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What is The Honky Château?

What is The Honky Château?

Holly Conquer |

Today we're taking a closer look at Château d'Hérouville, the house and studio Elton John named his fifth album after.

Who would have guessed that a nearly three-hundred-year-old mansion on the outskirts of Paris would be responsible for so many smash hits of the 70s and 80s? 

Elton John - Honky Château - Gatefold LP Vinyl Record - EX/VG+

The Honky Château (or Château d'Hérouville to give it its real, French name) was built in the mid-eighteenth century to be used as a post office. It acted as a courier ‘halfway mark’ between the Parisian suburbs of Versailles and Beauvais.

The house boasted thirty separate rooms, along with over four acres of land (not to mention its own tennis court and pool). More importantly for the music industry, the Château would later go on to harbour its own recording studio.

The house was acquired by famous composer Michel Magne in 1962, and it was he who decided to install the ‘residential’ studio in 1969 after a fire had torn through the west wing of the building earlier that year.

MICHEL MAGNE composer and owner of the honky chateau
You might assume that Elton John came up with the nickname 'Honky Château'. However, it was actually coined by US musician Rex Foster, who was the first artist to record at the Château in late 1969. He continued working at the studio into 1970, and then went on to release the finished album ‘Roads of Tomorrow’ in 1971.

Listen to 'Roads of Tomorrow' on YouTube:

Not much else has been said by Foster (on record, at least) about how or why he came up with the nickname, but for visiting artists to refer to the building as The Honky Château became steeped in tradition from that moment on.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, The Honky Château played host to many exceptionally famous faces, including Fleetwood Mac, T. Rex, Bee Gees, Pink Floyd, and Elton John (along with many more). Elton even named his fifth studio album after the Château having already titled the opening track ‘Honky Cat’ – it was evident that he had an affinity with the building, especially seeing as it inspired his first of seven consecutive number-one albums.  

Elton John - Honky Cat - Limited Edition 7" Vinyl Record

Another band that had a fond recollection of The Honky Château were The Grateful Dead, who in 1971 were on the search for a place to stay whilst they performed at a local French music festival. At the time, the band were completely oblivious to the fact that the Château even had a recording studio, but fate seemingly had plans for them.

In an unfortunate turn of events, the festival that the band were scheduled to perform at had become entirely flooded due to horrendous weather that week. So, the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist Jerry Garcia did the only sane thing that could be done when you’re stranded in a property with acres of land, a fully operational studio and all of the band’s equipment. He relocated the party to the Château.

“We were there with nothing to do: France, a 16-track recording studio upstairs, all our gear, ready to play, and nothing to do,” Garcia recalled. “We decided to play at the chateau itself, out in the back, in the grass, with a swimming pool, just play into the hills. We played and the people came — the chief of police, the fire department, just everybody. It was an event and everybody just had a hell of a time — got drunk, fell in the pool. It was great”.

Being one of the first well-established bands to use the Château in this way, and having such an outspokenly positive experience whilst doing so prompted other artists to follow suit. This was the case right up until the mid-1980s when the Honky Château’s studio closed due to legal issues that came off the back of Michel Magne selling the property.

The studio did eventually reopen in 2020, and having undergone a complete renovation, is now under the ownership of a team of sound engineers based in France.

LE CHÂTEAU D'HÉROUVILLE Studios and Residential

Did you know?

Château d'Hérouville was painted by none other than Vincent van Gogh not long before he died in 1890. He spent his life and is buried in Auvers-sur-Oise, less than five miles away from the Honky Château.

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