Music Row veteran, William Thomas ‘Bil VornDick, 72, was remembered in a special ceremony at Ocean Way Studio in Nashville on Tuesday evening, September 20. The audio engineer/producer to the stars passed away July 5, just five days following a cancer diagnosis. His substantial impact on the music industry spanned five decades.
His memorial service began with a beautiful musical prelude by celebrated harpist, Cynthia Wyatt, with her son, Zander, on mandolin.
Multi-instrumentalist, Craig Duncan, was the first spokesperson.
“I had the honor of working with Bil for 31 years in the studio. We are here today to honor, give comfort, and support.”
Duncan went on to explain Bil with one “L.”
“There were three boys in his first grade class named Bill. His teacher said you will be Bil with one L.
VornDick was Bil with one “L” ever since.
Duncan, who recorded 105 albums with VornDick, shared some of Bil’s history, including the significance of the site for the ceremony.
“Bil and Patricia suggested that Belmont University purchase Ocean Way. He then taught here on Saturday mornings for 14 years.”
A hands-on instructor, VornDick would invite musicians to bring a variety of instruments to his class, saying he wanted to test out recording different ones. And he shared trade secrets. A sheet of vital information was hung in his studio. He gave one to every student and many artists he recorded. Duncan displayed his.
“It tells the frequency of all keys and what to do about recording. It is wonderful having his memorial service here at Ocean Way.
I worked with Bil from 1992 until May (2022) on the last record he completed. He used his ears about sounds to record and it was perfect. He was always learning to do the best things. Bil was the best guy in punching in 16th note projects. None of us could pay what Bil was worth.”
Duncan played the first song of many musical tributes to the master sound engineer. An original tune, New Day Dawning, was rendered on the hammered dulcimer.
“It fits the right mood of memory and hope,” he concluded.
Duncan’s performance was followed by VornDick’s longtime friends and recording artists, Jerry Douglas and Béla Fleck.
Fleck explained that Bil invited them to meet for breakfast. “He said, ‘I want to engineer bluegrass stuff in Nashville.’ So we hired him. He kicked ass. He was very free with his information. He explained things and made us better musicians and in control of our own music. He made a session fun.”
Douglas whole-heartedly agreed. “Bil opened the door for us. He was the conduit that we played music into for all different formats of recording. Bil turned us on to so many different things. I have a Grammy all because of Bil.”
Fleck continued, “He was the best engineer I knew. I wasn’t sure he’d know what to do the Flecktones’ jazz recording. It stood up well.”
Douglas praised VornDick’s innate talent in the studio, and his ability to capture the best possible sound. “You would take his recording for mastering and they would say, ‘What do you want us to do?'”
The trio of dobroist Douglas, banjoist Fleck, and bassist Edgar Meyer performed several epic tunes originally recorded under VornDick’s supervision as part of the musical tributes during the memorial service.
Several eulogies from his peers in the music industry were read that included impactful statements such as…
“Bil was my Santa Claus because he always gave me gifts.”
“Bil was such as inspiration. He said, ‘Every day of my life, I tried to be as much like Jesus as I could be.'”
Bil VornDick accomplished much in his 72 years. In his youth, he was a 4-Her, an Eagle Scout, and drum major of his high school. In 1979, he graduated from Belmont University and was hired by Marty Robbins to be his chief recording engineer. In the 1980s, he worked in a new acoustic music genre, recording the Dillards, Rhonda Vincent, Dan Tyminski, and Doyle Lawson to name a few. He helped found IBMA, became an adjunct professor for Belmont, a chairman of AES (Audio Engineering Society), a Boy Scout Leader, as well as a 33rd-degree Mason and a Shriner. He is survived by his wife, Patricia, and two children, Brittney and Wilson, their spouses, and five grandchildren.
Patricia shared a remark Bil had made once he knew he was dying. “I’m doing my final fade.”
Near the close of the service, VornDick was posthumously presented a lifetime achievement award from AES. Donations can be made in Bil’s name to Nashville Engineer Relief Fund (NERF) or MusiCares.