December 11, 1981
Long View Farm:
It is really Something Else
By Andree A. Belisle
Artists who record at Long View Farm in North Brookfield can do one of two things with their material: take it to a record presser to have several hundred discs made for demos or let Long View's own publishing company handle the details.
The company's name is S.E. Music. Long View Farm's corporate name is T.S.E. Where did the name come from?
"S.E. stand for 'Something Else,'" explained studio manager Kathy Holden, a glint of amusement in her eyes. "T.S.E. . . . stands for
'This is Something Else.' Most people, when they come here, you take them through and they say, 'Boy, this is something else.' That's how Gil got the name."
In a monastic setting, tucked away in the rolling hills of a Central Massachusetts community, lies a musician's retreat called Long View Farm, a recording studio seemingly carved out of the countryside.
Situated on 145 acres of prime farmland, the studio has hosted such recording artists as the Rolling Stones, the J. Geils Band, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Arlo Guthrie, Rupert Holmes and an apparently endless list of top names in the recording industry.
The farm is the brainchild of Gil Markle, a former philosophy professor at Clark University who bought it in 1973.
What began as a desire to combine a change of lifestyle with an intense interest in the field of recording soon mushroomed into a financially successful enterprise.
Markle's concept combines the best of two worlds work and pleasure. Long View offers a relaxed creative environment to anyone from a demo status musician to a superstar.
The outward appearance of the former dairy farm gives no hint of the massive changes that have taken place inside the sprawling farmhouse and accompanying milk house and barn.
What was once a shelter for a New England farming family is now a professional complex housing two fully equipped studios (one 16-track and the other 24-track), while at the same time maintaining the charm and casual atmosphere of a secluded hideaway for the great, the near-great and the hope-to-be great.
Markle, the 41-year-old impresario of Long View Farm, talked about the farm during an interview at his office at Worcester Airport. (He lives at Long View Farm.)
He was dressed casually and his hands were in constant motion. He said the farm was intended as a home but evolved into a "facility that would be so attractive and work so well as to inspire others to come to use it.
"I thought at first that I just needed a room to keep a tape recorder or two," he said. "Basically, a large hi-fi set that I had in my home in Paxton. A slightly more professional place to put my speakers, tape recorders, things like that.
"But one thing led to another and pretty soon I was taking out walls and ceilings. Two friends of mine, Geoff Myers and John Farrell, who I had known for years in Provincetown, answered the call and came to help.
"John and Geoff are both musicians and are very talented working with wood. And their addition to the team, to the project, helped a great deal that fall of '73.
"In the back of my mind was the possibility that people might pay me to use Long View Farm for listening to and making their own tape. But it was in the back of my mind."
Not until extensive renovations were made in the winter of '74 did it occur to Markle that "Long View was going to have a professional role to play in addition to being a nice place to live.
"It had just gone too far. It was a hobby run amok. And something had to be done to rationalize the investment of time and energy and money."
Ms. Holden, 35, has been affiliated with the complex in various capacities for the past seven years. Dressed in denim culottes, cable knit sweater and cowboy boots, she is typifies the feeling of down-home charm that pervades the compound.
During an interview at Long View Farm, she described Markle as "a person who knows how to use people's talents to create his own world."
"The business sense is definitely there," she says, "but there's more. He's got a certain charisma. This place could never have existed without him. Ninety-nine percent of the work might have been done by someone else, but he had that one element, that catalyst, for everything to happen.
"It's not just the money. It's a certain magic, a certain insight, a vision of how things should be. More than just how the rooms would be or how the buildings would look. A philosophical idea of the place. An ideal environment, not only for the groups that come here, but for the people who work here. He made all that happen in a very special way."
Markle's keen business sense is a vital factor in this industry, where the cost of producing a single major album generally is not less than $100,000.
While there are no average costs for the total production of a tape, there is, Ms. Holden said, "A $50 hourly charge for the use of Studio B, and we generally get about $100 an hour for studio A. These are non-residential rates. For a residential rate, it comes down to about $170 an hour for room and board and complete lockout facilities for Studio A for about eight people.
"As far as the rate is concerned, it actually works out to be less expensive to record here than in a studio in New York where you have to put the band up in a hotel."
Unlike many recording studios that offer only the cold business atmosphere of a location in a creatively sterile concrete framework, Long View Farm offers an ambiance that is, at once, very professional and very homey. If an artist wants to record at 3 a.m., the staff is awakened and preparations are made to meet the needs of the client.
"In one sense, we are a hotel and a restaurant as well as a recording studio, Ms. Holden said. "A lot of times, people like to come here for R&R. They love to go horseback riding and boating or just walking and jogging in between rehearsals or taping sessions. It's very quiet here."
The quiet of Long View Farm was interrupted recently by a visit by the Rolling Stones, described by some as the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band.
Markle said the decision by the Stones to come to Long View Farm to rehearse for their upcoming concert tour was arrived at largely by word of mouth. He credited Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band and John Belushi, bot of whom had recorded there and were friends of Jagger's, with influencing Jagger's decision.
"That was a very exciting period of time," he said. "People have said since, and accurately, that the Stones made the best, the most glorious, the most sumptuous use of Long View Farm to date.
"They used all the bedrooms, all the services of the staff, our twin-engine plane, our travel company. They used it all. It was a 24-hour-a-day proposition. The phones were ringing all 24 hours.
There were many travel arrangements that had to be made on behalf of visiting set designers, makeup people, the various business contacts that surround the Rolling Stones. They came from all over the world to be available to Mick Jagger. Many of them stayed at the farm; many of them stayed at the Sheraton in Worcester, many of them stayed at motels in Sturbridge."
While things have returned to normal at Long View, that period, according to Markle, was, "very demanding. We had to have people up night and day cooking, cleaning, answering telephones, keeping the grounds and perimeter safe and secure.
"There were carloads of kids who came from all over the United States to try to see the Rolling Stones. They would all end up, at unpredictable times of the night or day, on Stoddard Road hoping that they could get a glimpse of one of the Rolling Stones."
During this tumultuous period, Markle found it difficult to think about how he felt about this extraordinary event. But now he has started to write down his feelings based on some notes he took during the Stones' stay.
"I didn't have too much time to reflect on my own feelings. I've had more time since to do that. There was not much leisure for philosophical reflection during the stay of the band. It was basically working 20 hours a day.
"I've had time to reflect since and have had many thoughts about their stay, about what it means for a band like the Rolling Stones to command such attention from the world, such an outpouring of energy from hundreds of thousands of people who treat them as godheads, not as human beings."
The atmosphere on a recent cold New England fall day was quiet. Nevertheless, the interview with ms. Holden was interrupted by a steady influx of staff members who unhesitatingly stop in just to say hello or ask a question or relax for a moment or two. There is no feeling of being an outsider.
Besides hosting superstars such as the Rolling Stones, Long View Farm makes it services available to novice musicians.
Ms. Holden outlined the steps to be taken by the aspiring musician.
"The first thing I ask them," she said, "is if they want to come and see the studio and talk about it. I ask them if they've played out before. I want to make sure they're ready to come in. That they're rehearsed enough, that they're tight.
"A lot of times you have people who don't know from anything when it comes to recording. They have a song they like that they wrote and they want to record it and they really don't have any idea of what's involved. And I try to get a feeling of how knowledgeable they are about what they're doing and whether this is the studio for them.
I find out the name of the band, for example. That gives me an idea if there is a band. You get a lot of calls where it would just be a waste of time for them to come in and record.
"They also have to have enough money. Some people figure you never really need even an hour to record a song. Generally, if they're serious enough, the band will come out to see the studio and talk with Jesse Henderson, the engineer."
"Talent is more and more a heavy criterion for success," said Randall Barbera, the general manager of S.E. Music and a former studio manager at Long View. "More so than it used to be. I'd say 50-50 with luck. A lot of people have big hopes, but their chances are very slim because of the percentages.
"But I try to encourage everybody that I talk to. Basically, I believe that if you're good and you stick with it, it will happen. It's just a question of perseverance.
"You just kind of have to wait for it to happen. When I say wait for it, I mean do everything you can to make it happen."
Long View has made it happen. For Markle, the visit by the Stones' climaxed many years of toil.
"It certainly is sure that we no longer have to worry about bringing a bigger or better rock 'n' roll band to Long View Farm," he said. "It's great to be freed from that particular compulsion. And it has been a compulsion, for the better part of a decade, to establish the success and image of Long View Farm in terms of the fame of those recording artists who came to use it.
"It's very nice to have made that point in a dramatic and conclusive manner. And I am very pleased that that chapter is now behind us."
In a parting gesture to the Stones, Markle presented each member of the band and their entourage with Long View Farm jackets. He was rewarded when two members of the group wore their jackets on stage at a recent concert in Chicago.
Since the Stones left, Long View has been host to Melanie, Arlo Guthrie and a number of "demo-status" musicians. Booked into Long View for 10 days at the end of this month is Bennie Strange and the Teterboro All-Stars, a rock ''''roll band out of the Midwest.
And what lies ahead?
"It's hard to say what will captivate our energies now," Markle said. "Suffice it to say that we are talking with some people about originating live television performances from Long View Farm."
"Typically, it would be a band which would be using Long View Farm to make a record," he said. "During two days of a stay, they could create a live performance which would be beamed out instantly to the rest of the world."
Markle and Ms. Holden are only two members of the staff of closely knit people that keep Long View Farm operating. Every person working at the studio is also a musician in his or her own right and all of them are in love with their professions.
As Ms. Holden said, "the place is really the sum total of the people here."
Andree A. Belisle is a freelance writer living in Millbury.