Credit: Sony Music Archives

Sign Installation, Lighting Completes Three-Year Restoration

Mayor Megan Barry, proprietors of the historic RCA Studio A, BR549’s Chuck Mead and the Music Row community gathered this week to cheer the studio’s restoration and the return of an iconic image — RCA’s world-famous “Nipper” dog and his Victrola phonograph.

The dog and phonograph — a widely known symbol in the global music community — adorned the façade of Studio A until RCA retired the logos in 1968. Installation of replica signage and the official lighting ceremony completes a nearly three-year interior and exterior restoration that has returned the studio building to its 1960s-era glory.

“This is about more than returning an iconic image to Music Row,” Mayor Barry said at the celebration on the front lawn of Studio A. “It’s really the culmination of the preservation and restoration of a cultural and historic landmark. Nashville is proud to be home to one of the world’s most important recording studios.”

Opened in 1965, Studio A’s client list — past and present — is a Who’s Who of music stars. Past clients include country legends Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, and George Strait as well as newer artists like Hunter Hayes, Jamey Johnson, and Kacey Musgraves. Pop and rock artists who have worked at the Studio A complex include Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett, The Beach Boys, and The Monkees, and newer artists like Sara Bareilles and Ke$ha.

Aubrey Preston address Studio A supporters
Credit: Anthony Scarlati

Three years ago, musicians and preservationists rallied around Studio A after developers announced plans to demolish the building and replace it with condos and a restaurant. Philanthropists Mike Curb, Chuck Elcan and Aubrey Preston stepped forward, purchasing the historic landmark to save it from the wrecking ball. Shortly before the 50th anniversary of Studio A in 2015, the federal government added the site to the National Register of Historic Places.

Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb — who’s worked with top artists including Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton — joined Studio A as producer-in-residence in 2016 and is leading it into the future.

“Studio A is a national treasure, but it’s also a working studio that’s going to keep turning out music for many years to come,” Cobb said. “It’s been a great place to work thanks to the interior restoration. Now, installing the throwback signs on the exterior sends a visible message that Studio A is here and kicking.”

RCA’s iconic Nipper and Victrola were based on “His Master’s Voice,” a painting by 19th-Century English artist Francis Barraud depicting a terrier listening quizzically to a phonograph. The painting served as the basis for a trademark image acquired in 1899 by Gramophone and adopted by several producers of playback machines and record labels — including the Victor Talking Machine Company, which later became part of Radio Corporation of America, or RCA.

Studio A obtained permission from Technicolor, which now owns the historic RCA marks, to recreate the image on the front of the building. Former Ryman Auditorium curator Brenda Colladay worked with Nashville sign maker Joslin & Son Signs to examine photos from the ‘60s and create replica signage of the dog and phonograph alongside RCA’s old lightning-bolt logo.

The nearly five-foot-tall replica signs were installed on Studio A’s façade in late October. Tuesday marked the first official “lighting,” with energy-efficient LED technology illuminating the iconic image overlooking Music Row.

“Bringing back the Nipper is a symbolic moment of celebration for the entire Studio A community,” Preston said. “A few years ago, countless people worked hard to raise awareness of the importance of saving this place. Mike, Chuck and I are honored to have been part of the story and we look forward to hearing the next string of hits from one of the best-sounding rooms in the world.”

Preston added: “The bottom line is, Studio A is here to stay.”