In the Studio: Black Stone Cherry with David Barrick

The making of Black Stone Cherry's album Kentucky
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Heavy metal band Black Stone Cherry have come full-circle: After 15 years in the business, this close-knit group have come home to make their latest album, Kentucky, with engineer/studio owner David Barrick, who also tracked their first album.

“Other than us and our parents, nobody knows our music better than David,” says lead guitarist and singer Chris Robertson. “It’s like a family, and he’s part of it.”

Bass player Jon Lawhon and guitarist Ben Wells.
Photos by Rob Fenn
Barrick Recording Studio (Glasgow, Kentucky) is built into a former music shop; Barrick kept much of the store’s footprint and vibe intact, installing recording rooms on the main floor, and a control room below, to achieve good isolation.

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As they have since forming in 2001, the members of Black Stone Cherry—Robertson, drummer John Fred Young, bass player Jon Lawhon, and guitarist Ben Wells—write songs en masse, often capturing ideas to Logic on the tour bus. They go into recording sessions with solid song structures, but arrangements really develop live in the studio.

“If there’s a magic moment on guitar or bass, we try to keep that, but we generally are just trying to get the best drum performance we can at first,” Robertson explains.

Young’s kit was situated in Barrick’s drum room, miked with a Shure Beta 52 inside the kick and an Audix D6 outside. “I like to have a good stereo mic in front of the drums, eight feet away, down low to the floor” Barrick adds. “We used a Telefunken AR70, and that picked up a lot of body.”

Barrick used Shure SM57s on snare top and bottom, and three Audio-Technica 4033 overheads, above the cymbals. “It worked best in this case to have three—center, left, and right,” he says. “On the hi-hat and the ride we had AKG 451 pencil mics, and for toms I had the Heil P30. Those Heil mics are great, because very minimal EQ is needed; you can’t really overdrive them, but they’re very open-sounding.”

Other instrument parts are approached in a fluid but organized fashion: A specific guitar solo may inspire a new drum lick, or vice versa, and the band needs the freedom to go wherever a song leads them. So, Barrick and the band put together a grid, showing every potential part for every song that might go on the album, and they tick parts off as they get done.

David Barrick is at his workstation while frontman Chris Robertson plays.
Photos by Rob Fenn
“It’s overwhelming at the beginning of a session when you have 18 songs on that chart and no check marks,” Barrick says. “But there’s something satisfying about adding the check marks.”

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With that system in place, Barrick is free to focus on creative sonics: “We concentrated on making sure the tones were just right for each particular song,” he says. “It wasn’t a set-it-and-leave-it type of situation. You get more variety when you say, ‘This song is really heavy, but let’s try some stuff to make the guitars even bigger than we did on this part,’ or, ‘Let me put some room mics in for the solo.’”

The guitar Robertson played most on the album was a Paul Reed Smith black goldburst 245 with 708 pickups, with a prototype PRS amp that he says is “50 watts of awesomeness,” and which Barrick captured via a close 57 and a Cascade ribbon mic, through one of his Neve 3405 modules. “We also used my Tubetech MP1a tube pre’s. Usually, if I printed a stereo room [mic] with a solo or rhythm [guitar], I would use the MP1a’s on the room mics.”

Robertson likes to sing his deep, growling vocals into an SM7B. “I think it was the same mic we used on their first record,” Barrick says. “It has a forward sound that’s good for their music.”

That said, Barrick used two Telefunken mics to capture acoustic guitar and vocals live, when Robertson sang the last song on the album, “The Rambler.”

“That song really pulls at your heartstrings,” Robertson says. “The majority of the record being heavy, we couldn’t figure out a way not to finish with that. We ended on a totally different note.”