By Tayla Courage
MTSU/Seigenthaler News Service
In Friendsville, a house with tan siding and a white porch railing is shoehorned between two driveways, one paved, the other gravel, and sits at the bottom of the horseshoe that is Parks Ferry Road on this stretch.
No one would guess that this house, which looks like many others in this small town of 917 souls, is a recording studio, but that’s what it is.
The Groove House Recording Studio is a literal labor of love for Steve Rutledge, 51, a Frankfort, Kentucky native who wants to provide the sound of Music City to local musicians at a cost that won’t break the bank.
“You’re honestly just paying for us to record and to engineer it and everything. You’re not paying for the rental of the studio. You’re not paying separately for the engineer. It’s all a lump sum, and we try to make it as budget friendly for everybody,” Rutledge said.
Rutledge is a burly man dressed in Wrangler double denim. He wears his baseball cap backwards. Silver hoops dangle from both ears, and a soul patch casts a triangular shadow beneath his lower lip. In a foam-paneled room, he pivots to and fro in an office swivel chair.
“Way back years ago, I started playing guitar when I was 5, started playing piano at 6, started playing phones…,” Rutledge joked as his phone chimed mid-interview. “ I played in church every day of my life.”
When he was 30, Rutledge decided to cross the Kentucky line and head south to Nashville in 1997. Two years post-move, he landed his first on-the-road gig as a stand-in for guitarist Tom Lane, who played alongside Christian artist Michael English at the time. He continued playing for several Grand Ole Opry artists and Curb Records, a label based in the city.
In 2001, years before The Groove House became an extension of his Friendsville home, Rutledge owned another studio called Steel Strings Productions in Nashville. The advertising for the formerly Nashville-based studio can still be found on the back of his white Toyota Forerunner.
“With ‘steel strings,’ they thought all I did was country music, and that wasn’t it. I do country, rock, pop, whatever,” said Rutledge.
Most of the singers and instrumentalists who have recorded at The Groove House have been locals who have day jobs but want to make music in their spare time. There’s Bob Mader, 55, who’s a real estate agent in the county. Solomon Maxx, 25, works in marketing.
“My favorite part of recording at The Groove House is that I come in and I have a song in my head and I just have the lyrics and the melody. I’ll sit down with Steve and he says ‘What have you got for me?’ ’’ Maxx said. He said he enjoys the collaborative process working with Rutledge.
Alyssa Laine, 26, also from Frankfort, Kentucky, is a fulltime singer, playing venues around East Tennessee and works at the studio. She and Rutledge also have a rock-blues inspired group called Liquid Velvet that still have more than a hundred shows to play this year.
“We were in the car shooting off names to name our duo and I liked Liquid Velvet. It was born that night in the car, Taco Bell in hand, man. That’s all there is to it,” she said.
The Groove house has recorded a variety of musical genres since its opening, everything from contemporary Christian to EDM (electronic dance music) to country.
“I don’t have these huge aspirations where I want to be Taylor Swift-big…most people dream Madison Square Garden and all these big places. My dream is to play the Louisville Palace in Louisville, Kentucky,” Laine said.
However, some of the acts who have recorded at The Groove House have been signed to Emanant Music in Atlanta, Rutledge noted.
Maxx said recording technology has advanced making it possible for small studios like The Groove House to provide an optimum recording experience.
“What is interesting in this day and age is that you can release music in any style, and I think the time of our lives to start really changing and learning about yourself is in your twenties,” he said.
Rutledge said his move from Middle to East Tennessee was due to his wife, Missy, a medical sales representative.
After wrapping up a 6 o’clock show at Legends Corner, a honkytonk on Broadway, Rutledge said he made an instant connection with Missy, an out-of-towner enjoying a downtown getaway.
A weekend of tying up the phone lines led to a meet-up halfway between Nashville and Friendsville, but Rutledge said he was sure of his love for her before their first date.
“It was just amazing, and so she said she would put in a transfer to Nashville, and I said no.” Rutledge explained, “I said no. I’ll move to Friendsville.”
Away from the distractions and competitive nature that are often linked to big-city life, Rutledge said he is able to create genuine connections with the local talent.
“It goes deeper than just music here. It’s like people are brothers and sisters,” said Rutledge.
Tayla Courage is a Middle Tennessee State University journalism student. She is in Blount County as part of a feature writing class called the Road Trip Class.