Visit Ardent Studios: Home to Big Star, The White Stripes and More

Sure you’ve heard of Sun Studio, the famous single-room studio in downtown Memphis where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins got their start. You’ve undoubtedly heard tales of Stax Records, the funky and soulful label that produced Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & the M.G’s.  But have you heard of Ardent? Though less of a household name, Ardent Studios in Memphis, is where big name bands went to get that tight sound and the place where audio junkies go today to to get their fix. 

The still-active recording studio has produced some of the best music in modern history. Case in point – Big Star, an original Ardent group. Three Big Star albums have been etched onto Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 500 albums of all time

The history of Ardent dates back to John Fry, John King and Fred Smith in the early 1950s. Founded in the Fry family’s converted garage (what used to be his grandmother’s sewing room), the boys loved to tinker with electronics, particularly with radios. The teens sat at the cusp of the cutting edge, buying and building new recording equipment and tinkering with sounds whenever they could. They all had an ear for music and each developed a high appreciation for technical standards. 

Because of their early attention to detail, Ardent caught a lot of Stax’s overflow work (with the volume Stax was producing, their in-house studio couldn’t keep up). Ardent took advantage of this opportunity and the rest is history. 

John King stayed on for a while and later went on to publish a radio magazine. Fred Smith left and started a little known company - Federal Express aka FedEx. 

A skip and a jump later and in 1971 John Fry moved Ardent to its current space located at 2000 Madison Avenue. The early Ardent years recorded Led Zepplin, Sam & Dave, Leon Russell and The Staples Singers.

In the 90s, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., James Taylor, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers and many more passed through the doors of Ardent.  In 1995 Ardent Records launched a Christian rock label with a roster of talent that includes Skillet, Smalltown Poets and Big Tent Revival. All in all, the label has garnered 7 Grammy nominations across 36 albums. 

The past decade has seen much younger artists record at Ardent. Groups like The White Stripes, 3 Doors Down, Cat Power, North Mississippi Allstars, The Raconteurs and Three 6 Mafia have all called Ardent home. 

To date, that little studio founded in grandma’s sewing room has recorded over 70 gold and platinum albums and singles. Not too shabby by Memphis standards.  

For information about touring Ardent, contact the studio through their official website.