Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Beatles Drum And Bass Sounds

Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust book cover image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
One week from today on June 6th, the Ken Scott memoir Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust will be released. It's an auspicious date in that it's the 40th anniversary of the release of David Bowie's The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars album as well as the 50th anniversary of the first time The Beatles recorded at Abbey Road (then known as EMI) Studios.

Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust has lots of stories about the multitude of hits and superstar acts that Ken work on and with, but it also has plenty of technical info as well. We separated all the tech stuff out into sidebars so those that could care less about that sort of thing can easily skip over it, while those of us geeks that revel in it could easily find it.

For what it's worth, the book appears to be a best-seller even before it's been released, ranking #5 in Books > Entertainment > Pop Culture > Beatles, and #6 in Books > Arts & Photography > Music > Recording and Sound. Thanks to all who have pre-ordered!

Here's an example from Chapter 4 Recording The White Album, where Ken talks about some of the ins and outs of The Beatles drum and bass sounds.
"While the majority of The Beatles drum sound can be directly attributed to one Mr. Starr, there were a number of additional factors as well. One was the use of tea towels across the top heads of the snare and toms (a tea towel is a very thin dish towel), which were used as standard operating procedure on all tracking sessions. This was something that they were doing on previous albums, and if you listen to their earlier stuff you can hear the sound was very dead as a result. I’ve tried to use the same technique a number of times since, but it just never sounded as good as with Ringo. 
The other thing that was rather radical for the time was the front head of the bass drum was removed and the sound was deadened with towels, a practice that’s become commonplace today. Once again that was something they were already doing by the time I became their engineer.  
A third thing was changing the position of the snare drum mic. Geoff [Emerick] had used it below the snare, while I preferred the sound of miking the top head instead. Although I’d been engineering for a while by the time of The White Album and I was far more comfortable with what I was doing, I was still coming in behind Geoff, so I couldn’t instantly jump in and change everything. It had to evolve from the way he had started it. 
Another thing that occurred during my watch was that the four string bass was sometimes doubled by a 6 string bass on some songs. By this time Paul had acquired a Fender Jazz bass which he used in lieu of his Rickenbacker, and a Fender Bass VI was always around the studio. As I understand it, the band had heard German orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert double an upright with a six string bass when they were in Germany, and decided to give it a try with electrics. Although they might not have known at the time, the practice was also used in Nashville on a lot of country songs and even had a name ; “Tic-toc bass.” You can hear it on “Piggies,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Glass Onion,” and “Rocky Raccoon.” The two parts were always played live and never overdubbed."
There are plenty of other technical details also in the book including the mics that were used, the outboard gear, and some of the Abbey Road equipment that they used. To read more or order the book, go to abbeytoziggy.com.

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3 comments:

Alex said...

On Amazon.co.uk this book is also ranked number 2 in 'Sport Utility & Four-Wheel Drive Vehicles.'

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bestsellers/books/277102/ref=pd_zg_hrsr_b_2_5_last

Jef Knight said...

I found the doubled bass part to be pretty interesting because, a) I had no idea there were 6string basses is the 60's and b) how the heck did *I* not think of that!...lol

After listening to those songs, on youtube, I heard the tic-toc clearly; flat wound strings an 8va higher.

I often double with a guitar but I'm excited now and I'm going to run down to the studio and try it out.

cheers

Bobby Owsinski said...

The first 6 string bass came out in 1956 and the Fender Bass VI was introduced in 1961. Jack Bruce of Cream also used it, among many others. Glen Campbell used one on the solos of "Whihita Lineman" and "Galveston."

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