What do Needtobreathe, Shinedown, Crowfield, the Working Title, and Jump Little Children all have in common? They’ve all recorded at Rick Beato’s Black Dog Sound Studios in Stone Mountain, Ga., which has become something of a go-to session spot for some of the Holy City’s best.
Beato, a classically trained musician with a love of Zeppelin and Floyd, first started recording bands back in 1995 after a career playing in various acts and teaching jazz classes up at colleges in New York. “I always had more fun making records than being in the band and doing gigs and touring,” Beato says. “The production process was more of a natural fit for my personality.”
His journey began at Tree Sound, another Atlanta recording studio. Eventually, he added a 4,000 square-foot addition to his Stone Mountain home. Alongside his right-hand man Ken Lanyon, Beato began booking Atlanta acts. “It’s been 13 years now and hundreds of projects later. I think we work as a great team,” Lanyon says. “I engineer and Rick produces, and the bands seem to appreciate the division of labor rather than one guy taking on all roles.”
The pair began seeking out clients in Atlanta and elsewhere. Eventually, they came in contact with Johnny Diamond, a dearly beloved mover and shaker in the Charleston music scene. Diamond was always on the hunt for new, undiscovered Holy City acts, a trait that Beato admired. “He found all the new bands that were good, helped promote them, and he was just a really unique person in that he had incredibly great ears. He could hear bands in their infancy and know they were something. He was better than any A&R person I know,” Beato says. “If Johnny said a band was great, they were great.”
On many occasions, Diamond’s discoveries were sent Beato’s way. “If he wasn’t directly involved with bringing the bands to work with me, there was a peripheral involvement,” Beato explains.
Joel Hamilton’s old band the Working Title was the first Charleston group to come to the studio, and that had a domino effect. After the Working Title recorded at Black Dog in 2002 and then signed to Universal, Skin Tight followed in 2003: Skin Tight drummer Eric Rickert now runs Ocean Industries Studios in Charleston. Then Owen Beverly, now of Brooklyn-based French Camp, recorded Drunk Lover in October of that same year, and Jump Little Children followed in 2004 with Between the Dim and the Dark (former Jump frontman Jay Clifford now runs Hello Telescope alongside Slow Runner’s Josh Kaler). Holy City resident Eric Bass, formerly of the Deepfield, came to Black Dog to record a five-song EP in 2004 as well. Around that same time Florida’s Shinedown stopped by. Beato co-wrote a few songs on the Jacksonville-based band’s first album, and he helped to establish a connection between Eric Bass and Shinedown’s Brent Smith. That connection, in turn, later led the band to invite Bass, the co-founder of Ocean Industries, to join the band.
Charleston-based Christian rock band Needtobreathe also recorded a few of their discs at Black Dog Sound, as did the now-defunct Holy City act Crowfield, which recorded all three of their albums at the Stone Mountain studio. Crowfield was also the first band signed to Beato and Diamond’s 10 Star Records. Recently, Beato has worked with Adalya.
“Charleston’s been a real gold mine. There have been so many great bands. It’s really remarkable for a city of that size. I’m not sure why, either,” Beato says. “I’ve had about 250 bands in the studio in the past 15 years from all around the world, but out of my top five artists I’ve worked with, four of them have come from Charleston.”
Sadly, Beato’s partner in 10 Star Records died in 2010. Over 500 people attended Diamond’s funeral, most of them musicians he had nurtured over the years. “If that doesn’t say anything about what kind of person Johnny was, I don’t know what does. Everyone has a Johnny Diamond story and many of them,” Beato says.
Even though Black Dog Sound no longer has Diamond as its Chucktown liaison, Beato has made lasting connections to the Holy City that are sure to continue. What keeps artists coming back is still somewhat of a mystery, but we’re guessing that Beato must be doing something right.