Why Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 Remains An Important Play

Producer, engineer, and longtime Ardent Studios staffer Joe Hardy has died. One of the preeminent studio figures to emerge from Memphis, the 66-year-old Hardy passed away early Tuesday morning at his home in Houston, following a brief illness. His wife, Trish Hardy, confirmed the news. 

Although perhaps best known for his decades as a close collaborator with ZZ Top, Hardy’s resume ran the gamut of artists and styles, from hard rock to contemporary Christian music.

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Engineer Joe Hardy (middle), working with The Replacements at Ardent Studios in 1986. (Photo11: Ardent Studios)

During his 45 year career, he worked with Steve Earle, Al Green, Alice Cooper, Booker T. & the MGs, Tom Cochrane, Ry Cooder, The Georgia Satellites, Green on Red, The Replacements, Tommy Keene, Carl Perkins, and many more. 

Hardy's work with ZZ Top — he worked on nearly every project by the Texas band from 1985’s “Afterburner” up through 2018’s solo album by front man Billy Gibbons, “The Big Bad Blues” — helped define the group's multi-million selling sound. 

“My friend Joe Hardy played a huge role in our lives," said Gibbons. "He was a true innovator in a field where many just did it 'by the book.'  He threw away 'the book' and wrote his own. The result took our audio signature and just about everything he worked on to new sonic frontiers." 

"When we met in Memphis more than four decades ago there was an instant connection and the relationship was cherished until he left us," added Gibbons. "Joe will be missed but, in a very real sense, we’ll be able to always hear him.”

A native of Owensboro, Kentucky, Hardy started out as a musician. He was attending Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, when he first came to Memphis in 1972 to record with his band, The Voice of Cheese, at Ardent. After the group’s short-lived deal with Ardent’s Stax-distributed record label fell apart, Hardy eventually moved to the other side of the glass. 

For more than two decades, Hardy would be among a cadre of elite Ardent staff engineers/producers, nurtured by studio head John Fry. Often working with producer Jim Dickinson, or his friend and frequent partner, John Hampton, Hardy was considered one of the most technically brilliant studio minds of his era, an expert at using then-cutting edge technology like the Fairlight sampler.  

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Jim Dickinson (left) and Joe Hardy at Ardent Studios. (Photo11: Ardent Studios)

“Joe was such an important part of the life of Ardent,” said veteran Ardent executive Jody Stephens. “My job in those days was to wave the flag for the studio. It was always a joy to sit down in front of A&R guys in New York or Los Angeles and play something Joe had recorded. People knew we were doing stuff in Memphis that was as good as anything being recorded in the world. And Joe’s work stood out.”  

In addition to his skills at the board, Hardy possessed a comically cantankerous persona and a razor sharp wit. It was a combination that served him well working with the pugnacious rock and alternative bands that he often recorded.

The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg recalled working with Hardy on the sessions for the band’s 1987 album “Pleased to Meet Me.” “Hardy put me in my place early on,” said Westerberg. “I was being a smart-ass, and I said something like, ‘Jesus, how many records have you made?’ He turns around and goes, ‘ABOUT A THOUSAND! How many have you made?’ I went, ‘Okay. Carry on.’” 

In 1989, Hardy produced The Georgia Satellites’ album “In The Land of Salvation and Sin.” A decade or so later, Satellites leader Dan Baird asked Hardy to work on a project he was producing for country singer Chris Knight.  “When we reconnected in the early 2000’s… I asked him how he’s been,” recalled Baird. “He took a pull off his Merit and replied ‘Why Dan, I’m in the twilight of my mediocre career, I just couldn’t be any better.’ Then gave me the devil’s grin. That was him. If you got in a battle of wits with him, you lost, every time.”

Moving between his role as an engineer and producer, Hardy would helm projects for Green on Red (1989's "Here Come the Snakes"), Steve Earle (1990's "The Hard Way") and Tom Cochrane's 1992 LP "Mad Mad World," which spawned the hit "Life Is a Highway." 

Continuing at Ardent through the decade, Hardy would help nurture a second generation of engineers, including Jeff Powell. “Joe Hardy and John Hampton were the heart and soul of Ardent during its golden years — I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to be in the middle of all that, and work on so many records with them,” said Powell. “Joe had a crazy and shocking sense of humor that I loved. He was irreverent about everything... except recording.” 

In the early-00’s, Hardy left Memphis and Ardent, moving to ZZ Top’s home base of Houston, where he continued to work with the band, including on recent projects like 2012’s “La Futura” and 2016’s live album, “Greatest Hits from Around the World,” as well as Alice Cooper’s 2017 studio effort, “Paranormal.”  

As Hardy told Billboard magazine in 1994, summing up his philosophy about the record business, “To me, you play music. You don’t work music. No one starts off doing this thing to make money. You got into music because it was fun, and it’s important to never lose sight of that.” 

“And Joe never did lose sight of that,” said Jody Stephens. “Music was always a thing to be enjoyed. And he left behind a lot of great records for us to enjoy.”  

 

Source : https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2019/02/12/memphis-zz-top-collaborator-ardent-studios-engineer-producer-joe-hardy-dies/2846617002/

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