Do you like the music that is said to “define” our baby boom generation? So does Asheville, North Carolina’s Gary Carter. It’s what he reads about and writes about, and today for BoomerCafé, he draws us to the memoir of a sound engineer who helped shape some of the best.
If you’re a Boomer, you know Glyn Johns, even if you’re not familiar with the name, because his fingerprints are all over the music that shaped our generation -– The Rolling Stones, the Who, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, The Eagles, The Faces, ad infinitum.
As an engineer and producer, Johns worked his magic behind the scenes and guided the creation of some of music’s most iconic albums. Perhaps best for history, he was often the only person in the studio on any given day who was completely sober, thus making him a clear-eyed, reliable insider who now lays out his stories in a new memoir, Sound Man.
Born in 1942, Johns spent his formative years discovering music, forming and performing in local bands, and borrowing his sister’s record player to discover jazz, folk, and blues. Having left school at 17 with no particular qualifications or ambitions, Johns stumbled into work as a recording engineer in 1959 at IBC Studios when the U.K. charts were dominated by American rock and roll. But thunder was rumbling on the horizon, and Johns was soon immersed in the explosion that became the British Invasion.
Johns became a sought-after engineer, helping the Stones hone their raw-edged sound. But he also was at the right place when the advent of the singer-songwriter, as in The Beatles and Bob Dylan, led to the independent producer. For Johns, his first break came when he produced the debut album of the Steve Miller Band. From there his deft touch and ability to understand the quirks of musicians led to such seminal work as Abbey Road with The Beatles, Who’s Next with The Who, the debut albums from Led Zeppelin and The Eagles, and many others. Within these tales also are insights into how the music came together and the recording techniques -– some of which Johns created -– that turned vision into reality.
Perhaps what’s most enjoyable are the magic moments to which Johns was witness and the tales he spins, some of which correct legendary half-truths. He recalls a mad dash across a border with The Stones during their 1967 European tour, impressions of John and Yoko during the troubled Let It Be sessions, the blaze of Hendrix at Royal Albert Hall in London, and Bob Dylan requesting work on an album involving Dylan, The Stones, and The Beatles( which, unfortunately, never happened).
It was Johns who suggested The Beatles rooftop concert that turned out to be the band’s last live performance. He came away unimpressed on two occasions by The Eagles, but finally was convinced to produce the debut album that went platinum. And if you’ve ever wondered about the true story behind Merry Clayton’s wailing vocal on “Gimme Shelter,” you’ll find it here.
There are so many names, voices, and classic musical moments that Boomers will relish, while envying the man behind the glass who was witness to it all. Or as Paul McCartney put it, “For me it is a fantastic romp through the pages of Rock and Roll history.”