New Owners Relaunch Legendary Sausalito Recording Studio

The heart of rock and roll may soon begin beating again at the Record Plant in Sausalito. The historic recording studio opened its doors in 1972, and before it closed in 2008, it produced some of the best-selling albums of all time, including Santana’s Supernatural and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

From the outside, the redwood-clad building at 2200 Bridgeway in Marinship looks unassuming. Most people pass by without realizing that Metallica, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead and many other legendary musicians recorded under its roof.

Gold and platinum records still hang on its walls. Invitations, silk-screened onto pieces of redwood, to the Record Plant’s Halloween Masquerade Ball Studio Opening in 1972 are also prominently displayed. Those unique invitations inspired John Lennon and Yoko Ono to attend the party dressed as trees.

The Record Plant sat vacant for years; however, Grammy-winning producer Ken Caillat never stopped thinking about the studios where he produced Rumours, which won Album of the Year at the 1977 Grammy Awards. Caillat worked with Frank Pollifrone, a film financier, for several years to purchase the recording studio.

“Frank and I have been in escrow on and off to buy that building since 2016,” Caillat said. “My idea was to save this building from possibly burning down or being sold and turned into a brewery or something like that. So many great records were done there. It’s a magical place.”

For Caillat and Pollifrone, the third time’s the charm. After two deals fell apart, in 2017 and 2018, the pair successfully closed on the building in March 2020. Unfortunately, within days, Governor Gavin Newsom issued the stay-at-home order due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“On March 3, 2020, we were toasting in Studio A,” Pollifrone said. “Then we had to shut down. Biggest bummer ever. We finally do it, and this happens. But we have a great group of investors, a kick-ass team believing in this project and helping us monetize it.”

The project has about 15 investors, according to investor Jim Rees, a real estate businessman from Los Gatos. While they all share the common goal of restoring the studios, they also plan to turn a profit.

“It definitely starts with passion, and the desire to preserve a historic landmark,” Rees said. “The building is an icon. It looks a little rundown on the outside, but it’s a real time capsule on the inside. We’re going to reopen it, reestablish it and reinvent it.”

The first order of business was changing the name of the recording studio, which has now been dubbed the Record Factory. The name may sound familiar, as it was once the moniker of a defunct Bay Area-based chain of record stores. Next up, refurbishing the psychedelic studios and bringing them back to their former glory.

Grammy-winning producer/engineer Jim Gaines at the Record Plant. Courtesy of the Record Factory.

“It is such an iconic building and location,” Caillat said. “I believe a lot more famous records are going to be made there. A lot more Michael Jacksons will be discovered. Just put it back to the way it was. It will be a museum, have an ode to the great technology and all the artists who were there before. I also want it to be a beacon for the creative people of Northern California.”

In addition to preserving the analog 24-track equipment that still resides in the Record Factory, the new owners want to showcase state-of-the-art equipment. When Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, another renowned recording studio, closed in 2018, the Record Factory purchased their recording equipment.

Once the new Record Factory opens, they’ll provide a variety of offerings for musical artists, the local community and fans. The collaborators define it as part full-service recording studio, part music education program for children and part museum experience.

Caillat, as he does with his company ArtistMax, will work with industry professionals, such as vocal coaches and choreographers, to teach up-and-coming musical artists how to be comfortable and entertaining on stage. It takes time to produce great talent and music, according to Caillat.

“I had almost a year to record Rumours,” Caillat said. “With today’s budgets, people have maybe two weeks to record. Nobody’s that smart to be able to do a great record that quickly. We want to help young musicians, give them extra studio time, so they can take their time and make the record right.”

Rees harkens back to the ’70s, when the Record Plant teamed up with a San Francisco rock radio station to create “Live at the Record Plant.” The show was recorded at the Record Plant in front of a live studio audience and broadcast on KSAN.

“In the ’70s, a radio station had limited geography,” Rees said. “With the internet, we can provide a live experience all across the world. We hope to share the Record Factory through live streaming and recording, podcasts and radio shows.”

Educational programs for children from the community are an important component of the Record Factory for Pollifrone, who says he wants to bring in kids from Marin City to teach them about music. Rees sees experiential events for children, ranging from music lessons to hands-on music production and recording.

The Record Factory investors hope tours of the funky studios will bring in tourists and cash. Fans can stand in the groovily decorated rooms where magic was made. Sports, by Huey Lewis and the News; Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder; For You, Prince’s debut album; and Who’s Zoomin’ Who, by Aretha Franklin, were all recorded there. 

Johnny Colla, a Marinite, was the saxophonist for several celebrated bands, including Sly and the Family Stone and Huey Lewis and the News. He worked at the Record Plant more times than he can remember over the years.

One of Colla’s favorite memories is when Huey Lewis & the News worked on “The Heart of Rock and Roll” from Sports. They wanted a genuine car horn in the song and tooted three different horns to determine which sounded best.

“My ’68 Camaro, one I forgot and our sound man’s ’72 Mercury station wagon,” Colla said. “We decided on the Mercury. Got a bunch of mikes out there in the alley outside the Plant. Three hours for set up. Five to 10 minutes at the most to get ‘honk, honk’ for ‘The Heart of Rock and Roll.’”

Stories abound from the heyday of the Record Plant. The new owners of the Record Factory hope to create lasting memories and lasting music, too.

“The Record Plant is hallowed ground,” Colla said. “A sacred place in Sausalito.”

Nikki Silverstein
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