American Pickers finds rocker Jack White’s needle-in-a-haystack studio trailer
In a real-life game of hide and seek, American Pickers found a needle in a haystack—and everybody won. Especially musician Jack White and studio engineer Bill Skibbe.
In January, we told you about White’s discovery of a one-of-a-kind studio van that recorded 1970s live albums like Bob Seger’s Live Bullet, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s One More From the Road, and Alive! from KISS. The converted 1969 Chevrolet P30 van also recorded sound for movies like Robert Altman’s Nashville and was even used to record President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural address on January 20, 1977.
As if that isn’t cool enough, White told American Pickers’ Mike Wolfe and Danielle Colby on a recent visit to Third Man Records in Detroit that the Metro Audio studio van came with a converted trailer, which when parked connected to the recording studio via an elevated walkway. Inside the trailer were a tools and service area, storage and lounging space, and a refrigerator. The only problem: White and Skibbe had no idea where it was, so they asked the Pickers’ help to find it.
“It might not even exist anymore,” Skibbe admits. Wolfe concurs, calling the search a “shot in the dark.” Colby, however, is eager to start looking.
Working from a handwritten receipt that Skibbe found from 2005, Colby works the phones until she locates the buyer, Jamie Ambrose, in Florida. Good news: Ambrose still owns the trailer, but it hasn’t been used in years. Mike Wolfe’s brother, Rob, and his sidekick Diamond Dave are soon on the road to check it out.
What the two discover is a dilapidated trailer that doesn’t look much like the one in the Metro Audio brochure. All four tires are flat, it suffers from rust and rot, and it’s painted white, not yellow and red like in the pictures. Ambrose says she bought the trailer years ago to transfer her belongings from Pennsylvania to Florida, but she didn’t know its significance at the time.
Robbie and Dave, still unsure if this is the trailer they’re looking for, peer inside. Their doubt dissipates. The letters QP were stenciled on the main door, and Dave says, “QP is ‘Quiet Please.’ There’s no reason to have ‘Quiet Please’ on a trailer unless it was used for some sort of recording.”
Further proof is the wood-paneled walls and the additional door up front.
“The outside of this thing looks like it’s trashed, but the inside—it had a purpose,” Robbie says. “Having that door in the front that would actually connect to the main rig was a big piece to that puzzle.”
The two decide that this is, indeed, the Metro Audio trailer.
“It’s so crazy, man,” Robbie says. “Can you imagine? It’s in bad shape, but the fact of the matter is it connects to the truck, and that’s why Third Man Records needs this piece.”
Ambrose, “amazed” by the trailer’s history, asks $5000 for it. Robbie offers $3500. They shake on $4000. With all of its problems, Robbie and Dave decide to haul it to Detroit on a flatbed trailer.
Meanwhile, Mike Wolfe and Colby are picking in Deckerville, Michigan, located north of Detroit, and they agree to meet White and Skibbe at Third Man to check it out after Robbie and Dave drop it off.
“You did it. I don’t know how, but you did it,” White says, then repeats the lyrics of a hit song by Peaches & Herb. “Reunited, and it feels so good.”
White says gleefully, “There’s no doubt this is it,” and then Skibbe seals the deal when he discovers a metal hook in the trailer’s toolbox that perfectly matches one that’s missing from the trailer’s wall.
“It’s pretty cool to go over the small details with these guys, because every time we talk about one, they get more excited, and I get it …,” Wolfe says. “If they really really want to do this and do it right, they really need this trailer—and this is it.”
White, a 12-time Grammy Award winner, is already considering the possibilities.
“I can’t wait for us to bring this back to life and have that first band record through it and see what they do with it,” he says. “I want to get to the future by embracing the beauty of the past and marrying it to what’s good right now.”
The reunion wouldn’t have happened without the help of American Pickers.
“Every piece of this has come together just like a puzzle, just like a story,” Colby says. “It was meant to be here with you.”
“I believe it was,” White says.
We’ll let you know when a full restoration is complete and the Metro Audio rig is ready to record music again.
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The Metro Audio mobile recording unit actually was mentioned on Bob Seger’s Live Bullet album. I think it’d be great if Jack White put together a live show with Detroit rockers like Seger, Jimmy McCarty and Johnny Bee of the Detroit Wheels and record it with the mobile.
we got the 16-track tape machine rolling out back
If you’ll sing with me just a little bit,
I won’t guarantee it,
but you just might end up on an album”
So cool! I agree … that would be an awesome “tribute” concert and a great way to kick off the Metro Audio studio’s next chapter.
I was in the audience singing w/ Bob Seger on the Live Bullet Album 1st of 2 Shows that day. I feel Honored to be part of Detroit Rock n Roll History!
Such a great story, the Pickers are Awesome. We love Robbie and his side kick! Love it when the come to Michigan to, the find of 4 motorcycles by Mike were such a great find as well! Keep up the great shows!
Love stories about finds and restorations to a place in time that worthy of revisiting. This is a good example but the ace of aces for me was tne Aerosmith truck. Thanks for the effort and for sharing great stories
Looked a bit rough in the top picture.
need Frank back.