The 2022 New Jersey International Film Festival presents a screening of Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival on Saturday, June 11th. The film by Ted Roach and Lagan Sebert follows John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas as they team up during the pandemic to record their album Leftover Feelings in RCA’s fabled Studio B. The screening is available via video on demand starting at 12:00am on June 11th. There will be an in-person screening at 7:00pm in the wonderful movie theater located in Voorhees Hall (#105/Rutgers University) 71 Hamilton Street in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Walking in the footsteps of Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and Waylon Jennings through the house that Chet Atkins built, Hiatt and Douglas (two artists who helped define Americana music) attempt to revive and capture the magical sounds of this historic room where so many early hit songs were made.
Hiatt and Douglas met during the recording of Will the Circle be Unbroken 2. After bumping into one another over the years, the idea of doing something together eventually came up. And as luck would have it, Hiatt had recently moved close to where Douglas lived.
The film is like a who’s who of Americana music with appearances by Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Molly Tuttle, Jeff Hanna, and Connie Smith. Most of the first half of the 73-minute film shows artists in praise of the studio and the two artists who intend to record there.
It’s not necessary to know who Hiatt or Douglas are to enjoy the film. Chances are you might know their work already. Hiatt penned songs like “Angel Eyes” which you might know from the Jeff Healey Band cover or “Have A Little Faith In Me” which was recorded by over 50 artists including Jewel, Chaka Khan, Jon Bon Jovi, and Joe Cocker.
“To me, John Hiatt is a songwriter’s songwriter,” said Jeff Hanna. “I mean when you have folks like Willie Nelson recording his tunes… Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton - all folks that are famous as writers as well. If you can get songwriters to record your tunes, that’s pretty incredible!”
Emmylou Harris agrees, “I guess he’s never written a bad song. Or, if he did, he never recorded it.
Jerry Douglas has released 14 solo albums and played on over 1,600 more. The long list of artists he’s recorded with include Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Mumford & Songs, Keb’ Mo’, Elvis Costello, and Phish.
“Jerry Douglas… where would I start?” asked Rodney Crowell. “Well anybody could start with the dude’s won 14 Grammys. You can start right there.”
“Well, Jerry Douglas is of course one of the most talented people in the world and his dobro playing is world renown,” said Dolly Parton. “But he has his own little style. I can hear a lick on the radio and I’ll think, ‘yup, that’s Jerry!’ There’s just something about the way that Jerry plays. It just has some magic in it. There’s some heart and soul. He knows how to just make the strings do what he wants them to do. It’s like a great artist or great painter.”
Emmylou Harris said Jerry Douglas could play anything and John Hiatt can write songs in any genre. Getting those two together for an album was “a beautiful marriage between the two of them.”
RCA Studio B is operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame and is more of a museum than a working studio these days. It holds regular tours, educational programs, and events. Recording an album in Studio B brings artists back to the way recordings used to be made. Unlike many recording studios today where artists generally record one instrument at a time, Studio B is meant as a place for a band to record live together.
“The exchanges between two great instrumentalists like John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas are like a musical conversation,” noted Lyle Lovett. “That wouldn’t happen if they were not actually in the same room playing together. RCA B is the a perfect place to do that.”
Leftover Feelings was planned before the pandemic hit. When they were finally able to record, musicians wore masks and were socially distanced from each other. Masks were off when they were distanced enough.
It’s fitting to have the recording done in RCA B by two artists who have had long and fruitful careers - exactly the type of musicians to understand and fully appreciate the ability to record in that room.
“This studio had 20 years as one of the most important places in American music,” said Peter Cooper, Musician/Historian, who works at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “Chet Atkins, along with Steve Sholes, wanted a place where Elvis Presley could come and record, and be comfortable. Chet Atkins was a genius and a virtuoso. He knew what kind of place could be built to be to the music’s advantage. So in 1957, RCA B - it was just called RCA Victor Studios - opened and you had incredible things happen here.”
If there’s a criticism of the film it’s that there isn’t enough music in the first half. We learn about the studio and its history and how other musicians hold these two artists in high regard, but the music isn’t there. The second half brings the music and songs into light. If you are a fan of country music or Americana, this film is well worth a watch.
“This is going to be some sort of adventure that’s worth taking,” stated John Hiatt. “Whether we got a record or not is besides the point, I thought.”
Jerry Douglas replies, “I knew we were going to get a record!”
The film is beautifully shot in black & white, providing a sense of history. This is where artists like Elvis Presley and The Everly Brothers performed. Color would have seemed out of place, in my opinion. The way it’s shot makes it appear like the studio’s history is continuing to be made just as it was in its early days. The black & white images make the studio seem timeless. Actually, I wish they had filmed their music videos in black and white as well.
“The more we as performers become historic ourselves, the older we get and the longer we’re privileged to work in this business we love, I think the more value we see in what’s come before us,” said Lovett. “There really is something about going back to a place like RCA B where some of the essential recordings in our genre were made. And as recording artists, we hope that history will view us as part of that legacy.”