Morin Heights' Le Studio has star-studded past and uncertain future

The legendary Morin Heights, Que., studio, where David Bowie, Rush and The Police all recorded, has seen better days. But has it passed the tipping point of salvation?

David Bowie, Roberta Flack and Keith Richards all recorded at now-abandoned Quebec studio

Rush lead singer Geddy Lee at Le Studio in an undated photo. Rush recorded several albums and a few music videos at the Morin Heights studio. (André Perry Studios)

If any building ever had a soul, it was probably Le Studio.

It gave birth to some of the most iconic records of the past half century: The Police's Synchronicity, The Bee Gees' Children of the World and songs from Saturday Night Fever, three Cat Stevens albums and seven Rush records were all recorded within its wood-lined walls.

David Bowie, Roberta Flack and Keith Richards all laid down tracks in the cabin in the woods in Morin Heights, Que. It was a epicentre of sorts in an era when artists still wrote in studios and spent months of their lives perfecting the exact sound they were after. 

But now, 30 years after the studio built by legendary recording engineer and producer André Perry was sold off to the Spectra group (and later another group of investors), even the ghosts of its rock-and-roll past seem to have vacated.

The bones of the building are exposed, its sagging roof barely able to keep the damp out. The floorboards are torn up, windows smashed and the deck is hanging on by the rusty nails.

"There was a soul there and the soul is long-time gone now," said Perry. "For me, what is there is what was there — the memories — and not what is there now."

The studio has long been of interest to music devotees — a place of pilgrimage for many. Scrawled on the one inkling of its past that remains, a pool table, is an impassioned message from Rush fans.

Musician Richard Baxter, right, said he's a big Rush fan and fell in love with Le Studio after he visited in the early 2000s. (Richard Baxter/Facebook)

Several groups and individuals have tried to resurrect it over the years as the property changed hands and fell on hard times, the latest is Richard Baxter.

A musician and well-known Montreal street performer, Baxter had his eye on the iconic studio for decades.

"I always dreamed of getting that place," he said. " I always say, 'If I won the (Lotto) 6/49, that's the place I'm going to buy."

In the early 90s, Perry sold the studio for millions to the Spectra group, the guys behind the Montreal International Jazz Festival. After realizing studio recording wasn't really their milieu, they sold it for considerably less a few years later.

The studio is now owned by a numbered company. In arrears on taxes, the property could be auctioned off as early as this month. 

Baxter, a drummer who has set up two commercial recording studios in the past, wants to buy and restore it, adding a museum component to highlight the studio's storied past.

He first set eyes on the building more than 15 years ago and has a detailed plan to bring back the former glory of Le Studio. 

He's now turning to crowdfunding to realize his dream. His $2.4 million Kickstarter campaign, launched on May 27, has raised $1,850.

"For me, it's not a money thing. I won't make money with this, [maybe] a little bit, but I don't want to charge the bands a lot. I want to help them," he said.

"I've been drumming for 35 years and it would be the biggest achievement I can think of."

Perry is skeptical it will ever happen.

He says several groups and individuals have tried to purchase and resurrect the studio in the past, none successfully.

He also doubts it will make it as far as the auction. It has come close before and the owners have paid off the debt before losing the property. 

Besides, Perry says, the essence of the studio — of that time and that place in musical history — has passed and the tipping point on the building's viability may have passed as well.

Water pools inside the building that once held the famous recording studio. (CBC)

When he initially sold it, he was hopeful that eventually it could be tied to a university with a music program that could have preserved it and used it for educational purposes.

But now, given its current state, Perry said it may be time to bury the past, tear down Le Studio and finally let it rest in peace.

"You can't save that. It's a dream. It's gone. You cannot put it back together," he said.

"It's very sad that it did not have the continuity, but the point is, when it's over, you've got to walk away."

Nestled in Quebec's Laurentian Mountains, the former Le Studio now exists in a significant state of disrepair. (CBC)