MIKE CLARK, 63, OWNER/MANAGER OF ATLANTA'S SOUTHERN TRACKS RECORDING
Mike Clark, owner and manager of Southern Tracks Recording, died at home on Thursday, February 1, 2007, after an 8-month illness. Under Mike's direction, Southern Tracks has become one of the most successful recording facilities in Atlanta's history, a studio of world reknown. Southern Tracks has contributed to the combined sales of over forty million albums. Since 1984, of the fewer than 300 albums to have charted No. 1 debuts at Billboard magazine, Mike's studio has recorded or mixed twelve of them.
Mike was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1999. Along with Ludacris, Organized Noize Productions and Trisha Yearwood, he is scheduled to become a 2007 Recording Academy Honors Award Recipient from the Grammy organization, The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), to be presented by the Atlanta Chapter of the Recording Academy on April 26.
Born Charles Michael Clark on December 13, 1943 in Atlanta, Mike attended Joel
Chandler Harris Elementary School in the Atlanta community of West End, where he began playing drums in the 5th Grade. He was a member of the prestigious West End Elementary Band, featuring outstanding players chosen from grammar schools in the area.
After a bout with Non-Paralytic Polio in the summer of 1956, Mike Clark enrolled at Atlanta's Brown High School. One of his schoolmates at Brown was a singer named Tommy Roe, with whom he formed a combo, Tommy Roe and The Satins. In 1958, their single, "I Got A Girl," was recorded at music publisher Bill Lowery's studio, which in those days was an old schoolhouse equipped with a Gates Radio Console and a simple two-track tape deck. Lowery pitched Roe's song to Judd Phillips (brother of Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records who had discovered Elvis Presley), and it became a regional hit for the Memphis label, Judd Records. This was the beginning of Mike Clark's association with Bill Lowery, which lasted four decades until Lowery's death in 2004.
Mike graduated from high school in 1962, the year that Tommy Roe had his first
million-seller with "Sheila." As Roe's drummer, he toured with Dick Clark's
Caravan of Stars, which remained an unforgettable experience for him. The legendary package tour was headlined by Sam Cooke, and it featured every top R & B act from the period: The Drifters; Jerry Butler; Solomon Burke; Little Eva; Smoky Robinson and The Miracles, who were having their national breakthrough with "Shop Around."
During the Sixties, Mike was in demand around Atlanta as a studio session
drummer. He played in most of city's popular clubs including The Sans Souci,
The Domino, and The Darlington Lounge. He backed up Freddie
Cannon ("Palisades Park") at Ponce de Leon Ball Park, the now-demolished home
of the historic Atlanta Crackers. On the road, he briefly toured with Roy Orbison. He jammed with Liza Minelli at Miami Beach's famous Peppermint Lounge. He worked dates with Ray Stevens' touring group that on occasion included both Jerry Reed and Joe South.
In 1966, Bill Lowery asked Mike to work at the Lowery Music Company. (Lowery Music would be named BMI's #1 publisher in 1969.). In a short time, Mike was elevated to National Director of Promotion. By day, he promoted records; at night, he did session work at The Old Schoolhouse, playing drums on successful tracks by the Classics IV ("Traces"), Billy Joe Royal ("Cherry Hill Park") and Lou Christie. At the same time, Mike flew out on weekends for national dates with Billy Joe Royal. By the early Seventies, the demanding schedule had become overwhelming. He gradually withdrew from steady roadwork, though he continued to hold down his job at the publishing company. Mike eventually persuaded Bill Lowery to let him begin producing records, a move which led to success in 1975-76 with Starbuck's hit "Moonlight Feels Right." Later in the decade, Mike left behind his promotional responsibilities to become Lowery's Administrative Assistant, overseeing two label deals with Capitol and MGM Records, licensing masters to record companies and working with new songwriters.
By 1979, Mike was now managing the old schoolhouse studio. He co-engineered two Grammy-nominated albums for the Atlanta Pops Orchestra. Under Clark's watch, the studio cut Bertie Higgens' surprise 1981 hit,"Key Largo." When Atlanta's rapid transit system, MARTA, acquired the old schoolhouse property in 1983, Bill and Mike moved their headquarters to the current Northeast Atlanta site. The new studio, Southern Tracks Recording, was built from the ground up and designed by George Augspurger as a single-room facility. At first, it was used primarily for Lowery's stable of songwriters and artists.
Beginning in 1986, Mike managed and produced the Contemporary Christian band,
Newsong, whose "Arise, My Love" has become a standard in the field of
Contemporary Christian Music. Then, in 1988, Bill Lowery and Mike formed an
official studio partnership, and the modern era of Southern Tracks Recording began. They opened the studio to the public, purchasing new equipment that included a Solid State Logic (SSL) recording console. Under Mike's management, Southern Tracks began turning out platinum albums by Silk, Keith Sweat and Another Bad Creation.
In 1989, a young local engineer/producer named Brendan O'Brien began bringing his projects into the studio; by 1993, having established himself on the West Coast as one of the
decade's most important producers of American Alternative Rock (Red Hot Chili Peppers;
Pearl Jam; Stone Temple Pilots), O'Brien relocated to his Atlanta home and made Southern Tracks his base of operations. Mike immediately purchased the first SSL Ultimation console in the South and, with the addition of an arsenal of vintage microphones and electronic gear, he transformed Southern Tracks into a recording facility of world reknown. Things had come a long way from the day in 1958 when Tommy Roe and Mike had cut their first record on a little two-track machine and Gates Radio Console.
Since that time, guided by Mike Clark, Southern Tracks record of success became extraordinary. The list of rock, country, Rap and R & B artists who tracked or mixed at the Atlanta studio in the 90's included Pearl Jam, Black Crowes, Keith Sweat, Stone Temple Pilots, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Rage Against The Machine, Matthew Sweet, .38 Special, Kansas, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Silk, LSG, Doug Stone, Travis Tritt, Indigo Girls, Another Bad Creation, and Outkast. The studio worked on soundtrack albums for "Godzilla", "Dumb & Dumber", "Money Talks", "The Bevis & Butthead Experience", the "Friends" TV soundtrack, and the two "Crow" movies. Mike returned to studio work in 1997, co-producing the Dove Award's Album Of The Year Nominee, Newsong's "Love Revolution".
In the 21st Century, Southern Tracks Recording has continued to set a unique standard. A crowning achievement of Mike's career, Bruce Springsteen visited the studio in 2002 to record his monumental return album with The E Street Band, The Rising, as well as his solo disc from 2005, Devils and Dust, both with Brendan O'Brien as producer. Train has recorded three albums at Southern Tracks including their multi-platinum single, "Drops of Jupiter". The Wallflowers and Third Day made their most recent discs at Southern Tracks, and up-and-coming rockers The Bravery cut their forthcoming disc here in Summer/Fall, 2006.
With over six decades of experience, Mike Clark became closely identified with Southern Tracks Recording and with the music business, which he loved. However, he had many outside interests including a passion for collecting historical antiquities and raising horses with his wife Melissa on their Forsyth County farm. He is survived by his wife Melissa, his children Courtney, Chris, Payton, Robyn and Travis, and his brother, Randy.