Death of a Studio Owner: RIP Jim Bentley of The Fort Brooklyn

The New York City recording community received a shock this week, as word spread that Jim Bentley, owner of the popular studio The Fort Brooklyn, had died of an apparent suicide on Monday, July 22nd.

As blog posts with information and tributes to Bentley began to surface, a multi-dimensional picture of him began to emerge. He was deeply loved by a great many people – many of whom also knew that he was deeply troubled.

Jim Bentley of The Fort Brooklyn.

Jim Bentley of The Fort Brooklyn, on the job.

He had started The Fort in 2003 as a young engineer in his 20’s, a protege of Malcolm Chisholm the renowned Chess Records recordist who worked with the likes of Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Etta James, and Howlin‘ Wolf. This after a decade as a recording/mix engineer cutting his teeth in Chicago. The first decade of Bentley’s career there as a recording/mix engineer includes countless hours of freelance work at studios both big and small.

Later, at The Fort Brooklyn, his label clients included Universal/Motown, EMI, Capitol, Ecstatic Peace!, Matador, Darla, Le Grand Magistery, Chainsaw, Heartcore, Red Panda, Secretly Canadian, Kiam, and Cordless/Warner, and countless indie artists.

One fellow studio owner who knew Bentley well was Bones Howell, who runs the nearby recording studio Monsterland. The two engineers met working at the now defunct Brooklyn rock club XPO 929 – familiar with each other’s reputations as studio owners, the pair became instant friends and colleagues, with Bentley performing all acoustic consulting and fabrication for Monsterland’s new location, which opened in 2012.

“Jim had an aesthetic that fit in well with the bands in the neighborhood of East Williamsburg/Bed Stuy/Bushwick and the surrounding environs,” Howell says. “It was live off the floor, blown-out garage rock. He was also very flexible and did a great job with jazz and R&B sessions, but he was known around Brooklyn for being a good place for indie rock garage bands.

“He really loved the bands he worked with and it showed in his enthusiasm in the studio, as well as after sessions when we were hanging out and he was playing the bands he recorded. He loved his work.”

As Howell observes, the loss of James Bentley – and presumably The Fort Brooklyn along with him – leaves a significant hole in the NYC recording landscape. “Jim offered a very specific service to bands that will not be easily replaced,” Howell reflects. “He offered recording that was high quality and experienced. He was servicing the garage and indie rock community with a high degree of low fidelity, if that makes sense somehow.

“If you love the Jesus Lizard or Dinosaur JR, and want to make records that approximate that, you were lucky to make your record with Jim at The Fort because he totally got that. Jim was the kind of producer/engineer that would actually come see your band again and again, before and after recording you. He would champion you, and hook you up with whatever contacts he had, just because he loved your band.

“The recording community has lost a studio, The Fort, which is a place to record at a high quality with a seasoned engineer who goes above and beyond the call of duty. We have also lost that seasoned engineer who for all his personal troubles, made some great records, helped a lot of bands along the way and was kind to everyone to a fault.”

A memorial for Bentley is imminent, although the details are yet to be made public.

-    David Weiss