Rock N Roll in the Country

19 Oct, 2017

Visitors to Lake Geneva are often surprise to learn that the area once boasted a world-class music recording studio. Despite the string of hits this studio produced, it remains an underappreciated piece of local history.

Performers who passed through Lake Geneva included some of the industry’s biggest names: John Mellencamp, Survior, T’Pau, Cheap Trick, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Adrian Belew, Robert Plant, Enuff Z’nuff, Crash Test Dummies, Nine Inch Nails, Live, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many more. All of these artists at one time or another recorded music in what is now an engineering office at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa.

Bun E. Carlos is the drummer for Cheap Trick, a world-renowned rock band that formed in Rockford, Illinois, in the late 1960s and went on to record several top-ten hits and platinum-selling albums. They recorded their 1985 album, Standing on the Edge, at the Lake Geneva studio.

“It wasn’t that they put a studio in there that was surprising,” he says. “The surprise was that it was as good as it was.”

The Lake Geneva studio proved popular with musicians, but it struggled financially, despite producing three platinum albums – by Live, Nine Inch Nails and Crash Test Dummies – in its final days.

Top artists of the day were performing at Playboy. Rock stars appearing at nearby Alpine Valley, one of the nation’s largest outdoor music venues, would also stay the resort. The region was ripe with a captive market. So Playboy constructed a thirty-five-by-twenty-five-foot recording studio called Shade Tree Studios.

“It wasn’t a world-class studio until it became Sound Summit in 1985 because then it got a Neve 8068 console,” said Jim Bartz, a musician and audio engineer who worked at the recording studio. “It was a rock and roll paradise. That’s a very coveted board. I was told it was the actual console John Lennon recorded Double Fantasy on. It had a pedigree to it.”

Later that year, diamond importer Ron Fajerstein purchased the studio and transformed it into the very successful Royal Recorders. He outfitted the studio with the best equipment available and even sank a small fortune into a stretch Rolls Royce limo for visiting bands.

Bands like T’Pau, Nine Inch Nails, Skid Row, and Enuff Z’nuff all recorded here, and turned out albums that sold millions. But in the end, the money it took to get bands to Lake Geneva was greater than the money the studio earned.

The studio was dismantled and the eighty-input SSL console now resides in the basement studio of Chicago-based R & B artist and producer R. Kelly.

The next time you’re at Grand Geneva, ask to see the recording studio and we’re happy to show you behind the scenes when it’s available.


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