Mesa’s 'Saltmine' recording studio a treasure trove of musical history - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Worth its Salt Mesa’s 'Saltmine' recording studio a treasure trove of musical history

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Posted: Monday, September 2, 2013 5:25 am

You’re 15 minutes late to the scheduled interview, stalled by a traffic slog, a lack of direction and a persistent absence of time. Fortunately, the man you’re supposed to meet with, owner Don Salter of Mesa’s The Saltmine Studio Oasis, doesn’t notice the absence and forgets about your interview — you later discover all tall, lean men apparently look alike. So you wait for an extra half hour as he completes the vocal discussion in his office and sets up Studio A for an older couple who appear as if they stepped right off the farm with a young man clad in black.

But waiting has its advantages, as it allows for a chat with a fresh-faced intern still in his third week at the Saltmine. The newbie remains in awe of the place, especially given the names of the people who’ve walked through it over the years. Admittedly, the list of artists — many of its members will receive a name check from Salter — is impressive. There’s DMX and Ludacris, Alicia Keys and Kelly Rowland, Styx and Cheap Trick, the Jonas Brothers and Young MC.

Many of them have left signed mementos on the wall in Salter’s office that have become a bit cluttered, and their presence is marked by the multiple metal-tinged albums around the building. The image Salter creates is a little deceptive — Pink’s M!Ssundaztood has a spot even though it wasn’t taped at the Mesa studio — but it still acknowledges the presence of performers like Lil Wayne, who recorded “Lollipop” from his Grammy-nominated album Tha Carter III at the Saltmine.

Most impressively, the presence of the famous artists in the East Valley remains a secret until their visit is over.

“We talk about things after they happen, not before,” he said.

A quick tour of the place with the impressed intern reveals a facility whose ambiance is a little difficult to define. On the one hand is the studio with etchings of recent cultural icons like Biggie and Tupac — strangely stationed next to each other — which contrasts the sarcophagus waiting for a body at the end of a hallway, the painting of a naked Asian woman, and the “Metropolis” poster residing behind Salter in his office.

The equipment, too, fits the anything goes theme, with hundreds of guitars and amps and keyboards that stretch generations of equipment, as well as the requisite mixing equipment with knobs and switches and buttons to manipulate the final product (visit for a proper rundown).

“We specialize in eclectic,” Salter said of the place.

“Eclectic” applies to the man himself, whether in regards to his clothes —the T-shirt and jeans he wears are contrasted by rainbow-thonged sandals he rocks on his feet — or his musical taste. Basically any member of the British Invasion is on his favored list, and others like the Eagles, Yes, Coldplay and Keane find their way. Jethro Tull holds a special place in his heart, given it was lead singer Ian Anderson who inspired Salter to take up the flute.

Genre wise, he expressed an affinity for hip-hop, rap, R&B, metal, pop and a particular soft spot for Indie pop.

Getting to this point is something of a dream for Salter, who tried to carve out a career for himself as a musician before he moved on to real estate. He did pretty well in the field, but he opted to dive back into music and opened up a recording studio that grew bit by bit by bit until he purchased the building he would later turn into the Saltmine.

It proved to be a useful investment, as he renovated it to feature both studio space and even a little bungalow where people could sleep. That’s the reason he said the studio can keep the celebrity appearances under wraps.

You walk out of Salter’s office and see the two better-dressed people waiting for your time to end, both of whom praise the man for his work with their recording projects over the years. One last goodbye is offered to the intern, who remains awestruck by all the names who’ve darted through the place over the years.

If he stays, he might also have an opportunity to assist in the addition of a few new albums to the Saltmine’s collection.

“Everyone’s trying to get a gold record on the wall,” Salter said.

Online: The Saltmine Studio Oasis;

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