FROM RECORDING THE BEATLES (MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR AND THE “WHITE ALBUM”), TO PRODUCING FOUR DAVID Bowie albums (including Ziggy Stardust) and two by Supertramp, to working with Elton John, Pink Floyd, Procul Harum, Jeff Beck, Duran Duran, Harry Nilsson, the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Devo, Kansas, the Tubes, and more, Ken Scott may well have shaped more of the sonic landscape of modern music than any other one person. In his new book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust (Alfred), he and co-author Bobby Owsinski chronicle it all—recording methods, rare gear, record label sleaze, and rock star shenanigans alike. Here are just two excerpts; get more at keyboardmag.com/august2012.
Recording Elton John
Château d’Hérouville had a 16-track MCI tape machine with Dolby A noise reduction, and a board that was custom made. We rented in some Kepex gates since I used them all the time on drums.
On the piano I used a [Neumann] KM56 on the high end and a U67 on the low end, and it was recorded in stereo. On “Elderberry Wine,” we felt that the piano needed to be beefed up a bit, so I resorted to a trick I’d used before. We double-tracked the piano with the tape speed slightly faster to put it slightly out of tune. It just really fi lls out the sound, but we only used it for certain parts of the song.
I remember thinking, ‘My God. What is that?’ We’d never heard anything like it before. That’s still Elton’s favourite piano sound to this day. He uses it all the time.
—DAVEY JOHNSTONE GUITARIST WITH ELTON JOHN
Recording David Bowie
When the band came back to England in January of 1973, we got back to work on Aladdin Sane. David was starting to experiment more, which was one of the reasons for his liking Mike Garson so much and having him join the band. Garson was an experimental player from that peculiar avant-garde Cecil Taylor atonal school of jazz. David especially had him get into that mindset on the track “Aladdin Sane,” and that piano part is phenomenal. The interesting thing for me is that Rick Wakeman’s piano on “Life on Mars” is so amazingly beautiful and so classically oriented, but equally as good in a totally different way is the piano on “Aladdin Sane.” It was incredible and still sends shivers down my back.
Thanks to Mike Garson, one of the more interesting differences between British and American music that I came to learn of during the making of this album was how much written music differed in both countries at the time. In the States, musical note timings are indicated in whole notes, half-notes, quarter-notes, eighth-notes, and the like. In England it’s semibreves, minims, crotchets, and quavers. As a result, there were times when Ronno [Mick Ronson, lead guitarist on Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane] was trying to teach something to Garson, who was a well-trained musician, where he was saying things like, “You should be playing a semiquaver there,” and Garson would have absolutely no idea what the hell he was talking about. Over the years, with Brits coming over here and Americans going over there, this may well have changed, as it seems to happen with a lot of things, but at that time . . . it was quite funny watching the two of them trying to communicate. It was as if one was talking French and the other English.