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Making music through the ages
Revival of Mad Dog Ranch Studios has been embraced
Pitt
Audio engineer Ralph Pitt was instrumental in the revival of Mad Dog Ranch Studios, which is part of a compound on Snowmass Creek that was owned at first by Jimmy Buffett and later, Glenn Frey. This summer the recording studio has been busy hosting local and visiting musicians and songwriters. - photo by Madeleine Osberger

Mad Dog Ranch Studios along the banks of Snowmass Creek received a bit of music royalty this summer as its former owner, Mr. Margaritaville himself, Jimmy Buffett, stopped by for a visit and to check out the renovated digs.

According to Ralph Pitt, the recording studio’s co-owner (along with Derek Brown), this was believed to have been the first time Buffett returned to his former home (that he later sold to his one-time neighbor, Glenn Frey) in decades. The six-acre property has been owned by Julie Garside for about three years.

What kind of recollections Buffett’s trip down memory lane stirred remain private, but it’s believed he was pleased to see the space up and running and utilized by musicians both local and from afar.

Valle Musico was booked into the studio on Aug. 25 and recently the facility hosted a conference of Christian songwriters.

Another regular visitor to the Old Snowmass studios is David Harding, the Basalt-based guitarist and vocalist who has shared the stage at one time or another with the likes of John Oates, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Dirt Band’s Jimmy Ibbotson, to name just a few. Not only prolific with performances, Harding is also an old hand when it comes to recording music.

David and Amy
Photo courtesy Ralph Pitt David Harding and Amy Hawes recorded at Mad Dog Ranch Studios while their dog Wolfgang looked on, in this undated photo.
Harding said this week he is oh-so-comfortable within the confines of Mad Dog’s Studio A, where he has recorded with his partner, Amy Hawes, among others.

“That studio is just so much fun. I can’t think of anybody better than Ralph (to run it). The equipment, his board, fits that particular studio.”

Harding went on: “It’s small and intimate and the river’s right there.”

Then and now

Housed in contiguous log cabins and accessed via a covered bridge, Mad Dog Ranch Studios is a hybrid of analog and digital equipment, Pitt said with more than a hint of pride as he brought his own, 56-channel console to the table that was originally manufactured for Winona Judd. 

“The board was $160,000 when it was new,” Pitt said, though he was able to buy it for much less during its second incarnation at Aspen’s Belly Up.

The physical embodiment of who Hollywood would typecast as an audio engineer, Pitt said that when Frey was the property’s owner, he commissioned acoustic master Frank Comentale, late of the Hit Factory in New York, to design what was then a state-of-the-art recording studio. Frey would go on to record his album “Strange Weather” here.

In the smaller Studio B, next door to the cabin that houses the sound board, resides an 1885 Bluthner baby grand piano that musician Paul Herman was said to have fallen in love with; Herman used it on his “Desperado (Reprise)” album, according to Pitt.

Sharing photos of other past artists who have recorded here, Pitt noted that a compilation album of various Valley artists, including Bobby Mason and Jimmy Dykann, is still incomplete due to people’s conflicting schedules. He’d love to see it finished.

Switchboard
Courtesy photo Mad Dog Ranch Studios features an Amek Recall RN 56 console that was built for Winona Judd and also lived a life at Aspen’s Belly Up.
Recording sessions are scheduled into the afternoons and evenings, but Pitt said he never wants the artists to feel rushed.

“Part of the philosophy is, we know music is a spontaneous, emotional thing. We work when we mean to. It’s not like this is in somebody’s living room. It’s a commercial facility and therefore we are open to being open,” Pitt said with a soft chuckle.

David Harding said evenings between 6 and 10 p.m. are when he’s most prodigious. “I feel honored that I can be a part of it.”

For Pitt, what takes place on this stream-side, acoustic campus is all-consuming. He admits to having missed some significant Valley concerts this summer, noting with no sense of shame that “I didn’t know they were here.”

“I live in a bubble that’s around my music world,” Pitt said.