Happy Birthday Electric Lady Studios…
…what a long, strange trip it’s been.
On August 26th, 1970, an electric lady was introduced to the rock and roll scene on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Ushered in by none other than Jimi Hendrix, Electric Lady Studios at 52 West 8th Street was built to provide Hendrix with affordable studio space that would also meet his personal technical and aesthetic specifications. Kicked off by an opening party near summer’s end, Electric Lady Studios was the site of the recording of some of the greatest rock, hip hop, and pop albums of the last four-plus decades.
Sadly, Hendrix died barely three weeks later, on September 18, 1970. Hendrix’s last-ever studio recording was made at Electric Lady, an instrumental known as “Slow Blues.” Fortunately, this was only the beginning of the studio’s incredible run, and only the latest incarnation of one of the Village’s most unusual, and most storied, structures.
The Clash, Lou Reed, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Blondie, Run DMC, Common, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Nas, Kanye West, Madonna, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Billy Idol, U2, and Daft Punk, among many others, have recorded there. By many accounts, Patti Smith ushered in the punk rock era by making her first recordings there. David Bowie was propelled to superstardom in the United States as a result of his collaborations with John Lennon at Electric Lady. The Rolling Stones’ comeback ‘Some Girls,’ and AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black,’ the best selling hard rock album of all time, were both recorded there as well.
As fascinating as its history as a recording studio, Electric Lady Studios and the building which houses it has an interesting and unusual history prior to its current incarnation. Before being turned into a recording studio, 52 West 8th Street housed the popular “Generation Club,” where Hendrix, among many other musicians of the day, performed.
Prior to that, the basement of the building contained “The Village Barn,” a country-themed nightclub and dining hall, from 1930 to 1967. Meanwhile, Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hoffmann lectured upstairs in a studio from 1938 through the 1950’s. Until the 1990’s, the building also housed the beloved 8th Street Playhouse cinema.
Though Hendrix’s tenure at electric Lady Studios was brief, he certainly left his mark in the design. Rounded windows and a hundred foot long floor-to-ceiling mural painted by artist Lance Jost gave the studios an unmistakable connection to Hendrix which survived long after.
Meanwhile, the exterior of the building has gone through somewhat of an evolution. The relatively flat facade you see today replaced an appropriately rounded, somewhat surreal exterior added to the studio, which mimicked the circular windows of the interior.
But underneath, the building which currently stands on the site was originally designed in 1929 by Frederick Keisler as the Film Guild Cinema, one of the earliest examples of modernist or constructivist architecture in New York.
Sadly, as early as 1946, when the below picture was taken, the distinctive modernist and constructivist ornament and marquee on the theater had been stripped away, just one stage in the ongoing evolution of this unique and unusual structure.
Please note: a prior version of this post stated that the building in which Electric Lady Studios is located was designed by Ferdinand Savignano, based upon the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report for the Greenwich Village Historic District (see http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/GREENWICH_VILLAGE_HISTORIC_DISTRICT_-_VOLUME_1.pdf#page=153). However, the report’s information regarding this building’s architect and date of construction is inaccurate, and the post has been updated.