I’m very sad to learn of the death of Graeme Thomas, my good friend from Australia who was the brainchild of Preston Records and Preston Studios.
Graeme was a rockabilly kid who played bass in several of the earliest Australian rockabilly revival bands in the 1970s and 1980s. Always fiercely chasing the original sound of the 1950s, he bought a bunch of vintage recording gear from the Australian Broadcasting Company at an auction in the 1980s and put together his own vintage-style Preston Recording Studios, the first retro-styled recording studio Down Under.
Graeme loved all kinds of vintage music, from rockabilly to blues and country and Western swing and surf—anything “old,” really, and recorded nearly every Australian act that performed those styles of vintage music. He even recorded a few visiting foreign acts like myself (check out my EP “Deke Down Under” to hear four songs I recorded at Graeme’s studio). The sound quality and QUANTITY of the product he recorded over a space of thirty-something years is astounding. Thousands of songs, hundreds of records, endless compilations. When Graeme was feeling good and his equipment was working right, he was capable of amazing sonic sculptures. If he wanted to make it sound like Sun Records 1957, he could do it—you’d swear you were listening to records made in Memphis sixty years ago. I heard Western swing recordings he produced that sounded like they could have been Bob Wills outtakes. He was an amazing engineer and producer with a great ear and a unique vision that he completely realized before he passed.
Graeme was also incredibly generous. Every time I visited him, he would give me some incredible gift. The first time I met him, we got to talking about Joe Meek and the British-made Vortexion valve mixers that Meek used. I told him I had never seen one in person, and he went to the back room and dug out an extra one that he had and gave it to me. It was the start of a long friendship. He gave me stacks of Australian records. He would’ve given me the shirt off his back, I’m convinced. I sent him several packages of great American records and vintage bits, but there was no way that I could’ve equaled his generosity. He was a prince of a guy.
Graeme was definitely a nut, but in the best possible way. He made a trip over to the States, must have been around 2007. I saw him at the Green Bay rockabilly festival, and he was beside himself that the crew running the PA was making everything too “modern” sounding. I saw him getting into arguments with the sound guy, and I think he eventually got ejected from the festival for creating a nuisance. But that’s just who he was. Music meant everything to him. I‘ve met a lot of passionate music people in my long career, but Graeme was passionate to a fault. Bad music literally hurt him, like a dagger through his heart.
I hope that Graeme finds peace on the other side, where he can have long talks with Sam Phillips and Owen Bradley. Surely if he is able, he’s already building out a vintage-style recording studio in the clouds somewhere, and setting up a recording session with Jerry Lee Lewis. Somewhere he’s playing endless stacks of old records, and pontificating to all those who will listen about the endless little nuances in the productions that only he can hear.
Gonna miss you, buddy. RIP Graeme Thomas, Preston Studios/Preston Records, Australia.