Audio engineer, record producer, composer and musician Alan Parsons visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, during a tour stop that's taken him coast to coast in the United States. During his visit, Parsons donated two stage jackets to the Rock Hall's collection, and shared firsthand accounts of his remarkable career: from landing a job at Abbey Road at age 19, to working on the Beatles rooftop performance at Apple Studios in 1969; from his work on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon to his role in some of the Hollies' greatest hits; to his own music with the Alan Parsons Project and as a solo artist.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: You got a job at the fabled Abbey Road when you were quite young…
Alan Parsons: I already had a job with EMI, which is the part company of Abbey Road Studios, and I worked in a sort of associated department, which was called 'tape records.' We were making reel-to-reel quarter-inch albums on tape back then… actually making Beatles albums on quarter-inch tape. And, there was a link from that department to Abbey Road. I wrote to the master at Abbey Road, and he granted me an interview; and then a couple weeks later I was working there, and I was 19 at that time. They said 'would you be able to come here and work for less money than you're earning now on Christmas Day,' and I said 'yes!'
RRHOF: Who were your mentors?
AP: I worked with the best. I worked with George Martin, and all the great engineers at the time: Geoff Emerick, Peter Vince, Peter Brown, Tony Clark - all great engineers. And Ken Scott, of course, who also became a big name producer. Not only that, but I worked with some of the grew test classical musicians as well as the greatest pop and rock musicians. Everybody goes to Abbey Road in the end. Every big name has at some point been to Abbey Road, so I was in the right place to catch the talent there.
RRHOF: Are there any standout moments among your time working with the Beatles?
AP: Interestingly, one of the standout moments was not at Abbey Road. It was actually at their own studio, the Apple Studio, and that moment was the rooftop session. I was there, up there moving mics around and communicating with Glyn Johns who was in the basement, in the control room. That was a great day.
RRHOF: The album Abbey Road must've been a bit different than others to work on given the band dynamic at the time…
AP: Abbey Road was an interesting experience because it was really the work of four individuals, not a band. They'd already kind of split up. They were working on their own songs, individually. They'd do the basic track together. All the overdubs and post-production would just be the individual Beatles themselves.
RRHOF: You were there for some of the Hollies' biggest hits, such as "He Ain't Heavy" and "Air That I Breathe"…
AP: [For] "He Ain't Heavy" I was still a tape op[erator], so I can't really claim to be any part of the creative side of that, but a little known fact is that Elton John played piano on that song. He was just Reg the piano player back then. The first big hit that I had with them was the "Air That I Breathe," and that was as engineer, so that put a few feathers in my cap, which was nice.
RRHOF: When you look back at Dark Side of the Moon, is there anything you'd have done differently?
AP: The whole world is of course still using Dark Side of the Moon as a sort of benchmark sonic experience, which I, of course, am very proud of. I would would've liked to have been given the opportunity to mix it in surround, but I wasn't given that opportunity, which is very sad. It was mixed in quadrophonic, and that was released in the recent box set, so I'm feeling a little better than I was. That was only available as a bootleg until then.
RRHOF: You're on tour now, but it wasn't until 1995 that you first hit the road, performing live. Why was that?
AP: It was a conscious choice to be a studio outfit, to be studio band, not one that did go out and play. We considered the role of a recording engineer and record producer in a live situation was not particularly exciting, so I had to dust off my guitar and learn my three chords again when we did go out and tour. But, I really didn't think it would ever happen. Just the time seemed right at one point, when we had finished making an Alan Parson's album, as opposed to an Alan Parsons Project album, that was called Try Anything Once.
It's actually a regret that I didn't do it sooner. I think if we had taken the bold step of playing live during the heyday, then we could've been as big as anybody, we could've been a stadium act as opposed to a theater act, which we are now – not that I'm complaining.
RRHOF: Why do you think it's important to have a Museum committed to preserving and educating generations about rock and roll?
AP: It's all about preserving the memories, keeping the artifacts and souvenirs under one roof. I think that's a great thing. It's a heritage, it's preserving a heritage. I think you'll see a lot more exhibits here from 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s then you will ever see from this decade because we don't seem to generate rock heroes like we used to, which is slightly sad. I don't know why that is. I don't know why there is not the greatest guitar player that ever lived that is living now.