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John J. Ariosa Jr., founder of Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts and collector of vintage audio equipment, dies

John J. Ariosa Jr. relocated his recording studio to Phoenix in Baltimore County in 1978.
John J. Ariosa Jr. relocated his recording studio to Phoenix in Baltimore County in 1978. (Handout / HANDOUT)

John J. Ariosa Jr., the founder of what became Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts and a former resident of Phoenix in Baltimore County, died April 11 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida, of a massive infection. He was 71.

“John was truly one of a kind. He could build or fix almost anything,” wrote Richard “Vance” Van Horn, who worked with Mr. Ariosa and later purchased the business, in an email. “He had a mind like a trap and could tell you where everything was, when it had been purchased, or when it was repaired. I worked with John for over 40 years.”

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John Joseph Ariosa Jr., son of John Joseph Ariosa, a contractor who owned Park Manor Inc., and his wife, Betty Carter McLeod Ariosa, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Guilford.

After graduating from McDonogh School in 1967, he earned an associate degree from what is now CCBC Catonsville, where he became the resident expert in audio-video and was a reliable resource for both his classmates and instructors.

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While a student at McDonogh, Mr. Ariosa began to assert his lifelong independence when refused to conform to a school dress code, and during his teenage years, he fell under the spell of the music of Frank Zappa, after he was introduced to the Baltimore native’s music by an older sister, Savitri Gauthier.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Ariosa had his own band, the Energy Complex.

“Throughout his entire life, John wouldn’t suffer bullies or lecturers lightly,” Ms. Gauthier, of Cockeysville, wrote in an email. “He always forged his own unique pathway, initially, with tremendous support from his father, affectionately known to family intimates as ‘The Golden A.’”

“He built a recording studio in the basement of our home, let his hair grow long and played bass guitar with a small group of friends who formed a band which rehearsed in our living room, and when they did, the whole house shook — literally — things might vibrate off the shelves in the bathrooms,” Ms. Gauthier wrote. “This was surprisingly well-tolerated by his family.”

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Mr. Ariosa established the Sound Factory, where he sold audio equipment, in a Reisterstown Road corridor in Northwest Baltimore, and later moved the business in 1972 to a shopping center in Timonium across from the Maryland state fairgrounds.

At the Timonium store, he added a recording studio in the rear of the business, which he named Sheffield Recordings, after seeing the name on a can of paint lacquer and “liked the sound of it,” his sister said, and quickly became quite popular.

Eventually giving up the retail end of the business, Mr. Ariosa went full time into the recording business, and with financial support from his parents, he relocated to Phoenix in Baltimore County in 1978 where he constructed a state-of-the-art recording studio from the foundation up that he named Sheffield Audio-Video Productions, which eventually became the firm’s present name.

In addition to a full soundstage, he built several recording studios, which he installed in several trucks, one of which was 72 feet long, which allowed him and his technicians to travel off-site to remote locations where they were able to provide audio-video services.

In addition to operating an actual video and sound recordings business, Mr. Ariosa conducted a technical school to teach audiovisual arts. Visitors to Sheffield were greeted by a 1950s color TV camera in the lobby along with a collection of generations of multitrack recorders. On the building’s second floor, he installed his collection of vintage microphones and gold albums.

His passion for collecting extended to his Phoenix home where tables held old-fashioned vacuum tubes, transistors, resistors, capacitors, chassis and integrated circuits. He installed antique Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater and Klipsch speaker cabinets in his home as well. For many years, he enjoyed attending auctions where he tracked down and successfully bid on antique sound equipment.

If a piece of equipment failed, Mr. Ariosa, a perfectionist, climbed around the floor and under consoles until he was able to diagnose the problem and fix it. One close friend who had worked for him for some years described his work as “meticulous,” a trait he expected from others.

Two of his closest buddies were Larry Hall, a popular drive-time announcer for AM radio stations WCBM and WCAO during the 1970s, whose voice later became associated with so many local commercials for cars, jewelry, furniture stores and schools, and included such ads for the Maryland State Fair, T. Rowe Price, what is now Towson University, Northrop Grumman.

Mr. Hall was 57 when he died in 2001. Another close friend was Greg Novik, founder with his wife, Kathy, of Greg’s Bagels in Belvedere Square in 1989. A musician from early in life, he had mastered the piano, saxophone, bass and guitar, and had his own band, Greg Novik and the Novacanes, in the 1960s. He died in 2017 at the age of 71.

Wanting to slow down a bit, Mr. Ariosa moved to Sarasota in 2004 and sold the business in 2016 to his longtime associate Mr. Van Horn.

“His legacy is not only his accomplishments but also the people he trained and put out into the world,” Mr. Van Horn said. “John could be a complicated person, and at times you would think he hated you, but as we all got older we realized that ‘hardness’ made a lot of us who we are today. That said, John also had a heart of gold and would do anything for you.

“I don’t think I saw him take a vacation more than a couple of times in the last 30 years because of his love and dedication to Sheffield and the staff. John never wanted anyone to know who he was. I think most people that came here thought he was the cleaning or maintenance guy because he wasn’t ashamed to empty the trash or work on equipment. He led by example, a rare thing these days.”

Even though he had retired to Sarasota, he still kept his hand in with Sheffield, procuring needed equipment or offering technical advice when needed. Not content to be idle, he established a business he named Used Volts, which “catered to the needs of techno-geeks in the industry,” his sister wrote. “From his youth, he loved purchasing old nonfunctioning equipment and fixing it up. He maintained a lively interest in things electronic throughout his entire life.”

His sister described him as a private person, especially in recent years, and a minimalist whose wardrobe when he died consisted of seven shirts, two pairs of jeans, a belt, and three pairs of shoes.

He was a fan of Indian food and especially of the now-closed Bamboo House in Cockeysville.

Plans for a memorial gathering to be held in Baltimore are incomplete.

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In addition to his sister, Mr. Ariosa is survived by a brother, David Ariosa of Cincinnati; another sister, Gina Ariosa of Portland, Oregon; two nephews; and two nieces. Marriages to the former Kathy Garrett and the former Barbara A. Robinson ended in divorce.

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