Alum heads legendary Hendrix NYC studio

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Lee Foster, MTSU alumnus and general manager of Electric Lady, and singer/songwriter/musician Patti Smith. Photography by Mario Sorrenti

When Lee Foster, a native of Smithville, Tennessee, was a senior in the Department of Recording Industry, he landed a three-month, unpaid internship at Electric Lady studios in New York. Founded by Jimi Hendrix in 1970, the Greenwich Village studio was known for its psychedelic décor and legendary artists who recorded there, like Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and Patti Smith. Foster was a huge Hendrix fan and interning at the Electric Lady was definitely on his bucket list.

Upon his arrival,  however, Foster found the building in disrepair. Instead of being surrounded by a buzzing studio full of creative artists, the place was nearly empty, the vibe “depressing.”

“I walked in and the very first thing that I remember … is that a ceiling tile had broken through, and someone had taken a white pizza box and shoved it in its place as a replacement,” he said.  “It hurt me to see such a monument being run the way it was.”

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Electric Lady Studios in New York City – CBS News

The Electric Lady had boasted a bevy of huge recording talent throughout the 1970s into the 1990s, but it experienced a sizeable downturn in the early oughts, as the music industry fought its way through new distribution regulations due to file sharing and streaming on the internet. While other studios were upgrading to digital equipment and sleeker appearances, the Electric Lady seemed destined to be lost in the analogs of history.

Foster finished his three-month internship and left with an open invitation to return at any time. He spent the next few years working in the music industry in Nashville and freelancing as a painter and carpenter, but he couldn’t get the Electric Lady out of his head. At the age of 26, he headed back to New York, showing up unannounced outside the studio. A technician let him in. Within weeks, Foster was named operations manager after the same technician quit hours before a live Radiohead broadcast.

Not only did he keep the studio running during the day, Foster began repairing the building by himself at night. Using his woodworking skills, he slowly restored the building back to its former glory. He also started visiting clubs around New York City, hyping the studio to the guitar techs and crews of artists like The Strokes and Ryan Adams and guaranteeing free sessions. One morning at 5 a.m., Adams showed up outside the building (Adams admits he was most likely drunk) and asked Foster for the free session. Foster obliged, and Adams was immediately charmed by the vintage analog equipment and studio vibe. He later recorded the album Easy Tiger in Studio A.

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The artwork of Electric Lady – CBS News

By 2010, Foster had become general manager of the Electric Lady. Artists like Patti Smith took note of the studio’s resurgence. To mark its 45th anniversary in 2015, Smith performed her entire first album, Horses, in Studio A, where she recorded the original in 1975. The recording was used as the first Electric Lady Studios LP.

Foster, who is now a partner and minority equity owner, says that within the past year Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson recorded new work in Studio A, and Lady Gaga tracked her Grammy-nominated song “Shallow” at Electric Lady.

He is proud of the studio’s continuing success, knowing that his hard work helped rebuild something he knew was worth saving.

“All this has come full circle, ” says Foster.

The Electric Lady and Foster were featured on the Feb. 10 edition of CBS Sunday Morning. To watch the segment, click here.

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Categories: Alumni, News

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