By Jack Sharkey, February 4, 2014
I'm this guy: When I buy an album the first thing I look at when I read the liner notes is the production credits. This goes way back with me as I always felt a deeper kinship with music when I had an idea of where, how, when and by whom a set of songs was produced. A name I've been running into on a regular basis since, well for a while now, is Ken Scott.
Ken started out in the tape library of EMI Studios as a teenager, and over his career worked his way to tape op, engineer and finally producer. Take a look in your music collection, and unless it's extremely limited, you'll find the name Ken Scott among some of your favorite albums. In case you're not familiar with EMI Studios (shame on you), the studio name officially changed to Abbey Road Studios in 1970. Ken worked as an engineer on the Beatles albums The Beatles (the White Album) and Magical Mystery Tour, as well as seminal records by David Bowie, Procol Harum, Elton John, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham, Pink Floyd, Harry Nilsson, the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Dixie Dregs, Stanley Clarke, Supertramp and Missing Persons (who Ken also managed), to name just a few.
Scott, whose production credits and discography span a veritable who's who of important artists (and their albums) over the past 40 years, will be the featured guest speaker at our Masters of Sound event on February 13 at MSR Studios in Manhattan. I got the extreme pleasure of picking Ken's brain (and selfishly asking him the questions I've wanted to ask for a long while) last week.
JS: In your book, Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust, you lament that engineers just didn’t take a lot of notes about recording sessions because no one ever dreamed that 40+ years later we’d still be talking about those very sessions. With that in mind, when did you first realize that you were indeed a part of history?
Scott: Ha ha ha. I don’t know that I lament it as much as just stating it wasn’t deemed necessary. EMI Studios (Abbey Road) had more paperwork than any other studio I’ve been to, but the kind of questions asked 40 – 50 years on are things not thought at all relevant at the time and to be quite honest I don’t often see the relevance even today. It’s good music, enjoy it for what it is and don’t get into the minutiae.
Me a part of history? ROFLMFAO. If someone feels that way that’s their prerogative, but for me I’ve just had a great life doing what I love.
JS: When you record a song like I Am the Walrus or Fool On the Hill which are not your run-of-the-mill two guitar, bass, drums rock and roll songs, how different is your approach going in to the recording, or do you just follow the artist and adjust as you go?
Scott: With those two songs you’re talking about my earliest recordings, before I’d really honed my art. Also they happened to be recordings by a pretty unique quartet and so my approach was probably different than what became my norm. These days I tend to do most everything the same and have the changes occur actually in the studio.
JS: You’ve recently relocated to Nashville after spending the last 3 decades in LA. Besides actual changes in weather and four real seasons, what’s your take on the Nashville music scene?
Scott: Vibrant. For me LA had become stale. Now that doesn’t mean the talent is stale, there is still a hell of a lot of talent there. It just was seeming harder for them to get their breaks. Here in Nashville music is everywhere. These days it may have dropped to the 3rd biggest business but boy it sure feels like number 1.
JS:Shortly before we lost George Harrison (in 2001) you started working with him to organize his tape library. I’m assuming it would be hard for most of us to conceive the vastness of his library. Were there a lot of hidden gems that you uncovered that had otherwise been forgotten?
Scott: Some really nice things that were unknown to me but nothing that had been forgotten by George.
JS: I always thought it would have been fun to live across the street from Frank Zappa. Please tell me it was more than just coffee and sports talk over the fence.
Scott: I got to see less of it than the rest of my family as I was in the studio so much. Actually, as was Frank. There were a few things that I was witness to but really not much.
JS: We live in an age of ear-buds and highly compressed (both data and dynamic) music. What do we tell the next age of music fans about what they are missing now that music is generally perceived as really nothing more than a commodity rather than an artistic statement?
Scott: It is only a commodity because so many labels have dumbed down “music” to the lowest level possible. They have almost completely eradicated art and talent from the equation. Let’s face it, performers don’t even have to sing live these days, just as long as they can dance. YEUK. OK, I’m getting mad so sorry but will move on to the next question.
JS: Vinyl is going through a bit of a renaissance right now. Do you think it’s mostly a fad among the hipster set or do you see the sonic and experiential virtues of vinyl grabbing the general public’s attention again?
Scott: I really don’t know. All I can tell you is my son, not a hipster by any means, used to go to a lot of raves. Then suddenly stopped. I eventually asked him why and his response was that the last one he went to was the first one he’d gone to where the DJ was using cds not vinyl and the sound sucked. Take what you want from that.
JS: You’ve been touring colleges spreading the Gospel of Sound According To Ken Scott across the country. Are we still producing hard-core music fans like we did during the Golden Age of popular music?
Scott: Abso-bloody-lutely. And a whole lot of what they’re into comes from the “Golden Age of popular music.”
JS: There’s not a lot you haven’t seen (or heard) firsthand in the music industry. Where do you see the industry in five or ten years?
Scott: I can’t specify the timing but I’m a firm believer that music will get back to the importance it once had. I’m a FIRM believer in talent and as the attorney’s and accountants slowly leave the business they are killing, art will once again be the most important part of music and the interest will rise again.
There are easily one hundred more questions I could have asked, but I decided it might be best to not do that. I will recap our Masters of Sound event next week, so you'll be able to get some deeper insight into Ken's thoughts on the state of recording and listening in 2014. But if you want some amazing insight on both the positive and negative of the music business and recording, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Ken's book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off the Record With The Beatles, Bowie, Elton and So Much More... I'm in the middle of my second reading of it and it is simply a fabulous look into the business and art of music over the past 50 years.