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sound man: glyn johns

April 1, 2015

9780399163876_large_Sound_Man3If you don’t know who Glyn Johns is, let me just introduce him with this quote from his book:

“The following day I returned to California to start the Steve Miller Band’s third album, Brave New World. We were getting on fine until I got a call from The Beatles, asking if Steve would let me go for a couple of weeks, to return home to London to do some sessions for what became Abbey Road… I went straight from the plane to Apple for a couple of days, and then to Olympic Studios for an all-night session with the Stones till six a.m. Then to Apple again in the afternoon before going on to the Albert Hall that evening to record Jimi Hendrix in concert.”

So yeah, that’s Glyn Johns.

If I asked you to name a dozen landmark rock albums from the Sixties and Seventies, chances are your list would include several that Johns mixed, engineered, and/or produced. His staggering discography includes Let it Bleed, Abbey Road, Harvest, Who’s Next, Led Zeppelin I and those really aren’t even the tip of the iceberg.

After getting his start through a chance connection with IBC Studios in London, Johns became easily one of the most sought after men in the business when it came to creating phenomenal albums. And last year, after decades of being behind-the-scenes, he put his incredible story to paper and gave us Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces. . .

I just finished this delightful little read and the best way I can describe it is that it’s like skipping stones over the vast, deep, and murky sea of rock & roll history. Anyone who authors a memoir has the absolute right to relinquish as much or as little of their personal story to the public as they choose. Sound Man is refreshing in that it isn’t a lascivious tell-all, and it isn’t driven by any personal vendettas (cough, This Wheel’s On Fire, cough). He stays remarkably above-board when describing the many characters he has worked with over the years; more often than not, heaping generous praise on his colleagues and only occasionally indulging his less favorable opinions. Those rare flashes of actual scrutiny are some of my favorite moments of the book, for example when describing his discarded mix of Let It Be: “John [Lennon] gave the tapes to Phil Spector, who puked all over them, turning the album into the most syrupy load of bullshit I have ever heard.”

The book moves swiftly and slightly haphazardly through time, touching down for the brief vignettes that form each chapter. He never lingers too long on any particular experience or album, but the stone keeps skipping and the stories keep coming. It’s especially fascinating to hear the perspective from the other side of the glass as these legendary albums were being made. Like, who knew that Keith Richards only ended up singing “You Got the Silver” because Johns accidentally erased Mick Jagger’s vocal while Jagger was out of the country and unable to rerecord it???

Glyn Johns has given us many incredible albums over the years and his contribution with Sound Man is no less of a gift. I can only be thankful that he has offered us this glimpse into his extraordinary story.


Johns in the studio with Keith Richards


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