Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Glyn Johns's 'Sound Man"

Glyn Johns isn’t a household name for anyone but the truest Rock & Roll obsessives. His c.v., however, will blow the most clueless cat’s mind. He has produced, mixed, and engineered recordings for The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Marianne Faithfull, Small Faces, Procol Harum, The Move, Traffic, Belly, Del Shannon, The Clash, and too many other artists to mention. While doing his most memorable work during the hedonistic sixties and seventies, he kept his head the whole time, preferring to fraternize with the era’s soberest players –Ian Stuart and Bill Wyman, for example—while putting in his hours with wild children like Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Keith Richards. Johns may be the only guy in the universe who could come away from a day’s work with Marianne Faithfull madly in love with the studio instead of her.

That clear-headedness is very evident in Johns’s new autobiography Sound Man. While his straightness may not always make for the most rocking and rolling reading, he has rubbed shoulders with so many greats that his behind-the-board perspective brings new angles to some old stories. Although he supports the theory that Mick and Keith were always really the producers behind their greatest hits, he admits to being impressed with Andrew Loog Oldham’s work on his first Rolling Stones session, though he doesn’t get too specific about what impressed him. Gear heads expecting a lot of production tips from one of the industry’s best might be disappointed. Johns aims for a broader audience and doesn’t skip over discussions of his most legendary gigs, such as capturing The Beatles during the tension-fraught Get Back sessions or working with Zeppelin on their debut. His minor recollections make these major stories worth retelling, as when he mentions that Paul McCartney wanted him more involved in the process than he was expecting or hilariously recalls showing off Led Zeppelin’s first recordings to Mick Jagger and George Harrison only to be met with confusion and disgust.

Sometimes Johns’s stories do elevate to the mythic level we expect from a Rock & Roll memoire. He reveals Bob Dylan’s plan to make a record with The Beatles and The Stones (!) and chillingly recounts how Small Faces’ manager Don Arden hired thugs to threaten him at gunpoint. Just as often he brings the myths down to earth, as when he describes The Rolling Stones’ utterly tedious recording process. Johns certainly pulls no punches. Pye Records’ A&R man Toy Hatch is “an unpleasant little shit with a massive ego.” The Stones’ “Sing This All Together” is “drivel.” Phil Spector’s version of Let It Be is “the most syrupy load of bullshit” he “ever heard.” So I guess what Sound Man lacks in Rock & Roll wildness it makes up for with a bit of Rock & Roll attitude.

Get Sound Man on here:

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