VOL. 130 | NO. 15 | Friday, January 23, 2015
Legendary Memphis Studio Has No. 1 Hit With ‘Uptown Funk’
By Andy Meek
The Mark Ronson song “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars has spent a few weeks now in the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The chart-topping Mark Ronson song “Uptown Funk,” featuring Bruno Mars (left), was recorded in Memphis at Royal Studios with producer Boo Mitchell (right).
It’s something Memphis producer and Royal Studios owner Boo Mitchell is especially proud to see, since the chart-topping track was recorded in Memphis at his studio.
Ronson, in fact, recorded most of his “Uptown Special” album at Royal after a trip to look for singing talent with producer Jeff Bhasker led them to the Memphis studio. Ronson, Mars and a large cast of top musical talent soon decided to hole up at Royal, which was built as a theater in 1915 and converted into Royal Studios in 1957, becoming the home of Hi Records and the Hi Rhythm Section.
A long list of top musical talent has actually recorded with Mitchell at Royal over the past few years, including Elton John, Robert Plant, Snoop Dogg and more.
Much of it happened as Mitchell has toured the country and the world promoting the Memphis-music documentary “Take Me to the River,” which he co-produced with the North Mississippi Allstars’ Cody Dickinson.
Artists also want to work with Royal because of the studio’s legacy. Under Mitchell’s father, Willie Mitchell, Royal played a major role in elevating the Memphis soul sound, producing recordings from the likes of Al Green and Ann Peebles, among others.
In fact, Royal Studios remains one of the oldest continually operated recording studios in the world and continues to host gold and platinum selling artists.
Ronson’s recently-released album included session work with names like Kevin Parker of the band Tame Impala, as well as Trombone Shorty and Mystikal. The song “Uptown Funk” also has another Memphis connection – Rev. Kenneth Whalum’s son Kameron plays trombone for Mars and can be heard on the track.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, who contributed lyrics to the album, also spent time at Royal.
“Man, it was like – I knew it was going to be a masterpiece during the recordings, because the music was just so different and had so much energy,” Mitchell tells The Daily News. “Bruno actually wrote a lot of ‘Uptown Funk’ at Royal. And Mark, he’s a genius, musically. He knows exactly what he wants. He’s an accomplished musician and an excellent engineer, too.
“The first time they came was I believe in early February (2014). They were coming looking for talent. I think Jeff had this idea of let’s rent a car and drive through the South, looking for people that can sing.”
Mitchell recalls Mars recording his vocals in a control room at Royal on a Shure SM57, a microphone that Mitchell says costs around $100.
“We tried him in the vocal booth on the really nice mike, but he was like, ‘I want to get the vibe of all the guys around me – can we do it in the control room?’” Mitchell recalls. “Which just goes to show – you can get some great stuff from inexpensive equipment.”