Ken Scott began working at Abbey Road when he was 16. Most kids just get a paper route.
Mike Banks/recordproduction.com

Producer brings us behind the music

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The name Ken Scott might not mean much to casual fans of classic rock, but his resume is one of the most polished in the business. Getting his start in the music industry as a 16-year-old at the now-legendary Abbey Road studios, Scott worked his way out of the tape libraries and into the realm of rock and roll legend. In addition to working on Beatles classics Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album, Scott has engineered, mixed or produced such seminal albums as Lou Reed's Transformer, Elton John's Honkey Chateau, Jeff Beck's Truth and Supertramp's Crisis? What Crisis? Despite this impressive list, Scott has arguably left the biggest mark on pop culture through his work with David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust period. Scott recently spoke with the Gauntlet in preparation for his upcoming Calgary appearance, where he will be discussing his life in rock and roll.

Gauntlet: You started working at Abbey Road studios when you were 16. What was it like being a kid working with the Beatles during the height of Beatlemania?

Ken Scott: You can't even begin to imagine. I think it was within a week or so [after I started that] they were in recording. So there I was walking down the corridor and walking towards me were George Harrison and [producer] George Martin. I freaked. It was astounding. Once that had worn off--and it wears off fairly quickly--you realize that you're there to do a job and that's what it becomes.

G: One of the focuses of your upcoming appearance in Calgary is the work you did with David Bowie. Why is he such an important part of your career?

KS: I did four albums with him. I helped to make him into a superstar. One of the reasons was that we were born within four months and 10 miles of each other. Our upbringings are very close, it just took 20-odd years before we actually met, but we went through similar experiences and I go through some of that [during the talk] leading up to how I got to finally work with him and then going into a little more detail of the work we did together, from the technical side to just lightweight stories of things that happened.

G: You mentioned that you helped make Bowie a superstar, what was your role in shaping his move to glam rock and the Ziggy Stardust period?

KS: I think it was probably giving him the freedom that he needed. Tony Visconti, the producer he had been working with on the two albums prior to [Hunky Dory], also played bass on the albums. I think that Tony put a lot of his stamp musically on what David was doing. I think David wanted more freedom to experiment with himself and get his own stamp on it. I, not being a musician, though having a musician's ear, allowed him that freedom and he could just work on things he wanted to work on. He didn't have to worry about technicalities at all, that was left up to me, and [guitarist] Mick Ronson for musical technicalities.

G: Did you ever think at the time that albums you were working on, like Ziggy Stardust or The White Album, were going to be as important as they became?

KS: No. It would be stupid to say that I didn't have some idea about working with the Beatles because they were so big. But to still be talking about them 40 years later, no we didn't realize that. At the time, most acts were doing two albums a year. There would be a six-month gap between each album. We did albums based on if people were still interested in six months when the next one came out, we'd been successful. That was the lifespan we were looking at, never, ever, 30 to 40 years later.

G: How, then, does it feel 30 to 40 years later to have your fingerprints on some of the most influential music of the last half-century?

KS: When you put it that way it's terrifying. It changes on a daily basis. I was lucky enough to work again with George Harrison before his passing. We were dealing with the reissue of All Things Must Pass and we were sitting in front of the mixing console playing multi-tracks that we had been working together on 30-odd years ago. We just turned and looked at each other and burst out laughing. We couldn't believe we were still working on exactly the same stuff. There are times when I find it absolutely hysterical; there are times where I become perturbed about it. I don't get it. It was never meant to be 40 years down the line and it's scary at times.

G: Judging by your last response, you probably don't have much of a problem being a behind-the-scenes presence on these albums, instead of the superstar...

KS: I loved music and I knew I didn't have the right personality to be the act. I preferred the more backroom-boy type thing where I'm not in the spotlight, but I'm still a part of putting it all together. That's something I had to overcome with giving these talks because suddenly my role is reversed. It is me up there. I get tremendous stage fright every time, but I know a lot of artists do, so it's just grin and bear it and hopefully it will be a success each time.

The Audites Foundation presents Ken Scott at the Rozsa Centre Sun., Jun. 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $28 in advance at Heritage Posters and Music and Campus Ticket Centre, or $32 at the door.