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Sometimes that input was meant as a joke. When we were working on “Not Guilty,” George was trying to do a vocal overdub and it wasn’t happening for him. We tried various ways to get him to feel more comfortable. He asked to sing in the control room with the speakers up, like a live situation with a PA. After one playback I was standing by John and I said, rather facetiously, “You’ll want to record the next song in there,”—“there” being a tiny room next to Studio 2 that had only been used to house a four-track, when they were too big to fit in the control rooms. His reply: “Yeah, OK.” The next song we did was “Yer Blues,” and John said, “Let’s do it in there.” We had to fit all four of them in that tiny room and they literally couldn’t move. They had to find a position with their guitars and not move, or they would hit someone in the face or in the guitar. And that’s where we cut the track. So input came in a lot of different ways, and they were always up to trying anything new.
What was their work ethic like on A Hard Day’s Night, and how had it changed or remained the same by the time of Magical Mystery Tour?
A Hard Day’s Night was still the early days and they were coming in on time to sessions, starting at 2:30 in the afternoon and finishing around 10 or 11, or midnight. By Magical Mystery Tour, they were coming in whenever they wanted or not showing up. The work ethic was there, but they chose the times when they wanted to use it. They still worked just as hard and long; they just started and finished later.
How much of John and George’s playing and solos do you believe were direct reflections of their personalities? Could the guitar parts have been interchanged yet still had the same musical “attitude”?
Absolutely not. George was very patient and spent a lot of time getting things just the way he wanted them. He was a perfectionist. John would do a couple of takes, say, “Yeah, fine,” and move on. He was far more impatient.
Every guitarist wants to believe that his tone is distinctive and that fans can immediately recognize his playing. This was true for George Harrison’s playing, for example, but to your discerning ears, is it true of today’s guitarists?
Nowadays, fans know who it is from the material being played, rather than the sound or style of the guitarist. George could play on someone’s record and you knew it was him. These days, you hear a guitarist on someone’s record and you have no idea. With George, his tone wasn’t always the same, but you could nearly always tell his style.
Guitars are harder to record than other instruments because there are so many variables involved. With guitars, you have so much more flexibility and so many more settings that the guitarists use.
Today’s guitarists are fond of modern guitars. When I was working on a Duran Duran album with Warren Cuccurullo, who also played with Frank Zappa and Missing Persons, he had modern guitars that all sounded the same, all with a high-end, buzzy-type sound. I said, “Look into getting an old guitar.” He has since started the most amazing collection. There is something about the warmth of old guitars.
One way to get guitar sounds now is effects and filters in the control room. The control room is there to get the best sounds possible, but the sound starts in the studio. You’re not supposed to take something OK and try to make it great. You start with great and make it greater. Mick Ronson, for example, used a Marshall half stack and a Cry Baby wah in the studio. He put his foot on the wah, found the tone, took his foot off and that would be it.
Were the Beatles underrated as musicians?
No. As musicians, the technical prowess was not there. It got better as they went on. On one level, no, they weren’t that good. But as talents and how they used the skills they had, it was absolutely brilliant. And no one has ever come close to it. Ringo is one of the greatest rock drummers. There were times when he’d get in the middle of a drum fill and not know how to get out, and that’s what made it great.
Coming up in part two of our interview: You asked. Ken Scott answered.