On the way to Steve Nails Dockside Studiospast fields of cows and old barnsworld-class musicians sometimes second-guess their destination.
I just knew I was going to wind up in somebodys makeshift basement studio surrounded by cats, Steves wife, Cézanne, recalls a guest confessing. But then I got here and its a real studio!
Indeed, the couple installed nearly $1 million worth of recording equipment into a 6,000-square-foot, two-story glorified barn adjacent to their plantation-style home in the rural village of Maurice, La. (pop. 541). But what makes this place even more different than standard studios are the four fully furnished suites where musicians can nest until their project is finished. They also have access to tennis and basketball courts, meandering trails, a fish-stocked pond, and a pontoon boat. The place has become a haven for accomplished blues and rock n roll artists such as B.B. King and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.
Its like music camp, Steve says. He bought the 12-acre property in 1990 with part of the settlement he received from an auto accident six years earlier that left his legs and fingers paralyzed. Its very creative here. When you dont have to rent a car and have stoplights and cement and you can just wake up into the same project you left the night before, its very different.
The inspirational setting has produced some award-winning music, including B.B. Kings Blues on the Bayou, which, Cézanne says, he called his dream album. King enjoyed his first Dockside experience so muchwhich was arranged at the insistence of an MCA Records executivehe pledged to return yearly and is scheduled for his third session here this year.
Steve had dreamed of owning the property since childhood, when he often boated up and down the adjoining river and declared the estate his future home.
This place is perfect for me, says Steve, whod played guitar for 20 years before he became disabled. Its so beautiful with so many flowers and trees and pathways, and I have two elevators out here. Plus, if its raining, I can drive my wheelchair around the exterior of the house on both levels and not get wet.
Though Steve spent nearly a year in the hospital after his accident and can no longer play instruments, he was determined not to abandon his career in music.
There was never a question for me, says Steve, who recently told his story on the cable music channel VH-1. I was in music before and I wanted to be in music after. I just switched from one side of the glass to the other.
In the early days of Dockside, Nails worked as an engineer and producer, using a special soundboard he could operate without the use of his fingers. But now hes content to simply serve as owner and overseer. At least once a day, he visits with his guests to make sure theyre happy. They always are.
Its an incredible place, says Steve Conn, an accomplished singer and songwriter from Nashville, Tenn., who has recorded at Dockside. Aside from the fact that Dockside is a first-class recording facility, its beautiful. Its right on the Vermilion River, with huge oak trees and Spanish moss like a friendly version of Gone With the Wind.
But more impressive than the scenery is the welcoming atmosphere. Cézanne makes you feel like you just came home to visit the family after being elected governor, and Steve is a constant inspiration to quit complaining and enjoy your life, Conn says.
The studio is a boon to local business as well. Mandy Herbert says she and her co-owners of a local restaurant called Soops are happy to cater classic Cajun dishes such as crawfish étouffée and red beans and rice for Docksidebut they prefer to have the high-profile customers dine in.
Its more fun, she says with a laugh, mentioning a desire to hit Steve up for some autographed pictures of his artist guests to hang in Soops.
She should get plenty of chances. Whatever doubts the musicians harbor upon arrival, once they experience the magic of writing and recording surrounded by 300-year-old oak trees and a view of the Vermilion, they often stay for weeks.
Steve plans to stay for a lifetime.
This place I dont think Ill ever leave, he says. I was lucky to find it, and Im very happy where I am.