On Sunday night, I got the chance to attend the recording of a podcast with Glyn Johns at High Fidelity records, and Johns is certainly someone who doesn’t need any introduction: this guy has recorded with about everybody in the music business, from The Rolling Stones to the Who, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, The Beatles, the Kinks, the Clash,… The list is so impressive that it would not fit on this page, and basically there is a great chance that the classic song stuck in your head right now, was recorded by Glyn. So many of these songs are part of the culture, and everybody knows them! But even though the list of songs never ends, Glyn, who sat on the red leather sofa inside the store and talked for one hour and half in front of a captivated crowd, didn’t show any ounce of pretentiousness or even pride to have participated so much to our culture … On the contrary, he appeared as the most humble guy I have ever seen, as a modest British gentleman with a great sense of humor, and this made me immediately like him. After a few minutes, the vibrant 72-year-old decided to stand up because he felt terrible not to be able to see people, and this was very cute.
‘Would the songs have been the same if he hadn’t been involved with all them?’ Tom DeSavia and Eric Gorfain asked him right away…. ‘Of course they would!’ Glyn doesn’t take any credit at all, and prefers to remind us he has been really, really lucky… ‘Sound engineering is like painting a picture in sound,… It would sound different but the songs would come through anyway’, he added. He does not even think he has influenced the sound of the records he has participated to… ‘May be in some cases, but I did exactly as I was told on some others!’ he admits after saying he never took drugs. What? Not even in the 60s-70s while being in the studio with the Beatles, The Stones, the Eagles, Led Zeppelin….??
Glyn has a new book, ‘Sound Man’, but he right away explains, with great humor, that it is not a salacious book! I bet he could have easily gone this way and revealed many juicy stories while hanging out with so many rock stars, but again he is a gentleman and he prefers to tell us stories about the colorful people he has met over the years, and to pay tribute to some hugely influential cool people, ‘I can barely write a letter’, he says while laughing, ‘so it was a complete challenge’.
The large crowd, which has filled up the small store was laughing a lot, having a good time… and many of the stories were quite fantastic. Like the time he bumped into Bob Dylan at JFK airport, and Dylan was totally charming and delightful (really?) complimenting him about his work with the Stones and the Beatles… Dylan told him he had the amazing idea to make a record with the Stones and the Beatles! So Glyn asked the Stones and Beatles individually, but nobody agreed to do it — McCartney and Jagger were especially against the idea — and unfortunately this only stayed a conversation which never went anywhere.
How do you choose a song when the choice is so humongous? Glyn doesn’t even have a request, but we heard a few songs (on vinyl) that Glyn recorded with different artists, and not necessarily the obvious ones, such as Joan Armatrading (an amazing musician), Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane ‘Rough Mix’ (Townshend wanted Eric Clapton), Benmont Tench’s new album and of course,…. The Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Clash.
‘Are there things you remember regretting?’… I don’t believe in regretting anything’ … Glyn admits there are tracks he hasn’t listened to since the time he finished them,…‘especially the Rolling Stones, we have heard them quite enough!’.
Did he know what was happening when he recorded Zeppelin? ‘I had really no idea really, of course, you don’t know! But I was blown away by it… I was so excited I decided to play it to George Harrison! But he didn’t get one side of it, I was upset!’ Harrison was not the only one not to get Zeppelin, Mick Jagger found them awful and Glyn was shocked they didn’t get it… ‘At least a few people liked it!’
Glyn was also involved with the Beatles’ legendary rooftop last concert, as Paul McCartney’s original idea was to do a live concert, write new material for it and release the soundtrack to be a TV show. The idea was dumped but Ringo got the idea of the roof top concert…. I guess he could have talked all night long and this made me think that some people live very interesting lives, while I am just grading some kids’ papers all weekend long
Glyn had so many stories to tell, and his book is packed with anecdotes like this moving one about George Harrison: Glyn was the first person to hear ‘Something’, a song George had written about his first wife Pattie Boyd, and that he ‘didn’t want to play it in front of the others’… ‘it is very telling, he was very insecure about it ‘
Glyn Johns doesn’t even slow down, more recently he has recorded with Ryan Adams, Band of Horses and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), who has released a solo album ‘You Should Be So Lucky’ and was actually among the audience. He basically praised all the people he worked with, but he had the kindest words for Joe Strummer. Glyn produced The Clash’s album ‘Combat Rock’, despite the fact that ‘punk music had never spoke to him’….’But I am an old boring fart’. But he was finally impressed by the band’s sonic qualities, their musicianship and sense of humor… and Joe,… who was so ‘so polite and charming, he was the most lovely man, incredibly bright, very well educated, very respectful to me… he is a huge loss to music’.
Glyn Johns’ book, Sound Man’ is published by Blue Rider Press.
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