Like countless studios past and present, Portland’s Jackpot! Recording Studio began in a basement. That, however, changed quickly.
Larry Crane founded his home studio (which he originally called Laundry Rules Recording) with the money he got after being doored on his bike. Crane soon began attracting more and more clients—word was getting around that his operation, unlike several other makeshift recording studios of the era, actually provided nice gear.
“It was a different time,” Crane says, referring to Portland in the late 1990s. “A home studio was like an eight-track reel-to-reel tape machine. Jackpot!, when it first opened, had a two-inch, 16-track machine. Then, just having anything you could record on, they were like ‘Oh my god!’ Now they don’t even ask, they just come in.”
The basement was no longer cutting it. “I had a wife and a roommate, and it was getting kind of noisy,” he says. “Bands had to go all the way through the house to use the restroom, and to have someone go through your whole house when nobody else is home—kind of weird.”
A friend of Crane’s told him that singer/songwriter Elliott Smith was also looking to open a legitimate recording studio. The two were introduced, and opened the first Jackpot! location at the beginning of 1997 in inner Southeast Portland, right around the corner from the Lone Fir Cemetery. (In 2007, Jackpot! relocated to its current location at 2420 SE 50th.) They rented the space for just $500 a month, and Crane offered artists studio time in exchange for carpentry work. “I just really thought I could make the leap,” he says. Clearly, the move paid off.
It also resulted in a lasting partnership between Crane and Smith, who would record bits and pieces of Either/Or and XO at Laundry Rules and Jackpot!, respectively. Crane is also Smith’s official posthumous archivist, a side gig that, along with his role as editor and publisher of the bimonthly recording magazine Tape Op, keeps him well occupied.
But Smith is far from Jackpot!’s only star client. Sleater-Kinney recorded All Hands on the Bad One and One Beat at the studio, with John Goodmanson producing. R.E.M. members Peter Buck and Mike Mills laid down demos for what would become the band’s swan song, 2011’s Collapse into Now. One of Crane’s favorite albums cut at Jackpot! is Fernando Viciconte’s extremely underrated Old Man Motel—a power-pop pièce de résistance ripe for rediscovery.
Jackpot! and Crane’s solid batting average has made the studio’s services highly sought after on a local and national level. Like other popular recording studios, people aren’t necessarily paying for the space or gear—they’re paying because magic happened there.
“I certainly get work just based on the work I’ve done with Elliott Smith,” Crane says. “They’ll think, ‘Well, if he’s sensitive to what made those records sound right, then maybe he’ll be good for me.’”
And unlike the majority of world-renowned recording studios, Jackpot! is still relatively accessible, with a day rate of $350 without an engineer and $550 with the studio’s house engineer, Adam Lee. “We’re pretty comparable to anything that has the same amount of amenities as us,” Crane says. “If we were in New York, it would be like $1,000 a day just to get in the door.”