Click here to listen to "Ribs and Whiskey" off Earth To America.
By Andy Tennille
"Even before Mikey passed away, we were talking about recording somewhere other than Athens. We talked about Jamaica and some castle in Ireland, something that would totally change our environment. So this was just the realization of that plan."
Widespread Panic by Lynn Goldsmith
John Bell glances out over the Atlantic Ocean before flipping on his sunglasses. The view from the front porch at Compass Point Studios is spectacular – sparkling blue water and white sand beaches bathed in what seems like an endless supply of sunny weather. Soaking it in behind his shades, Bell's bearded face breaks into a slow grin and he laughs as he sits down on the steps.
"I guess we could have done a lot worse than this."
For Earth to America, the band's ninth studio album and last under their current deal with Sanctuary Records, Widespread Panic decided to leave the cozy confines of their Athens, Georgia headquarters and a proven relationship with long-time producer and mentor John Keane to work with a producer the majority of the band had never met until the day before they were slated to begin recording. Only bass player Dave Schools, who recorded the Stockholm Syndrome's Holy Happy Hour album at Compass Point in 2004, had met Terry Manning prior to the band's arrival in the Bahamas in early January 2006.
"Over the course of making that record, I think Terry and I developed a really great working relationship and friendship really, so for me this was a no-brainer," Schools says. "I knew exactly how he worked with people, and I've learned a lot more sitting in the corner during these sessions watching him work with JB and the rest of the band. His main interest is always to bring out the best in the people he works with. It's not because he thinks he's gonna make a fortune or get any more recognition; it's because he loves music. That's what he loves. He would rather sit in the studio all day long and all night long, even with a band he may not necessarily like, because he's a master at his craft and it's what makes him happy."
Manning has mastered his craft through a long, storied career that began in El Paso, Texas in the early 1960s. Manning played in several local bands and would frequently sit in with his friend Bobby Fuller, who eventually broke the Billboard Top Ten in 1966 with his version of "I Fought The Law." By that time, Fuller had left El Paso for Los Angeles, and Manning had moved to Memphis to pursue a career in music.
Terry Manning at Compass Point by Andy Tennille
Soon after arriving in Memphis, Manning landed a job at fledgling Stax Records as an assistant engineer, often sweeping floors and making coffee while learning the ins and outs of engineering and producing. At the time, Stax was the crossroads for musicians, artists, and activists living in or passing through Memphis. At any given time, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG's, or Ike & Tina Turner could be working in the studio while Dr. Martin Luther King or the Reverend Jesse Jackson dropped in to say, "Hello."
During his time at Stax, Manning worked with Hayes, the Turners, and the MG's, as well as Albert King, Rufus Thomas, and The Staples Singers, including their smash hits "Heavy Makes You Happy," "Respect Yourself," and "I'll Take You There." Later, as manager and chief engineer at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Manning worked with Alex Chilton and his early band The Box Tops before assisting with the singer's first solo album and his later group, power pop favorites Big Star. While his laundry list of credits includes hit records with James Taylor, Leon Russell, George Thorogood, Joe Cocker, and ZZ Top, the pinnacle of Manning's career came in 1970 when he received a call from Jimmy Page to engineer Led Zeppelin III, an album which eventually became the top-selling album in the world and remains one of the great classic rock records of all time.
Terry Manning with Lenny Kravitz at Compass Point
If the gold and platinum records that adorn the walls of Compass Point weren't proof enough, Schools says it didn't take long for the rest of the band to recognize what he saw in Manning and to realize the decision to come to Compass Point was the right one.
"It was palpable the very first day," Schools says. "Usually the first track you cut is maybe not one you're planning on putting on the record. It's sort of a warm up, I guess. We did a little jostling as a band at first getting comfortable, but immediately it just felt right with Terry. In fact, things were said like, 'This is what we've been needing to do for a long time.' Everybody kinda looked around and was like, 'Yep.'"