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Sound at Heart

Busy McCarroll and Baird Banner at Kludgit Sound, the recording studio they founded in 1976 in a former 1800s opera house in Los Cerrillos.

A Santa Fe couple works to ensure the city remains a vital live music destination

Tunes BY JANNA LOPEZ | PHOTOS BY DANIEL QUAT

Busy McCarroll and Baird Banner have been instrumental players in Santa Fe’s music scene since they first arrived in the city in the early 1970s. McCarroll is a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, Banner a drummer and recording engineer, and they met during a chance encounter at the now-defunct Music of the Spheres, musician Jay Feldman’s vintage stringed instrument store. “I thought, ‘What’s she doing here?’” Banner says. “She was like a tropical flower in a desert. She smiled at me, and that smile led to a friendship, which blossomed into a musical partnership, and then ultimately love. Meeting and falling in love with Busy was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

For years the couple sang and played at venues throughout Northern New Mexico. “There were places created specifically for live music performance,” McCarroll says. “We would finish playing at The Line Camp in Pojoaque, then set up and play until 4 a.m. at an after-hours club on Guadalupe. We had fun . . . there was a lot of partying.”

Banner agrees that it was a golden era for live music in the region. “I saw thousands of people go through the Golden Inn on Highway 14 in the ’70s. I worked with Taj Mahal at the packed Old Martínez Hall in Taos. There were large block dances on Canyon Road. The Golden Inn hosted three bands on weekends.”

The couple is grateful for those opportunities and those memories, as well as for an enduring partnership that includes not just their marriage and daughter (likewise musically accomplished) but also their ongoing dedication to protecting Santa Fe’s musical legacy via education, advocacy, and mentoring.

McCarroll certainly lives up to the moniker given to her as a child growing up in Torrance, California. “My birthname is Mary Elizabeth, but my family called me Mary Liz,” she says. “I never sat still for long. I was always off exploring, so they said, ‘there goes Busy Lizzie.’ I’ve lived up to it. I’m always involved with a lot of things at once.”

In addition to having fronted several local bands, including Busy y Los Big Deals, Busy & The Crazy 88, and SOULed Out, she also sings with the High Hippy Associates, and The Queen and I. McCarroll is also a New Mexico Music Commissioner that consists of a cross section of New Mexico Musicians and Music advocates. In addition, she’s an instructor for The Thunderstorm Singing/Songwriting Club, which started eight years ago at Turquoise Trail Elementary Charter School. She also gives individual vocal lessons.

Banner’s impressive list of musical achievements has its roots in his childhood, which was spent in various places throughout the world due to his father’s work. As the son of television writer, producer, and director Bob Banner, who worked on such iconic shows as The Carol Burnett Show, Candid Camera, Solid Gold, Star Search, and Showtime at the Apollo, Banner became captivated at an early age by sound production.

In addition to working as a studio and performance drummer in numerous bands and for individual artists, mastering sound through engineering is Banner’s unquestionable gift. In 1976 he founded the famed music studio Kludgit Sound in a former Los Cerrillos opera house. Built in the 1800s from limestone from a local quarry, it served as a performance space where Liliy Langtree and Sarah Bernhart performed in the early 1900’s. Baird and McCarroll renovated the space into one of the first multitrack studios in New Mexico, and it quickly became—and remains—a favorite recording spot with musicians from around the world thanks to Banner’s technical and creative direction.

“Over the decades, our studio’s gone through all the technical upgrades and multitrack machines,” says Banner, who uses a range of analog and digital equipment in the recording process. “We’ve been through the evolutions most places have gone through, yet we still have equipment from the original studio.”

Their client list includes Dave Grusin, Roger Miller, Kip Winger, Dennis Hopper, The Grandmothers of Invention (members of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention band), Robbie Robertson, Tony Hymas, Bow Wow Wow, Ollie O’Shea, Val Kilmer, Cameo, Lumbre del Sol, and Eliza Gilkyson, to name a few.

Banner’s expertise is in demand in other ways as well. “I kept getting calls from people to help them with things they saw I’d done at our studio,” he says. To meet the demand, he and a partner founded VAST Technologies, which not only installs sound, lighting, PA, and acoustic systems for various venues, but also helps set up recording studios.

The couple is also active in a number of musical advocacy initiatives, which not even the pandemic could hamper. For instance, when funding for her position as instructor at Turquoise Trail Elementary School ran out, she and her students kept it going online. “Parents lost work, everything was shut down, so I did the class for free for a year.” McCarroll says the music was healing and helped students, teachers, and families find purpose through an uncertain time.”

But there were some restrictions that were impossible to navigate. “A lot of venues suffered over the last few years,” Banner says about the shutdowns. Still, he and his wife are cautiously optimistic. “It’s all about making music in our community, so that’s what we’re focusing on,” Banner says. “If Santa Feans can help rejuvenate and nurture music’s vital environment the way we have for other arts, it will become an even stronger and more well-rounded community.”

The couple is also focusing on improving working conditions, wages, and policies for New Mexico’s musicians. “Venues should be required to have regulations set in place on how musicians are treated regarding pay, setup, safety, parking, loading—all of that,”
McCarroll says. “Inconsistencies can prey on musicians, because in the end, all we really want to do is play. We don’t want to lose a gig. Connecting with audiences is our passion.”

But musicians should know their worth. “Many will play for nothing,” she continues. “As a young artist in my 20s that was my experience, too, until another musician took me under his wing. He taught me how to navigate the business and how to stand up for what I and my music deserve.”

It’s important to the couple that their legacy includes not only their work as musicians and technicians but also as teachers and advocates who work hard to improve conditions and chances for Santa Fe’s musicians and music community.

“Music’s the one thing that, no matter what, brings us together,” McCarroll says. “When all else goes wrong, music remains a constant.”

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