ALBERTA

Rolling Stones Mobile Studio Coming To Calgary's National Music Centre

04/19/2015 08:00 EDT | Updated 06/19/2015 05:59 EDT
CantosMusic/ Wikimedia Commons
CALGARY - In 1960s Britain, recording studios were often stuffy places with bankers' hours and suits and ties.

That just wouldn't do for the Rolling Stones.

Ian Stewart, the band's road manager and original piano player, came up with a solution: build a studio in the back of a truck so that the Stones could record whenever and wherever they wanted.

And so the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio was born in 1968.

Nearly a half-century later, an electronics technician in Calgary is painstakingly working to restore the studio on wheels. It's to be installed at the National Music Centre's new $168-million complex, called Studio Bell, which is set to open next spring.

John Leimseider recalls the sense of awe he felt when he first set foot in the truck.

"You think about the records that were done there, how much they affected everyone's lives," said Leimseider.

"And to be in the place where it was done was so thrilling."

The Stones recorded "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main St." with the studio-on-wheels. It was also used by an impressive roster of other rock 'n' roll royalty, including Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and Deep Purple, who mentioned it in the lyrics to "Smoke on the Water." It was parked outside of legendary New York music venue CBGB for a time.

The truck's exterior is painted royal blue and the Rolling Stones' famous lips-and-tongue logo still graces its back door. The vehicle itself is toast; its engine gave out in Indiana when it was making its journey from New York State to Calgary about 14 years ago.

But the restoration work didn't begin until around mid-2013, as the NMC prepared to move into its new space.

Leimseider's mission is to get the recording equipment back into working order.

The idea isn't to build a newfangled recording studio, but rather to stick to the original set-up as much as possible. It is, after all, a historical artifact.

"We're not trying to redesign anything. We're trying to fix everything that's broken," said Leimseider, who added it's been a struggle to track down some switches and other vintage mechanical gadgets.

Leimseider figures the value of the studio has more than quadrupled to over $1 million since the NMC acquired it in 2001.

One of the most important features is its Helios console, which has "absolutely incredible" sound quality and is now about 95 per cent functional, said Leimseider.

The mobile studio will be displayed prominently in the NMC's new digs. It will be visible from the street through large glass windows, as well as from the old King Edward Hotel, or "King Eddy" — a 300-seat live music venue that's part of the new complex.

Two new recording studios, plus the King Eddy stage will be wired into the mobile studio.

"So somebody could be doing a live set at the King Eddie and have it recorded onto the truck that recorded 'Smoke on the Water.' It think that's so cool," said Leimseider.

"One of the nice things about restoring all this gear is the payoff when you get to hear (it) used for something new."

Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter.