Monday, November 17, 2014

Glyn Johns: Sound Man - Sonic Sound Bites That Make You Want More

Glyn Johns: Sound Man is the autobiography of famed record producer/engineer Glyn Johns, and it's a must read for anyone who loves classic rock 'n' roll. Johns' resumé includes the biggest acts in rock history - The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, The Class, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and a legion of others, and he spreads them all out across the whole of this well written book.

You can tell by the way that Johns has laid out his history that he's no stranger to putting together lengthy, complex projects, and as I said, this is an absolute must read, but I do wish that he had hired as demanding an editor as he is known for being as a record maker. While there's hardly a dull moment, and what's there is concise, accurate, and well written, the only problem I have with the book is what it leaves out in its all too brief 286 pages.

It seems that Johns is perhaps too much of a gentleman at times, and while that's a most admirable trait, it does not always serve an autobiographer well. He won't discuss what went on between The Beatles at their infamous Let It Be sessions, and I find this to be both disappointing, and maybe even something of a disservice - as a serious Beatles historian, I'd love to hear the unexpurgated story, but all we get is a very general overview. Whether it's personal, or technical, Beatles fans clamor for details, and that's not just casual curiosity, it's also very important from an historical point of view. Myself, I would have loved to hear what he thought about The Beatles' famed team of engineers and producers, their techniques, and how they compared to his own considerable technique.

Writing an autobiography is a very difficult task - you must not only look back over a life with accuracy, you must also beware of being either too kind or too hard on yourself. Then there is the matter of content - why would someone wish to read about the writer's life? Is it for the stories, the author's personal insights, or the details of places, times, and other people.

If I'd have been Johns' editor, I may well have sent him back for a few hundred more pages. As I've said, what's there is great, there's just not enough to satiate my appetite for what I know is in Mr. Johns' head - I've watched much video and read Joe Satriani's take on the recording of his Grammy Award winning eponymous sixth studio album, a record that took Satriani, Johns, and the all star cast of musicians the producer had gathered to assist far out of their respective comfort zones. The sessions were anything but what everyone expected (according to Satriani's autobiography), but they still yielded great results - it would have been great to hear Johns' take on the sessions, recording a solo guitar star, and why he chose the musicians he did to make up the band for this album. The same could be said for a great many records that Glyn Johns helped create, and I feel that maybe too much of the story didn't make it onto the printed page.

It's my thought that we could have received a tremendous amount of additional data without stepping on too many toes, or upsetting too many people. I don't think a book such as this will get much traction outside of the serious rock reader, so to include more about the producer's recording philosophies, techniques, and experiences would have only made this a more satisfying read. While as I said, the content that is there is quite good, it simply doesn't answer enough of the questions I had about Glyn Johns' life and work going into the book.

For me it comes down to what this book could have, and should have been. I'd still say that anyone with any interest in Johns' career should definitely buy this book, and I'm quite confident that you'll enjoy it, but like me, it may just make you want to seek out more information to fill in the many blanks.

I feel that Johns has been somewhat let down by his editors and publisher. Instead of a great book, we are left with a good book. I certainly have no qualms about recommending that you buy the book, read it, and enjoy it, but with the caveat that it may leave you wanting more, and if that starts you on a path of informational discovery, that's not at all a bad thing. What would Glyn Johns the producer say to Glyn Johns the author about this project?

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