Ken Scott Interview

Ken Scott cut his teeth at EMI (now Abbey Road) studios, eventually becoming The Beatles’ engineer. To his ear, the records still sound better.

Legendary Producer and Engineer Ken Scott

In 2009, EMI Records released the first comprehensive re-issue of The Beatles’ catalogue since they were first made available on CD in 1987 and 1988.

The original British albums were remastered and re-released in new cardboard sleeves with slightly expanded cover art, and the CDs at the time were said to be the new baseline standard for Beatles sonic quality.

The remastered CDs were also intended to be something of a holding pattern effort to “tide over” fans until the entire catalogue is at last remixed – that is, the original albums are at some point given entirely new mixes from the original tapes which will preserve the intended sounds and arrangements of the songs, while creating more modern stereo “placement” of instruments, voices and sounds heard in the stereo spectrum and sonic images of the tracks.

Ken Scott with The Beatles at Abbey Road, during the recording of the White Album, August 1968.

Presumably this would be done under the auspices of Giles Martin, the recording engineer son of Beatles producer George Martin, who has already cut his teeth with his father on a number of Beatles-related re-mastering projects, including the 2009 re-issues.

Remixing of The Beatles’ catalogue could also potentially “correct” the mid-60s “hold down the middle” approach to stereo mixing, with instruments pushed into hard channels on either the left or the right, with little bleed over into the middle to create a true stereo image.

Curiously, some early Van Halen albums have this same technique of stereo spatial imaging and mixing.

Shaping the Beatles’ Sound – In Mono

In 2009, Tommy and Garett spoke with someone who was with The Beatles in the studio from nearly the beginning during their legendary work at Abbey Road, and later went on to shape the career of David Bowie, and worked with dozens of other great artists throughout a storied career.

Ken Scott originally worked on The Beatles’ sessions for A Hard Day’s Night, and by the time of Help and Revolver was a regular second engineer on sessions behind Norman Smith (who later had a 1972 hit single under the name Hurricane Smith called “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?”) before coming into his own as primary engineer in 1967 on the band’s Magical Mystery Tour project.

Heading into 1968, Ken Scott recorded The Beatles second only to producer George Martin heading during one of their most creative and iconic periods with the “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude” singles, followed by the marathon sessions for the classic White Album, i.e. The Beatles, recorded at both Abbey Road and Trident Studios, where The Beatles had access to then-new eight-track recording machines.

To this day, Ken insists the only only format in which The Beatles sounded better than what he heard off the console at Abbey Road was, you guessed it – vinyl.

David Bowie

Ken Scott

After The Beatles, one could’ve retired. But Ken was just getting started, and by 1969 was working primarily out of Trident Studios right in time to begin shaping the sound of another iconic voice of British rock, and setting a template for the guitar-based rock of the early and mid-70s.

In 1969 Ken Scott engineered David Bowie’s folksy release Man of Words, Man of Music, best known for including the song “Space Oddity.” The song gained additional notoriety for being released in time for the Apollo 11 landing that summer (in 1972 the entire album was re-issued under the title Space Oddity).

From there, Ken Scott worked with Bowie through 1973, most notably on the Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars albums, and talks about the immense contributions from the late guitarist and arranger Mick Ronson, as well as Bowie’s epic songwriting take on “Life On Mars” from Ziggy Stardust.

All Things Must Pass

In 1970 another album recorded at both Trident Studios and Abbey Road with Ken Scott on engineering duties was George Harrison’s first “proper” solo album released as an ex-Beatle (following two earlier solo efforts, one a film soundtrack and the other a Moog synthesizer experimental album), the classic Phil Spector-produced All Things Must Pass.

Recorded with an all-star cast, including Eric Clapton’s band which was on it’s way to becoming Derek and the Dominoes, All Things Must Pass was not only packed with great songs, but sonically it was packed with the full-on Phil Spector Wall of Sound production, recorded live in the studio with dozens of musicians, as opposed to repeated overdubbing and multi-tracking. To do this, individual levels had to be established ahead of time for each instrument mic and voice within the live mix, with all the tape channels packed to create the “live” in-studio Phil Spector trademark sound.

With the arrival of the 70s and Ken Scott’s work with Bowie and on All Things Must Pass, he was only just beginning, with career which saw him producing Devo, Missing Persons (and becoming the band’s live sound engineer), Dixie Dregs, John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Supertramp, and others.

If you love music, pour a pint and sit back and enjoy this conversation with Tommy and Garett and pioneering rock producer Ken Scott. Ken’s story of his first reaction to the sonic quality of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” is worth the listen alone.

Ken Scott recording his Epik Drums project in 2009.

Recording these guys? No pressure. The Beatles goofing around during the Abbey Road photo shoot, July 1969.

 


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