Pogo Studio founder calls wrap after move to Nashville

Pogo Studio founder calls wrap after move to Nashville

After 33-plus years as a professional engineer and producer in Champaign-Urbana, Mark Rubel is calling it a day.

Rubel, 55, moved to Nashville last spring to work at a major studio. Thursday was his last day using the Champaign studio he created with his own hands.

The greater part of those years have been at Pogo Studios on downtown Champaign's Taylor Street. James Treichler, the drummer in Elsinore, is taking over the studio until the building is sold and custom equipment moved to Nashville.

Rubel's last hurrah at Pogo was a benefit for Gifford tornado victims performed by two local favorites.

Rubel has made about 1,000 recordings in the studio, housed in the same building where he and wife Nancy have lived since the 1980s.

The son of a mathematician and a journalist, Rubel is a renaissance man of rock, a local favorite on stage and behind the boards.

He has recorded Hum, Alison Krauss, Rascal Flatts, Adrian Belew, Melanie, Luther Allison and Henry Butler, among others, as well as countless bands that he loved, but never achieved that level of fame.

He has worked for indie labels as well as RCA, Capitol, Warner, Jive/Zomba.

And he has played bass on one of Champaign-Urbana's longest-running and most popular bands, the comedic Capt. Rat and the Blind Rivets.

Thursday, singer/songwriter David Howie and guitar master Lou DiBello were recording "Gifford and Washington" with Rubel at the controls.

To mark the Nov. 17 disaster, they will make the recording available at online music services, with the income going to tornado relief.

Howie says the song was mostly written in about an hour.

Drummer Josh Quirk lay down a driving beat; Howie asked him to slow it down a tad before he sang the folky tune.

All the while, Rubel calmly offered tips and pulled chords on a console that once was used to record Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Rubel has a long history as a teacher, musician and producer/engineer.

He has served as Eastern Illinois University's audio director and head of recording, as well as teaching at Parkland College since 1985. Before that, was one of the founders of the studio Faithful Sound in a crumbly Urbana house from 1980-83.

In Nashville, he's an instructor and co-director of education of The Blackbird Academy, a new audio engineering school housed in the Blackbird Studio.

Taylor Swift, Jack White, Kid Rock, Ke$ha and Tim McGraw are among those who have recorded at Blackbird.

Musical memories

Rubel has made 1,000 recordings here, with everyone from Rascal Flatts to guitar czar Adrian Belew laying down tracks at downtown Champaign's Pogo Studios and, for a few years before that, Urbana's Faithful Sound.

Rubel's last day of recording on Champaign's Taylor Street was Thursday. Before leaving for Nashville, Rubel shared a few of his many memories from the last 33 years.

— Grammy winners Alison Krauss and Laurence Hobgood together. She started out as a bluegrass fiddler here before becoming a star; jazz virtuoso pianist Hobgood is a faculty kid. "You put a microphone anywhere near her, and it sounds great; you want to be self-congratulatory, but it's all her."

— Opera star Nathan Gunn. Recording at Eastern Illinois University, the baritone spoofed his own image with a wild operatic parody for a children's album that Rubel worked on.

— Local '80s heroes The Vertebrats. "It was a thrill because they were my favorite group at the time."

— African drummer Oscar Sully, who brought a crew of 75 musicians to Pogo. That included string players, a brass band and back-up singers that tested the resources of space and the studio's famed couch of waiting.

— The Fat Babies, a Chicago-based seven-piece jazz band interpreting classic styles of the 1920s and '30s — like the composer Fats Waller. "We recorded live, and it was a pleasure, working with really skilled acoustic musicians making amazing sounds."

— Melanie. He had fun re-recording her Billboard No. 1 hit "Brand New Key," which you may know better as "The Rollerskate Song."

— Pogo's house band, a rhythm section featuring Josh Quirk on drums, Matt Stewart on guitar "and me on bass, because I come cheap."

— Captain Rat and The Blind Rivets, his own comedic band. "We're basically having an amazing time together and everyone else is invited to join us."

— Def Leppard, who was all booked for a couple days near a performance at the Illinois State Fair. "I had the place the cleanest it's ever been," Rubel moaned. Alas, the road manager called to say the band was worn out.



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