Petty studio offers step back in time

By Grant McGee: Local columnist

“There is a shower in the men’s room.”

Ah, I thought. My new co-worker has discovered the uniqueness of our radio station’s men’s room, courtesy of the late Norman Petty. Had he not decided to open a recording studio in Clovis there probably wouldn’t be a shower in the men’s room or — in all probability — a Clovis Music Festival.

The festival started Thursday and continues today and Saturday. Tonight it’s a Buddy, Roy and Elvis tribute show. On Saturday, it’s Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and Bobby Vee.

It’s music from another time. Folks come from all over for the festival. My brother is even coming in from south Florida.

At past Clovis Music Festivals I’ve met people from England, Australia and other distant places. “You’ve got to understand,” said one English festival-goer, “Buddy Holly was our Elvis.”

Years ago, new, innovative music that turned the rock ’n’ roll scene on its ear came from a quiet, unassuming building just off the corner of Seventh and Hull known to us all as The Norman Petty Studio.

When I first saw the place in 1999 I wondered why there wasn’t more signage, calling out to passersby, “Hey, lookie here, this is a really cool place!”

It was only this past April that I saw the inside of Norman Petty’s studio. It took a visit from my daughter Wendy to get me in. She’s a Roy Orbison fan and wanted to see where he recorded. I was so impressed how, all the way from North Carolina, she arranged an Easter Sunday tour.

The guy who has the keys to the building, Kenneth Broad, met us there. When he opened the door we zipped from the 21st century back to the time when rock ’n’ roll was king in Clovis.

There were no computers, digital equipment or monitors. There were antique boom microphones, turntables, reel-to-reel tape decks, control boards with dial controls. Along the walls were 45 rpm records from the artists who recorded there: Buddy Holly, Buddy Knox, The Fireballs and many more.

There were pictures of Norman and Vi Petty, there was more vintage equipment, guitars and stuff than I could list in a newspaper column. I snapped a picture of Wendy sitting behind the recording console.

As Kenneth closed the door to the building I was envious of all of the nifty, ancient radios in the different rooms. These were top-of-the-line radios from the time when electronic equipment ran on tubes.

They’re made of fine wood and have dials, glowy things, graphs and stuff. They looked futuristic then. They’re really retro now.

There are tours of The Norman Petty Studio during the festival. I’m going to take my brother there.

If you haven’t been in the studio, check it out. It’s interesting. It’s where history was made. The state of New Mexico has finally recognized this and just put up a historical marker there.
And why is there a shower in the men’s room where I work?

The story is that Petty thought disc jockeys would like a nice shower after a shift, just like the session musicians at his Seventh Street studio.

There’s no shower in our ladies room; the station was built in the day when female DJs were unheard of. But things have changed. Female DJs are all over the airwaves and radios with tubes are all but gone.

Except when you step into Norman’s studio on Seventh Street.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: