Any of us who record rock music are likely aware of Glyn Johns. His legacy in the recording studio spans many years, and includes some of the best bands ever. In the sixties he tracked seminal British Invasion works for the Rolling Stones, The Who, Small Faces, The Creation, and The Kinks. He even worked with The Beatles near the end of their career. Over the following years he produced and engineered Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, The Clash, Green on Red, Nanci Griffith, Belly, and Midnight Oil. Recent works include Band of Horses, Benmont Tench, Ryan Adams, Patty Griffin, and an upcoming Eric Clapton album. Glyn Johns is the sound of a large portion of rock radio, as well as most of our record collections. In his recent book, Sound Man, he recaps the highlights and adventures over the years, in the studio and on the road. We visited Glyn at his beautiful home in the country south of London, and met a gracious host happy to give us a tour of the gardens and a few hours of his time. I'd interviewed his son, Ethan Johns, in 2005; Glyn and I began talking about him, as Ethan had just been by the day before.
How's Ethan doing?
He's doing great, and he said to give you his regards.
That's great. Are you proud of having a son so talented?
No. Of course I am, you twat! I'm very proud. I'm proud of all my kids.
Luther Russell, who you worked with briefly, is a friend of mine. You set up a recording session for him.
Oh, I remember him. Very, very nice guy.
Your console was over at Ethan's. We hung out and I said, "Ethan, would you want to do an interview for Tape Op?" He said, "No, I don't want to." We ended up hanging out for three hours, and by the third...
He told me the story as you're telling it here. He ended up doing it, and he said it was really cool.
I own a studio; I also engineer records and produce. I'm not coming at this like a journalist. I think that's everybody's fear.
I don't have a fear of journalists. I spent 50 years ignoring the press completely, just purely and simply based on the fact that I figured my career would last longer if I did. The minute you start using the press, they get aware of it fairly quickly, as you know, and they will turn to look to ways of knocking you. They'll be critical and unpleasant, because it makes for better reading. I never had a need to promote anything through the press. I certainly wasn't looking for work. It wasn't like I was having a problem in that area. I never went near them. Actually it worked. For anybody starting now, it would be the first piece of advice I could give them. Avoid it. Don't talk to anybody.
Like you said, their job is to sell newspapers and magazines.
I understand that. I've been really lucky, because I've kept my head down. On the very rare occasion that I get my name mentioned, it's nice. It's very pleasant.
I looked at the press around the time your book was coming out.
The book was the first time I've ever really used the press for a purpose, and I was trying to sell my book. Again, because I'd never done any before, it was relatively simple. Fortunately, none was horrid.
It's a positive tale to tell, at this point.
Well, yeah. I didn't slag anybody off.
Were there times you felt like saying something but didn't?
Yes, you are!
Of course I wrote things to get it out of my system, screeds of stuff that were not particularly complimentary. I took it all out, realizing very swiftly that airing your dirty laundry is not what the book should be about at all. I took pretty much everything out. I'm glad I did. I don't think it makes good reading for anyone, as a punter reading the book. I don't think it's good to sit there and hear someone waffle on in a negative way. I made the book as positive as I could, and that's how I felt.
How did you feel about the reaction to the book, the sales, reception, and reviews, at the end of the day?
I was completely blown away, to be honest. I had no idea that it would be as popular as it is. It's doing really well. It's been a really good reaction to it. Initially it was very strange to me to even accept the fact that everybody was treating it like a book. I'm used to it now.
Has anyone optioned it for a film? Would there ever be a possibility of a movie based on your book?
There's been a lot of talk. In fact, Ethan and I have already started on a documentary based loosely on the book itself. It's not about me. It's about the era, which is what the book is supposed to be about.
Near the end of the book you talk about being really lucky to have been a part of what happened at that time. How do things look to you these days, with the music industry and recording — especially our end of it?
To be honest with you, I'm...