By Steve White
Driving through the rolling hills of North Brookfield on a warm, tranquil afternoon, the view is striking – an expansive green carpet that seems to unfold forever. Occasionally, thick foliage filters the bright sunshine splashing off the car; the sky is a perfect azure. The air smells clean and sweet, as if it had been freshly washed of the stale odors of the city. The signs all say Stoddard Road. But the serenity enveloping you says you're really on the road to paradise.
But it wasn't that way a few years ago.
July. The Summer of 1981. Long View Farm, a 145-acre countryside recording complex 25 minutes west of Worcester, is under siege. Stoddard Road is awash with people. The sleepy town of North Brookfield has been rudely awakened by an invasion of sightseers, groupies, photographers and journalists from every publication imaginable. Security guards patrol the fenced boundaries of the property.
Inside the complex, oblivious to the helter-skelter atmosphere outside, Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones are rehearsing for their upcoming national tour. Their host is Gil Markle, formerly a professor of philosophy at Clark University and now the mogul behind a cluster of businesses, including the recording complex, which Markle snuggled within the plush, rustic confines of a sprawling New England farm.
Sources close to Markle say that the total gross of all his enterprises exceeded $20 million for the 1983 fiscal year.
Long View is a state-of-the-art, rock 'n' roll Club Med where musicians can ply their trade on enough sophisticated electronic hardware to film the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, but still quaint enough to bask in the soothing, alternately plush and pristine surroundings that include a Jacuzzi, whirlpool, sauna, game room, several lounges, recreational areas, horseback riding, more than 40 telephones, 25 television sets, more stereos than you'd find in a Sears warehouse and, should the fancy strike, even a few cows to milk and a few chickens to feed. There's also a much sought-after privacy that can never be captured in the glass-and-steel valleys of most big cities.
Markle bought the farm in the summer of 1973 by borrowing a substantial sum of money (which he will quote only as being in the "low six-figure range") from a few Provincetown friends. At the time – and he is to this day – Markle was the founder and president of American Leadership Study Groups (ALSG), one of the largest overseas high school student tour groups in the world, and only intended the farm to be a picturesque retreat, a place to dabble in sophisticated recording equipment, which he has always loved.
But all that changed radically even before Jagger & Co. checked in. By 1974, Long View Farm was a fully-equipped recording studio. By 1976, Long View was on the map, hosting a lavish, well-publicized press party to announce the release of a new Stevie Wonder double album, Songs in the Key of Life. Due to the media blitz that Wonder whipped up, there was no turning back. Markle knew that if he was going to attract other big names in music, he would have to offer them the most technically-advanced environment possible, along with the relaxing grassroots solitude (and a bit of expensive pampering) that music meccas like New York and Los Angeles could never match.
"Turning the farm into a recording studio was always in the back of my mind," Markle explains from the ALSG offices at Worcester Airport. "And I guess it came to the front of my mind through some friends in Provincetown."
Over the past decade, the amount of money that's gone into Long View Farm is considerable. Part of the farmhouse (which contains six bedrooms and will sleep 20 comfortably) has been transformed into the elaborate Studio A, with a large, 24' x 15' x 9' control room possessing 24-track recording capabilities and sync off-line video editing. A capacious, sprawling barn has been turned magically into Studio B and Studio C. The former contains 16-track recording, a Baldwin baby grand and equally sophisticated electronics. The latter is even bigger, carved out of the barn's huge loft. It's a lavish sound stage in itself, built exclusively for the Rolling Stones, and measures over 175 feet in length, with a cathedral ceiling and catwalks and camera dollys. It'll hold an audience of up to 350 people. There's also every conceivable musical instrument on hand and every imaginable electronic recording device to satisfy even the most discriminating artist.
Markle has made this amazing electronic metamorphosis without sacrificing the charm that is one of Long View Farm's major selling points. It's not unusual to see an elaborate and expensive futuristic-looking control board – with enough dials, switches and lights to make the jump into hyper-space – resting on a beautifully burnished mahogany table with a vase full of freshly-cut flowers. Scattered throughout the farm there are also wood-burning stoves, revolving ceiling fans, countless hanging plants and bird cages, wood everywhere you turn, stuffed animal heads and a country-size kitchen with pots and pans dangling from the walls and from overhead. And there's a staff of ten to cook the food and keep the complex spotless and running smoothly.
Daily Expenses: $1,000
Although Markle will not be pinned down as to exactly how much it cost to create this impressive music emporium, he does mention that it takes well over $350,000 a year to keep the operation running smoothly. "The cost of buying and renting the equipment, plus the technical and support staff, runs about $1,000 a day," says Markle. And where does the money come from? "Most of the money comes in from the rental of the studios," he explains.
Let's say you've got a band and you want to cut an album among the horses, cows and chickens at Long View Farm. You've heard that the J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Dan Fogelberg and Arlo Guthrie have recorded there. If you'd like, you can rent Studio A for $160 an hour (certified check or cash, please). Included are one in-house engineer, plus food and drink. On second thought, maybe Studio B, a mere $100 an hour with the same amenities, would be better. Should you decide to stay over a couple of days, it should be noted that the one-day price, including three meals and the run of the place, can cost around $2,000 for a group with up to eight members.
The prices at Long View Farm are not etched in granite, and Randall Barbera, spokesman for Markle, says that there is something to fit every budget. Markle has been known to lower his rates considerably to give little-known and under-budgeted local bands a place to record. Some have even recorded on Long View Farm's own record label.
The Markle Empire
Always the entrepreneur, Markle, 44, presides over a sprawling array of independent companies, some of which he uses to expand the services offered by Long View Farm, his pride and joy.
The name of the company that operates Long View's recording studios has seldom been seen in print. It's called: This Is Something Else Inc. Something Else, through Long View, can provide you with a package like this: Ten hours of studio time and 1,000 singles for $2,000. If you want them to push your record for six weeks, be prepared to pay another $1,800. Then there's S.E. Music Inc., which is involved in publishing and record manufacturing, and is the name on the record label used by Long View.
But the linkage doesn't end there. There's also ChartAir Inc., which will put either a twin-engine Cessna 402 (complete with telephone and fully-stocked bar) or a Piper Navajo at your beck and call. And Myles Travel Inc., one of the largest agencies in Central Massachusetts, according to Markle, is available so you can figure out just where you want to go. Another company that's tied in (and the only one that Markle doesn't own) is Symmetry Management, which belongs to Randall Barbera and his brother Tom, who works out of New York. Markle uses Symmetry as a consulting service.
It's possible, therefore, for S.E. Music to write you a song; for Long View to put you in a studio and produce a record; for Symmetry Management to chart its distribution; for ChartAir to pick up that studio back-up musician you need and fly him or her to Worcester and for Myles Travel to figure out, if necessary, how to first get that musician to a place a plane can land. Of course, Myles and ChartAir also serve non-music customers. Only American Leadership Study Groups Inc. seems to be autonomous of the music operation – unless somebody in a band has a kid who wants a tour of Europe. This year, says Markle, ALSG is setting up tours for more than 10,000 students.
The rise of Gilbert Scott Markle is almost as amazing as Long View Farm itself. Born to Gilbert Markle, an NBC sound engineer, and Connie Gates, a singer with the Tommy Dorsey Band, Markle always had an infatuation with recording equipment and became quite adept at playing several instruments while growing up in the affluent suburb of Tenafly, N.J. He attended college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and eventually his academic career led him to Clark University, where he taught philosophy from 1967 to 1974. He's been married one time (and divorced) and has two children by Nancy Wilcox, a free-lance photographer. He has a home on Cape Cod and vacations frequently on the island of Tobago in the Caribbean. He's gracious and affable. Although it's been said his tastes are expensive, his clothes are strictly down-home – mostly running shoes and jeans.
Both Long View Farm and Markle refuse to sit still as technology unfolds rapidly. Equipment is constantly being updated, new concepts are always being developed.
Expanding Into Videos
One of the areas in which Long View Farm is expanding is in the field of videos – an absolute must in a visually-oriented world where teenagers (the majority of record-buyers) seem to be driven with a desire to "see the music." In its brochure, the studio attracts videophiles by offering "video recording sets and props, including colorful recreational areas, assorted barnyard animals, children and large Disney-like vistas." This past year, ALSG created "Easy Come, Easy Go," a travel video showcasing young Americans studying abroad. The 30-minute film was beamed into 42 markets and reached nearly 20 million Americans in March, according to company literature. All post-production and background score was created at Long View Farm. Markle produced the program.
Where the complex seems to have grown the most recently – and continues to develop further – is in the use of computers. Long View is currently hooked up to an IBM system that allows Markle & Co. to gain speedy access to any type of music information: where a certain band is playing, what label a musician records on and who the contact is, what stations all over North America play AOR (Album-Oriented Rock), who's hot… and who's not ("It's sort of like a Dow). Also in its embryonic stage is an information and communications network called modemcity, which will allow clients to send messages through computers via their telephones.
Long View Farm is not Markle's main source of revenue. "It's a very profitable business if you like playing around with super-sophisticated electronic equipment," he says. "It's not a great business if you want to make outstanding amounts of money. Long View Farm is just a lot of fun." The real money comes from his other enterprises.
What propels musicians to leave the big cities, where studio back-up artists are so easily accessible (even Markle admits that availability can sometime be a problem)? What makes heavy-metal groups like Motley Crue and Aerosmith trek out to the wilderness to play their hellfire, hard-pumping, knock-down-the-walls brand of rock-n-roll?
Why Long View?
"It's a chance to get out of the city, away from the media and the limelight," says Steve Morse, rock critic for the Boston Globe. "I know the (based in Boston) J. Geils Band enjoys it because it's state-of-the-art in their own backyard. The Rolling Stones wouldn't go back there, but only because they don't rehearse in the same place twice. But they had no complaints."
So why isn't there a very long line forming to book this apparent rock 'n' roll utopia? "It's a mellow, peaceful place, but not everybody likes that," Morse notes. "Some groups need the excitement of the big city to feed off of and get them going."
Markle, however, believes that the picturesque rural setting of Long View Farm is the perfect soothing elixir for the harried, unpredictable world of rock music. "They come because the equipment is state-of-the-art, it's relaxing, has aesthetically pleasing surroundings and there's no parking tickets, no getting mugged and no having to send out for food."
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.