• Melissa Thom

The Record Plant

The history of the legendary Sausalito music studio


The Record Plant Studios, Sausalito. Credit: Melissa Thom

Shoots and mugshots


It’s been a nearly a year since landing in the U.S.


One of the things about launching your career in a new country, is sorting all your comms, including updated head shots. I hate this particular bit. Put me in a room in front of 10,000 people and I’m happy to host, but stick me in front of a stills camera, ask me to strike a smile, and I look as wooden as a Mark Wahlberg performance in Michael Bay’s Transformers.


Lucky for me, our neighbours happen to be blindingly brilliant professional photographers. Heaving a sigh of relief when they offered to do the shoot as a favour, we booked it for the very next day.


I’ve been running a fair bit since I arrived in San Francisco, and at the bottom of my road is an old building I’ve always liked the look of. I fast-walk past it as often as I can. And it is by this very building we end up doing the shoot — it’s the wooden edifice here you can see in the background of my shots. You can see the original image on www.melissathom.me, but for the purpose of this piece, I’ve tweaked it to bring out my softer side:



Some fine records


The hook of my headshots unveils a much more interesting story. Turns out the building is known as The Record Plant, where many many well-known artists have recorded, including Prince (who laid down his very first album, For You here, playing all 27 instruments), Van Morrison, Tracy Chapman, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Patti Smith and The Grateful Dead.

Actor, Mark Wahlberg, pops up again in his early days, recording ‘Good Vibrations’ as part of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Remember this 1991 classic?!



Later known as The Plant, with other set-ups in New York and LA, many big names cut records here, including Fleetwood Mac recording Rumours, released in 1977. It has sold over 40 million copies (although the story goes that after many hours’ recording at The Plant, they actually ended up using material recorded elsewhere on the final album).


On a recent trip to California, Mick Fleetwood dropped by to visit the place where they became a super-band, and was horrified to find it shuttered (terrible quality video, but you get the drift):



Music, waterbeds and giant red lips


Legend has it that the studios were adapted for each visiting band. And in true style, debauchery oozed from every pore of the living wooden building. On Halloween night in 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono walked into The Plant, dressed as trees — totally normal behaviour to me — we could all use a bit of fancy dress each day to lighten the mental load.


The Huffington Post reports that it held a reputation as a ‘place with a laid-back vibe with various perks, including a room with a waterbed floor, top-quality recording equipment and a bizarre, futuristic windowless room dubbed “The Pit”, where artists could record vocals under the covers in a lofted bed surrounded by a giant set of bright red lips’.


The story goes that ‘The Pit’ was built for Sly Stone, who spent so much time there, that he needed a personal living space. The big red lips were an homage to his grin.


Tiny Telephone saves the Neve 8068


Turns out the mixing console at The Plant is a pretty rare thing. Immortalised by Dave Grohl in his 2013 documentary Sound City, it’s actually 2 consoles welded together. Local songwriter and producer, John Vanderslice, snapped it up for his new Tiny Telephone studio location in Oakland. San Francisco magazine wrote a wonderful piece on this, which detailed the move of the console:

John Vanderslice and his rescued Neve 8068 from The Plant Studios. Credit: By kind permission of Jason Lecras

‘Measuring 12 feet long and weighing more than 1,100 pounds, the beast (which Vanderslice bought for a tidy $165,000) required 14 movers and a 45-foot box truck to be hauled down from the North Bay. Vanderslice and a team of specialists spent the next two years repairing and rewiring it before they could fire it up and record their first session’.


A decent cuppa


As I saunter past The Plant each day, I smile at the shenanigans that took place there, and only wish I could have made the tea. I guess the only thing that ever came close, was working the Green Room at Colston Hall in Bristol when I got back from a year in India around 2005 (although the after-hours partying was shamefully non-existent).


It was here that Daniel O’Donnell offloaded one of his many fans’ bouquets onto me because he’d already amassed a giant pile of florals; and where Whitesnake dived into deep discussion on the provenance of my cashmere sweater. But I did make a damn fine brew.


Sadly, The Record Plant shut down in 2008, and is now derelict. So in memory of these great stories, I leave you with a playlist of some of the records that were made in this very building, right at the bottom of my road.


Turn it up, and play it LOUD!


The Plant Recording Studio Playlist



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