How the Motown Sound Made its Way Into Rustbelt Studios

In this episode of Essential Conversations, Al Sutton joins Ann Delisi to talk about producing records with some of rock music’s top talent and how the “Wolfbox” brought the Motown Sound to Rustbelt Studios.

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Al Sutton has been recording and producing records for over 25 years.

As the owner and lead producer at Rustbelt Studios, Sutton has produced award-winning records with Kid Rock and Greta Van Fleet, among many others.

Sutton’s producing approach leans toward the old-school with an emphasis on capturing what he calls an “honest performance.” Nowadays he prefers recording without a metronome, and bristles at the idea of sterile, cookie-cutter production techniques.

That pursuit of an honest performance starts where many Detroit music stories start, Motown.

Fond Memories of Motown

Sutton has fond memories of growing up in the early 1970s, riding in the car with his mom and listening to Motown on CKLW.

“It just impregnates your brain and becomes part of your soul. I don’t know what it is … I never get tired of listening to it.”

In 2010, Sutton was working with Motown legend Dennis Coffey, who brought a piece of recording gear with him that was a crucial part of the Motown sound he loved so much as a child. It was a direct box for recording bass guitar, the “Wolfbox,” created by Ed Wolfram.

“I hear this one little box … and it changes the way I record bass guitar. That was it.”

The direct box, which Sutton says sounds better than any other bass DI box in history, made it possible for engineers to record great sounding bass guitar during a live session without an amplifier. 

Sutton would eventually create a new version of this direct box, the Motown D.I., with Coffey and Wolfram. He now manufactures an entire line of Motown-inspired gear with his company, ACME Audio Manufacturing.

In this episode:

  • Al Sutton’s old-school approach to producing records
  • Getting the best performances out of musicians in the studio
  • How Greta Van Fleet breathed new life into Sutton’s career as a record producer
  • Working with Kid Rock at the beginning of his career
  • The piece of Motown recording equipment that led to the creation of ACME Audio Manufacturing Company 

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  • David Leins
    David Leins is a Podcast Coordinator and Producer at WDET. He also oversees the StoryMakers program. When he isn't making radio and podcasts, David is probably on a hike somewhere marveling at the trees.