PEKIN - When he was growing up in Pekin, Chris Gilbert lived near a building that once housed Golden Voice Recording Studio. It is fair to say that Gilbert became curious about the history of Golden Voice. That curiosity led to research, and his research led to Gilbert working on a written history of the studio. He has completed the research and is currently working on transcribing his notes into a reader-friendly format. He expects to complete the work later this year, and although he has not yet decided on a title, he is considering naming it “The Golden Voice Story.”
“My research has revealed a lot about Golden Voice Studio and how its history relates to the local area,” said Gilbert. “It’s revealed to me how important the work of Jerry Milam, the studio’s original owner, was to the music scene in central Illinois. Music is a large part of youth culture anywhere, so Golden Voice would have been really influential on the youth culture in the area in the 1960s and 1970s.”
Among the more famous bands that recorded at Golden Voice in its 12 years of existence were REO Speedwagon, Styx and Head East. Additionally, mixing engineer Andy Wallace, who later became famous for his work with his band Nirvana, got his start at Golden Voice.
“The reason Nirvana’s album 'Nevermind' sounds the way it does is in part to Golden Voice’s influence on Andy Wallace,” said Gilbert. “This is a really important thing to recognize. Teenagers will still be listening to Nirvana in 20 years, maybe longer, and Golden Voice played a role in that.”
Golden Voice, according to Gilbert, punched well above its weight in that it enabled a culture of creativity and provided a path to relevant cultural expression for many people.
“It’s kind of a shame that nobody has bought the building and turned it into a museum,” Gilbert said. “Pekin and Golden Voice are important to me because I grew up there and this is probably the most culturally impactful thing Pekin has contributed to the wider world, and it deserves to be known. If you are of a certain age, born after Golden Voice was gone, you might have grown up in Pekin thinking there was nothing special about where you lived. But that’s not true. Someone who was bored with the status quo went out and built something from the nothing of central Illinois, and that something is still having an impact on the music industry at large 40 years after the studio shut down.”
Gilbert, now living in Chicago, is currently the founder and proprietor of Alona’s Dream Records, a label that releases archival punk, garage, and psychedelic rock in vinyl, compact disc and digital formats.
“Our first release was by a band called The Ravens,” said Gilbert. They were the band that (late comedian and singer) John Belushi performed with when he was in high school.”
Most of the music that Alona’s Dream Records releases has never previously been put out in any form. Among the label’s releases are four records that were recorded at Golden Voice, including The Wombats, who were the first band to perform in the studio.
“Contacting the bands is basically a combination of research and shoe leather,” Gilbert said. “I use the available resources to find the people I know were in a certain band. In some cases, it’s as simple as looking someone up in a phone book, and sometimes, there’s a certain amount of networking involved. I’m fortunate to know a lot of people who have made a lot of interesting music. The ability to connect with the original artists and work with their consent is important to what I do so it can dictate what I release.”
To learn more about Alona’s Dream Records, visit the label’s website at alonasdreamrecords.com.