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Minneapolis' Sound 80 studio lands on National Register of Historic Buildings

Herb Pilhofer at Sound 80 in 1971/ Star Tribune file

Herb Pilhofer at Sound 80 in 1971/ Star Tribune file

Sound 80 -- the pioneering south Minneapolis studio where Bob Dylan’s best album, Prince’s crucial demos and the classic “Funkytown” were recorded -- has landed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

The 49-year-old building, 2709 E. 25th St., was the premier recording facility in the Twin Cities in the 1970s.

In December 1974, Dylan re-recorded five of the songs on “Blood on the Tracks” at Sound 80. Prince recorded some of his demos there circa 1976 that led to his contract with Warner Bros. In 1979, Steven Greenberg cut “Funkytown,” the first No. 1 tune recorded in Minnesota, at Sound 80 with singer Cynthia Johnson and engineer/producer David Rivkin.

Cat Stevens, Dave Brubeck and Kiss did sessions there as did Twin Cities guitar star Leo Kottke. Other local acts, including Michael Johnson, Willie & the Bees and Yanni, spent time in Sound 80.

The studio was involved in the first Grammy for a digital audio recording. In 1979, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra earned the prize for best chamber orchestra recording, featuring the works of Aaron Copland and Charles Ives, made at the Minneapolis studio.

Sound 80 was founded by composer/pianist Herb Pilhofer and engineer Tom Jung. Since 1990, the building has been home to Orfield Labs, which boasts "the quietest place on Earth," according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Steve Orfield enlisted Kristen Zschomler, an historian/archaeologist with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, to handle the extensive paperwork and red tape for the historic designation. She connected with Orfield while doing research into places where Prince worked and lived.

Done on her personal time, Zschomler’s four-year deep dive into Prince has led to documentation but not designation of some Purple sites in Minneapolis.

What does that mean?

"No formal historic determination has been made on most of the properties I identified to date," Zchomler said. "The document gives future researchers the needed background and criteria to evaluate properties in the future." 

However, she said her paperwork filed with the national register has identified places that if threatened by a developer, they could be protected as “significant property.”

The only place officially certified as historic is Prince's childhood home, 2620 8th Ave. N., Minneapolis. She added that First Avenue meets the criteria but its owner must apply for formal recognition. 

To Zschomler’s to-do list, add Kay Bank Studios, now Creation Audio.

While Sound 80 was significant and can now put up a plaque to prove it, another Minneapolis recording studio is older and perhaps more historic. Opened in 1953 by University of Minnesota electrical engineering grad Bruce Swedien in a 1914-built movie theater at 2541 Nicollet Av.S., Kay Bank is famous for the 1960s hits “Six Days on the Road” by Wisconsin’s Dave Dudley and “Surfin’ Bird” by the Twin Cities’ own Trashmen.

During Swedien’s tenure there, he recorded jazz stars Herbie Mann and Art Blakey as well as such locals as polka faves Six Fat Dutchmen, jazz pianist/singer Jeanne Arland Peterson and the Herb Pilhofer Octet. (After moving to Los Angeles, Swedien would later achieve Grammy-winning renown as the engineer on Michael Jackson’s and Quincy Jones’ biggest projects.)

Kay Bank was where Bobby Vee cut his first single, “Suzie Baby,” and the Fendermen made “Muleskinner Blues” and the Castaways tracked “Liar Liar.” In the 1980s, the building became home to the influential Twin/Tone Records, where Husker Du, Soul Asylum, the Wallets, the Replacements and others recorded. On the other end of the musical spectrum, choreographer-turned-singer Paula Abdul recorded some of her blockbuster 1988 debut there.

Straight up, tell us: Does the still-vital Kay Bank building warrant historic designation? “Kay Bank should be eligible,” Zschomler said.

Bob Mould announces massive post-Hüsker Dü box sets

Bob Mould rehearsing in his old haunt 7th St. Entry in 2014. / Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

Bob Mould rehearsing in his old haunt 7th St. Entry in 2014. / Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

If you haven’t kept up with Bob Mould’s music career since he quit Hüsker Dü and left Minneapolis at the end of the 1980s, here’s a chance to enjoy it all in one fell swoop.

Mould has announced a sprawling new 24-CD box set and an eight-vinyl LP collection featuring studio albums, outtakes and live recordings from a 30-year span, including the works by his early-‘90s alterna-era power trio Sugar. Titled “Distortion: 1989-2019,” the massive collection will be issued by London-based collector’s label Demon Music Group on Oct. 2, just one week after Mould’s latest album “Blue Hearts” arrives.

The CD box set ($135) features all 18 studio albums, four live recordings and two discs of outtakes from that era -- from his first solo album "Workbook" on up to last year's "Sunshine Rock." For the vinyl lovers, the eight-LP box set ($187) will be sold separately as “Distortion: 1989-1995.” That will also include his second solo albums, “Black Sheets of Rain,” along with all of Sugar’s output and a new compilation of outtakes from that era. The announcement promises three more vinyl box sets next year.

Each set features new liner notes and artwork. The larger collection includes a foreword by mega-fan Fred Armisen and testimonials by Richard Thompson, Shirley Manson and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino. 

A demanding independent music businessman going back to when Hüsker Dü became one of the first underground rock acts to sign with a major label (Warner Bros.) in the mid-‘80s, Mould went through numerous record companies with sometimes contentious results from 1989 on – a fact that makes some of his albums in that timespan hard to find, including on digital platforms. He finally settled into a fruitious alliance in the 2010s with Merge Records and has since pounded out five albums with his well-cemented bandmates Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster, counting the new one due Sept. 25.

Here’s how Mould explained his new bundle of mostly less-than-joyful rock in a statement:

“It’s called 'Distortion' because it describes the music and it fits the world we live in. In this new age, everybody shares their life in real time. But I’m not done yet. If I didn't have a constantly active career, this anthology might feel like the proverbial dirt landing on top of my coffin — though somehow I seem to be able to crawl my way out of the dirt every time!”

Speaking of digging up the buried past, here’s a 2005 live version of “Could You Be the One?” featured in “Distortion,” recorded when Mould first started performing Hüsker Dü songs again with his live bands. The label also made up a cool promo trailer to tout the new collections.

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