Piety Street Studio's magic isn't going anywhere, circles keep completing... / by Zack Smith

On hearing the recent news that Mark Bingham and Shawn Hall were quitting the biz at Piety St recording studios, immediately many moments shot to my brain. I remember being very intimidated by the building, and always in wonder about it, what happened inside, and who was "happening" inside. When i worked with Herman Leonard in the early 2000's i remember Jenny Bagert saying she was shooting Dr. John there, and that just made the ominous white stucco sanctuary, even more ominous...

"Wow! Dr. John...is in that building?" in a corner of the Bywater...at a time when the Bywater, was well, if you know, you know. At that time i had not joined Rotary Downs, the band i've been in since around 2003, and the whole studio side of New Orleans music had not made its' impression on me - i was still hustling from night club to theater to auditorium, documenting the live scene. I probably had not been in a studio yet.

Fast forward 2 years to 2004, and Rotary Downs books a midnight session at Piety w/ one of the second engineers. We were ready to record a few tracks from the upcoming "Chained to the Chariot" album and knew about how good things sounded when they were rung through the Piety ringer...and we took the opportunity at the discount "midnight to 7am" recording block. I remember that being my first drumming experience in a studio since 1992 when i recorded a demo w/ my band, The Mind Thieves, back in Lafayette. Here i was 10 years later...more a photographer than a drummer, and the whole "under the microscope" thing, click tracks and tempo in my ear - needless to say, not my best drumming. We ended up scrapping the whole session (another $800 down the tube..or whatever it was) due to, in part, not being ready-ready, it being midnight, and other factors.

In the years to come, as i got more and more engulfed and trusted in the local scene, i was asked to document bands/musicians sessions there. I got to know Shawn and Mark and ended up being able to be comfortable in a place that once seemed so far away and foreign. In the last few years at Piety i have documented and done album artwork for; Alec Ounsworth (clap your hands say yeah), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Sierra Leone Refuge All-Stars, Happy Talk Band, Micke Borkoff and Blues Strip, Jeff Albert w/ Kidd Jordan, and Hamid Drake, Luke Winslow King, and others. I have even recorded drums for a group, and recorded a whistle solo on Debbie Davis' album, "It's Not the Years, It's the Miles".

After the Happy Talk session, i even worked with Shawn on the concept and photography of that album, "Starve a Fever"..funny how circles complete themselves. Even though Mark and Sean may not be recording music there, cooking up some delicious eats, or hosting international live shows...the music lives on and i was happy to be a part of it...honored. Thanks Mark and Shawn.

ALEC OUNSWORTH

w/ Steve Berlin, Robert Walters, Stanton Moore, Geroge Porter Jr.

Album Cover of that record

HAPPY TALK BAND

JEFF ALBERT QUARTET

W/ Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, Josh Abrahms

LUKE WINSLOW KING

SIERRA LEONE REFUGE ALL STARS