Sound Man

A Life Recording Hits With The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Faces...

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Born just outside London in 1942, Glyn Johns was sixteen years old at the dawn of rock and roll. His big break as a producer came on the Steve Miller Band’s debut album, Children of the Future, and he went on to engineer or produce iconic albums for the best in the business: Abbey Road with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin’s and the Eagles’ debuts, Who’s Next by the Who, and many others. Even more impressive, Johns was perhaps the only person on a given day in the studio who was entirely sober, and so he is one of the most reliable and clear-eyed insiders to tell these stories today.

In this entertaining and observant memoir, Johns takes us on a tour of his world during the heady years of the sixties, with beguiling stories that will delight music fans the world over: he remembers helping to get the Steve Miller Band released from jail shortly after their arrival in London, he recalls his impressions of John and Yoko during the Let It Be sessions, and he recounts running into Bob Dylan at JFK and being asked  to work on a collaborative album with him, the Stones, and the Beatles, which never came to pass. Johns was there during some of the most iconic moments in rock history, including the Stones’ first European tour, Jimi Hendrix’s appearance at Albert Hall in London, and the Beatles’ final performance on the roof of their Savile Row recording studio.

Johns’s career has been long and prolific, and he’s still at it—over the last two decades he has worked with Crosby, Stills & Nash; Emmylou Harris; Linda Ronstadt; Band of Horses; and, most recently, Ryan Adams. Sound Man provides a firsthand glimpse into the art of making music and reveals how the industry—like musicians themselves—has changed since those freewheeling first years of rock and roll.


“Glyn Johns was there. He was there at some of the most important recording sessions
in rock and roll. Reading his book, you are standing beside him as he sets up the studio
in readiness for the arrival of groups like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and The Rolling
Stones. For me it is a fantastic romp through the pages of rock and roll history.”
“If you remember the sixties, then you probably weren’t there, unless of course your
name is Glyn Johns. Sound Man is an intimate, humorous journey through the corridors
of the music industry, as told by one of the greatest record producers of all time. I’m
proud to be mentioned here and there, and to have worked with Glyn on so many
memorable occasions. A great read!” —ERIC CLAPTON
“Sound Man opens with a declaration: A record producer has to have an opinion and
the ego to express it more convincingly than anyone else. So Glyn Johns has stood
his ground with a few bigheaded rock stars? I must be the exception. I’ve only had
transcendental moments in the studio with Glyn. Returning to the control room after
a studio take I often felt like running: the joy of hearing what Glyn had created out
of the glue-and-string that was The Who was like a drug. He is an artist himself of
supreme talent and experience.” —PETE TOWNSHEND
“Glyn Johns was the most sought-after sound engineer at the time when the recording
industry was just exploding in the early ’60s in London. He soon became one of the
very few truly great record producers and remained so over the past fifty years. Reading
Sound Man reminded me of just how many incredible people he worked with and
how many great iconic records he made. It’s fantastic reading.”
—CHRIS BLACKWELL, founder of Island Records
“Sound Man will make readers aware of the many sides of Glyn Johns, a giant of a man
and one of my best friends from the moment we met in 1963 to the present day.
Apart from his genius behind the faders and his success as the producer of myriad hits,
his humor comes through here, together with his unfailing desire to do the very best
work he could in the face of some frighteningly egotistical artists.” —BILL WYMAN


“Glyn Johns has been a very important person in my recording life (and also his brother Andy).  Glyn was the first recording engineer who helped me to understand recording and through that he was very supportive in introducing me to a lot of sessions with important people such as Ben Sidren, Leon Russell, Ronnie Lane, Pete Townshend and Howling Wolf. This together, of course, with many of the great recordings he did with us. He is one of the best.” —CHARLIE WATTS



From SOUND MAN by Glyn Johns, published by Blue Rider Press.


Sunday Sessions
Weekends were almost never booked in those first two
years I was at IBC. So we were allowed to use the studio
on Sundays to record our own projects. It all
started with me and my friend Rob Mayhew recording a few demos,
with John Timperley or Terry Johnson engineering. It was with one
of these recordings that I attempted to be “discovered” as a vocalist,
with a song I had written with my neighbor Hugh Oliver, called
“Sioux Indian.”
I set a trap for Jack Good. I waited until I heard him coming up
the stairs to go into studio A’s control room for the start of a session
and having left the door wide open, started to play my tape in the
dubbing room next door. It worked. He stuck his head in and said,
“Who’s that? It sounds really good.” Within a few weeks he had convinced
Dick Rowe, then head of A&R at Decca Records, to sign me to
my first recording contract, and Jack had produced my first single.
He used the hot rhythm section of the day: Andy White, drums; Big
Jim Sullivan, guitar; Andy Whale, bass; and Reg Guest, piano. My
mate Terry engineered. The whole experience was surreal, as I knew
everyone so well and previously they had only known me as an engineer
on the other side of the glass. The record did not make much of
a dent, so my singing career was put on hold for a while, but it did
mean that The Presidents could put “Featuring Decca Recording
Star Glyn Johns” on their posters.
Soon I realized that I could use the time to experiment and get
some experience at the console, and I put the word out that you could
get free studio time at my Sunday sessions. This attracted a crowd of
exciting young musicians. Among them was Jimmy Page, who my
pal Colin Golding had told me about. They were both at Kingston Art
School—not far from where we all lived—along with Eric Clapton.
I suggested that I might be able to get Jimmy some paying sessions,
but initially he declined, saying he would lose his grant at
school if it became known that he had an income. It was not long before
he changed his mind, and in a short space of time he had replaced
Big Jim Sullivan as the number-one session guitarist in London.
Cyril Davies turned up one Sunday, a wonderful harmonica player
and vocalist who was one of the founders of the rhythm and blues
movement in Britain along with Ian Stewart, Alexis Korner, and
Brian Jones. He brought Nicky Hopkins with him to play. I went to
set up the mics on the piano and was greeted by a softly spoken, extremely
gaunt young man with a gray pallor and clothes that were
several sizes too big. His whole demeanor was devoid of energy. However,
when the session started, his playing was the most fluid, melodic,
and technically perfect that I had ever heard. All achieved
with a minimum of movement and an unchanging facial expression.
I asked him at the end of the day why I had not come across him
before and if he would allow me to recommend him for sessions in
the future.
We were to become great friends. Over the ensuing years, I got
him sessions with The Who, The Kinks, and eventually the Stones,
where he was a tremendous influence, playing on the songs that Ian
Stewart had refused because they were not the blues. I think the era
that he and Mick Taylor were in the band resulted in the best records
they made.
Later, in 1969, on a Stones session for Let It Bleed, Keith didn’t
show. So while we were waiting, Nicky started jamming on the
piano with Charlie and Bill. Pretty soon Mick got a harmonica and
was soon joined by Ry Cooder, who was sitting in with the band that
night. Jack Nitzsche had brought him over from California to play on
the soundtrack to the movie Performance that we had finished a couple
of days earlier. I ran the tape machine and the result was an
album called Jamming with Edward, eventually released on Rolling
Stones Records in 1972. It is just a bit of fun, showing Nicky’s sense
of humor and extraordinary technique, and it is great to hear Ry
playing with Bill and Charlie. Definitely worth a listen.
Andrew Oldham appeared one Sunday. Dressed in a cloak and
carrying a silver-topped cane. Which is the only reason I remember
him, as he is not a musician and could only have come as a guest of
one of the guys on the session. I think he was starting out in PR and,
having got Brian Epstein on his books, was obviously sniffing around
the music business either for clients or to check out a new career. He
was to become one of the most influential individuals in the industry
in the sixties, managing The Rolling Stones and starting one of the
first independent labels in the UK, Immediate Records.