Article | Chris Kimsey – My Life in Vinyl

My Life in Vinyl

Chris Kimsey

The renowned engineer has worked in the music industry
for 45 years, forging a close relationship with The Rolling
Stones. He shares his highlights with Teri Saccone

The renowned engineer has worked in the music industry for 45 years, forging a close relationship with The Rolling Stones. He shares his highlights with Teri Saccone

Engineer and producer Chris Kimsey never set out to capture ngineer and producer Chris Kimsey never set out to capture 360 albums for acts including The Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton, Duran Duran, Led Zeppelin, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Ten Years After and The Psychedelic Furs. Kimsey engenders respect and camaraderie with the artists he works with, due to his expertise and genuine warmth.

When he started out, aged 17, popular music dominated the landscape, but film scores were his passion. “I wasn’t interested in the music of the day, Hendrix and the like, I was into film music,” he remembers. “In school, I did music for plays, played piano and timpani.” The Londoner became intrigued with the fabled Olympic Studios, stopping in often and “Hassling them until they hired me”. Once on board, Kimsey progressed from tea boy to tape operator. “Olympic was a fantastic training ground, as you’d have a jingle session in the morning, a film orchestral session in the afternoon, then bands at night.”

Some of the young producer’s earliest sessions were assisting in film soundtracks for seminal 60s films such as Get Carter and The Italian Jobworking alongside Quincy Jones and Michel Legrand. “I started on orchestra sessions, then the rock thing happened,” he says.

Kimsey’s early rock sessions were mainly with the Stones, alongside mentor and lifelong friend Glyn Johns, and he remembers fondly how ”Rock music became fascinating to me.” One of the main hallmarks of Kimsey’s developing sound was the way he created a live vibe, “capturing the best performance the artist is capable of. It’s about creating a good atmosphere for the artist,” he explains.

Despite a long association with classic rock, Kimsey also worked on reggae and world music records, and with artists including BB King, Billy Preston, Gipsy Kings and The Chieftains. Unsurprisingly, he remains an avid vinylist, owning around 6,000 albums and, at the age of 68, he’s not finished with the world of music yet: “I still love it, and I want more.”

The Rolling Stones
Some Girls

Rolling Stones Records

1979

“The Rolling Stones are a truly live band, so I wanted them to feel like they were playing in a club. I set them up with their gear in a semi-circle. Mick and Keith hardly ever came into the control room, they just left me to it. Those sessions in a Paris recording studio started at 9 or 10pm, then at about 1am their entourages would arrive, so it was a big party on the studio floor while I was in the control room recording, logging everything. There was tons of tape, 60-odd reels, from those sessions. Ultimately, the album had an immediacy that was perfect for them. It also taught me much about feel and groove and reminded me just what a great drummer Charlie Watts is, he’s one of the finest drummers and best timekeepers ever. When we recorded the title track, it was 16 minutes long, but they wanted me to make it a four-minute song. There are not many drummers who can play perfectly in time straight through for 16 minutes, most people would be utterly terrified to do that without a click track. I edited that song down to four minutes using bits from all over the 16-minute tape, yet Charlie’s time did not change one bit throughout it all. He was absolutely spot on.”

Johnny Hallyday
Vie

Phillips

1970

“I was still an assistant, and then on the second day of that session the Olympic engineer didn’t turn up. So they were trying to figure out who could engineer, as they had the musicians coming, and his manger said, ‘Well what about Kimsey?’ I’d never engineered before, but I’d been learning. So I jumped in the seat and that was it. I did the session. Johnny (aka ‘the French Elvis’) fell in love with the sound. After that, I worked often with Johnny. I must have done maybe five albums with him, and through his sessions I met Ringo Starr, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, Mick Jones from Foreigner and others. So from that session onward, I became a rock engineer.”

“Charlie Watts is one of the finest drummers ever. Not many drummers can play perfectly in time straight through for 16 minutes”

Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin III

Atlantic 1970

“I was an assistant engineer on this, Eddie Kramer was the engineer. We are still friends and I saw him last week. My reaction to Zeppelin was that they were very different. Glyn Johns had done their debut album, of course. But that type of music, blues with heavy rock, was still unique, interesting. And, of course, the third album was groundbreaking for them. Yet we were not really aware that we were working on something that was so important for them at the time. The Zeppelin mystique was huge, bigger than even the band itself. They are lovely and very easy to work with. We set the drums on a drum riser: Bonzo was all about touch, not hitting hard, and was a workhorse. He never came into the control room to listen to playbacks. He just played, bringing the best performances to every song. And the fact that Page was the producer and wanted to record the room sound most of all was very impressive to me, as I’m the same. Working with Page was easy. I had then and still have a lot of respect for him as a producer and artist. He knew what he wanted, no record the room sound most of all was very impressive to me, as I’m the same. Working with Page was easy. I had then and still have a lot of respect for him as a producer and artist. He knew what he wanted, no questions, very decisive in the studio. He’s still supporting the Zeppelin catalogue and has not been desperate to go out on the road. He’s preserving the recorded history of the band.”

The Rolling Stones
Some Girls

Rolling Stones Records

1979

“The Rolling Stones are a truly live band, so I wanted them to feel like they were playing in a club. I set them up with their gear in a semi-circle. Mick and Keith hardly ever came into the control room, they just left me to it. Those sessions in a Paris recording studio started at 9 or 10pm, then at about 1am their entourages would arrive, so it was a big party on the studio floor while I was in the control room recording, logging everything. There was tons of tape, 60-odd reels, from those sessions. Ultimately, the album had an immediacy that was perfect for them. It also taught me much about feel and groove and reminded me just what a great drummer Charlie Watts is, he’s one of the finest drummers and best timekeepers ever. When we recorded the title track, it was 16 minutes long, but they wanted me to make it a four-minute song. There are not many drummers who can play perfectly in time straight through for 16 minutes, most people would be utterly terrified to do that without a click track. I edited that song down to four minutes using bits from all over the 16-minute tape, yet Charlie’s time did not change one bit throughout it all. He was absolutely spot on.”

“Charlie Watts is one of the finest drummers ever. Not many drummers can play perfectly in time straight through for 16 minutes”

Johnny Hallyday
Vie

Phillips 1970

“I was still an assistant, and then on the second day of that session the Olympic engineer didn’t turn up. So they were trying to figure out who could engineer, as they had the musicians coming, and his manger said, ‘Well what about Kimsey?’ I’d never engineered before, but I’d been learning. So I jumped in the seat and that was it. I did the session. Johnny (aka ‘the French Elvis’) fell in love with the sound. After that, I worked often with Johnny. I must have done maybe five albums with him, and through his sessions I met Ringo Starr, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, Mick Jones from Foreigner and others. So from that session onward, I became a rock engineer.”

The Rolling Stones
Some Girls

Rolling Stones Records

1979

“The Rolling Stones are a truly live band, so I wanted them to feel like they were playing in a club. I set them up with their gear in a semi-circle. Mick and Keith hardly ever came into the control room, they just left me to it. Those sessions in a Paris recording studio started at 9 or 10pm, then at about 1am their entourages would arrive, so it was a big party on the studio floor while I was in the control room recording, logging everything. There was tons of tape, 60-odd reels, from those sessions. Ultimately, the album had an immediacy that was perfect for them. It also taught me much about feel and groove and reminded me just what a great drummer Charlie Watts is, he’s one of the finest drummers and best timekeepers ever. When we recorded the title track, it was 16 minutes long, but they wanted me to make it a four-minute song. There are not many drummers who can play perfectly in time straight through for 16 minutes, most people would be utterly terrified to do that without a click track. I edited that song down to four minutes using bits from all over the 16-minute tape, yet Charlie’s time did not change one bit throughout it all. He was absolutely spot on.”

“Charlie Watts is one of the finest drummers ever. Not many drummers can play perfectly in time straight through for 16 minutes”

Johnny Hallyday
Vie

Phillips 1970

“I was still an assistant, and then on the second day of that session the Olympic engineer didn’t turn up. So they were trying to figure out who could engineer, as they had the musicians coming, and his manger said, ‘Well what about Kimsey?’ I’d never engineered before, but I’d been learning. So I jumped in the seat and that was it. I did the session. Johnny (aka ‘the French Elvis’) fell in love with the sound. After that, I worked often with Johnny. I must have done maybe five albums with him, and through his sessions I met Ringo Starr, Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, Mick Jones from Foreigner and others. So from that session onward, I became a rock engineer.”

Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin III

Atlantic 1970



“I was an assistant engineer on this, Eddie Kramer was the engineer. We are still friends and I saw him last week. My reaction to Zeppelin was that they were very different. Glyn Johns had done their debut album, of course. But that type of music, blues with heavy rock, was still unique, interesting. And, of course, the third album was groundbreaking for them. Yet we were not really aware that we were working on something that was so important for them at the time. The Zeppelin mystique was huge, bigger than even the band itself. They are lovely and very easy to work with. We set the drums on a drum riser: Bonzo was all about touch, not hitting hard, and was a workhorse. He never came into the control room to listen to playbacks. He just played, bringing the best performances to every song. And the fact that Page was the producer and wanted to record the room sound most of all was very impressive to me, as I’m the same. Working with Page was easy. I had then and still have a lot of respect for him as a producer and artist. He knew what he wanted, no record the room sound most of all was very impressive to me, as I’m the same. Working with Page was easy. I had then and still have a lot of respect for him as a producer and artist. He knew what he wanted, no questions, very decisive in the studio. He’s still supporting the Zeppelin catalogue and has not been desperate to go out on the road. He’s preserving the recorded history of the band.”

Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin III

Atlantic 1970

“I was an assistant engineer on this, Eddie Kramer was the engineer. We are still friends and I saw him last week. My reaction to Zeppelin was that they were very different. Glyn Johns had done their debut album, of course. But that type of music, blues with heavy rock, was still unique, interesting. And, of course, the third album was groundbreaking for them. Yet we were not really aware that we were working on something that was so important for them at the time. The Zeppelin mystique was huge, bigger than even the band itself. They are lovely and very easy to work with. We set the drums on a drum riser: Bonzo was all about touch, not hitting hard, and was a workhorse. He never came into the control room to listen to playbacks. He just played, bringing the best performances to every song. And the fact that Page was the producer and wanted to record the room sound most of all was very impressive to me, as I’m the same. Working with Page was easy. I had then and still have a lot of respect for him as a producer and artist. He knew what he wanted, no record the room sound most of all was very impressive to me, as I’m the same. Working with Page was easy. I had then and still have a lot of respect for him as a producer and artist. He knew what he wanted, no questions, very decisive in the studio. He’s still supporting the Zeppelin catalogue and has not been desperate to go out on the road. He’s preserving the recorded history of the band.”

Jimmy Cliff
Special

Columbia 1982

That was my first time working with Jimmy, who is a wonderful man and a dream to work with. We recorded at Channel One in Trenchtown, Kingston. I had to be smuggled into the studio covered with blankets, as no white people were allowed there back then. So I sat in the studio while Jimmy and Bunny Wailer worked. Then after two days I was invited to sit in front of the console. I had a great love of ska music from an early age and was later fascinated by how they got such a dark drum sound. I learnt fast that it’s because they had no microphones. They only mic’d the snare, tom-toms and bass drums, so the cymbals would bleed through the drum mics. There is no high end to the drums, it’s all mid-frequency and very dark, and I love that. Musicians tried to emulate reggae, but mistakenly put mics everywhere. So that was fantastic to learn.”

Jimmy Cliff
Special

Columbia 1982

That was my first time working with Jimmy, who is a wonderful man and a dream to work with. We recorded at Channel One in Trenchtown, Kingston. I had to be smuggled into the studio covered with blankets, as no white people were allowed there back then. So I sat in the studio while Jimmy and Bunny Wailer worked. Then after two days I was invited to sit in front of the console. I had a great love of ska music from an early age and was later fascinated by how they got such a dark drum sound. I learnt fast that it’s because they had no microphones. They only mic’d the snare, tom-toms and bass drums, so the cymbals would bleed through the drum mics. There is no high end to the drums, it’s all mid-frequency and very dark, and I love that. Musicians tried to emulate reggae, but mistakenly put mics everywhere. So that was fantastic to learn.”

Peter Frampton
Frampton Comes Alive

A&M 1976

“I’d done several of Peter’s albums, so we had a great friendship. The live album was recorded over two years on tour. I didn’t record any of the concerts, as they were done by different engineers on the road. But when it was all recorded, Peter asked that I come to New York to mix it. I went to Electric Lady, and one of the best things about the album is the audience reactions, they’re as much a part of the album as Peter. There were press rumours that we’d doubled up the audience’s reactions, but that wasn’t true. Those are all genuine screams and emotions. It was a phenomenon for Peter and public life became very difficult thereafter. He was a superstar.”

Peter Frampton
Frampton Comes Alive

A&M 1976

That was my first time working with Jimmy, who is a wonderful man and a dream to work with. We recorded at Channel One in Trenchtown, Kingston. I had to be smuggled into the studio covered with blankets, as no white people were allowed there back then. So I sat in the studio while Jimmy and Bunny Wailer worked. Then after two days I was invited to sit in front of the console. I had a great love of ska music from an early age and was later fascinated by how they got such a dark drum sound. I learnt fast that it’s because they had no microphones. They only mic’d the snare, tom-toms and bass drums, so the cymbals would bleed through the drum mics. There is no high end to the drums, it’s all mid-frequency and very dark, and I love that. Musicians tried to emulate reggae, but mistakenly put mics everywhere. So that was fantastic to learn.”

Peter Tosh
Mama Africa

EMI 1983

“Through a mutual friend due to my work with the Stones, I was asked to produce Peter Tosh. So I jumped on a plane to Jamaica, without having met him. Peter was not a friendly guy. I loved his voice and we had a very strange relationship in the studio because he didn’t have much respect for anyone other than himself, and he’d do the bare minimum work-wise. So he’d come to the studio, play three or four songs, everyone would learn it, and then he’d say, ‘OK, I gotta go for some fish!’, and he’d fuck off and come back in the evening to see if we’d done it. We’d have finished the track and then he would put his vocals on top. I loved his voice. People ask if he was racist. One day, I suggested he cover Johnny B. Goode, so I played him Chuck Berry’s original version to illustrate. But he said, ‘Look mon, I don’t do no white man’s music’. So the next day I came in with a photo of Chuck Berry [laughs]. So, ultimately, he did a great version of it, adapting the lyrics with a Jamaican style. It was great, so I enjoyed that part of working with him. Socially, not so much. But over the times I spent there recording, it was a pleasure to work with most of the Jamaican musicians.”

“Peter Tosh didn’t have much respect for anyone other than himself”

Peter Tosh
Mama Africa

EMI 1983

“Through a mutual friend due to my work with the Stones, I was asked to produce Peter Tosh. So I jumped on a plane to Jamaica, without having met him. Peter was not a friendly guy. I loved his voice and we had a very strange relationship in the studio because he didn’t have much respect for anyone other than himself, and he’d do the bare minimum work-wise. So he’d come to the studio, play three or four songs, everyone would learn it, and then he’d say, ‘OK, I gotta go for some fish!’, and he’d fuck off and come back in the evening to see if we’d done it. We’d have finished the track and then he would put his vocals on top. I loved his voice. People ask if he was racist. One day, I suggested he cover Johnny B. Goode, so I played him Chuck Berry’s original version to illustrate. But he said, ‘Look mon, I don’t do no white man’s music’. So the next day I came in with a photo of Chuck Berry [laughs]. So, ultimately, he did a great version of it, adapting the lyrics with a Jamaican style. It was great, so I enjoyed that part of working with him. Socially, not so much. But over the times I spent there recording, it was a pleasure to work with most of the Jamaican musicians.”

“Peter Tosh didn’t have much respect for anyone other than himself”

INXS
Full Moon, Dirty Hearts

Mercury 1993

“I had met INXS in Paris when I was working on a Stones album over there. We got together, and they played me half of that album. I thought they were demos, because it sounded really pretty ropey, rough. So I said, ‘It will be great when you record it properly’ and they said, ‘That is recorded properly’. I replied, ‘Oh!’ [laughs]. So they said, ‘Do you think we should do this again?’ We came to Olympic and we recorded. Michael Hutchence was a lovely man, he was one of the most gracious people that I’ve met and worked with in my entire career. I asked him to sing on Symphonic Stones album. I wanted him to do Under My Thumb. Michael came on board, he was absolutely thrilled to do it. Anyway, with INXS he was just so much fun to work with, very quick and intelligent, just a really nice guy. I got on really well with him, and his girlfriend was the model Helena Christensen. He was a sweet, lovely man. We did a duet with him and Chrissie Hynde, which was crazy. She arrived and we were already doing the vocal, his part, and she said, ‘I’m just gonna go out to do some shopping’, and she went out for several hours. She has studio stage fright, she hates being in the studio. But she did finally come back and put her vocals down.”

INXS
Full Moon, Dirty Hearts

Mercury 1993

“I had met INXS in Paris when I was working on a Stones album over there. We got together, and they played me half of that album. I thought they were demos, because it sounded really pretty ropey, rough. So I said, ‘It will be great when you record it properly’ and they said, ‘That is recorded properly’. I replied, ‘Oh!’ [laughs]. So they said, ‘Do you think we should do this again?’ We came to Olympic and we recorded. Michael Hutchence was a lovely man, he was one of the most gracious people that I’ve met and worked with in my entire career. I asked him to sing on Symphonic Stones album. I wanted him to do Under My Thumb. Michael came on board, he was absolutely thrilled to do it. Anyway, with INXS he was just so much fun to work with, very quick and intelligent, just a really nice guy. I got on really well with him, and his girlfriend was the model Helena Christensen. He was a sweet, lovely man. We did a duet with him and Chrissie Hynde, which was crazy. She arrived and we were already doing the vocal, his part, and she said, ‘I’m just gonna go out to do some shopping’, and she went out for several hours. She has studio stage fright, she hates being in the studio. But she did finally come back and put her vocals down.”

The Rolling Stones
Steel Wheels

Rolling Stones Records 1989

“I was amazed by that recording, as we went to Montserrat and after making so many previous records with the Stones, as an engineer or producer this was different. The one directly prior to that was Dirty Work, which I declined to work on, as Mick and Keith were not getting on. When they called me for Steel Wheels, Mick, Keith, Charlie and I agreed that they’d all jam in a room beforehand to write the songs so the recording would not be such a long process. Upon hearing the songs, I wanted to make a lush, cinematic album, not something raw at all. I wanted it to be deep and glossy, versus raw and immediate like other albums – it was a conscious decision to make it sound different. Recording became very organised for the very first time. We’d start every day at 2pm sharp, work until dinnertime and then afterwards, head back into the studio until one in the morning. They had a great work ethic! This was 11 years after Some Girls, which had proved to be a lot looser in coming together.”

“We’d start recording every day at 2pm sharp, work until dinnertime and then head back into the studio until 1am.
They had a great work ethic!”

The Rolling Stones
Steel Wheels

Rolling Stones Records 1989

“I was amazed by that recording, as we went to Montserrat and after making so many previous records with the Stones, as an engineer or producer this was different. The one directly prior to that was Dirty Work, which I declined to work on, as Mick and Keith were not getting on. When they called me for Steel Wheels, Mick, Keith, Charlie and I agreed that they’d all jam in a room beforehand to write the songs so the recording would not be such a long process. Upon hearing the songs, I wanted to make a lush, cinematic album, not something raw at all. I wanted it to be deep and glossy, versus raw and immediate like other albums – it was a conscious decision to make it sound different. Recording became very organised for the very first time. We’d start every day at 2pm sharp, work until dinnertime and then afterwards, head back into the studio until one in the morning. They had a great work ethic! This was 11 years after Some Girls, which had proved to be a lot looser in coming together.”

“We’d start recording every day at 2pm sharp, work until dinnertime and then head back into the studio until 1am. They had a great work ethic!”

Killing Joke
Night Time

EG Records

1985

“Recording the sessions at Hansa Studios in Berlin is one of my favourite recollections. Berlin was an oasis of culture, music and art at that time. On the first day, I was summoned out of my hotel room (still asleep at 5am) to find the band being held at gunpoint by police in the studio. They’d had a party, somebody set off a fire extinguisher and broke a console. I had to do some serious sweet-talking to get the police to leave. During late-night sessions, the band would throw open the windows overlooking the Berlin Wall and crank up the music. I had first met them in early 1984 when I recorded and produced their single Eighties at Olympic Studios. Their label, EG Records, asked me to work with them. Most people thought I was nuts to work with them, as they were labelled as ‘crazy’. Well, crazy is genius in my book, so I did, and they became great mates. This was the song that Nirvana copied the main guitar from and called it Come As You Are! The friendship continued, as I asked Jaz Coleman to arrange some of the Symphonic Music Of The Rolling LP I produced.”

The Rolling Stones
Moonlight Mile

Rolling Stone Records

1971

In 1971, while working on Sticky Fingers, one of many Stones albums he contributed to as an engineer/producer, Kimsey went back to his roots, recording a full orchestra for this track. “I finally really felt the power of an orchestral arrangement within rock music at that point. Paul Buckmaster’s gorgeous orchestra arrangement blew my mind. Although I had recorded an orchestra with Del Newman for Ten Years After, it was much smaller. The arrangement on Moonlight Mile was the real deal.”

Marillion
Misplaced Childhood

EMI

1985

“I found Marillion to be incredibly theatrical, obviously, live with Fish. But I liked the fact that they’d not just written 10 songs and randomly put them together. Instead, there was a theme going through it all and there’s a lot of musicality in there. When we started the rehearsals, we did them in Chessington. I’d go down there, got on with everybody, and then started to realise that this was a concept album. So when it came to recording, I wanted to take them to Hansa in Berlin, as I’d done Killing Joke in there. We all loved Berlin at that time, including Marillion. The Wall was still up, and it was a pretty wild kind of city, very artsy, like Paris used to be in the 20s, and we enjoyed it a lot. It was a pleasure to make the album.”

Author: Peel

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