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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ken Scott, Greg Penny and 9 Elton and Bowie Tidbits

The other day I had the pleasure of hanging with producer/engineer's Ken Scott and Greg Penny to listen to some digital copies of Elton John multitracks. It's always fun to hang with both of those guys, but on this particular day it was even better because of what we were hearing.

If you don't know the name Ken Scott you surely know his work. He was one of the four Beatles engineers, produced four of David Bowie's best albums (including the influential Ziggy Stardust), Supertramp, Jeff Beck, Devo, The Tubes, Marivishnu Orchestra, and Missing Persons among others, and engineered for George Harrison, Elton, America, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran and lots more.

Greg Penny has produced a couple of Elton albums and KD Lang's biggest record Ingenue (one of my favorites). He's also done the surround mixing for every one of Elton's SACD and DVD-A releases.

Here are some interesting tidbits about Elton and Bowie from that day.

1) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road actually started in Jamaica but moved to France because the studio was unacceptable (no low end below 100Hz), and because Elton was freaked out by a near riot where the bus they were traveling in was rocked and nearly toppled over.

2) It's surprising how much the banjo shows up on Elton's tunes. Davey Johnson never played it like a banjo though, so it simply blends into the track as another harmonic element. Below you'll see a track sheet from Honkey Cat with the banjo track outlined. Also notice that it's 16 tracks, of which they only used 15!

3) Elton's early band of Dee Murray, Nigel Olson and Johnson was great both musically and vocally. When these guys were working up a song, it rarely sounded ragged (from the tracks that I heard) like most bands sound in that mode.

4) The hit song Rocket Man was written in 10 minutes over breakfast with the band.

5) Elton is very detached in the studio. Once his parts are complete, he's gone shopping and doesn't concern himself about the other parts (great for the producer though).

6) Elton was known by everyone in the London music circle by his real name - Reg Dwight. It took everyone a long time to stop calling him "Reg" after he became famous.

And these Bowie tidbits.

7) Bowie broke up the Spiders From Mars because they wanted a raise. This was mostly instigated by David's manager at the time, Tony DeFies.

8) Like Elton, Bowie hates the studio and was never around for any of the mixes. Ken says that he mixed all four albums by himself.

9) Over four albums, every Bowie vocal except one was done on the first take. The one that wasn't was intentionally broken up to sound different in two different sections.

There were a lot more great trivia and behind-the-scenes tidbits but I think we'll save them for the upcoming book that Ken and I are planning on writing, tentatively titled "From Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust."

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Bob Buontempo said...

I have a question for Ken. If he did "Country Comfort" with Elton, who was the bass player, and what was his set-up? It sounds like a mic'ed Rick, played with a pick through an amp with a lot of compression during tracking.

I remember reading an interview with a bass player for Elton a while ago who was quite..."boastful", but that sound is pretty hard for most bass players to achieve, so maybe his "self promotion" was warranted...

DonD said...

When I was in college I stumbled across an album by Long John Baldry called "It Ain't Easy". I was especially blown away by a track titled: "Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock And Roll" which featured some astonishing piano fireworks. I remember wondering "Who IS this guy?" I assumed he was a 60-something Kansas City blues veteran of the Earl Hines variety. When I saw the name "Reggie Dwight" on the liner notes, I figured I had it about right. Hah.

Bobby Owsinski said...

I'll ask Ken the next time I see him, Bob.

Bob Buontempo said...

Thanks, Bobby!!


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