Zeppelin engineer takes time out from penning autobiography to answer questions for Rockford Rocked readers

By Todd Houston
Contributor

Ron Nevison is an American record producer and audio engineer. He started his career in the early 1970s as an engineer on albums such as Quadrophenia by The Who and Bad Company’s debut album. He eventually became a producer, working with artists including Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, UFO, Jefferson Starship, Thin Lizzy, Kiss, and many others.

Ron was kind enough to answer questions from some readers of the Rockford Rocked Interview’s column. He is also currently in the process of writing his autobiography.

KISS: (Crazy Nights – Mercury Records 1989)
I want to know about the Kiss stuff. It must have been hard for KISS to compete with bands like Bon Jovi during the Crazy Nights era. What was it like working with KISS? – Mike Parr, Rockford

Ron Nevison: Well, as far as KISS trying to compete with Bon Jovi at the time I guess it’s kind of true. Bon Jovi at the time had come out with “livin’ on a prayer,” etc. Paul Stanley of KISS was in New York writing with Desmond Child and all the people Bon Jovi was working with.

In the beginning of the Crazy Nights sessions Paul had shown me eight or ten great quality songs that he thought we could use. Gene just kind of sent me some songs that he had laying around. Maybe twenty five or so. If I remember correctly he basically only contributed a couple of the songs that made it to the record.

We did most everything at Rumbo near Los Angeles. To tell you the truth, I’m a little disappointed that the Crazy Nights album didn’t have a big hit single.

Ten years prior to the Crazy Nights sessions I had an interview with Paul Stanley just before KISS did their solo albums. I met Paul at Casablanca Records but for whatever reason I didn’t end up working with them. I don’t know if they didn’t want me to do it in the end or I didn’t want to do it. Or perhaps I was just too busy.

London Quireboys: (A bit of what you fancy – Capital records 1990)
The Quireboys popped up here in the states just after the Guns N’ Roses, sleaze rock explosion was in full swing. Did these guys know what they wanted in the studio or did they pretty much just say “make us sound like The Faces and Humble Pie”? – Jeff Miksik, Portland, OR

RN: I was approached by Sharon Osbourne, who was managing them at the time. I didn’t actually produce that album. (A bit of what you fancy – Capital records 1989) I was kind of like the executive producer then I suppose. I think it was Jim Cregan who actually produced it.

He was a guitar player who played in Rod Stewart’s band for awhile and was also a really nice guy as I recall. I remember they did the recording at Cherokee Studios and I would go in and sort of supervise a bit and help out with songs. But no, I wasn’t totally involved in that one. However, Ozzy and Sharon did fly me to Tokyo to record them at the Tokyo Dome. I remember “Spike” the singer being a Rod Steward kind of guy and yeah, it sounded like The Faces all over again.

UFO (Strangers in the Night Live album 1979):
How much of the great sound on UFO’s LIVE strangers in the night was done in the studio? I heard there were lots of overdubs by guitarist Michael Schenker and or Paul Chapman? – Michael Adamany, Rockford

RN: Okay, let me talk a bit about Strangers in the Night. The album was recorded at the Record Plant mobile Studio. If I remember correctly, I believe it was recorded in four or five different locations. Youngstown, Columbus, Cleveland, Chicago with Chicago being the biggest hit. I had Mike Clink (Whitesnake, Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Megadeth, etc.) as my assistant back then. You know, it wasn’t really supposed to be a double album but when you have 12 minute songs like “Rock Bottom” it makes it difficult. And let’s not forget that vinyl records could only be 20 minutes a side. If you get one song that’s 12 or 13 minutes how are you going to juggle all of that?

So, I had to try to figure out on songs like “Love to Love” and others how I was going to get it done. I ended up talking to Chrysalis Records and we finally decided to do the double album. Now, in the end there were two songs that I still needed that I really didn’t think were up to par so we went back into the Record Plant Studio C and re-record those two songs. I don’t know if anybody could tell the difference Todd as I used all the same mics, the same placement, everything. I set up to record just like it was on stage and at the gigs.

I must say there were very little overdubs. I’ve heard people say “Oh yeah, there were lots of overdubs on the “Stangers” Live album but No. One of the reasons there wasn’t is because I picked the songs that didn’t need it. There was however some “fixing” here and there but there were not a lot of overdubs. Now, having said that it was 40 something years ago (Laughter).

Damn Yankees (Warner Bros 1990)
You did the Damn Yankees debut album. I recall Tommy Shaw saying that Ted Nugent was impressed with his slide guitar playing. Did Ted demand to play all the lead guitar parts? And what was Ted like in the studio? – Maddie Paige, Loves Park

RN: Ok, so John Kalodnar was the guy at Geffen and this is like 1989 or something like that. I had had dealings with him with the band Survivor and some other things. Kalodnar is the one that got Ted Nugent, Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw together and that’s what he did well. The whole A&R guy thing you know? The best thing they can do is create marriages and the worst thing they can do is meddle in the music (laughter).

So he puts together these guys and they went and wrote demo songs and it was great. What happened was the president of Geffen Records at the time passed on those demo songs. Passed on “High enough” and all of those great songs. So I get a call one day from Michael Austin over at Warner brothers. He says he’s got these guys, Nugent, Blades, Shaw, etc. and also this music. I said yeah I would love to hear it! I went down to WB and ended up doing the album with them.

Led Zeppelin (Physical Graffiti 1975 Swan Song)
Tell us about the The unflattering album credit for the song “The Rover” where it reads “Guitar lost courtesy of Nevison. Salvaged by the grace of Harwood.” – John Richardson, Rockton

RN: Well that’s easy. I didn’t work on that song so…. Here’s what might have happened. I was called up to record Led Zeppelin at this place called Headley Grange which was in Headley Hampshire. We were to use the Ronnie Lane Mobile studio. The Rolling Stones had the only other mobile so there were two cool ones, the Ronnie Lane and theirs (Stones). I’m sure the BBC had theirs but whatever. (Incidentally I had already had a date to do The Who’s “Tommy” film which was a one year project.) So, I get down to Headley and John Paul Jones doesn’t show up. I’m not sure why and I didn’t ask. We ended up hanging out for a couple weeks rehearsing, having fun doing Elvis songs and things like that but I ultimately had to tell them as some point I had to leave.

I’m probably the only one who ever quit Led Zeppelin (laughter) I ended saying hey look, after this certain date I can’t come back. Now, I didn’t realize until the album actually came out that it was a double album and they had used a lot of tracks from Headley Grange but from the Houses of the Holy sessions. One of those track was “The Rover” and it wasn’t recorded during my sessions there. And no takes were ever brought to me during my session that I was aware of. We never even put up any tapes so there is no way I could even have ever erased anything. However I can picture someone at the sessions saying hey where’s the guitar on that and some engineer saying “hey, I didn’t do that” and them thinking well maybe I did. Also to put on the back of the album Physical Graffiti in the credits. Either they were really pissed at me for leaving or I don’t know.

RRI: Are you still friendly with Plant or Page?

RN: Yeah, sure. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen them. Here’s a story for you. I remember walking into this club in London called “Tramp” a few years after and seeing Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin manager) and (Atlantic records president) Ahmet Ertegün sitting there and giving me kind of a dirty look as I walked by (laughs) But seriously I’ve talked to Robert Plant quite a few times and there’s no hard feelings there. R.

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