The Recorded Life of Ducky Carlisle

Photo of Ducky Carlisle in studio by Eric Barao.

The world and the Greater Northeast music scene recently lost one of its finest recording studio wizards. Ducky Carlisle, who operated his studio Ice Station Zebra in Medford, MA, died earlier this month. A drummer, singer, songwriter, and most notably a three-time Grammy-winning recording engineer, Ducky has left an enormous hole in the hearts of those who were lucky to know and work with him.

As a live drummer, Ducky masterfully pounded the skins through many of rock & roll’s sub-genres over the years, including punk, new-wave, singer-songwriter, and power-pop with acts such as The Flashcubes, 1.4.5, Jim’s Big Ego, The Figgs, The Major Labels, and many more.

Impeccably fluent in nearly every musical genre, Ducky’s extensive recording and mixing credits range from national artists such as Mandy Moore and Demi Lovato to Norah Jones, Buddy Guy, and Susan Tedeschi.

Locally, he elevated the sound of hundreds of hometown heroes, a tiny sampling of which include Bleu, Corin Ashley, Rhode Island’s Minky Starshine, Damone, The Figgs, Air Traffic Controller, Bang Camaro and Stoughton native Mike Viola (the voice and co-songwriter of the title-track from Tom Hanks’ film That Thing You Do!), who recently memorialized Ducky as “hands-down, the best engineer I’ve ever worked with.”

In addition to his oft-referenced ‘golden ears’ and technical prowess as a recording engineer, Ducky was known for his encyclopedic love of The Beatles, Northern Soul, R&B and 1970’s era power-pop. His enthusiasm for music was infectious, and he could easily spot the greatness in a song of any style that he turned his attention to.

Photo of Ice Station Zebra.

Less-well known to the outside world was Ducky’s work as an amateur therapist and life-coach. It started with the setting: his home-turned-recording studio was the ultimate safe-space; a non-intimidating refuge for so many who recorded there. Every room was wired for sound; a drum set occupied most of the living room. The original organ from Fenway Park took up residence in the kitchen. Priceless guitars and basses lined every wall, casually leaning against vinyl album-filled shelving in the basement, alongside a dizzying array of classic and vintage recording equipment. A very professional golden-retriever quietly and patiently laid at your feet as you recorded your takes from a well-loved futon sofa.

Beyond the studio vibe, there was Ducky’s sharp comedic wit, endless encouragement, and advice. Anthony Kaczynski of the band Fireking notes: “When you worked with Ducky, he made you feel like he cared as much about your music as you did.” Songwriter Beth Jean remembers a piece of relationship advice delivered by Ducky: “If you’re dating a guy, take him to the grocery store and ask him to pick out the honey. If he doesn’t get the honey that comes in the little bear, dump him immediately.” It was that essential fun, playfulness, and heart that Ducky knew was most important, and alongside the high-fidelity sounds that he so effortlessly achieved, it was that fun and heart that shines most brightly throughout his extensive discography.

As tributes and memorials continue to amass, a list of his recording credits can be found at AllMusic and Discogs online. RIP, Ducky. •