You have a music fan on your Christmas list, 60’s and 70’s rock mostly, and you’re looking for a book. Perhaps another crappy Brian Jones biography is what he needs. Or not. In reality, the only book you want to get your music lover this Christmas is Glyn Johns’ great autobiography, Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Faces . . .. I myself have purchased copies for two music fans on my list.
Johns’ started out as an Engineer in the very early days of rock and roll, engineering the earliest Stones and Who singles in London’s IBC studio, “which was without a doubt the finest independent recording studio in Europe at that time.” He got his first job at IBC out of school, strictly because his sister knew someone who worked there and he loved music. He started as a man Friday, setting up microphones, running cable and brewing tea. His first engineering job came as a result of a weekend session in 1964 by Georgie Fame, “Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo,” and nobody else wanting to do it. It’s success, and his age, meant that he was well placed for the rock and roll revolution that was just about to sweep London.
Sound Man isn’t a great book, though, just because Johns’ is the Forrest Gump of the British Invasion: he first heard Jimmy Page at a boys club talent show when they were both about 12, saw Jeff Beck in the Tridents, his pre-Yardbirds band, and lived with original Rolling Stone Ian Stewart (in fact, he and Stewart’s rented house was a gathering point for the very early Stones). Sound Man is also a book that sticks to the music. There is no chapter, no story in Sound Man that is not directly related to Johns’ career in music. There’s no grandpa Gus took me across the river for fish and chips stories here. Childhood stories are either of the church choir, a budding singing career or summers on a uncles farm, the uncle of whom was a guitar player and American folk music fan.
Similarly, Johns, who claims to have never done any drugs, never smoked a joint, keeps the stories of the musicians he worked with to musical ones. If he has various tales of debauchery, he keeps them to himself. But what a list of musicians he did work with:
The Kinks (All Day and All of the Night/I Gotta Move, and You Really Got Me/It’s All Right)
The Rolling Stones ( from 1965’s December’s Children (And Everybody’s) to 1975’s Black and Blue)
The Pretty Things
The Small Faces and The Faces
Led Zeppelin (the first album)
The Steve Miller Band
That’s the partial list.
When I had to choose a Christmas present for music fans on my list, I chose Sound Man by Glyn Johns. It’s the best music book I’ve read in a long time.