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Steve C.
Democrat TN 9

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  • Recognizing the Life and Accomplishments of Record Producer John Fry

    by Representative Steve Cohen

    Posted on 2015-01-21

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    COHEN of tennessee in the house of representatives Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the life and accomplishments of Memphis record producer, John Fry. Fry, a son of Memphis, was an example of the innovation, creativity and daring that is uniquely Memphis, as embodied in such Memphians as Abe Plough, founder of Plough Inc. and creator of St. Joseph's aspirin for children and the Coppertone skin care line; Fred Smith, founder of Federal Express; Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn; Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly--the first self service grocer; and Sam Phillips, the father of rock and roll and founder of Sun Studio and Sun Records--the recording home of Elvis Presley.

    Born on New Year's Eve in 1944, Fry became a well-known and respected member of the Memphis music community, having founded the Ardent record label in the late 1950s and early 1960s along with John King and Fred Smith. Ardent was a unique studio for the region that brought high technical standards to recording, which Fry used to father a multitude of music from rock and roll and punk to soul, power pop and gospel. Under his leadership, Fry helped launch the careers of local musicians and guide the works of others from around the country.

    John began recording music out of his family's garage in 1959 while he was still in high school. He committed to spending countless hours remodeling the space by building the equipment needed and inter- connecting equipment that could not be built. Out of his self-made recording studio, he recorded and released singles that were favored by locals, including The Ole' Miss Downbeats' Slewfoot and The Hucklebuck. These were the first recordings for the Ardent label. In 1962 after graduating high school, Fry and a friend built a radio station in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and in 1964, he worked with recording artist Jim Dickinson, who had also worked with Elvis and power pop singer Alex Chilton, to begin reviving the Ardent label.

    In 1966, Ardent Studios opened on National Street, where it stayed for five years before moving to its current location on Madison in Midtown Memphis. In its first four years, John invested in the studio, furnishing it with four- and sixteen-track equipment, outboard and Dolby noise reduction equipment. The technologically-advanced studio soon had a console that was the same make used by Stax Records, which enable Ardent to become a companion studio for Stax recording artists, including Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays, Sam and Dave and Albert King. Ardent also recorded albums for The Replacements, The Clits, The Scruffs and Elvis Presley.

    One band that was close to John's heart was Big Star. Made up of Memphians Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, Jody Stephens and lead singer/ songwriter Alex Chilton, Big Star recorded three albums at Ardent Studios--#1 Record, Radio City and Third--and viewed John largely as a mentor. John showed them ins and outs of the industry and drummer Jody Stephens commented that he was ``a person who could help you make your dreams come true.'' While Big Star received little national recognition at the time, over the next four decades, the group's three albums eventually were listed among Rolling Stone magazine's ``500 Greatest Albums of All Time'' and a variation of their song In The Street was used as the theme song for the popular Fox-TV sitcom, That 70s Show.

    In the late 70s, John began to focus more on the business side of Ardent Studios, but talents including Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, the Replacements, Freddie King, the Gin Blossoms and many others traveled to and recorded at the Memphis studio throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. In 1995, John launched a Christian rock label, releasing 36 albums and receiving seven Grammy nominations from artists including Big Tent Revival, Skillet, Jonah33 and others. He also began operating Ardent as a learning ground for future award winning producers and engineers, including Jim Dickinson, Terry Manning, John Hampton and others.

    Today, Ardent Studios continue to attract musicians both local and national from all genres. Memphis rap group and Oscar winner Three 6 Mafia has recorded at the studio as well as Memphis rapper, Al Kapone. Three Doors Down, the North Mississippi Allstars, the White Stripes and the Raconteurs are among the studio's roster of artists. Additionally, filmmakers for Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan and 40 Shades of Blue--all movies featuring and filmed in Memphis--went to Ardent Studios for recording their soundtracks. The studio has amassed 70 gold and platinum albums and singles.

    John Fry was a recording visionary and helped propel Memphis music and that of others from around the world to a higher level. His contributions to the industry are numerous and will continue to inspire future generations. In 2006, he said, ``If you acquire knowledge or skill or even wisdom, and you just keep it, then when you die, that dies with you. But if you share that with other generations--who in turn will share it and share it and share it--you're doing something that lasts.'' John Fry passed away on December 18, 2014 in Memphis at 69 years of age, and is survived by his wife, Betty Fry. He and Betty were advocates for laws concerning humane treatment of animals, and they treasured and cared for horses, dogs and cats with the dignity that people who respect all life would. He will be remembered by all who came in contact with him and whose careers and success benefited from his mentorship. I ask all of my colleagues to join me in recognizing his life, accomplishments and contributions to American music. His was a life well-lived.


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