By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
If it really is better to burn out than fade away, then Last Beat Studios certainly took the low road. For months, rumors have spread about the slow, quiet death of the huge Deep Ellum recording studio and rehearsal space, and people thought its demise would come in the form of some new owner ripping its innards to shreds. Turns out, however, that former owner Caron Barrett did that herself.
Former LB engineer Jeff Halbert confirms that Barrett began selling every piece of equipment inside the studio "about a month ago. Everything's been sold off. It's creepy." After putting the studio up for sale late last year, Barrett, who had hoped to sell the building with everything inside to keep the studio going strong under new owners, found herself receiving few-to-no bids that matched her asking price of $1.2 million. Plan B? To quietly destroy piece by piece the birthing place of great records by bands like Captain Audio, Baboon, Sparrows and Chao.
All of the details aren't entirely clear but not for lack of trying. Numerous calls and e-mails to the former owner have gone unanswered, and numerous visits to the studio space at 2819 Commerce St. have resulted in nothing but banging on doors.
Barrett's silence isn't wholly surprising--the only time we've ever spoken was when the first "Last Beat was sold" rumors sprung up two months ago. After I introduced myself over the phone, she immediately asked, "How did you get this number?" Not an entirely odd question, perhaps, until you consider that her flier advertising the sale of the building touted her Maui cell phone number for all to see.
Barrett's never been a vocal one around town, in spite of owning and running one of Dallas' most notable music institutions in the past decade. Last Beat, for whatever reason, always held the middle ground in the scene--both the label and the recording studio were respected but never huge, and the reputation for its rehearsal spaces (which have also been cleared) was the kind of thing known only among musicians.
After the studio's record label arm turned stone cold in 2003, the recording side of LB seemed on the up-and-up thanks to a tremendous acquisition--an SSL recording console from Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, the kind of central rig that savvy engineers could really appreciate.
Now, Rik Emmett is appreciating it--the guitarist from Triumph (yes, you read that right, the Canadian rock band from the '70s) purchased the console to install in a recording studio in his native northern land. The rest of the gear has been picked up by various hands around town, including the illustrious Stuart Sikes (his LB purchases were what tipped me off in the first place).
So when did LB start falling apart? Halbert points to two events--in October 2005, Barrett fired chief engineer Paul Williams. "It was pretty much mutually beneficial," the former LB main man told me in an October interview before blurting this cryptic tidbit: "All I'll say is, I was basically stabbed in the back by a liar." He refused to specify anything further, but what is known for sure is that Barrett never hired another engineer to take his place, which leads to the second event--Barrett's Dallas departure.
"A big part of it is Caron has moved [to Hawaii]," Halbert says. "It's harder for her to oversee it, to be around while things are going on day-to-day. You really have to have the right people in place to keep something like that running."
Some have seen LB's closure as another sign of bad times in Deep Ellum, while others blame the changing world of recording--"The home studio has taken a bite," Williams says. "People are choosing cheapness over quality. They just don't want to spend the money." But Bass Propulsion Laboratories, just outside of Deep Ellum, had to open a third studio room because owners Todd and Toby Pipes were declining recording requests for their booked-solid schedules. Nearby competitor Deep Audio Studios, opened by the Boys Named Sue's Scotty Tecce in early 2006, has seen brisk business in its short lifespan as well.
But that local demand for high-quality recording doesn't necessarily mean LB will be reborn as a studio. Halbert says that a sale of the building has either been completed or is in the final stages, though he couldn't confirm much more: "She's not letting anyone know because the contract hasn't been signed yet." To that, we bid LB an equally vague "aloha."