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Book Review – Glyn Johns' Sound Man

I must confess that, before reading this book, I had never heard of Glyn Johns, even though he is probably the most famous engineers / producers in the history of rock 'n' roll. To tell the truth, I had never given much thought to those behind the console, only to the musicians themselves. Nevertheless, I found Sound Man to be a fascinating read, an insightful look into the recording of some of the most iconic rock albums. The names of those whose records he has produced and engineered reads like the roster of the rock 'n' roll hall of fame: the Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Eagles, etc. And a lot of these guys he knew long before they were famous, so when he talks about Mick, Keith, Jimmy, Eric, etc. it doesn't come across as name-dropping.

Until the mid sixties, songwriters wrote songs, but usually didn't perform them while singers and musicians sang and played music, but usually didn't compose the tunes they played. All of this changed in the sixties, especially with the advent of the 33 1/3 RPM long playing disc. Johns had the good fortune to get into the music business just as artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan were revolutionizing popular music. Sound Man, while basically a series of anecdotes about legendary recording sessions, is at the same time a personal history of this distinctive and transitional period in the history of popular music.

Johns' easing into retirement coincides with the end of this era. He points out that, in a sense, the music industry has come full-circle. The album is gradually ceding to the single, even if it is sold as a digital file rather than a 45 RPM record. In the golden age that Johns describes, radio formats were often free-form with DJs almost always choosing their own playlists. Nowadays, free-form radio is the rare exception rather than the norm, and playlists are chosen by suits in New York, with a resulting homogenization of radio. In commercial radio, playlists seldom vary. A pity.

Reading this book, you learn that a major role of the record producer is negotiating with, as Bill Wyman says, "frighteningly egotistical artists." This apparently was one of Johns' strong suits. He also had a great talent for taking the raw materials that the artists supplied him with and turning them into products that both the musicians and their fans loved.

While there are passages about recording techniques, the book is not really about things like the placement of microphones, but rather about the personalities involved in making these classic recordings. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of rock 'n' roll or in the art of recording. Thanks, Jim Dandy, for the nice Christmas present.



Happy Merry

Thanks for the rockin' review!

April 2019



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