Being in the right place at the right time is sort of a mantra in the recording world — and a serendipitous moment that we all may hope for. Ken Scott has literally been in the right place a number of times, whether it was at Abbey Road Studios recording The Beatles, Trident Studios with David Bowie, in France recording Elton John, with Supertramp constructing their epic '70s albums, in L.A. recording and managing Missing Persons or producing DEVO. Ken has been at the ground floor of so many albums that we now consider classics — Transformer, Crime of the Century, "The White Album", Hunky Dory, ...Ziggy Stardust..., All Things Must Pass, Truth, Madman Across The Water, Honky Chateau, Don't Shoot Me I'm Only The Piano Player, Son Of Schmilsson, Aladdin Sane, Crisis, What Crisis?, Emerald Visions Of The Pure Beyond. What more needs to be said?
When you started in the sixties, how were producers different than they are now?
First and foremost, they worked for the record companies. They were the A&R guys. That was the most important thing. They were finding the talent. They were finding the repertoire for the talent, the songs that they would sing. They would take them into the studio and it would be their vision. Then they would also discuss with marketing — not that there were particularly big marketing departments back then — but they'd see it through. It was their baby and they'd sink or swim by it. Producers back then didn't get points, so that was interesting.
Would you say the producer in that era was also a kind of liaison between the technical and the artist?
It's like that these days, if it's not an engineer that's producing.
When you were doing work at Trident, there were a lot of producers that didn't engineer. You were an engineer during that period. How did that work — who did you like as a producer and what were their good qualities?
It's that whole thing of "familiarity breeds contempt." I hope I've taken the best. The strangest one was probably Bob Johnston, who I worked with on a Lindisfarne album, because he didn't appear to do anything. He said very little. He just sat at the back, but whatever it was, he pulled out the best of me and the best from the band. I've thought about him on many occasions and tried to puzzle out, "How the hell did he do that?" Nothing obvious.
I've heard a lot of times that one of Bob's greatest assets was being a buffer between the artists and the label.
But back then the labels didn't come down anyway — so there wasn't that much to do.
I guess this happened more so in the Dylan case.
He was so big and people wanted to go in and see him. With Bowie, moving into the '70s, I never saw a single record company person come down. I only had one contact with the record company with regard to any of the albums and that was just, "Could you remix one song?"
What was the reason for the remix?
I had purposely, when I set up the original mix — it was "Watch That Man" — and I had chosen [that] the power should come from the band and the voice should be mixed really low. It should almost just be one of the instruments. I got a phone call from MainMan [Bowie's management] first saying, "Could you try another mix with more vocal?" and I said, "Sure!" and I explained why I had done it that way, sent it to them and they said, "You're right. Go with the first one." Then about a week later I heard from RCA, "Could you try another mix on 'Watch That Man' and bring the vocal up?" I said, "I've already done it once, I can do it again." I did it without the original. Now I listen to the original and I think, "Oh why the hell did I do that? He's so far back, it's unreal."
Is there a tendency to want to go back and revise history like that? Or are you happy to accept how it is?
Oh, no. I have to accept the way [it is]. I always found that when it was vinyl, you'd go through the mastering process and get a playback acetate and listen to it and then you'd have to wait for the test pressings to okay those. That period of time between the playback acetate and the test pressing was, "Oh, why didn't I do that? Oh shit, I should've done that." Then as soon as I got the test pressing, I knew it was too late to go back and it was, "Bang. Yeah, now I can sit back and enjoy it." Much as when revisiting All Things Must Pass, both George [Harrison] and I would have dearly loved to have de-Spector-ized.
He mentioned that in the liner notes too.
We would have loved to. Sitting there, listening to it in...