Ted Carfrae, My Life In Music: Gus Dudgeon, Me And Kiki Dee – The Rocket Records Remastering Project Part 1
Ted Carfrae owner and founder of TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering recalls his work with Kiki Dee and Gus Dudgeon…..
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a huge fan of Kiki Dee. For me, she is without doubt one of the finest singers that the UK has ever produced.
My association with Kiki began some years ago in the late nineties at my studio in London’s Great Titchfield Street. Quite by chance, an associate friend of mine, the late and great record producer Gus Dudgeon asked me to work with him re-mastering all of Kiki’s Rocket Records back catalogue.
Rocket Records was owned by Elton John and his then manager John Reed and Kiki was their first signing in 1973. Kiki recorded five albums for the project, four were released and one remained unreleased. In fact, Gus and I didn’t know it even existed until I dug out the original stereo master tapes for this mixing project with Gus.
Elton John US Tour with Kiki Dee in 1974.
The master tapes were held in an amazing warehouse near London’s Heathrow Airport and I remember the day I went down there to see what I could find. The building itself was a bit of a mess and the road leading up to it was full of potholes so I thought to myself, I must be in the wrong place, surely this can’t be the right address, I knocked on the door and sure enough this was it.
I walked into the building and was met by a chap called Richard who owned the warehouse. He took me through into the main warehouse area and I was astounded by what I could see in front of me…..I was completely surrounded by more rock memorabilia that I could ever have imagined. Everything from several of Elton John’s pianos and stage sets, loads of Beatles equipment including guitars and even Ringo’s original Ludwig drum kit and I even held the snare he played at Shea Stadium.
Ringo and his Kit at Shea Stadium.
There were thousands of master tapes there as well, in special temperature controlled vaults including everything the Rolling Stones ever recorded and that was just scratching the surface. It was so incredible that I asked Richard how much it was insured for and he told me that it wasn’t, because how could you put a price on this stuff – it was truly priceless. Richard pretty much gave me the run of the place so as you can imagine I was in music heaven and I remember pinching myself several times.
Back to Kiki, when I managed to calm down from the excitement, Richard pulled several boxes of Kiki Dee 1/4” master tapes and I started to explore the contents. There is something quite magical about opening up a box and not knowing what is inside, the smell of tape is also very distinctive and for me it took me right back to my early days of working with tape.
It turned out that Kiki was quite prolific when she was at Rocket, there were of course the four main albums, there were some non album singles and ‘b’ sides. But the gem find was a completely un-released album entitled ‘Cage The Songbird’ that was recorded in Los Angeles in 1976.
I say un-released, in fact there was a single released from the album called ‘Once a Fool’ and I am assuming that for one reason or another, a decision was made to shelve the album and maybe return to it at a later date which of course never happened until I discovered it’s existence. The album was produced by US producer Robert Appre so even Gus was unaware of its existence.
Incidentally, another song from the ‘Cage The Songbird’ album called ‘Chicago’ was re-recorded for a single and featured on the ‘Kiki Dee’ album that followed in 1977.
Very interestingly, I discovered another un-released album in one of the boxes, this time from Kiki’s tenure at Ariola in the early eighties. Kiki’s first album ‘Perfect Timing’ produced by Status Quo producer Pip Williams, included her massive hit single ‘Star’ and this unreleased follow-up album entitled ‘Every Story Has Two Sides’ also produced by Pip is unreleased to this day, so maybe someday it will see the light of day, I really hope so because it is really good.
I brought all the boxes to the studio and Gus and I went through everything in more detail. Generally, the tapes were in very good condition but some of them had deteriorated over the years and I had to arrange for them to be ‘baked’ – let me explain this process in simple terms.
Baking Oven for Recording Tapes.
Essentially, when master tapes are left for many years, sometimes stored in ‘less than perfect’ conditions, the oxide in the chemical makeup of the tape itself starts to effectively melt and before you can play them again they are carefully baked in a special oven for a few days until the chemical composition returns to pretty much its original state.
Once baked, the process doesn’t last too long so you have just a short time to transfer the tapes onto a new tape or in this case a digital format before they revert to their damaged state. Gus and I initially copied straight transfers of all of the albums onto my early Pro-Tools system, onto DAT tapes and several CDs just to make sure we had plenty of safety copies
A word about Gus Dudgeon…..Gus was a character, an original – renowned for his outrageous clothing, a true eccentric – but he was also a true genius and lovely man. Gus produced many artists but he is probably best known for producing all of Elton John’s classic seventies albums including, ‘Yellow Brick Road’ and my personal favourite ‘Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy’.
A lot of people forget that Gus created some unique recording techniques to create these sonically amazing albums. One of his best inventions was used on the ‘Yellow Brick Road’ album in an effort to isolate the piano from the band while recording (because of course the band all played together in those days). He had the brilliant idea of building a box that mirrored the shape of the piano that rested on top of the piano, with the lid taken off, with two holes in the side for the Neumann 87 microphones to fit through. And it was, as with everything Gus did, a complete triumph.
Like so many producers before him such as the great George Martin, who I was also lucky enough to work with several times, Gus Dudgeon was an innovator, a total genius. And I remember particularly how wonderful it was for me to watch Gus audition Kiki’s tapes again after so many years because I know that working with Kiki was a very special time for him personally and he was in his own world for a while reliving those many recording sessions.
Next Monday…..Part 2 continues.