BOOK REVIEW: Sound Man (Glyn Johns memoir)


In addition to all of the great rock bands that came out of England and America in the 1960s and 1970s, there were also several producers who used their creativity and ingenuity to leave as much of an imprint on the music as the artists themselves. Alongside the likes of George Martin, Phil Spector, and Brian Wilson, Glyn Johns was and remains a giant when talking about those behind the control room glass. Johns was an engineer and producer who worked with some of the biggest and best bands of the era including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, and Small Faces, as well as numerous others. In Sound Man, he tells his life story through the lens of his working firsthand on the music of rock's greatest era.

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Beginning with his childhood growing up in Surrey (often running into other young kids who he'd later work with like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), Johns tells of his journey from a boy who fell in love with singing in the church choir to a teenager who caught the rock and roll bug like just about every other kid his own age in England in the 1950s and early 1960s. Johns became a musician himself and embarked upon a frustrated (and frustrating) solo career in the early 1960s. Hard up for cash and needing a job, he took a position as a tape operator with Decca Records with the hopes that he could taken advantage of some studio time and the company's promotional muscle to record and release his own records. While he did record a few singles (and hit #1 on the charts in Spain), he began to focus more on the studio job. Becoming one of the youngest recording engineers in England, he embarked upon a career which would see him produce and engineer some of the biggest and best singles and albums of the 1960s and 1970s.


Johns uses short to medium length chapters to tell his life story and the book is more like a string of vignettes and anecdotes than a traditional linear narrative. It makes for a very entertaining read, as does the fact that he's never afraid to share how he really feels. He's famously opinionated and abrasive and over the years I've read numerous accounts of disagreements he's had with artists he worked with, so it was interesting to see Johns not only corroborate some of those stories, but to also give his side of the story as well. While he shares stories about some of his favorite obscure albums that he's worked, it's really the big, well-known singles and albums he had a hand in that make up the meat of the book. Johns engineered or produced almost all of the Rolling Stones' greatest singles and albums of the 1960s and early 1970s, all of the Small Faces' and Faces' work, the Beatles' Let It Be sessions, and The Who's final four albums before Keith Moon's death (Who's Next, Quadrophenia, The Who By Numbers, and Who Are You).



Through it all, Johns maintained his love for music and counted his blessings for having been in the right place at the right time to carve out such a career during the greatest period in history for popular music. Where necessary, he (rightfully) toots his own horn, mainly when discussing the various recording innovations (including his drum miking technique) which offers fascinating insight into the recording process if you're geeky (like me) about things like that. The reader can be confident in the reliability of Johns' accounts, too, because unlike many of his contemporaries in the producing world of that era, he abstained from drugs and drink and was thus unimpaired (other than fatigue from working long hours). The book is overall a bit light on details of Johns' life, so it can be viewed more as his professional biography more than a memoir, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Overall, if you're a fan or that era of music and/or any of the bands Johns worked with, Sound Man is definitely worth a read.

MY RATING: 8/10


Comments

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