JOE CHICCARELLI: It’s great to see you again. It’s been some years since we met during my assistant engineer days at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles. Well, let’s start at the beginning of your career. I know that your first gig of note was as an assistant for the Beatles?
KEN SCOTT: Yes. I was actually on side two of A Hard Day’s Night. The non-film stuff.
JC: And then how’d you end up getting to engineer Magical Mystery Tour?
KS: At the time I was going through the whole EMI training, which was starting in the Tape Library, then becoming an assistant, then you move up to cutting playback acetates and mastering, and then, perhaps, you get moved up as an engineer. I got lucky. Geoff Emerick and I have discussed how it came to pass that I took over on Magical Mystery Tour. He says it was a planned vacation for him and everyone knew about it, so, he just went on vacation. My recollection is that this was the start of his getting fed up with working on the Beatles’ sessions and he just went out, because, otherwise, if everyone knew he was going on vacation, plans would have been made to get someone to take over for him. They weren’t. It was discovered only a week before that he was no longer doing the sessions. So, I got moved down from mastering. I had a week just hanging out in sessions and then I was on. Terrifying. It was awful, but the very first session we were doing was trying to redo a version of “Your Mother Should Know” that they had already recorded at some independent studio.
JC: So they were using outside studios before the White Album?
KS: Yes. And that wouldn’t be the first time. For instance, “All You Need is Love” was recorded at Olympic with Eddie Kramer as the engineer. So they recorded “Your Mother Should Know” at another studio and Paul wasn’t completely satisfied with it, he wanted to try and re-record it, so that’s what we did first. Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. It was a complete write-off, but because of my past history with them, they were willing to accept it and we moved on from there and I carried on working with them.
JC: I’ve heard that they loved to try everything and anything and the sessions would drag on for weeks. That it wasn’t like plug in a guitar and go!
KS: Well, they would take ages to get the basic track. Remember, back then, we’re doing it four-track and there’s no, ‘Okay, the drums are good, let’s keep them and then redo other things.’ They were all mixed together on one or two tracks, so you had to get everyone happening at the same time. So it would take a while, with everyone learning the arrangement, and just playing it the way they wanted it played.
Take something like “Sexy Sadie,” I think that was three days just to get the basic rhythm track, and it was just them in the studio playing and the tape going the whole time. At the end of the day they would come up to the control room and ask what were the good tracks, which we would have kept a note of: ‘Take one was quite good, then Take five,’ etc. And they listened, and then they would say, ‘Okay, we’ll try again tomorrow.’ That kind of thing.
And the sessions were long, long. Mainly, because of the way Abbey Road was: It was always booked to start at 2:00 pm. Quite often, they wouldn’t arrive until much later. IF they showed up. I mean sometimes they didn’t. We would always know if they weren’t going to turn up because the fans weren’t outside — they always knew. It was amazing. You could go stick your head out the front door, ‘Oh, the girls aren’t there screaming, looks like they’re not coming in today, we might as well go home.’
JC: What was the whole collaboration like between George Martin and the band? For instance, were you an assistant to Geoff Emerick or Norman Smith?
KS: Norman Smith.
JC: So, what was the interaction like? Was it different from what it turned into in the ’70s and ’80s where the engineer was very integral to the session? How often did you jump in and say, ‘Hey, could we try this sound?’
KS: Oh yes, with the Beatles they encouraged us. They were open to everyone coming up with ideas. I think, Chris Thomas has said before now that his first occasion in the sessions for the White Album . . . well, George Martin was on vacation and Chris Thomas was his assistant. So, he got Chris to come by in place of him and Chris said he was terrified, he thought they hated him because he came up with some suggestion, I can’t remember the exact idea, but their response to him was, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ basically. But they went ahead and tried it anyway and that kind of thing went on, especially toward the end because they wanted to try everything. My experience was that George Martin lost control of them and became less important to them as time went on. I think they actually reached the point even with arrangements where they would literally play what they wanted the strings to be on a piano and George just scored it. It wasn’t so much writing the arrangement as just scoring.
JC: So, the White Album was actually not so much them getting rid of George as much as George had been leaving to some degree?
KS: Yeah, perhaps. The thing that no one can quite comprehend is that the Beatles’ sessions could be so boring. They could go on and seem never-ending and nothing seemed to be happening, and, at times, they could be difficult to work with. Oh, most people at Abbey Road did not want to work on Beatles’ projects. It’s like a family, when you’re in there five, six days a week, all of these hours with the same four people, at times you’re going to rub each other up the wrong way. It’s natural.
So, yeah, George Martin probably felt that he was having less and less to say in what it was that was going on. In terms of the engineers’ position, the producer back then was classified as an A&R man, he wasn’t called a producer, as such, and it was Artists & Repertoire; his whole thing was picking songs and making sure they were arranged correctly. So, the producer didn’t really bother too much about the sound. So in the beginning it was all Norman Smith, and I don’t think he got anywhere near the credit that he should have gotten.
But they’d all be there for a basic track. . . . Whoever wrote the song would come in, run it through with them all, they’d work out the arrangement, and start to get the basic track. Once the basic track was down, it tended to be much more whoever wrote the song was the one that would be there all the time and the others might not even show up for days on end — until it was finished. And if Paul had to come in to put a bass track on one of George’s, George would say, ‘Come in on Thursday and we’ll put the bass on it,’ and he’d come in and then go. It was very much like that. The individual songwriter took the control of the process.
JC: Do you have a favorite cut from those experiences or a favorite sound or something?
KS: One of the things that always fascinated me is the way people read things into records that weren’t necessarily there. The classic for me is in the song “Glass Onion.” There’s a drum thing that goes blat blat. It happens three times in the song. Well, with that drum part, even though it was on the basic track, we double and triple tracked the snare drum onto one separate track. But we were still four-track at that point, might have been eight-track, I can’t quite remember. Well, I had a new second that day and I wasn’t quite confident in him, so we had to do what seemed to me like a tight punch-in after the third blat blat and I wasn’t prepared to let the second do it, so I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do it,’ and we’d do a couple of takes, didn’t happen, then, finally, we come to the last take, I pushed the record button early, and we’re going onto the same track as the blat blat. So I accidentally erased the doubles. So in the first two sections of the song it’s fine but on the third section it’s only the original. What’s funny is the number of people who’ve said, ‘Ah, it’s so brilliant the way they took it from that big sound down to that small one at the end there, what meaning did that have?’ I admit it, I fucked up.
JC: So as a gear junkie gimme the goods on the Beatles’ guitar sounds, Beatles drum sounds, mics, or anything that was like a go-to piece of equipment.
KS: Quite honestly, I can’t even remember but I know, at some points, we were using a STC 4038 over the top of the drums. At some point we were using an AKG D19 as an overhead. The kick was probably an AKG D20. The Fairchilds would have been the drum compressor and for vocals, sometimes piano. Also the Altec 436 modified by the EMI staff. The Altecs we would have used on bass, sometimes guitars, sometimes even across the entire mix. As well.
JC: Wow. So even then, you were compressing the stereo or mono bus?
KS: Sometimes, not always. Oh, yeah. If it called for it.
JC: Could we talk quickly maybe about the Beatles’ guitar thing? Was there any particular set-up? AC30s for the most part or a little bit of everything?
KS: Yes Voxes, but there was some experimentation by the White Album, we even used Fenders. Not everything was Vox at that point. The miking was Neumann U67s. Maybe a foot to two feet away.
JC: And not a U67 smashed up against the grill cloth? This is a pet peeve I have. It seems that somewhere in the ’80s this idea of an SM57 up against the grill cloth aimed right at the center of the cone has become the accepted way to mic a guitar. All these classic sounds that we think are the greatest guitar sounds ever, I don’t know if people ever used 57s then, and if they did, I don’t think they put them there.
KS: No, they didn’t use them. No, they didn’t put them there. But, you see, one of the other things that has changed, which has changed the way guitars sound is these high output pick-ups. You take an old Strat or an old Tele with the original pick-ups, plug it in and you’ll get this amazing sound. Nowadays, those high output pick-ups have this weird high end that you can never completely get rid of. And it just gets so annoying. I think every engineer and guitarist should really understand the effects these pickups have on the overall sound of their rig.
JC: Yes, that’s absolutely true. You always find that you’re trying to get rid of that white noisy thing on the top end. So then you start to roll off the top end or move the mic off axis and then you start to loose the punch.
KS: Yes, one of the things that you learned back then, because you didn’t have much control over the sound was it had to be right in the studio to start with. And, if it’s not, you ain’t going to be able to do too much in the control room and it came from the guitar, which is the starting point, where that string moves, that’s where you have to get it from. It just carries on from there.
THE LATE GREAT GUITAR
JC: You’ve worked with some of the greatest guitar players ever and that’s quite a privilege, so I was hoping that I could talk about a few of them, the amps and guitars that they played, and what it was like to work with them. Let’s start with Jeff Beck. I recently saw Jeff playing at a Music Care’s benefit and he was so amazing and it hit me at that moment that the art of the guitarist has dropped to such a low level compared to what it was in the ’70s. He was the highlight of the evening and I realized ‘just what a great guitar player is supposed to be.’ It killed me that night to walk out of there thinking about it; just his tone, the nuance, as well as his dynamics are just tremendous.
KS: Jeff was amazing. I did Truth and There and Back, I saw so many different sides of him because I had worked with him over such a long period of time from the first solo album onward. I even worked with Jeff on some of Stanley Clarke’s projects like School Days. He always played on one track on each of Stanley’s discs. I saw Jeff in the ‘very confident phase’ and then the times when you had to coax him along.
JC: So when you would work with Jeff Beck or George Harrison did you go out to the amp and make sure the tone was dialed in?
KS: No. They knew what was needed, you didn’t have to. It was just there, you weren’t trying to fix something. I would have miked him the way I tend to mic everybody, either U67 or U87 in front of the amp and sometimes a distant mic. As I say, it comes from the instrument, you don’t have to do all of that multiple miking kind of thing when the musician is giving it to you. If it comes from the instrument, you don’t have to work too hard to get the sound, it’s just there.
Steve Morse, from the Dixie Dregs, he would never stop practicing, it didn’t matter what was going on, he would always have a guitar and he was practicing scales. We’d be doing violin overdubs — he‘d get on the talkback, ‘Yeah, it was a little sharp, let’s try it again’ and all the time he’s just practicing.
JC: What about George Harrison? You were engineered All Things Must Pass. One of the tastiest and most melodic guitarists ever, not to mention brilliant choice of sounds.
KS: Oh, George was just a wonderful person all-round. George was a perfectionist, an incredible songwriter as well. Ampwise it was usually Voxes and Fender, never Marshalls. As you know we often used Leslie cabinets. The mics would have been probably a KM 54 or a KM 56 on the top and a U87 or a U67 on the bottom because, once again, it was only a mono track, so we didn’t have to mic both sides.
JC: Would he double track slide parts at all?
KS: At times, yeah, actually. Oh, well, with the Beatles, one of the things on the White Album that doesn’t often get picked on by people is that on a lot of the tracks, the basses were doubled with a Fender Six-string bass. Parts were worked out very carefully because there would be two people playing. In fact, there were a couple of tracks where it was also doubled with a vocal as well.
JC: OK. Lightning round: John McLaughlin?
KS: An amazing technician. He always liked to show off his technique. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s only that he would try and put as many notes in as possible, which, at times is great, but at times it would be better to just have one note, as opposed to 50,000 notes.
JC: What did you do when miking his acoustic guitars?
KS: It would probably be simply an AKG 414 in that era. But, he always used Marshalls turned full-blast. We went through a situation where we had started Birds of Fire in England at Trident, we were going to finish it off at Criteria in Florida. This was during the BeeGees time where the sound of every American record would be acoustically as dead as possible. We went in there and he turns up his guitar and amp and he starts to play and it sounds so small so he just turned everything up more, this was a 100-watt Marshall turned full-blast and it sounded ridiculously small, it blew up instantly, we thought, ‘oh, it’s got to have been a problem with the amp — put up another one’, and it was exactly the same, it was just the room was so dead, it just ate up everything. Criteria wasn’t the right studio for Mahavishnu Orchestra, they needed a live place, that’s why we ended up at Electric Ladyland in New York. John liked to crank. There were times, for me, it may have been just a little too distorted, but that’s the way he liked it. The guitar he used most of the time was his double neck. I’m not sure if it was Gibson, I can’t remember, but it had the 12-string and 6-string necks.
JC: Mick Ronson?
KS: Unbelievable. His whole guitar sound was always perfect, from a technical point. Miking it was again a U67 or U87 just in front of his speaker. He used to use a single cabinet Marshall. But he always went through a wah-wah pedal and he would get his tone by setting the wah-wah pedal at a point he liked. That’s how he always got his sound. So he would kind of crazy EQ everything. All the Bowie stuff was done with the wah.
JC: Warren Cuccurullo?
KS: Warren, yeah, there’s no one quite like him actually. One remembrance is a track on the first Missing Persons’ album called Noticeable Ones. We were trying to get the guitar solo; we tried and tried. Nothing. And, so, finally, Warren says, ‘When we get to the solo section, kill the track.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘When we get to the solo, turn off the volume of the track and let me try it without any music going on.’ We got the solo first take.
JC: Because you get boxed into the chord changes. Frank Zappa did this at times. Frank, I think actually got it from Brian Eno.
KS: I also worked with Warren doing some mixing on a Duran Duran album. Warren called me up and I just love him so much that I had to do it. He was a great asset for Duran Duran as far as I’m concerned.
JC: I wanted to ask you about Missing Persons because I know it started out as a spec deal at Frank Zappa’s home studio, and it turned into you producing and then managing the band.
KS: Yeah, well, it was initially a demo. Frank had just built a new studio but he was out on the road. He knew my reputation enough that I would find every single damn fault in that studio, so, he let us use it knowing that by the time he got back off the road it would be working perfectly. Those demos that we were doing, that’s what eventually was released. We put it out ourselves as an EP. We got shot down at every major label in the States, I think, three times — most labels in England twice, and a couple of labels in Australia and no one wanted to touch them. So, we knew we had to do something and we were also trying to get managers involved, and they didn’t want to deal with it or only wanted Dale. So I jumped in, lock, stock, and barrel. Once one of the tracks had become the most requested record of the year on KROQ, we suddenly got a deal. A terrible deal, but we got a deal with Capitol and sold 800,000 records.
JC: So shortly after Abbey Road you moved over to Trident Studios?
KS: I’d been doing some engineering for producer Gus Dudgeon and I said to him, ‘Look, I’ve got to get out of here, time to move on, any suggestions?’ He said, ‘I’ve been working at a place called Trident. Why don’t you come down and we’ll set up a meeting?’ I went down there, met with the owners, the Sheffield Brothers, and started working there shortly afterward.
JC: Let me ask you a couple of things about Trident because, as you know, I started at Cherokee and they had all Trident ‘A’-Range consoles and I’m a huge fan of that desk.
KS: Well, at first it was actually an old Sound Techniques board, the studio went through two boards before they started to make the A range. Some of the early Bowie tracks were done on that Sound Techniques. But the whole thing with the ‘A’-range was that the Sheffield Brothers wanted to take over the business in every way. They wanted to get into management, video, and manufacturing, as well. One of the staff engineers, Malcolm Toft, was an extremely technical guy. So they said, ‘Why don’t you design a board and we’ll start to build it and see what happens.’ So, they came to the engineers Roy Thomas Baker, Robin Cable, myself, and said, ‘What would you like to see?’
JC: What was your feeling about the mic pre? The EQ, I know. But I love the way you could overdrive those mic pres and get that great saturation and as a guitar EQ, that was one of the best ever.
KS: Hey, I came from the EMI boards, the best board distortion ever. Unfortunately, the ‘A’ range could never compete for me in that regard, but the EQ was basically what the three of us had requested.
What did transpire was that since then I have hated Neve. It was the two competing things, you had the Neve sound or you had Trident. They sounded so completely different you were in one of two camps and because of having some input as to how the ‘A’-range was going to be, I was more on that side. After leaving Trident, I tended to go with studios in England, that had Cadac boards because they were closer sounding to the Trident than a Neve, so, I always liked them.
JC: Since a lot of music recorded nowadays is in home studios, it’s now really becoming more often about one person in their own studio environment. I think you learn very differently that way. You learn different skills and there are certain skills that you don’t learn at all. Personally, I enjoyed the fact that I worked at larger studios where there were three to five rooms and seven engineers. There was camaraderie and a team spirit and competitiveness, as well. Was Trident like that?
KS: Well, I think we had our own particular sort of niche clientele and the type of music that we were into. Roy Thomas Baker would always get the weirdo things and he had his own sound. There was one occasion he was doing a John Entwistle album and he had to go and have some dental surgery so he couldn’t make it one afternoon, and I was put in there. In those days you didn’t tend to leave things set up — locked out that is. So I’d set it up the way I normally would, I got what was my usual balance at the time and we were going along and then Roy came back from the dentist and he came in, ‘Um, okay,’ and he just tweaked a couple of knobs and it changed completely from my sound to his and it was so simple, it was weird. I had exactly the same kind of thing with Phil Spector, as well, where I was working on a Ronnie Spector project. I got my sound whilst Phil was downstairs teaching the musicians the song, and he came up and said, ‘Okay, can you do this? Change that?’ Two, maybe three slight things, and suddenly it was the Phil Spector sound. It was amazing.
So, getting back to the camaraderie, the atmosphere at Trident was such that we all wanted Trident to work as a business. It was everything to sort of get it to be the best it could be as an entity, more so than us as individuals. I think that’s why it was so successful. It was also just great to hang out there. Everyone did.
JC: Let me ask you about the piano there because a few years ago I went back and listened to some of those early Elton John discs. I was engineering Elton’s Songs from The West Coast and I wanted to reference those recordings. Wow, the piano is like an electric guitar, it’s so bright and “attacky.” I listened to Bowie and Supertramp as well, and that piano just pops and rings like a guitar.
KS: Oh, absolutely, it was a very hard sounding piano. When Gus Dudgeon and I went to France to do Honky Chateau and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player, we tried to match up to the Trident piano, and we never quite did. We got pretty damn close, but, no, it was an amazing piano at Trident.
JC: How’d you mic it?
KS: I don’t know what the others did but mine was basically, let’s see. . . . When I started there it was probably a Neumann KM-56 on the high end and then two 67s or 87s mid and low.
JC: So you put a pretty bright mic on a pretty bright piano.
KS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And then add a lot of high-end on the board, as well.
JC: That’s pretty radical. Nowadays, everybody has this concept of ‘take it flat,’ go through a nice preamp and let’s be real safe and neutral about everything.
KS: Because no one can make a bloody decision. That’s what it’s all about these days. It’s ‘let’s not make a decision until we really have to.’
JC: So, with the Beatles’ sessions or Elton and Bowie, I mean, on those tracking dates you ‘went for it,’ every sound was tweaked to the way you heard it in your head? Very few decisions were left for the mixing.
KS: Our training was four-track, you have to make decisions, you had no choice. I still do it now whether it’s 24 track or digital. That’s where I came from. I think every engineer should spend a year just working on four- and eight-tracks so they learn how to make a decision.
JC: As a young, American wannabe engineer, studying records when I was a teenager, I remember feeling all the records coming out of England were so much more aggressive, so much brighter and in your face.
KS: The grass is always greener. We always wanted to emulate the American sound, because the sound of the singles were cut with much more power and so much more level, and we could never do it. I remember the Beatles would have loved to have had the Motown sound for one of their tracks. I remember Abbey Road getting a telex from Motown congratulating them on the sound of the Beatles’ records and how much they would love to sound like the Beatles. We did what we did. Honestly, to me, even if they do it that way and we do it the same way, it’s not going to come out sounding the same — it just doesn’t.
JC: This is such a good point. When I started as an assistant, you had so many great talented producers and engineers coming in all the time, so you watched what people did and if something sounded great you tried to copy it. You literally copied the microphone, the EQ setting, the compressor, and so on. But it never ever worked and it always sounded like crap because you never understood the mindset behind the technique, the philosophy, where it came from.
KS: In my way of thinking about the top engineers, there’s an inherent sense of what’s right and wrong and you don’t have to think about it, that’s why, as a producer, I still engineer my own sessions. It’s a pain but I do it.
JC: I also noticed you were credited as playing synthesizer on sessions as well.
KS: We had an ARP 2600 at Trident. David Hentschel and myself spent lots of time experimenting with it. So while I was in the middle of mixing Elton’s “Daniel,” producer Gus Dudgeon decided Davey Johnstone’s solo didn’t pop. So I actually doubled the part on synthesizer.
THE THIN. THE WHITE. THE DUKE.
JC: I’d love to hear about the Bowie relationship. I know you started off initially just engineering for him and then segued into co-producing.
KS: I did. It was Man of Words, Man of Music, which was eventually re-released as Space Oddity and Man Who Sold the World. Those I just engineered. But the way it came down was David had given up his music for a while because of a lack of success of the first two albums. But he came into Trident one day to produce a single for a friend and because I’d worked with him before I was put on the session. Around that time, I was getting fed up with just engineering, and in a tea break I happened to say to him, ‘You know what? I’m a bit frustrated. I want to start moving into the production side.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve just got a new manager, and I’m about to start a new album. I was going to do it myself but I don’t know if I can, how about working with me?’ ‘Yeah, sure.’ And that was Hunky Dory, which then led to the other three albums.
JC: I went back and looked at the résumé and the one thing that I noticed with everybody from Bowie to Supertramp to Stanley Clarke and everybody you’ve worked with: You made their career-defining record. Perhaps in some cases not their most commercial records, sometimes those coincide in an artist’s career, sometimes not, but you truly made the records that defined them as an artist. I’m not going to say you gave them their sound but it really felt to me like perhaps you opened up the artist or put them on the path to who we know them to be as that artist. I’m curious if you really spent a lot of time with them outside the studio trying to figure out who they are and what they wanted to accomplish. I mean as you became a producer was that something you were sensitive to: helping them sound the way they wanted to sound?
KS: No I didn’t spend a lot of time but, I think it was just my choices of who I worked with. At one point, I don’t know if it was my manager bullshitting me or what, but I remember that there was some talk about working with the Stones and I said, ‘No thank you,’ because I knew that I couldn’t give them what they would need and I think it was very much a question of the acts I chose to work with: I would only work with them if I thought I could give them what was needed — and vice versa.
With David though I just wanted to move into production and he wanted me to co-produce and I wasn’t going to say no. It worked because, maybe because we’d worked together before and understood each other — whatever, it worked and it got better. With David it was a matter of knowing when not to say anything at all in the studio. To a great extent it was also perfect for both of us. He hates mixing so he never turned up at any of the mixes, so, it was just me and I got to do whatever I damn well pleased.
There was only one time that there was any question about the mixes. Oddly, I listened to it recently and I have no idea what was going through my head then, but there’s a track called “Watch That Man” where I determined that to get the power from the tracks, I needed to keep the vocal really low, make it one of the instruments and have it really quiet. And, so, that’s the way I mixed it. After handing the album to David’s management company, they got back to me and asked could I try another mix on “Watch That Man” with the vocal up. I said, ‘Fine.’ I told them my concern, they said, ‘Do it, let’s see.’ I did one with the voice up. They listened and said, ‘You know what, you were right, we’re going with the original,’ then about two weeks later RCA called me up and said, ‘That track “Watch That Man,” can you try one more mix on it with more vocals?’ I said, ‘I’ve done it for David.’ ‘Well do one more for us.’ ‘Fine,’ did it and they went with the original. Now, hearing it, God, I wish that vocal was up louder, but, at that time, that’s the way it seemed to work. So, that was the only time there was ever a problem.
JC: In contrast, perhaps to the Beatles’ sessions, were these relatively quick sessions?
KS: Oh yes they were, Hunky Dory took about two weeks to record and then two weeks to mix. But don’t forget artists back then had to come out with an album every six months. Elton was the same. Elton sessions were two weeks recording and two weeks mixing.
JC: And it would have been all live in the studio with David’s band?
KS: Basically, yeah. We’d do overdubs, of course, but the great thing was it was probably 8-track and then we went to 16-track as the studio upgraded. So it was very quick.
JC: The thing I remember from Hunky Dory was how present, warm, and alive all the acoustic guitar sounds were on David’s records. It’s funny, you don’t think of them as being so storytelling. Your memory tends to think of the weirdness of Ronson’s electric guitar, perhaps.
KS: That’s one of the unique things with those, well certainly with Ziggy especially since it’s on every track. I mean even on the rock and roll tracks there’s an acoustic there going along with the electric rhythm, it gives it a whole sort of different feel. That’s the way the early rock and roll used to be, like when you see Elvis, you’ve always got the three of them behind him with electric, but he’s got the acoustic going, as well. It wasn’t something we consciously thought of or went for, it’s just the way he plays the acoustics. On some of the guitars there would have been some heavy compression when I think about it. Probably a UREI 1176 or LA2A. Maybe miked with a U67 or C414.
JC: Tell me about the Mick Ronson, David Bowie, Ken Scott collaboration.
KS: We each had our own roles and we didn’t have to talk about it, it was instinctive. We knew who did what and like David would say to Ronno, ‘Okay, it’s time to. . . .’ ‘I know, I’ll do the guitar at the end of the song.’ And he’d go down there and before any of us could say anything, he’d be playing it brilliantly, he knew exactly what was needed. We were, I guess we were in each other’s heads. We knew our places. I knew when to shut up, if David knew what he was doing. In fact, the hardest thing for me with David recording was just making sure I always had enough tracks, if suddenly he wanted to book a 37-piece lesbian humming group, I had to be sure I had enough tracks to be able to do it in some way. In the studio it was more knowing when to be silent than knowing when to say something; always knowing that I had the complete freedom at the end with the mixing.
JC: That’s something that you do learn as an engineer on many sessions — to just kick back. Step in when you’re needed, when everybody is exhausted with ideas or floundering, that’s when you speak up and until then sometimes it’s just best to sit and assess the situation. But was David always the one, not always, but was he trying a lot of different ideas and really sort of pushing the envelope?
KS: Umm, with David, unlike the Beatles’ sessions, it was very much him knowing what he wanted right from the get-go. I think he knew all along what was going to happen, but he didn’t always tell you this is what’s going to happen until when we got to that point. You had to be ready . . . yes. I think Mick was just so intuitive as well. And with David almost all of the lead vocals are one take. And no need to put them in tune afterward. Even if you could. But what I quite often got to do while recording the vocals, was using maybe an AKG 414 and a U87 and have them at a 90% angle so he’s singing in-between. So you tended to get less ‘P’ pops. Then you could use one of the mics or both of them, mix them together or whatever.
JC: I remember going back and listening to some of the stuff and feeling in some cases, the vocals either had some kind of room sound or short tape slap, some unique sense of space to them.
KS: It’s possible. Both of those, the room and the tape slap, I would tend to have done more with backing vocals than with a lead vocal. Just somehow the placement of the vocals in the track was David knowing what to do with his own voice. At the microphone. Yeah, sometimes it was him and Ronno, sometimes just him, and quite often they would stack, especially by Pin Ups time, because the backing vocals were quite effected then. I used an old Countryman Phaser, funnily enough when I came to do the 5.1 remix on Ziggy, I was trying to get hold of a Countryman, and I couldn’t find one anywhere. I know I used those on strings a couple of times as well. . . .
JC: Yes, there’s that little line on “Starman” that’s. . . .
KS: Oh yes. It’s guitar, piano, I think a couple of pianos or something.
JC: Might you have done three instruments, bounced it down, phased it in time.
KS: Quite possibly. Yeah.
JC: It’s something that drives me crazy about a lot of records made now. When we think back to those sounds, of the Beatles and even going back to the Henry Mancini records. The way they stacked instruments to make one tone. Check out what’s really going on with “Peter Gunn,” the layering of instruments. It always seems to me that there’s odd combinations of instruments stacked to make one new sound that is unique. Where, in the last 20 years, the tendency was to get the synth patch or to get the one guitar tone through four pedals that perhaps came up with something interesting. Unfortunately, in the end you feel ‘oh, yeah, that guitar sound it’s nice.’ But you never went, ‘Wow, what’s that sound!?’ I wonder how often did you deliberately stack instruments to come up with something original.
KS: We did it on occasion with Bowie, but with the Beatles many times. The one thing that comes to mind is the saxophone flute line on “Moonage Daydream” that was a strange thing that David got from an old American record. But we did do it with Supertramp.
SUPERMAN MEETS SUPERTRAMP
JC: Let’s talk a little bit about Supertramp. How did you get involved with them?
KS: I was originally contacted by A&M Records to do a mix on a track called “Land Ho” at the height of the Bowie stuff. I did it, A&M loved it, but the band was iffy about it and I don’t think it was ever actually released. But A&M said, ‘Look, we’d like you to do an album with them.’ I said, ‘Fine, send me demos,’ and the demos were utter crap. It was like I’d get five seconds of a chorus and then it would go to another section, then it would stop and then I’d get the ending of another song, there was . . . it was completely random. I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’ Jack Nelson, this American guy Trident brought in to manage the producers, said, ‘You know what? A&M are into this band, we should do it.’ I said, ‘It’s crap, I don’t want to do it.’ This carried on for a couple of weeks, finally, they were doing a showcase somewhere and Jack said, ‘Let’s go along and see them and that will be our final yes or no.’ I said, ‘Fine.’ So we went down and this time was a complete turnaround. He said, ‘Oh, no, you were right, don’t do them, they’re crap.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? I’ve got to do this record. They’re amazing.”
The sessions started off at Trident and we put down tracks and we would take forever, I mean sometimes it took a day-and-a-half to get the snare drum down but I was looking for something and I knew what I wanted and it just took that long to get the sound that I wanted.
And then, after a week or so, we get a phone call from the A&R guy saying that Jerry Moss is in town and he wants to come by and hear some stuff. Oh, no, we’re nowhere near far enough along. It was my first experience with an A&R man, not to mention the owner of the label, having not dealt with a record company at all with Bowie.
JC: So in all those records, there was no A&R involvement?
KS: Nothing! It was David, Ronno, and myself. None. We even knew what the single was. The only time was with Ziggy, where there was no single, so we had to go back in and do “Starman.” Well, we kind of knew that up front, but we pushed it, but, no, absolutely, I never saw anyone from RCA.
JC: Do you think it had anything to do with there being so many great records released then?
KS: Yeah, artists did what they were meant to do: CREATE. So with Supertramp here’s Jerry coming in. This was going to be my first experience dealing with a record company. I was petrified. I didn’t know what to expect. He sat down, we played him some of the tracks that we had and they were bare minimum, and he got up at the end, and he said, ‘Thank you,’ and left. We thought, ‘Oh, crap, that’s it, it’s all over.’ We sort of ended the session there because we thought it’s pointless to go on, he’s just going to say forget it. We heard back from the A&R guy next day, ‘Jerry loved it, you have as much time as you want, anything you want, you got it.’ So, six months later we finished the album. But that was what I’d learned from the Beatles to the nth degree, and David as well: Try everything.
I mean there were lots of tricks on those records. I was determined not to use typical percussion, for instance, as opposed to like maracas or tambourine, we had drum brushes shaking in front of the mics. You hear the wind and you get the same impression as maracas, but you just haven’t heard it before. There’s a musical saw on one of the numbers, and all of the sound effects. None of them were stock. We went out and recorded all of them specifically. We knew exactly what we wanted sound effect-wise: to go do it for real.
JC: The dynamics in those records are just so dramatic and that would have been in the mixing process then, no automation on the console, correct?
KS: No, once again, it was all in the mixing. Even though there were a bunch of us there at these sessions. All of the band was there ‘hands on’ at the mixes. We all knew what it had to sound like so there were no arguments about, ‘Ah, the drums should be up front, the drum or the bass should be up. . . .’ We knew what it had to be, so we were working as an ensemble and it was all done in mixing.
JC: Okay. I have to ask about the bass sound because it always sounded so forward and so punchy.
KS: Again, a very simple chain, probably just a DI and a UREI 1176. It’s the player — that’s his tone.
JC: Okay, so Ken what you’re saying is that in most of these cases it’s about Great Musicianship coupled with Great Production. It’s Chemistry and Kismet, not trade secrets?
KS: Look, great musicians truly make my job easy. I would encourage all of us to encourage the talent in the artists and players. That’s where the classics come from.