Classic Rock Review

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Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off-the-record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton, and more by Ken Scott & Bobby Kowsinski (2012)


Hardcover-4 page Prologue, 393 pages of text, 4 page Glossary, 4 page Discography, and an Index. Also included are 14 pages of good quality b & w photos (several taken by the author and never previously seen), with many more sprinkled throughout the book. There’s also recording data sheets and other documents from the period when pertinent.

This memoir by Ken Scott of working with various artists will be interesting to those (like me) who like to know something behind all the great music we hear. The author, with the help of Bobby Owsinski, has written about his time “behind the glass” recording many great artists.

His first job was engineering The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” album. From there he worked extensively with David Bowie, including the “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust…” album. Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, Elton John, Duran Duran, Jeff Beck, The Rolling Stones, America, Lou Reed, and a number of other well known artists have all used Scott’s talents. Also included are Mott The Hoople, Al Kooper, Happy The Man, the Dixie Dregs, and a few others that crossed paths with Scott.

Scott talks about a single track he recorded with Rick Wakeman for example, about Wakeman’s American car being so big, he took up two parking spaces. And when the parking meter had expired, the traffic warden gave Wakeman two tickets-one for each parking space. Or how touched he was when George Martin took Scott aside, and in a fatherly way, told him not to expect “The White Album” to win a Grammy because the album was such a departure for the group-hopefully not hurting Scott’s feelings. Or working with Nilsson, and the heavy drug use he witnessed.

He also talks very briefly about working with artists like Scaffold, Dada, Doris Troy, Lord Sitar-certainly lesser known artists (even Troy sadly wasn’t all that well known) of the time-proving his life in the studio wasn’t spent working with just the big names, but for Scott they were enjoyable nonetheless. One band he did work with early on was The Iveys-who later morphed into Apple Records Badfinger. Another great but sadly unsung band was Lindisfarne, and their fine album “Fog On The Tyne”-which more people should hear. But these are just a very few of the reminiscences found throughout the book.

He also relates the time when Keith Moon, after recording a tympani part for Jeff Beck’s first album, left the studio late at night, and spying an old lady walking by, used a PA system he had installed in his Rolls Royce to scream epithets at her. Needless to say Moon was banned from the studio (and the neighborhood) for quite some time. This is just one example of Scott’s memories of those wild times that run through this book.

Scott goes into some detail about his work with David Bowie on several albums, and his memories of that period are pretty interesting-especially for Bowie fans. He writes about jazz-fusion and the “Birds of Fire” album with guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Billy Cobham and keyboard player Jan Hammer, and Cobham’s solo albums, beginning with “Spectrum”. Bassist Stanley Clark is also here, and Scott talks about his solo album. Or Supertramp-and the album “Crime of the Century”. Or Kansas-the list goes on and on. Needless to say, along the way Scott has been nominated several times for a Grammy award, and has a number of both gold and platinum albums for his work.

He also writes about being fired from the studio because he worked with pop artists-which the new management hated. Scott then went to work for Trident Studios. It’s here that Scott worked on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album. He talks about the fact that no one really knows who played on a number of the tracks because there was no documentation! When he asked Ringo about playing on it, for the 2001 reissue, Ringo responded with “Did I play on it?”

With the help of Osinski, the book is laid out in an easy to read (but not chronological) style. Everything is laid out as it happened, and Scott’s no nonsense style is a plus. The different events are laid out under that particular artist or a particular genre of music. But this isn’t a dry treatise on recording. Anything technical is in a sidebar for ease of use, and can be skipped over for those who have no interest in such things.

Throughout the book Scott talks about many different artists-taking us where outsiders haven’t the privilege of going. Scott’s clear cut memories bring us closer to what actually happened in the studio without bogging down in useless minutiae. His many asides and reminisces are at times very interesting and sometimes enlightening-and sometimes funny. When his memory may not be as clear on a point, he has talked with someone else who was there at the time to verify his memories. But virtually every page contains some interesting tidbit of information-no matter if it has to do with the actual recording, or with one of the many artists he worked with.

In some ways this book is reminiscent of Geoff Emerick’s 2006 book “Here,There and Everywhere”, about his time behind the glass as an engineer with THE BEATLES. But this book is broader in scope, and for that reason even more interesting. Fans of these artists and this whole era of music/recording will like reading this book from someone who was there. It’s interesting, enlightening, and just plain fun to read about artists and albums we’ve all heard so many times. And to have the chance to hear it from someone so close to it all brings the music to life a little bit more.

May 23, 2013 - Posted by | Book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off-the-record with The Beatles Bowie Elton and more by Ken Scott & Bobby Kowsinski | ,

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