Guitar Aficionado

Beatles Engineer Ken Scott Recalls 'Yer Blues' Session

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By Damian Fanelli

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Ken Scott -- one of only a handful of recording engineers to have worked side by side with The Beatles -- has stories to tell.

Good stories.

And lucky for us, he loves telling them.

To emphasize the point, Scott will be publishing a 500-page memoir, Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust: Off The Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More, on June 6 through Alfred Music Publishing.

The book, which was co-written by Bobby Owsinski, recounts the many events of what Scott calls his "blessed life" working with innumerable rock legends.

Scott began working in the tape library at London's Abbey Road Studios in 1963 at age 16. Abbey Road was a place where The Shadows, The Hollies and, most famously, The Beatles had already started making history. Scott quickly segued into sound engineering at Abbey Road, eventually manning the board for several of The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour sessions and creating mono and stereo mixes for the band.

But a pivotal moment came when he replaced Geoff Emerick in the engineer's seat during the 1968 sessions for The Beatles, better known as the White Album. Besides witnessing the band at their post-psychedelic creative high point, Scott was instrumental in helping The Beatles shift from four-track to eight-track recording.

Below, Scott discusses the sessions for two White Album tracks -- "Helter Skelter" and "Yer Blues." For the rest of this interview, visit GuitarWorld.com.

GUITAR AFICIONADO: Given the song's heaviness, was there anything special about the “Helter Skelter” session?

Not much different -- they just played a lot louder than usual.

What about “Yer Blues”?

That was different. We were doing a vocal with George Harrison on a track that turned up not being used on the album, a track called “Not Guilty” [which surfaced on Harrison's self-titled 1979 album]. George was having difficulty getting into doing the vocal, so we were trying various things, some of which were fairly madcap. At one point during the playback, I stood up, and I was standing next to John, and there was this little room outside of Number Two control room where one of the Telefunken four-track machines was.

Originally with EMI they only had two four-tracks. These particular four-tracks were really large, so they kept them in two small rooms, both next door to Number Two control room. And they could be plugged into any of the studios. By now we’d moved to Studer four-tracks, which were in the control rooms, so these two rooms were empty.

So I stood up next to John, and as a joke, I said, “God, the way you guys are going, you’re gonna want to record in there now," pointing to one of these two rooms. John just sort of looked over there and didn’t say anything. A little later on we were gonna start a new song called “Yer Blues,” and John turns around and says, “I wanna record it in there,” and he points to the room I’d been joking about.

We had to fit them into this ridiculously small room. If one of them had suddenly swung his guitar around, he would’ve hit someone in the head. It was all so close to each other. But for me, I think the drum sound on that is the best on the album. I love that drum sound. And just the whole thing. There was no separation between anyone, really. So you had to just sort of get the mix as best you could -- because everything was on everything. You had to meld it all together.

I think John even did the vocal live. We had to; somehow we screwed up on the second half and there was leakage. So redoing the vocal immediately changed the sound. But John being how he was, said, "Well, if we’re going to change the sound, we might was well completely change the sound" – and you can hear in the middle of it – the sound on the vocal completely changes. That was part necessity and part John saying, "Well, let’s go mad on it."

For more about Ken Scott's new book, Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust: Off The Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More, click here or check it out at Amazon.com. To read the rest of this interview, visit visit GuitarWorld.com.

Photo: thebeatles.com

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