Dennis Scott and his trusty assistant Max in Scott’s home studio.
From Noel Coward to Mr. Rogers — that’s the trajectory Dennis Scott’s career has taken, and he couldn’t be happier.
Scott began his career as a child actor, performing in a Coward play on Broadway at age 7. As he grew, his interests turned to music and songwriting. In the early ’80s, Scott composed a novelty tune called “Captain Kirk’s Disco Trek,” and that recording caught the ear of the producers of Sesame Street.
“They liked my writing, and I ended up writing and producing my first album for them,” Scott says. “The album was called Sesame Country and it was a pretty ambitious project when you consider that until that point most of my experience was in producing my own demos for songwriting purposes. But I found myself recording in Nashville, in the driver’s seat of a whole project that featured celebrity guest artists like Crystal Gayle and Glen Campbell, Loretta Lynn and Tanya Tucker, not to mention Jim Henson and all the Muppet crew.”
Scott says the process of making the Sesame Country project, which earned him his first Grammy in ’81, is what gave him the recording bug; not long after completing the album, he bought his first 4-track recorder. It also inspired his move from New York to Nashville, though he didn’t make Music City his permanent home until ’89.
“When I first moved to Nashville, I was working in an office on Music Row and shared my gear with another studio,” Scott recalls. “I eventually moved to my own place in smaller quarters, working in an upstairs bedroom with a landing. Now my family and I live in a much more spacious location, which overlooks beautiful trees, and the studio has lots of elbow room. We have a huge control room and four different isolation areas, and the great thing is it’s an above-ground basement so you can look outside and see daylight and nature.”
Scott’s current setup includes Pro Tools Version 7.4, a Mackie Digital 8 Bus console and Genelec 1031A monitors. He says he and his longtime engineer, Gary Dales, also make extensive use of a couple of pieces of analog outboard (Tube-Tech LCA 2B compressor, Focusrite ISA 215 preamp) to warm up their sound.
Another project rooted in children’s music, Songs From the Neighborhood: The Music of Mr. Rogers, featured numerous high-profile performers and earned Scott another Grammy Award. Scott explains how that project came to be: “I happened to be watching TV and came across Mr. Rogers, and he was singing one of his songs that I didn’t recognize, and it made me wonder if he was in fact the composer of the songs on his show. It turns out he was quite a prolific composer, and he wrote almost 250 songs for his show. He was also a great jazz enthusiast and had various degrees in music. I began to wonder if anyone had ever covered his songs, and it turned out that was not the case. I saw it as an opportunity to be the first to take Mr. Rogers’ music and give it all-new arrangements.
“I called upon some great musicians to help with the string and horn arrangements, but I can take responsibility for the rhythm arrangements,” Scott continues, “with the exception of Ricky Skaggs, who put his own personal brand on ‘Let’s Think of Something to Do While We’re Waiting.’”
Skaggs also preferred to record in his own Skaggs Family Productions studio, but most of the vocalists and musicians tracked in Scott’s facility. The all-star cast includes Amy Grant, Donna Summer, Roberta Flack, John Secada, BJ Thomas and more.
More recently, Scott produced a 27-song collection of instructional songs to be used in Sunday-School classes by the United Methodist Church. At press time, he had just sent those files off to Doug Wayne at Mastermind for mastering. Now, Scott is getting ready to begin composing and producing original songs and underscoring for Daytime Emmy-nominated children’s program called BJ’s Teddybear Club. Other programs that have featured Scott’s compositions and productions include Elmopalooza, Guiding Light, Clifford, Sesame Street and Who’s the Boss.
“Although I feel fortunate to have carved out a niche for myself in the area of kids and family entertainment,” Scott says, “my production and writing work have also found success in adult arenas. I’ve done over 75 instrumental and spoken recordings, and my own songs have been performed by a diverse group of artists — Faith Hill, Ray Charles, Sugarland, CeCe Winans, Alison Krauss, Ben Vereen and others.
“Most important, I treat every project with the same production values one would expect from any good commercial recording. Kids today are musically astute and know the difference between a quality product and one that ‘talks down’ to them. They deserve the best, as do the parents who will undoubtedly be hearing the songs played over and over. ”