ray Allen as the studio moves on to greener pastures east of us, there is the assurance that Allen-Martin will always be located right here in Louisville in the heart of its past.