Glyn Johns - Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits With The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Faces...
Blue Rider Press/ Penguin Random House
Glyn Johns: You probably hear songs everyday on classic rock radio but do you know his name and the role he played bringing them to fruition? Songs including ““My Generation,” “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night," “Friday On My Mind,” “Runaway,” “Living In The U.S.A.,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Let It Be,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Take It Easy,” “Lay Down Sally,” “Who Are You?,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” were engineered or produced by Johns. Iconic albums like “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake,” “Let It Bleed,” “Abbey Road,” “Led Zeppelin,” “A Nod Is as Good as a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse,” “Who’s Next,” “Exile on Main St.,” Harvest,” “Desperado,” “Quadrophenia,” “Slowhand, “Combat Rock” and many more utilized his golden ear.
Johns (a 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee receiving its Award for Musical Excellence) has a memoir soon to be released entitled “Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits With The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Faces...” Fans of any of these artists could benefit spending some time with this book offering insight into the artists he’s worked with over more than 50 years. Most likely it was easy for the author to put his memories to paper thanks to the fact that he didn’t plunge to the depths of drugs and drink so many rock stars do.
Johns first started working in the recording industry at IBC Studios as a “lowly assistant engineer” in his teens working with skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan and later befriending the Rolling Stones’ piano player Ian Stewart (who was sacked by Stones svengali Andrew Oldham because he didn’t look right, yet still remained the band’s road manager) whom he’d later share a flat with. He had close relationships with most of the Stones except for Keith Richards (probably due to Johns’ straight demeanor). One alarming story depicts Mick Taylor rerecording parts with his vocals and guitar without any of the band members’ approval
One of Johns’ intriguing stories describes his relationship with the Small Faces and their notorious manager Don Arden (father of Sharon Arden, known to most people as Sharon Osbourne). Having just left Arden to be managed Oldham Johns had talked with The Small Faces about recording. One of Arden’s heavies threatened to shoot Johns in the legs if he worked with the band.
Another story has Johns in Los Angeles attending a party at Roman Polanski’s house and meeting his pregnant wife Sharon Tate. Several weeks later she and four friends would be brutally murdered by Charles Manson at the same Benedict Canyon home.
He also recorded with the Beatles the initial “Get Back” sessions which were never released and when they were released under the name “Let It Be” Phil Spector had been brought in by the feuding Beatles and then added strings to the songs to displeasing Paul McCartney. Johns goes so far as to imply that Spector “puke(d) all over” the recordings “turning the album into the most syrupy load of bullshit I have ever heard.” Only recently did McCartney get his comeuppance when “Let It Be Naked” was released with Spector’s adornments stripped.
Having worked with both the Stones and the Beatles and later Bob Dylan there also is the confession from the latter wanting Johns to put together a musical project combining the two bands and him. The reader is left to wonder how that would have come out since it never went farther than the proposed idea.
Perhaps the greatest work with Johns’ name attached could be The Who’s “Who’s Next.” Having worked with Shel Talmy (who the group took to court to get out of their recording contract and Johns had testified on Talmy’s behalf) the members still thought enough of Johns to want him assisting with Pete Townshend’s idea for a film and soundtrack called “Lifehouse” that no one except Townshend could even comprehend. Eventually he had the band record the parts Townshend had already demoed and the rest is history.
Certainly the biggest American band Johns worked with would have to be The Eagles. David Geffen had to convince Johns to produce the band as he admits being bored seeing the Flying Burrito Brothers (featuring Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon) perform. Later he admits Geffen tried to get the band to work on the song “Nightingale” with a different producer after Johns failed to get a successful recording of it. After recording “On the Border” the band would desire a harder rock sound and work with a different producer, years later Johns would reunite with Bernie Leadon for a Gram Parson tribute album.
One of the more recent stories pertinent to classic rock is the making of The Clash’s “Combat Rock” which Johns had been asked by record label A&R man Muff Winwood (Steve Winwood’s brother) to remix after the band had rejected guitarist Mick Jones’ mix. Obviously not being happy about his version being nixed Jones was not helpful or supportive of Johns until he threatened to leave the project. Jones changed his tune and later was friendlier to Johns and the band had their biggest album and reached larger audiences opening for The Who on their first farewell tour.
As a whole the book is entertaining though not as fleshed out considering the years covered in the book. Obviously there’s a lot more to talk about concerning the 60s and bands like the Stones, The Who, etc. that Johns had his most prolific years assisting. He has continued to work with contemporary artists like Band of Horses, Ryan Adams and even assisted new recordings by the Rolling Stones. Any fan of the bands mentioned would benefit reading “Sound Man.”
For more information about “Sound Man” visit http://glynjohns.com/books/book
By Gary Shindler
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