Friday, February 6, 2015

Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits... by Glyn Johns

It's not typical that a memoir is more enjoyable for its supporting cast than its subject but in the case of Glyn Johns - a music producer and engineer who worked on albums by the likes of The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton - we're definitely along for the stories of the bands that he worked with rather than any kind of insight into his own life. If you're looking for a fascinating story about a person whom you know next to nothing about, then this might not be your book. But if you are a music geek then you will LOVE the stories that Johns has to share.

Besides the perfunctory childhood background and early career motivations, the book is really is all about the musicians and the music industry. Every chapter covers one (or sometimes a few) musicians and details Johns's interactions with the musicians, typically as he records an album or a concert.

Johns was there when the Beatles were approaching the end while recording Let It Be, and while it wouldn't have hurt to have been provided some more dirt, his insights into the personalities involved are enjoyable. He was also present for various incarnations of The Rolling Stones, and was around to see Brian Jones fall apart and Mick Taylor implode and made it through only part of the Black and Blue sessions before falling out with Keith Richards, not returning to work with the Stones for another 35 years.

It's fascinating to hear Johns's take on the personalities of various musicians. While at first critical of a strung-out Eric Clapton, he later learns to appreciate his talent when he produces Slowhand and brings Clapton in for some guest work on other albums. And while crazy stories of Who drummer Keith Moon abound, Johns points out that they are only enjoyable in retrospect and while he enjoyed Moon's sense of humor, he also had a tendency to take things too far and to negatively affect others. The last major production that he covers is The Clash's Combat Rock, walking away with a new friendship in Joe Strummer and a dislike for Mick Jones (with the caveat that Johns understands why Jones would feel threatened in having his work undermined by an outside producer).

If the glimpses of stories that I've relayed sound appealing then you'll want to get this book and read more. Other bands discussed are The Eagles, The Steve Miller Band, Leon Russell and Neil Young. Johns wrestles with the feeling that his skills are dated so he doesn't really offer much from the post-MTV years but the rest of the book is great fun for any lover of rock and roll.

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