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You Say It's Your Birthday

Jeff Wells remembers the day he wanted to be in the music biz. It was winter 1964, and Wells was walking down his neighborhood street near the West Belt at I-10 when, through the transistor radio in his hand, came the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand." "I said, 'What's this?' " Wells recalls. It was rock and roll, and it was unlike anything he had ever heard before. Though he was only 14 at the time, Wells's career in music soon started taking shape, in the form of a Harmony Rocket six-string he eventually talked his father into buying him days after the Beatles made their impression.

Today Wells is making impressions of his own -- the kind that local and national recording artists depend on. They're called masters, and Wells, as owner of Sound Arts Recording Studio on Westview Drive, has been engineering recording sessions since the late 1960s, when he regularly taped songs from the radio on reel-to-reel machines. This year Sound Arts is celebrating its 25th anniversary, having engineered projects for multiplatinum acts such as the Geto Boys and the local heros of Raga Rock, not to mention having rented equipment and space to the Rolling Stones and Butch Vig of Garbage as they passed through town.

"Yeah, well, I guess they had heard of me," says Wells, downplaying his reputation as an anal engineer who does things the old-school way and who has the equipment and collection of vintage 40-year-old microphones ("which still sound great") to prove it.

All those years ago, Jeff Wells (circa 1977) decided to turn tiny knobs for a living.
All those years ago, Jeff Wells (circa 1977) decided to turn tiny knobs for a living.
The Real Deal, Evander Holyfield, and local gospel rapper Nuwine. Real Deal Records, the champ's label, recently signed Nuwine to a recording deal. They're pictured here at Holyfield's Houston home.
The Real Deal, Evander Holyfield, and local gospel rapper Nuwine. Real Deal Records, the champ's label, recently signed Nuwine to a recording deal. They're pictured here at Holyfield's Houston home.

After graduating from Memorial High School and studying music at North Texas State University in Denton, Wells started writing his own music and tried shopping some of it around to club managers and local booking agents. He played a recording of his songs for one particular agent and was told, according to Wells, " 'Your songs don't sound so good, but they're miked well.' "

Wells took that compliment to heart and started hanging around Kent McNeil and Charlie Roman's studio, which was a garage. "They showed me around," says Wells, "but I was also trying to get some of my songs done," by stealing away with some of the studio musicians during downtime to record his own music.

According to Wells, McNeil and Roman left for Nashville to shop their songs around, returned brokenhearted and decided to give up the studio. The duo told Wells he should buy their recording gear. And he did.

This was around 1972-'73, as Wells was moving away from making his own music and more toward crafting it for others. All the monitors and power amps he bought from McNeil and Roman were a helpful start, but they weren't enough to anchor a recording business. That's when Wells bought his first mixing board, a four-track monster for $2,900.

The next year, in 1974, Wells moved into a commercial house his father had purchased near Northwest Mall. In the back, in a shack, Wells set up shop. He recorded there until 1992, when he relocated to the office on Westview.

During all this, Wells has been married, has sung in bands (Beowulf, Tempest, The Barbara Pennington Band) and has hired two full-timers.

Some months ago, the local progressive-rockers of Edge were in Sound Arts finishing up a new release. Having already cut one CD, the band was looking for a studio with analog recording capabilities, which are all the retro rage today in an age of stilted-sounding digital. Sound Arts was the place.

"[Analog] has a warm, great feel," says David Serrano, manager of the band and father of drummer Alex Serrano. "Sound Arts had a good reputation for that."

And it does. Now a 24-track studio with both digital and analog recording machines, Sound Arts, says Wells, has come full circle. In the way it records. And who it records. From rock and roll to jingles to voice-overs to blues to gospel to rap, the studio's back bringing home the bacon with rock.

"I love it," says Wells. "And I guess not too many people can say that about their jobs. But I love mine."

All Mixed Up

Pop, trance and "alternacoustic" music will be wafting from The Oven this weekend. On Saturday, November 13, The Wash, Liquid 22, Infinitek, DJ Dasho and Drive That Fast will perform a benefit concert for Citizens for Animal Protection. "Convergence," as the show is called, will begin at 8 p.m. Admission is $5. All proceeds go toward the animal protection group. The Oven is located at 403 Westheimer. Call (713)874-1100 for more information.

And Rahzel from the trip-slip-dip-hop band The Roots will perform at Club Waxx, 1601 Leeland (at Crawford), Thursday, November 11. The Mathmatech DJs will open. Call (713)862-5615 for more information.

Where's Lucky?

Even when Fitzgerald's turned its first floor into a swing club called Lucky's Lounge this summer, people still referred to the space by its insider-y name, FitzDown. Well, you know what they say about old habits? They're hard to break. So, at Fitzgerald's nowadays, it's out with the old (Lucky's Lounge) and back with the older (FitzDown). Now, if they could just do something about band names. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead?

E-mail Anthony Mariani at anthony.mariani@houstonpress.com.

 
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