Today we’d like to introduce you to John Strand.
John, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Saving a music studio – a historic one at that — wasn’t something I planned to do. But it was clear it was something I needed to do, evolving from a deathbed promise. I don’t break promises, but at the same time, I had no idea I was headed down a rabbit hole.
A decade ago, in 2009, I was introduced to Shiloh Elkins, wife of Bill Elkins and together they were the 50-year co-owners of The Alley Music Studio. Even then, I recognized Shiloh to be one of the kindest women – among the kindest human beings — I had ever met. Through her, I met Bill and the young woman who they considered to be their “unofficial adopted daughter,” Deanna. After a whirlwind romance, Deana and I engaged to be married.
By spending time at the studio, I learned of the rich history, the iconic musicians who got their start there and how The Alley cultivated generations of musicians and genre cross-pollination. Unfortunately, by the time I was allowed into the inner circle, The Alley was already in decline. As both a professional photographer and an accomplished filmmaker, I realized the story of the studio must be told in order to save it.
I mean, this unassuming two building music studio in the middle of North Hollywood was a hub for a long era of influential musicians: Mick Fleetwood, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Jackson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Prince, and Frank Sinatra are only a few. The roll call unfurls on and on — and yet no one outside of certain musicians knew about it. In 2010, I pitched the concept of a documentary to Bill who adamantly vetoed the idea.
All these years later, I now understand why this was “the best-kept secret in the industry” Bill had laid down some hard rules about The Alley back in the 70s. No one was allowed to talk about The Alley or what happened at The Alley to outsiders. If they did so, they understood there were consequences, and no one wanted to risk getting banned from the studio or worse.
In the 90s, Annie Leibowitz also wanted to document The Alley. Bill vehemently rejected the idea. “I threw her ass out,” is not exactly what he said but you get the idea. Leibowitz was never allowed inside again. His reasons for absolute secrecy would later surface after his death, but until then, no one dared to cross Bill. Over the next few years, the studio began to fall into disrepair, and the people who held it close also began to die. Deanna was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2013.
At that point, I had stepped away from The Alley to heal emotionally and was unaware of the rapid series of tragedies that had befallen the studio. Shiloh’s mother died shortly after Deanna. Then, in November of 2016, Bill who had been struggling with dementia and diabetes passed away in hospice leaving Shiloh drowning in debt and depression. In an attempt to save The Alley, Shiloh hired an ambitious promoter named Todd to turn the tide.
For a brief time, there was progress, and there was hope. But Todd was a heavy drinker and was found dead at the bottom of a secret staircase one night. Todd’s death was more than Shiloh’s spirit could handle. She, who had been in remission from cancer for years began to decline. Her father brought her up north to his home where she suffered a stroke and was placed in hospice. The studio went on the market shortly after. It wasn’t until The Alley went into escrow and slated to become a nail salon that I received a panicked phone call from a friend.
I quickly reached out to Shiloh and she asked me to save The Alley. I promised I would. She died two days later. I then sold my house and all my assets to stop the sale and I have been doing everything in my power to keep it up and running.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Aside from raising the capital to buy the studio, a big struggle I had was vacating the residents of The Alley. Up until Shiloh’s death, The Alley had always been a sort of haven for misfits. Back in the 70s, when Bill expanded the studio into the neighboring building, he built a second level and sectioned it off into crashpads.
A lot of big names stayed here for a while like Ozzy, Linda, and David Crosby. But over the decades, aspiring musicians turned drug addicts moved in and never left. And when I took over, no one wanted to leave because they had no money and nowhere to go. The riff-raff started stealing memorabilia and selling off equipment. I jumped in to protect what was left.
Cleaning out the studio was another big challenge. As Bill’s mental health deteriorated, he devolved into a hoarder. While the music rooms were clean, there was junk, boxes of machine parts, broken equipment and to-go food containers everywhere. The place had been neglected for a long time.
The living quarters which is now our office space was the worst of it. We filled, in total, five industrial waste containers with debris, rotting furniture and junk. We also discovered things a lot of illegal things that explained why Bill was so secretive about what went on here. I can’t go into details about it right now, but there was a very dark side to the studio.
The Alley Music Studios – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am so incredibly proud to be a part of The Alley and humbled by the opportunity to preserve it. We’re still discovering new ways in which The Alley was an integral influence on the culture and history of music.
The Alley is, quite literally, a time machine back to the 70s. We’ve made a few adjustments and repairs, but the rooms are just as they were when Frankie Valli, Bonnie Raitt, Carol King, Warren Zevon, The Eagles, and The Flying Burrito Brothers started rehearsing here. I’d like to think it pays homage to not just Bill’s vision, but also to the artists who came here in the very beginning and made The Alley what it was and is.
We made sure not to affect the reverberation of the rooms; the live performances still sound incredible. The original brick room is covered in hundreds of autographs from Etta James to Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra to Alice Cooper, and Bob Marley to Jimi Hendrix. During concerts and tours, we allow people to take pictures. It’s like more like a museum in some aspects.
What are your plans for the future? What are you looking forward to or planning for – any big changes?
Currently, we are looking for investors and team members to help with our expansion.
Most recently, Dennis Lorenzo, one of the top ten finalists on American Idol of 2018 has joined The Alley team as a producer. We’re excited to see what he can do. As a live performance venue, we’ve partnered with Airbnb as a Hallmark concert location for Los Angeles to host the new generation of musicians. We have also partnered with Advantage Video Systems which will enable The Alley to broadcast events and programming 24/7. We’re in the process of creating and building content.
We’re always open to commercial shoots, film and TV productions, record release parties and corporate events. One of our community projects, The Alley School of Rock, will offer free and low-cost music lessons from some of The Alley’s past clients. And, we are involved in non-profit campaigns against human trafficking. As far as the legacy of The Alley, we’re in the process of writing the biography of the studio. We’ve signed with The David Black Literary Agency, Deborah Hofmann is our agent.
We’re also in the beginning stages of shooting a documentary on The Alley and considering scripts for a feature film and TV pilot. There’s still a lot of life in The Alley. I think its best years have yet to come.
- Address:5064 Lankersheim Blvd. North Hollywood, California 91601
- Phone:818 980 9122
The Alley Staff