Remembering Fort Apache Studio Owner Gary Smith

The beloved Pixies / Blake Babies / Juliana Hatfield producer died following a short illness

Gary Smith with Tanya Donelly (Image: Facebook)

Anyone who grew up on alternative rock in the 1990s surely owned an album that was recorded at Fort Apache Studios in Boston, MA.

This is why yesterday’s news that the owner of this fabled recording space, Gary Smith, passed away following a brief illness hit the music world so hard. And many of the folks who hired Gary to produce their records took to social media to express their condolences.

In a long statement on his Facebook page, John Strohm wrote about Smith’s integral role in the career of The Blake Babies.

We lost someone today who had a big impact on my life, and on the lives of many people I know,” he wrote. “Gary Smith was a musician, artist, record producer, manager, studio owner, raconteur, and true appreciator of beauty in all forms.” 

Gary Smith with Juliana Hatfield (Image: Instagram)

“I’m sorry for all the people who loved him and stayed close to him ’til the end,” concluded Strohm. “Juliana and Tanya, Bob Kendall Shawn King Devlin . Many others. I assume he stayed close with Billy Bragg and Natalie Merchant, who were among his closest friends. It felt good to be friends with Gary, because he was so smart and funny that he made you feel smart and funny. He was obsessive and neurotic but he laughed easily, including at himself quite often. He was an amazing guy and I’m grateful to have known him.”

Bragg actually wrote his own touching eulogy as well upon hearing the news about his old friend.

“Very sorry to learn of the death, after a short illness, of one of my dearest friends, Gary Smith,” he wrote on Facebook. “I met him in the mid-80s when his band Lifeboat opened for me at the Living Room in Providence, Rhode Island. He was running a recording studio in Boston called Fort Apache where in the following years he produced records by Throwing Muses, the Pixies, 10,000 Maniacs, the Chills, Blake Babies, Tanya Donelly and Juliana Hatfield among others.

“The Fort was an amazing place where young bands making challenging music could find in Gary a sympathetic ear and a lot of good advice. He produced the ‘Accident Waiting To Happen’ single which I recorded there with the Red Stars, as well the b-side ‘Sulk’ which was written during the session. 


VIDEO: Billy Bragg “Accident Waiting to Happen”

“The Mermaid Avenue tracks that just feature Natalie Merchant and myself were recorded under Gary’s supervision at the Fort, as were the two tracks that Natalie and I wrote and recorded together there, ‘Party of God’ and ‘Bread and Circuses’.

“Toward the end of the 90s, he moved to rural New Hampshire where he led the rebirth of the local radio station and opened a venue/restaurant called ‘Popolo’. He was also godfather to our son, Jack.

“Dedicated to the idea of community, whether at Fort Apache or in the small New Hampshire town he made his home, Gary was the kind of guy who could make things happen. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”

Among the albums Gary produced include Pixies’ first EP, Come on Pilgrim, Throwing Muses’ House Tornado, Blake Babies’ Sunburn, The Chills’ Submarine Bells and Juliana Hatfield’s Hey Babe among others. 

Some of the classic albums recorded at Fort Apache include Radiohead’s The Bends, The Lemonheads’ Lovey, Weezer’s Pinkerton, Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind and the first three Morphine LPs among many other titles.

Gary will be greatly missed.


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Ron Hart

Ron Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Rock and Roll Globe. Reach him on Twitter @MisterTribune.

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