Red Barn Recorders – Morongo Valley

By Lisa Lynn Morgan
Photo Credit: Robbie Robb, Phil Colombatto and Gar

Red Barn Recorders is authentically named, leaving no surprise as you pull up to a very traditional looking red barn, except for how well hidden it is, tucked away off a dirt road in Morongo Valley. The authenticity hardly stops there. A tall, gentle, and somewhat eccentric soul greets you with hands created to stretch easily across the neck of a guitar, mandolin, piano keys, and likely any instrument he puts in them. We call him Gar. He is a very kind and somewhat introverted soul, cloaking what those who know and work with him identify as genius. He is as genuine and naturally talented as they come, and the world he has created within this Red Barn, is ethereal.

If you’ve spent any time in the greater Morongo Basin, you have likely seen and heard Gar perform. He fronted the Sunday Band for a couple of years at Pappy and Harriet’s when Victoria Williams and Bobby Furgo (former piano/fiddle for the late great Leonard Cohen) were in the band. He has performed with the Shadow Mountain Band there as well, for many years. Gar is that utilitarian musician tapped to play with many bands on various instruments at different venues, including FurstWurld and the Joshua Tree Music Festival.

Stepping into the 1,500 square foot barn with its 22-foot ceiling is an experience unto itself. It’s like stepping into an Instrument Cathedral. It feels holy and immediately inspiring, a musician’s dream. Standing there, one’s fingertips begin to itch as your eyes fall on the pristine and hardy collection. More keyboards than you can immediately count beckon you to make them sing, including a Steinway grand piano, a Hammond B3 organ, and Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes electric pianos. There are even more old guitars and other instruments, unique, vintage, anything but common, along with several old tube amplifiers, drum kits, percussion instruments, all standing by to join in the chorus.

The collection is gleefully dizzying and lovingly organized and meticulously maintained.

Gar is a self-taught engineer, who honed his skillset with an incredible ear and the ability to absorb information from others just by being in the room with them. “I started out doing home recordings with a cassette Portastudio. I began as a go-fer and delivery boy in recording studios in LA. I cut my teeth observing. My first experiences in the driver’s seat began when I was asked to fill in for someone who called in sick.”

“I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California. My folks were country music fans who used to go dancing to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard at the Big Fresno Barn and the Hacienda on Highway 99. When I moved to Morongo Valley 15 years ago, I built the studio myself into a barn and 4-car garage.”

Red Barn Recorders has the unique capacity to use a blend of old-school analog and contemporary digital technologies. “I have an MCI analog recording console, and a 16 and 24 track tape recorders that date from the 80s, as well as Pro Tools HD,” Gar explains. “I have a great collection of classic microphones (over 30 of them) and vintage outboard gear.”

Renowned artists such as Kirsty McGee, Louise Goffen, Alain Johannes, Tim Easton, Victoria Williams, Danny Frankel, Yawning Man, Jay Bellerose, Louisiana Love Act, Mike Watt, Bill Bloomer, Seb Rochford, Martin Craft, Nathan Newburn, and Jolie Holland have enjoyed Red Barn Recorders niche.

Popular local musicians have also benefited from Gar’s expertise: Son of the Velvet Rat, Wally Ingram, Bobby Furgo, Arroyo Rogers, Mark Olson, Robbie Robb, Rosa Pullman, Adobe Collective, The Sibleys, Urban Desert Cabaret (Joe City Garcia), Petra Cimbalova, Ryan Post, 3rd Ear Experience, Rags Rosenberg, The Renderers, Megan Hutch, T.K. Smith, and Josh Kjerstad.

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Joe City Garcia (Urban Desert Cabaret) shared his first experience as a local musician at the Barn: “I first encountered Gar in late 2013 when he led Pappy and Harriet’s Sunday Band. I was in awe of his (and the band’s) talent and energy, and I also heard he had one of the best studios in the high-dez—it was intimidating! It wasn’t until May 2016 that I got the chance to work with him at the Barn. I had a solo European tour booked, and I desperately needed a new release to promote along the tour. Thinking I probably couldn’t afford the more established Red Barn, I was calling around to find a ‘home’ studio that could accommodate my needs and budget. I found everyone was already booked or traveling. About to give up, I called Gar figuring, “no way, but what the hell!’ Fortunately, Gar was available, and I found him to be a creative and generous artist/producer. He quickly familiarized himself with my material and helped me set up minimalist arrangements and an accelerated production schedule. Within 2 weeks, I had a 10-song album, Shadow of a Ghost, mixed and ready for delivery in time for the tour! Since then, we’ve done a few other projects and several great shows together. I’m no longer intimidated, but still in awe, and full of life-long gratitude for brotha’ Gar and Red Barn Recorders!”

High praise and respect abound throughout the basin, but no one writes a better love letter about the Barn than Gar himself:

“Drive East on the 10 Freeway out of Los Angeles for two hours. The housing developments gradually fall away, replaced by enormous 3-bladed wind turbines 300 feet high. They decorate the hillsides and plains, gracefully turning in the wind silently and cleanly producing electricity. Take the Joshua Tree exit off the 10 on to Highway 62. A dozen miles from there, through a mountain pass and a 1/2 mile down a dirt road is RED BARN RECORDERS. An aural oasis. A place to turn visions into reality via recording equipment and techniques that were born in the late ‘50s and fell out of favor sometime in the mid ‘80s. That long-neglected, beautiful, red-headed stepchild is back with a vengeance, enhanced and integrated with 21st century technology. Here, a red barn has been transformed into a recording studio. In it, a loft overlooks a living room full of eclectic musical instruments and tools of the trade.”

“Stand behind the same microphones that Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra used to tattoo the sound of their souls onto history. Sit at the white Steinway grand piano and channel some John Lennon. Exercise your Muscle Shoals on an old Hammond B3 organ. Plug a Telecaster into a beat-up tweed Fender Deluxe amplifier, turn it up to 12 and get in touch with your twang.”

“With the 20-foot-long theatre curtains pulled back to make full use of the barn’s high-ceiling acoustics, bring out your inner Bonham slamming some drums. Put a mic up in the loft and hit record. Back in the control room behind the MCI console, push up the faders and listen to what those drums sound like recorded onto 2” 16 track tape at 15 inches per second. It’ll spoil you.”

“Put some wood in the stove and mic up your acoustic guitar. Turn down the lights and dig deep. Let it bring out the best in you. If you show up, you won’t be let down.”

To learn more about Red Barn Recorders or to book studio time, go to www.redbarnrecorders.com

Write: redbarnrecorders@gmail.com and follow instagram.com/redbarnrecorders and facebook.com/redbarnrecorders

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