Saturday , March 2 2024
The autobiography of one of the great record producers of the past 40 years.

Book Review: Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust by Ken Scott

Ken Scott produced some of my all-time favorite albums, yet (I am embarrassed to admit), I did not realize it until after reading Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust. For some reason certain producers are nearly as famous as the artists they worked with. Sir George Martin with The Beatles is one example, Roy Thomas Baker with Queen is another. Among the many classics Ken Scott manned the booth for are Supertramp’s Crime of the Century, and as the title mentions, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

In his new autobiography, Mr. Scott walks us through his remarkable career, and provides some amazing insights into what goes into the actual production of a record. He began at EMI Studios, which were renamed Abbey Road Studios after The Beatles’ album made it so famous. His first job was the studio equivalent of the mailroom, in the tape library. It was 1964, he was 17, and Beatlemania was in full bloom. He was as starstruck as anyone he says, and almost blew it with a couple of gaffes, but managed to hang on.

From the tape library, where he literally logged tapes all day long, he moved up to “button-pusher,” worked on cutting masters, then into engineering, and finally made the jump to producer. It is a fascinating primer of how a man methodically worked his way through the ranks inside the hallowed studio halls. I have read a lot of music-related books, but never anything that brought you this close to the actual process of creating an album.

Along the way he became a trusted collaborator, and went from being a fan, to actually working with The Beatles, both as a group, and on some of their later solo albums. It is an intriguing story, as are the variety of groups he worked with over the years. His final work at EMI was as engineer of The White Album. In 1968 he was let go when a new manager by the name of Alan Stagge decided to make something of a clean sweep and bring in new blood.

Trident Studios was a relatively new London studio, and that is where he went. One of his first projects there was to mix John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” single. And although George Harrison and Phil Spector were credited as producers of George’s All Things Must Pass, Scott spent a great deal of time working with Harrison, as Spector was M.I.A.

As it turned out, Ken Scott’s first “official” job as a producer was the Hunky Dory album by David Bowie. From there things really took off. He continued working with Bowie, doing Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Pinups. He would go on to work with Elton John, Supertramp, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Tubes, and Devo, among many others.

What makes the book so enjoyable are Ken Scott’s in-depth discussions of what went down in the studio during many of these sessions. This is no dry, techno-speak producer’s manual. It is most definitely written for music fans who might enjoy some little-known facts about these famous artists and albums.

One thing that wowed me a bit has to do with The Tubes. The Real Gone label has just issued their second and third albums on a single CD. They are Young and Rich and Now, respectively. In my review, I mentioned how superior I felt Young and Rich was, and never noticed that the producer was Mr. Ken Scott. In fact, he wrote technical notes which I completely ignored, but were a total hoax. He made up the name Kincade Instruments Low Level (KILL) amplifiers for one thing, and got letters from aspiring musicians looking for Kincade amps.

His most salient point answers a question I have long had, specifically “What happened to The Tubes?” In Ken’s opinion, they listened to their record company, and lost a lot of the edge they had shown to such great effect earlier. Unfortunately, he only worked with them on the Young and Rich album, which just happens to be my favorite Tubes album.

From producer to manager was the next step, with Missing Persons. While they are now remembered as one of those one-hit New Wave wonders, there was a lot of potential. The band featured drummer Terry Bozzio, guitarist Wayne Cuccurullo, and bassist Patrick O’Hearn, all of whom played in Frank Zappa’s crack late-seventies band. Once they became famous, (thanks to those fish-bowl bras Terry’s wife Dale wore in their videos), the egos exploded, and their career imploded.

Today, Ken Scott is working in various digital projects, along with old friends such as Billy Cobham, Woody Woodmanson, and (with fences mended) Terry Bozzio, among others. Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust is quite a ride, and Ken Scott’s stories provide a wonderful window into a world the rest of us will never know. The most poignant moment for me comes near the end of the book, when he was working with George Harrison on the remastering of All Things Must Pass. George was very sick, and Ken was there the day he left his beloved Friar Park for the last time. Ken says that Harrison walked throughout the house, looking in each room long enough to take a “mental picture,” as if he knew he would not be coming back.

It is moments like those, which transcend the producer/client relationship that make this book so special. It is really quite a read, and all of the stories are offered with a “How did I get so lucky?” type of humility which I am sure is what endeared him to so many artists over the years. I believe that anyone who enjoys peeking behind the curtain at some of the greatest rock and jazz musicians of the past 40 years will enjoy this book as much as I did.

About Greg Barbrick

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