Brian Craddock remembers the first time he ever saw Shep Stacy. Craddock was sitting in a classroom at Albemarle High School, looking at a band that was playing in the courtyard. Playing music during school was a special privilege that was reserved, he says, for only the most well-behaved rockers. An impressionable freshman at the time, Craddock zeroed in on one particularly cool looking senior; a tall guy with long hair and a dangling earring who looked like guitar god Steve Vai. “Man,” he said to himself. “That dude looks awesome!”
Brian Craddock (pictured) and Shep Stacy added to their extensive collection a Gibson guitar that had been purchased from Stacy’s father, the former owner of Stacy’s Music, almost 50 years ago.
The two eventually became friends and played together in two bands: My Dog Lucy and Sickshot. But they took a roundabout approach to their new shared venture: a top-shelf recording studio in a warehouse space on East Market Street. The Cat Room, as it’s called, has been funded by Craddock, a Lake Monticello resident who plays guitar in Daughtry, and will be managed by Stacy, who bought Stacy’s Music from his father 15 years ago.
The duo seems unshaken by the dicey proposition that opening a recording studio in Central Virginia has traditionally been; take, for example, Crystalphonic Studios, the $5 million facility on Grady Avenue that went bankrupt and auctioned much of its equipment in 2007 after four years of operation. For now, the pair doesn’t seem to be sparing any expense. “This is going to be a Pro-Tools studio—no analog here—and we’re running Vintech pre’s, which are Neve clones, using Lexicon outboard stuff, and actually building a console.” To translate: This stuff’s top of the line.
But there is always the question of whether the music community can support at least three recording studios. (Crystalphonic was resurrected as The Sound, and Virginia Arts Recording operates off of Meade Avenue.) Stacy will bring his client base from the small studio he runs in the back room of Stacy’s Music, which has included local acts like Travis Elliott and Under the Flood.
But most of all, Craddock doesn’t seem to be too worried about whether it can last: “Here’s my theory,” he says. “Let’s take the really hard approach. What if it doesn’t make money? I’ve still got a cool place to hang out in.”
The pricing will be very loosely based on a $40 hourly rate. “I thought it would be nice to have a place where, if you’re not actually working, you can just relax and crack open a Heineken or 20.”
When I arrived at the rows of modest warehouse spaces on East Market Street, Craddock and Stacy were talking shop with Roger Pinto, who runs an equipment repair shop called Universal Electronics Repair next door. Pinto, a kind of wizened, road-weary guru behind many of Charlottesville’s bands, used to rent space from Stacy for repairs, when Craddock rented to teach guitar lessons before they went their separate ways.
Whatever it is, whether amp or keyboard or mixing board—Pinto will fix it whenever. “Tea Leaf Green had an emergency situation,” says Pinto with the gravity of a surgeon. “It was right before showtime.” The amp was fixed by 6pm. “Dr. Dog, they had an emergency with one of their keyboards.” Picked up, fixed, returned—no problem. Pinto recalls a time when Dave Matthews’ Matchless DC30—a hand-wired boutique amplifier that retails at just shy of $3,500—fell from the back of the truck. “Everything in there got completely smashed. The heavy, bulky iron transformers fell out, crushed everything.”
“I rebuilt it,” he says. “I brought it back to life.”
Pinto started his career as an electronics technician with Marshall, the iconic British electronics company that produced the amplifier of choice for generations of shredders, and ultimately worked his way onto the touring circuit. ZZ Top brought him along as an amp tech on their Eliminator tour. (“I spent some time with some of their girls, you know, on the bus,” he says, wink wink.) There were also stints with Van Halen and Dream Theater, says Pinto. “I was fit, I was trim, I was partying,” he says.
Pinto moved to Charlottesville, from New York, in 2000 to be closer to family, and to change his hard-partying ways. “I’d rip through seven or eight amps a day,” he says, “get some coke, and then I’d stay up all night doing more and more units. I’d do seven to 10 units a day because of the coke. But then I would pour more money into the coke, thinking, let me stay up longer, and I can do more units, and I can buy more coke. It became this vicious cycle.”
Within a couple of years Pinto had made a commitment to give up the drugs and the drink—to get clean. One encouraging moment came when he won the “Put Me on the Cover” contest that this weekly ran in 2002. The photographs in the article showed Pinto in the basement of his mother’s house—his sound studio, repair shop and, yes, his home. He soon moved to a closet-sized workshop in the back of Stacy’s Music, and then to a chalet across the lot across from its present location.
Though Pinto still lives in town with mother, who is ill with Alzheimer’s, he employs a staff of five in the business’ space. There was a sort of brief Pyramus and Thisbe moment when I was speaking with him: A series of bangs rang through the shop, and we both looked at the wall to our right, behind a stack of busted electronics. It was the sound of hammers nailing together the foundation for the Cat Room, where his friends are setting up shop.
The final party in this seasoned boys’ club at the warehouses on East Market is Miljenko Matijevi, from Steelheart, the platinum-selling glam metal band, who runs a private studio two doors down. “Milje’s here, Roger’s here,” says Craddock. “And now I’m here. It’s like Mr. Furley showing up in ‘Three’s Company.’”