Soundman: A Chat with Legendary Producer Glyn Johns

Soundman: A Chat with Legendary Producer Glyn Johns

Photo: Julia Wick
Photo: Julia Wick

In the glorious world of rock and roll, record producers are an invaluable commodity.

They serve as the key conduit helping to nurture, shape, inspire, guide and ultimately capture the essence of an artist or group.

For that same artist/group, coming to the sessions prepared with a bulletproof batch of divinely inspired and chart worthy songs is crucial yet put those same songs in the hands of a lesser skilled record producer and the end result isn’t platinum but fool’s gold.

Glyn Johns is not one of those producers. His behind the boards work speaks volumes (literally) and proves him to be a consummate master of sound and vision.

Just take a look at his impressive CV; it’s uncanny and reads like a who’s who of rock. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, Small Faces, The Move, Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller, Eagles, The Faces, Humble Pie, CSN, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, The Clash and more recently Ryan Adams, Band of Horses, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers keyboard giant, Benmont Tench all bear his seasoned production/engineer fingerprints.

9780399163876_large_Sound_ManGlyn’s new book Sound Man chronicles his exciting sonic journey with the legends of rock offering fascinating heretofore behind the scenes stories about working on such seminal albums as Let It Be (The Beatles), Who’s Next (The Who), Let It Bleed (the Rolling Stones), Led Zeppelin’s self-titled, Desperado (Eagles), Combat Rock (The Clash) and countless others.

Join us for a rare conversation with Glyn Johns, one of music’s most revered record makers.

Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s the greatest skill a producer should have?

Glyn Johns: Oh good lord (laughs). That’s a difficult one. First of all, there are many different types of producers and different people bringing different things to the party. Some producers are particularly good at picking songs and some people are particularly good at working with singer/songwriters. I suppose patience would be one thing. (laughs) As for me, I seem to use all of my patience up in the studio and have none outside of it. (laughs)

Rock Cellar Magazine: So how would you characterize what you bring to the table as a producer?

Glyn Johns: It’s different for each artist. Different people require different approaches. The statement I just made about there being different types of producers, equally if you do what I do, I’m not always required to do the same thing with every artist so you have to be prepared to have an open mind when you go into the door.

Some artists require a lot more input than others. Some people require a cohesive environment to work in and some people require a lot more input musically than others. It’s very difficult to generalize. No two artists have the same requirements.

John Dillon, Steve Cash, Waylon Jennings, Glyn Johns during the 'White Mansions' sessions. Photo: Ethan Russell
John Dillon, Steve Cash, Waylon Jennings, Glyn Johns during the ‘White Mansions’ sessions. Photo: Ethan Russell

Rock Cellar Magazine: Is having a musical background essential to be an effective producer?

Glyn Johns: Well, I suppose it is an advantage because you’ve been in the same shoes that the artist has at some point. When I was very young I made records as an artist as well so I have sort of been on both sides of the glass. So yeah, there’d have to be an advantage.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Being able to speak the same musical language?

Glyn Johns: Yeah. But equally as an engineer I’ve worked with several producers who didn’t have that quality but were still extraordinarily good at what they did.

Rock Cellar Magazine: In 1969, you get a phone call from Paul McCartney, which led to you working on The Beatles’ Let It Be album.

beatles let it beGlyn Johns: His idea was to do a live show in front of an audience. His idea was to go to an open air amphitheater somewhere in North Africa and take a bunch of fans with me them and perform all new songs and have it as a TV show basically. And then they were to make a documentary of the TV show being made. Paul’s idea was just to have the four of them playing live on stage.

So it was to be a concert that I was to record, which would be released as an album; that was the original idea.

The trip didn’t happen so we wound up halfway through a project without a foreseeable end to it, which we all know the result of.

Rock Cellar Magazine: You were shocked to find out that the band’s long-time producer George Martin was not involved.

Glyn Johns: I was very surprised George was not involved. I had no idea he was not involved and I thought that was really strange. But as far as the band was concerned they accepted me readily with open arms and treated me with great respect. It was really nice.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Is the Let It Be film a proper reflection of what went on with those sessions?

Glyn Johns: I must have sat through the film at same point but I have hardly any memory of it at all other than I was really disappointed with it. The film did not represent in my view what was going on there.

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