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Arts

Duane Lundy’s Crossfade Moment

At first blush, it looks like a regular house, albeit a large and imposing one, but nothing externally gives the casual observer any indication of what takes place inside. The cinder blocks under the porch bear the dark stains of benign neglect. A small parking area might as well be a standard driveway for multiple occupants. There is no sign to denote the home of Shangri-La Productions, the local recording studio where a man by the name of Duane Lundy plies his trade.

Photo by Brian Powers

This is probably for the better. Lundy is not the sort of man to call attention to himself, despite a career that has seen an extraordinary ascending trajectory from home recording hobbyist to respected producer and collaborator, locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. That career may reach a new milestone on September 15th, when a new album by former Beatle Ringo Starr will hit the shelves (both digitally and analog…ly). On that album are two collaborations between Starr and local/national act Vandaveer, with Duane Lundy credited as the producer for both. Is this his moment?

Sitting half off a small set of steps behind the house on a sunny July day, Lundy is attired in black Converse All-Stars, black jeans, a black shirt with round Lennon sunglasses folded into the collar, and his trademark black fedora, a portrait of unflappable cool in the unyielding heat. The sense one gets is not that he’s trying to stand out so much as that he’s just outside his natural habitat.  Once he retreats into the sparsely lit confines of his home cum studio, his uniform makes more sense against the backdrop of a space designed to summon creative energies.

Photo By Brian Powers

Shangri-La Productions is not your average studio. The studio itself is a creative reimaging of the first floor of a large Victorian house. Where bespoke studios have a master control room and carefully divided spaces for enhanced sound isolation, Shangri-La favors a connected set of open rooms for collaboration, with all controls as the focus of what might have once been a magnificent sitting room with a fire place. The only “studio” decoration staples are the large oriental rugs adorning the hardwood floors, but everywhere hang bolts of various patterns of shimmering cloth and strings of white lights, giving an aura of comfort, and at times resembling a carnival. Vintage keyboards, amps, drums and guitars line the walls and halls. The atmosphere is immensely inviting to musicians, and that is by design.

“The pieces of work that I grew up on and studied a lot on were Zeppelin albums and U2 albums and Bob Dylan albums,” Lundy says. “Most of those albums were done in alternative spaces, you know, like [The] Joshua Tree, or Zeppelin albums in particular, Exile on Main Street… so I really found a lot of romanticism with the idea of being able to create a unique space that people felt comfortable in that was lived in, and also that it was a little bit sort of out of the template.”

If his studio aesthetic took cues from his favorite albums, his work process gained inspiration closer to home: Lundy’s former life as a tennis coach. That’s where he met Emily Hagihara, currently of Lexington staple Ancient Warfare, and formerly of Chico Fellini, a standout of the Lexington scene in which Lundy played guitar. At the time, however, she was a high school student taking tennis lessons where Lundy worked, and she believes that his experiences as a coach informs the way he approaches recording.

“He’s very much a coach, in a way,” Hagihara says. “He makes you feel welcome, and he encourages you to explore, but also makes you focus.”

Emily Hagihara | Photo by Cassie Lopez

“I know that I’ve gone into the studio several times and second-guessed a thing, and he just sort of makes you concentrate on doing that thing until it either works or it doesn’t. He’s just very pragmatic.”

Hagihara is part of Lundy’s increasing repertoire of consistent collaborators for mutual benefit. Her long musical history with Lundy has led to a harmonious working relationship over the past ten years or so.

“He likes, as well as I do, things that are a little rough around the edges, but I think we also like the juxtaposition or the marriage of those things that are rough but also beautiful, and figuring out how to make those two things work together,” Hagihara says.

The Lexington artist and songwriter Patrick McNeese, whose band has recorded several projects at Shangri La and is now in the process of another, credits Lundy for influencing the direction of the music scene in Lexington. “Writing a song, in many ways, is simply an invitation for other artists to contribute to the creation of a fully developed and engaging work of art. Duane is foremost another artist, one who understands this intricate and highly personal process and he has been able to develop the skills and temperament to achieve a consistently good outcomes in his studio. This is his unparalleled contribution to Lexington’s music and recording landscape.”

Patrick McNeese | Photo by Rebecca Powell

Lundy’s journey to his current role as Lexington’s music shaman took a circuitous route, with him getting a much later start than most music lifers.

“I was twenty-two and had never played an instrument before, and had always loved music,” Lundy says. “So, in starting late, I was pretty certain that being in a band or playing with other musicians that were my age was not going to be a possibility. So at the same time I got my first guitar, I also got a four-track [recorder].” 

Learning to play music alongside absorbing the fundamentals of recording allowed Lundy to gain an understanding of music from the perspective of writing and production, rather than just as a musician.

“I ended up learning really quick, which I think had a lot to do with just sort of my obsession with music,” Lundy says, “So I ended up being in bands within the first, I’d say, six months that I was starting to play.” 

For Lundy, learning to be a musician was great…

“But I really loved recording,” Lundy says.

Photo by Brian Powers

Later, after a business venture with his ex-wife ended, Lundy was at a crossroads, a not uncommon place for musicians to find themselves (see Johnson, Robert, or Clapton, Eric). It was then that his burgeoning hobby began to take shape as a career.

“A really good friend of mine who had actually taught me how to play guitar had moved from Lexington to Miami to become a music supervisor at an ad agency. So he would send me work, and that really was a pretty big crossfade* moment in my development from being sort of a local or regional recordist to doing stuff that was going to reach a more critical ear,” Lundy says.

From there, Lundy’s career as a recording engineer, mixer and producer took off, handling commercial work for various media platforms, work that saw him travel to studios nationally and internationally, honing his skills.

“There were moments where I contemplated moving to an industry market –  be it Nashville, or Los Angeles…New York. Wherever…the work is a bit more plentiful.” 

In the end, Lexington remained home, largely due to family considerations: his son, 17, and his daughter, 15, who both reside in the area.

Here’s the part where it would be easy to now try to paint Lundy as a martyr, an outsized talent duty-bound to lead a life less fitting than his skills deserve, but it’s all but impossible to nail him to that particular cross.  He doesn’t disseminate an air of self-pity or remorse for the path that he could have taken if only he could shake these little town blues; he can state matter-of-factly that Lexington is not entirely ideal as an industry town, but there’s never a sense of bitterness or confinement.

“I love Lexington,” Lundy says, and there’s not a single note of hesitation. “It has certainly created a set of challenges for me geographically, because, you know, there’s really no infrastructure of industry – music industry – here.” 

He could be a fixture in an industry-driven town, but Lundy credits the disconnect from the larger industry as a motivation for his success; he is less susceptible to trends and stagnation than if he were tapped directly in to the industry undercurrent.

“Not being in an industry town, being in a place like this, I really don’t know what the latest way that guys in Nashville are miking their drum kits,” Lundy says. ”But I like it. I think naivety is immensely important in keeping your creative flow interesting and productive.”

Lexington, however, is slowly accumulating industry credibility, if not music infrastructure, and it’s due in large part to Lundy and Shangri-La, as J. Tom Hnatow, a recording engineer, producer and musician at Shangri-La and member of Vandaveer, points out.

J. Tom Hnatow | Photo: Lithophyte

“It’s put Lexington on the map,” Hnatow says. “There’s been a level of recognition nationally and internationally. This city has been able to punch above its weight.”

Hnatow speaks from experience on that point, having been lured from more urban centers to Lexington by Lundy with the promise of work at Shangri La.

“As a professional musician, I would have not seen myself moving to Lexington if not for Duane.” 

As proof of Lundy’s expanding influence, Hnatow points to figures such as Justin Craig, who came up as a session player with Lundy and has since worked on Broadway as Music Director for “Hedwig and the Angry Itch,” among other high-profile projects.

“In Lexington, the number of people here working as a session musician is unusual for a city this size.”

The list of Lexington figures now achieving some sort of recognition on a national stage and beyond who have worked with Lundy is growing daily: Cheyenne Mize, Ben Sollee, Jim James of Louisville heroes My Morning Jacket and even newly-minted Grammy Award winner Sturgill Simpson, whose former band Sunday Valley recorded an album with Lundy before Simpson went solo.

After watching others ascend to new heights with a little help from his guidance, the spotlight may soon be focused more brightly on Lundy himself. Production credit for two cuts on a Ringo Starr album surely should bring attention to Lundy and his work, yet he downplays the suggestion that this a watershed moment for him, noting that he’s worked with legacy artists** such as Cheap Trick and others in the past. When pressed, he’ll admit to a degree of validation in the work, but he isn’t looking for the trappings of musical fame. Instead, Lundy frames his circumspect take on musical stardom with characteristic pragmatism.

“I love music to a degree that I wanted to continue to do it professionally, and I saw this as a means to continue to do it,” Lundy says. “And it just so happened I fell in love with doing it.”

“I really like what I do, and I like to think that I’ll spend the rest of my life doing it.  And that people will enjoy the time that we’ve had to work together and the people who get to listen to it, whoever that is, will enjoy what we did. No more, no less.”

‘If I reach a point to where it’s not fun anymore, then I won’t do it. Because there’s other things that you can do and make less sacrifice for.” 

Duane Lundy doesn’t need to be a rock star. He’s not jealous of the ascendency of those with whom he has collaborated. He’s content as the black-clad figure at the controls in his own personal Shangri-La, radiating calm in the center of Lexington’s growing musical storm.

*For those unaccustomed to the recording lexicon, a crossfade is a transition between sound clips, where one clip fades out as another fades in.

**A professional way of saying “rock star.”

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Arts

Homage to a Hot Burrito

I cried. Big old alligator tears. A few songs into the Hot Burrito Show, a Sunday afternoon mainstay for scores of Lexingtonians, former Lexingtonians and others who somehow or another heard about this great radio show broadcast by WRFL from the University of Kentucky campus, John Fogle mentioned that the Hot Burrito Show would air its final program at the end of August.

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Like a number of other listeners who cherished our Sunday afternoon twang, alt-country, and Americana music, I scrambled for my phone and called the station as soon as John played the next song. Nothing but a busy signal. Tried again with the same result. The Burritoid nation was blitzing the station with calls to learn whether we had heard correctly. Turning to social media, I began seeing the posts expressing grief and sadness that the show was coming to an end, that Sunday afternoons would never be the same, that one of the best radio programs to ever hit the air would be no more.

For many it felt like a dear friend had announced a terminal disease with a scant month to live.

The remaining shows were to be cherished, celebrated through a veil of tears – both of sorrow at what would soon end, and of joy at the music that had been shared for twenty-five years.

The Hot Burrito Show had weathered many changes, disc jockeys who had shared the microphone with Rob Franklin prior to John Fogle had moved on as their lives and careers took them outside the Bluegrass and far from WRFL’s reach. The show had nearly been cancelled in 2004, but an outcry from dedicated listeners had kept the program in its usual slot even though it was reduced from a three hour slot to two. But those two hours were pure gold.

Needless to say listeners tuned in to the Hot Burrito Show noon to 2 PM for the following three weeks while some visited the WRFL studios bearing gifts, warm wishes, and fond farewells.

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a beer and conversation with Rob and John at Break Room in the Pepper Distillery campus after they had both had a week to decompress from all of the emotional farewells and fond wishes.

As an avid Burritoid, a term coined by John shortly after he began co-hosting the show, it was surprising to learn that the Hot Burrito grew out of the White Lightning Show hosted by Steve Holland, a former professor of economics at UK.

Just prior to Steve leaving around 1990, Rob showed up with a crate full of records and a love for music. The name was changed, and the Hot Burrito Show hit the Lexington airwaves, or at least the airwaves inside “the Circle,” the area bounded by New Circle Road, which was about as far as WRFL’s broadcast reached.

Some notable DJ’s shared the microphone with Rob, including Matt Renfro, Bobby Ray, and Michael Campbell. When Michael retired from the show, John likes to tell folks he “won the coveted co-host position over 50+ applicants by playing up the fact that George Jones’ bass player brought me a PBR from the tour bus back when I was the soundman for a honky-tonk in Richmond, Kentucky.” Rob adds, “I had a few people interested but John was my first pick and the only guy for the job! John has a great appreciation for folk, bluegrass and of course-sludge rawk! Nice counterpoint to my affection for country, soul, R&B and pub rock.” They were partners for the next eleven years.

Rob and John have a great rapport, and both are quick to say they’ve never argued or had any bitterness towards one another even though their tastes in music vary dramatically. Rob leans heavily towards Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, and NRBQ while John openly professes his love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, and Shaver. In addition, while Rob went with the flow and felt comfortable with the microphone, John obsessed with preparing the music he played and labored over the details so that he kept to a firm plan and set list. In the end, though, they both appreciate one another and have had a great partnership.

WRFL

Rob and John both hail from Kentucky and grew up listening to country music of the 60’s and 70’s, but at points in their young lives left country music behind and primarily listened to rock until they returned to familiar sounds of home.

One of the linchpins of the Hot Burrito Show has been the music of Gram Parsons, a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Byrds. The show’s tagline, identifying the genre of music played, is a Gram Parson’s quote, “cosmic American music.” Two of Parsons’s most well know songs are titled “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2” for reasons unknown to either John or Rob, but the name clearly evokes a style of music that combines country, rock, soul, and even gospel, much like a burrito includes a variety of ingredients that once combined create a delicious meal. On any given Sunday, listeners might hear anything from Billy Joe Shaver to old REM to Drive-By Truckers to Nick Lowe and all points in between, almost always with the most requested artist John Prine in the mix. Rob’s song list for the last show and John’s song list for his last solo show represent what once captivated dedicated listeners.

Over the years they say they have had great fun, taking requests from “Larry on the Deck” and a host of regular listeners like me, jamming to Shaver, hosting artists like Hayes Carll in studio, and eating pies fans brought to them.

When they turned the tables and asked whose music I liked, I rattled off a couple of mainstay country and Americana or alt-country artists, to which they nodded affirmation, but when I mentioned Jimbo Mathus, they both laughed and said, “You’re the Jimbo Mathus guy!” They also knew me as the Slobberbone guy, the “Bloody Mary Morning” guy, and the “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music” guy. For many listeners calling in a request, talking with Rob and/or John, and hearing their favorite songs played validated tastes in music and built a sense of communion.

During one of their shows years ago, a caller requested that they play a track off of a Sunday Valley album. When they told the caller they didn’t have the album, Sunday Valley’s bass player drove to the studio and gave them a copy. They played the request. At the time few had heard of Sturgill Simpson, the front man for Sunday Valley. The Americana Music Association just awarded him as Best Artist.

Without a doubt the living, breathing DJ’s like Rob and John who love music and appreciate other music fans earned the Hot Burrito Show a loyal following who placed Rob on a “Best DJ of Lexington” list when their broadcast was basically limited to downtown Lexington.

Now that they have left the airwaves they say they look forward to continuing to listen to local bands, especially the likes of Warren Byrom, Chris Sullivan, Bear Medicine, and Rebel Without a Cause, as well as tuning in to WRFL’s Honky Tonk Happy Hour, Asleep at the Wheel, Neverland Ballroom, and the Pacobilly Hour (WRFL Broadcast Schedule). They also sing the praises of Steve Holland’s Rolling with the Flow on uwave.fm saying that he is the one that started it all and never ceases to satisfy. In fact, Steve has enlisted Rob to be his new music consultant.

In many ways dedicated listeners of the Hot Burrito Show regret that Sundays now seem a little less like Sunday and miss the music that brought joy into their lives, but like me, and like John and Rob, they will seek out “cosmic American music” whether old or new and wish John and Rob the best. Now that the curtains have closed, I’d like to dedicate “Plastic Silver Nine Volt Heart” to Rob and John and all of the other Hot Burrito Show DJ’s for being our friends on the air.

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