Johnny Reid Resurrects Scruggs Sound as New Soultrain Sound Studios: Exclusive

Johnny Reid
Daniel Shippey

Johnny Reid

With the opening of Soultrain Sound Studios, Scottish singer/songwriter/producer Johnny Reid keeps his promise to the late Randy Scruggs that the legendary studio would once again make music. After extensive renovations, the former Scruggs Sound Studios is re-opening at its original site minutes from downtown Nashville in the Berry Hill community.

“I talked to Randy and basically made him a promise,” Reid tells Billboard in his thick Scottish brogue. “I said, ‘I promise you; I’m not going to turn it into an office building. I’m not going to turn it into a parking lot and I’m definitely not going to turn it into a condo unit. If I can get it at the right price, this place will make music again. I promise you that,' and that was the last I spoke to him.  I acquired the place and two weeks later Randy passed.” Scruggs died April 17, 2018.

Scruggs, an accomplished songwriter/producer/musician and the son of Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs, had purchased the studio in 1979 and musical history was made in the years that followed. Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Alison Krauss and many more recorded there.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s, Will The Circle Be Unbroken Volumes 2 & 3 were recorded at Scruggs Sound Studios. Will The Circle Be Unbroken Volume 2, produced by Scruggs, won CMA album of the year in 1989. The collection featured Bruce Hornsby, John Hiatt, Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, John Denver, Emmylou Harris and others.

Reid, a JUNO Award-winning singer/songwriter, has lived in Nashville for 20 years and had a studio in an old barn near his previous home on Nashville’s Old Hillsboro Road until a Tennessee Titans football player bought the property.

When Reid began scouting for a new studio, his friend artist/publisher Butch Baker suggested Scruggs Sound and put him in touch with Scruggs’ assistant. Reid bought the studio in 2018 for $700,000, and after renovations, has invested $2.2 million in rebuilding the facility. “We basically took the place back to the studs,” says Reid. “We basically did 19, almost 20, months of renovation and literally just finished.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Reid was still very active on the road, so he brought in Grammy nominated engineer Justin Cortelyou, who had worked with mix-master Mike Shipley at The Animal House in Los Angeles, to run the studio.

Reid also enlisted Canadian musician/songwriter/producer/engineer Tawgs Salter, who has worked with artists ranging from Josh Groban, Lights and Lenka to Chantal Kreviazuk and Fefe Dobson.

Scruggs sold the studio to Reid with most all of the old equipment still inside. “We stumbled on this closet full of old German microphones, over $100,000 worth of microphones,” he says. “A lot of the vintage equipment is still usable. We have a beautiful Yamaha C7 piano that Bruce Hornsby played. I’ve got all the microphones and equipment that was used on Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” He also installed all new windows to brighten up the studio.

Reid named the new venture Soultrain Sound Studios after his hit single “Soultrain” and his affinity for soul/R&B music. (Though similar to the long-running TV show’s title, the studio name cleared in a title search.)

Reid has been in the studio producing  Grammy Award-winning reggae star Gramps Morgan, and he’s excited that new music is once again being created in the historic space. “The thing that I’m most thankful about is that I kept my promise. That really was the most important thing to me,” Reid says.