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Ziggy Stardust Companion interview (23 June 1999)
See also: Ken Scott On David Bowie (1973)
See also: Woody Woodmansey: On Recording Ziggy Stardust
"The two best-produced records Ive ever heard are probably Hunky Dory and Ziggy. The production made great songs into timeless classics. They took me into a totally different world that was beyond just listening to music. There were atmospheres pretty much on every song. Regardless of Ziggy Stardust, it just seemed other-worldly in terms of the way he sang. The tunes seemed to be coming in from another place, certainly different to any place Id ever been. Its one of the greatest albums of all time. It was a complete thing, it was groundbreaking, it was magical. Although some of it has dated, you put it on in the dark and its what its all about, you know? It lets you enter a world in which you can be someone else in. I think, more than anything, it made us all feel that we could be Ziggy Stardust. Growing up in Norris Green in Liverpool, that was important! He changed my life." - Ian McCulloch (2002)
Ken Scott was the co-producer (with David Bowie) and the engineer on the Ziggy Stardust album. Prior to working with Bowie his credits included engineering the Beatle's Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles at Abbey Road Studio (Scott trained alongside George Martin) and Jeff Beck's Truth (which both Bowie and Mick Ronson loved). In 1971 he formed a company called Nereus Productions with the owners of Trident studios and Hunky Dory was his first album as a producer rather than as an engineer. Bowie's high respect for his work has led him recently to describe Ken Scott as being his own "George Martin".Songs for THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1972) were recorded at Trident Studios, which Ken has described as his "home away from home". Trident was a recording studio in Soho, London located at 17 St Anne's Court, Wardour Street. In July 1968 it was the first studio in London to boast a functioning eight-track recording machine. By the early seventies it was the first studio in Europe to acquire a sixteen-track recorder and along with Advision and Olympic was one of the top three recording studios in London.
The Beatles used Trident to record "Hey Jude" and in the early 1970s - Bowie, Elton John, Supertramp, T.Rex and Queen were regulars there. It eventually closed in 1984, and the building was split into separate floors.
Of the actual studio where Ziggy Stardust was recorded, it is said that the four walls remain but not much else. It is now used by an audio-video production company specialising in dance records. However, it still manages to pay homage to the great man himself.
On the entire wall on the landing, halfway up, is a massive print of David Bowie, as photographed on the set of The Man Who Fell To Earth.
Ken, how did you first meet David Bowie?
I was put on the Trident schedule to engineer what became "Man Of Words, Man Of Music" (1969) [RCA's Space Oddity]. I have no idea if I was requested or if it was Ms Fate putting her two cents in.
What albums did you work on with him?
I worked as engineer on SPACE ODDITY (1969) and THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD (1970) and co-produced with David HUNKY DORY (1971), THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1972), ALADDIN SANE (1973) and PINUPS (1973). Our final work together was the "1984/DODO" recording.
How old were you when you first met?
Boy, what a question. I guess I was...I'll throw it back at you. I seem to remember I'm about 6 months younger than David. You figure it out.
Do you still keep in contact with him? When did you last see/speak to him?
We were out of contact for a very long time but have recently spoken and connected by email.
Did you keep in touch with any of The Spiders?
'Fraid not. I had to learn very early on that in this business you can get as close to an act as is possible during the time you're in the studio and then the day after you finish the project you'll probably never see them again. I have been told that's much like the making of a movie.
The Ziggy Stardust album is regularly cited by critics and fans as one of the greatest of all time, one which still seems fresh and new and one that still attracts new listeners every day.
The longevity of "Ziggy" still amazes me. Incredible.
"Im amazed that thirty years after the event that were still bloody talking about it. It was never meant that way when we originally did it. Back then we thought that an album would have a six-month life. We had no idea that thirty years down the line wed still be talking about it and people would still be interested. Rock n roll wasnt even that old at that point, how were we to know? " - Ken Scott (2002)
Do you consider it your greatest work?
Greatest is such a weird choice of word for me. I consider it to be among the best I have so far worked on but there is always bigger and better to come ( I hope and pray ).
David is quoted as saying to you after recording Hunky Dory - "I don't think you are going to like this next album....Well, its very different to anything I've done before. Its going to be much, much heavier, and much stranger...." Can you remember this? Why did he think that you wouldn't like it?
The conversation did happen something like that. I have puzzled that question myself and have never really come up with an answer.
"I remember David coming to me, prior to doing the album, and saying, "You're not going to like this album. Its gonna be much harder." I don't know who he compared it to; maybe it was Iggy. He thought I would hate it, but I loved it!" - Ken Scott (1999)
Did Bowie discuss his plans with you about the album and Ziggy character?
Not that I remember particularly.
The notes to the Ziggy Stardust Rykodisc reissue state that most of Ziggy was recorded in 2 weeks in November 1971, specifically November 1-14. There has always been some debate over the exact dates - do these seem correct to you?
I have to go by your dates. The periods do seem correct but I didn't keep a diary and unfortunately somewhere within studio sales and long drawn out legal battles all the original paperwork "seems" to have disappeared. There were a few exceptions to this rule, "Starman" being the exception on "Ziggy". Someone, I do not know if it was Bowie, DeFries or RCA decided that there was no single and so we went back into Trident, my home away from home, to record the first single. All other songs on the album except of course "It Ain't Easy" were recorded during the 2 weeks of sessions.
The Rykodisc notes also list a number of Ziggy session outtakes - One of these - "Looking for A Friend" is fairly well known to Bowie fans but two have never been heard, even in bootleg form; namely "Only One Paper Left" & "Its Gonna Rain again". Can you recall these songs and if so - what were they like?
Of the titles you mention I have only a minor memory of "Only One Paper Left", as to what it was like I have no idea.
In 1972 David hinted at the existence of a "bridging album" between Hunky Dory and Ziggy that he planned to release which would contain the songs" He's A Goldmine / Bombers / Starman / Round and Round / Something Happens". Can you recall this "lost album"?
In all honesty when would we have been able to record and release this bridging album? Ziggy was recorded almost immediately after Hunky Dory, even before it's release. That would have meant 3 albums in the can. No way.
Bowie has been quoted as saying that Ziggy was the only album that he'd gone into the studio armed with proper songs. What was his style of working in the studio?
I have to say I remember it differently. He and I went through demos of his songs for "Hunky Dory" and so he definitely had the material together for that and I am positive that he had the material together for "Aladdin Sane". There were exceptions, of course, "Bewlay Bros." being the one that leaps instantly to mind. Arrangements were worked out in the studio but no writing. His style of working? He knew how he wanted everything to work musically and so it was just down to the rest of us to get on the same page.
How long did recording take? What hours did you work on the album?
We recorded quickly, just as we always did. We generally worked Monday through Saturday, 2:00 p.m. until we finished, generally midnightish - not much later, eat when we felt like there was a natural break, and spent 2 to 3 weeks recording and 2 weeks mixing. Wed drink tea; Ronno would probably have a couple of beers, thats all.
Ken Scott signed CD cover - click for larger image
How many tracks was Ziggy recorded on?
I think eight but it may have been sixteen. I'm not sure.
Who else was present at the studio apart from yourself, Bowie and The Spiders?
Mmmmm. Angie, Tony DeFries maybe once and maybe Dana Gillespie. No one was barred from visiting, they weren't those kind of closed sessions, I guess no one was interested in what we were doing.
"It was a remarkable set-up because no-one from the record company ever came down and that was unusual back then, and impossible now. They would leave us alone, we would hand in our product, and then they would make their comments after that. And it was much the same with DeFries. He would come down whatever the temperature was, in his fur coat and his cigar, which was his standard uniform once the money started to roll in. We were left to our own devices, which was great. I never heard him comment on the music at all. I always knew him as Deep Freeze! He handled success better than Bowie did! It was all for him, always." - Ken Scott (1999)
What was the atmosphere in the recording studio? Did you know that you had a hit record in the making - was there lots of excitement?
Yes there was excitement surrounding the recording of the album. There always is when things are going well. We knew it was a good album.
"In the period between Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, Woody and I were talking, and he said how he wasnt particularly enamoured of the drum sound on Hunky Dory. He said it sounded like a bunch of cornflake boxes as far as he was concerned and he didnt want that sound again. So, on the first day of recording, I had the tea boy at the time and go out and buy as many different sized boxes of cornflakes he could get and myself and the roadie set up a full drum kit, with no drums, and just different-shaped cornflake packages waiting for Woodys arrival so hed feel nice and at home. He fell about laughing!" - Ken Scott (2002)
What were the predictions for its success?
The general consensus was that it was more of an "American" album and would sell more Stateside than anywhere else. Boy, how wrong were we? # 1 throughout the world, zippo in the states.
What was your working style with Bowie?
George Martin very much left the Beatles to do their own thing which is exactly what I did with David. He had all the musical ideas he needed. I've always considered the job of producer as getting across the best possible performance from the artist in the way the artist wants it. David wasn't particularly good at explaining exactly what he wanted, so you had to be economical with the production in case he said he wanted a one hundred and twenty-five piece orchestra.
Did you know that David has since referred to you as being his "George Martin"?
I have heard that and we both had a chuckle about that when we finally got to speak again.
How did you work together?
It was very much a band feel, with all the members laying down their basic tracks, patching them up to eliminate any mistakes, and then adding the overdubs. Trevor and Woody weren't around much for that part of it. But Mick Ronson was important. Like me, he had the job of trying to anticipate what David wanted, and then translating that into musical terms. In that respect he was very good. They were both on the same wavelength. He knew exactly what David wanted at that time.
The arrangements were by Mick and I, or me alone. Mick wrote stunning string arrangements. A perfect foil and collaborator, Mick's raw, passionate Beck style guitar was perfect for Ziggy and the Spiders. It had such integrity. You believed every note had been wrenched from his soul. Another of Mick's singular abilities, which I've encountered in only a few players since, was the facility to take a hooky line that I might whistle to him or play badly on my guitar, and he would make it sing, often reinforcing it with a second line overdub. We worked together so well because of this talent of his, as an interpreter, adding the Beckisms to simple lines like this. I would also literally draw out on paper with a crayon or felt tip pen the shape of a solo, the one in 'Moonage Daydream' for instance started as a flat line that became a fat megaphone type shape and ended as sprays of disassociated and broken lines. I'd read somewhere that Frank Zappa used a series of drawn symbols to explain to his musicians how he wanted the shape of a composition to sound. Mick could take something like that and actually bloody play it, bring it to life. Very impressive. - Bowie (2002)
Ronno just seemed to know what was needed from the orchestra, says Ken Scott. For David, he always came up with unique and perfect orchestrations. There was that feeling of simpatico between David and Ronno. Ronno scored every time! - Ken Scott (2002)
Is it true that the piano at Trident used by Mick Ronson on Hunky Dory and Ziggy was the same piano used by the Beatles for "Hey Jude" on The White album?
Yes it was the same piano used on "Hey Jude", the early Elton John albums, Nilsson, Carly Simon, Genesis and Supertramp amongst many others. That was one of Trident's claim to fame. THE piano sound. It was an amazing piano.
Were you solely in charge of the final mixing or was it a joint effort with Bowie?
Bowie and Ronson rarely sat in on the mixing sessions - that was done on trust and that wasn't unusual then. The only time I ever saw David at that part of the process was for "Lady Grinning Soul", "1984/Dodo" and maybe one other track, but I can't quite remember which. I also have a vague recollection of Ronno being around for a mix very early on. Probably something on "Hunky Dory".
Ziggy has often been cited/regarded as a concept album but not a pure one because its less linked than say the Who's "Tommy". In your view was it a deliberately planned concept album?
Concept album: no. A few closely linked songs: yes.
"We certainly didnt go into it thinking that the entire album would be a concept album. It was a bunch of songs that worked together. Now yes, there is a story for a few of the tracks that hook them together, but, thats it, a few of the tracks." - Ken Scott (2002)
"I think the best thing I did was to leave him so open-ended. It wasnt a specific story. There were specific incidences within the story, but it wasnt as roundly written as a usual narrative is. The only trouble about copying someone who is really well known is that you know all the facts about them, so you cant actually be that person. But, because Ziggy was kind of an empty vessel, you could put a lot of yourself into being your own version of him." - Bowie (2002)
In an early 1972 radio interview Bowie told an American interviewer that he "...just dropped the numbers into the Ziggy album in any order they cropped up..." But was it really more planned than that? Who decided the running order of the tracks and the which track would be in and which would be out? Did you have any say in this?
It was definitely more planned than that. When dealing with the old vinyl records one strove to make each side as close to the same length as possible. I have a vague recollection of writing out running orders, showing them to D.B. and then incorporating his ch..ch..ch..ch..changes. But I learned some time ago that my memory leaves a lot to be desired as do my attempts at humor.
One source has claimed that all Ziggy tracks were recorded live - that obviously isn't true is it?
Nothing was recorded 100% live. There were over dubs on every track, some more than others. If memory serves me well, fat chance after 27 years, "Round and Round" had the least. On Ziggy Stardust the basics were virtually the same for all the tracks. It was only the nuances in each song that would vary. The sessions weren't much different to any of the other Bowie sessions.
Talking of "Round and Round" - some sources say that it was also an early working title for the album. Is that true? Can you recall any others?
I have no recollection of that as a title or of any others.
"Five Years" is one of my favourite songs from the Ziggy album - hence the URL's name for The Ziggy Stardust Companion website. I understand that it was put together from two separate takes?
The track is one master. The vocal we did, unusually, in two takes purely for technical reasons. David starts very quietly and so in order to get the best sound I had to crank the level, BUT, as you know he eventually becomes a power house and so I had to change all the settings. The vocal range was quite different for the second half of the song, and so we had to adjust the levels to compensate for that.
"There are very few artists I have worked with whom could do lead vocals first take almost every time. He was the one. These days, especially with pro tools, you can sing one line incorrectly and theyll put it in tune. With David it was always there; it was amazing." - Ken Scott (2002)
What is your favourite song on Ziggy Stardust?
Wow. I guess "Moonage Daydream" but it's a tough choice.
"It would be on my list for Desert Island Discs. Ronno played exactly what was needed, his string arrangement is superb, Davids vocals too, everything came together and it works perfectly." - Ken Scott (2002)
That's Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey's favourite track as well :-)
In a 1973 interview with Charles Shaar Murray, Bowie admitted to pinching the backing vocal line from 'Lovely Rita' (from The Beatle's Sgt. Pepper) and incorporating it into 'Star'. In a similar vein, Bowie also states that he borrowed the pennywhistle and baritone sax solo in the middle of The Hollywood Argyle's song "Sure Know A Lot About Love" for the solo on "Moonage Daydream."
Actually my memory is that it was a Coaster's record. There goes my memory again. But Yes. Bowie had heard it, loved the sound and made it clear that was what he wanted for "Moonage Daydream."
Is it true that David didn't know about the phased strings that you added at the end of the song?
David of course knew about the strings. Ronno did the arrangement at David's request. It was the phasing that I did at the mix that was my own idea.
I understand that the heavy backing saxophone sound on "Suffragette City" was not created by a saxophone but by an ARP synthesizer.
Yes. David had this idea for a part. I'd been spending a lot of time messing with the ARP synthesizer that Trident had recently purchased and suggested we give it a try. I messed around, got the sound and Ronno played the part. We were not specifically going for a sax sound and it always used to surprise me when people told me they thought it was a sax section.
You were reported in Mark Paytress's recent book on Ziggy Stardust(Classic Rock Albums: Ziggy Stardust (1998)) as recalling that Dana Gillespie helped out on backing vocals for "It Ain't Easy". For many fans "It Ain't Easy", a non-Bowie composition from the Hunky Dory recording sessions, seems the odd man out on the Ziggy album. Do you know why David included "It Ain't Easy" on Ziggy?
Did you ever go to any of his live Ziggy performances? Did you tape any?
Many and yes, I recorded the movie sound track which Tony V. loves to pan.
Do you have any special memorabilia from that time?
Recent reports on the internet had you working with Duran Duran. What are you doing now?
I was working with Duran in England up until 3 week's ago and we may be heading back into the studio for another couple of days here in L.A.
Finally, has David discussed working with you again for his Ziggy Stardust 2002 revival projects?
There was talk of all the original producers mixing tracks for a surround sound compilation but other than that I've heard nothing.
On a lighter vein - when was the last time you listened to the whole Ziggy album?
I have absolutely no idea. Some time ago.
The Ziggy Stardust Companion thanks Ken very much for his time and memories.
---This page last modified: 02 Jan 2019---