Andy Johns: Producer behind seminal albums by Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Television

 

The engineer and producer Andy Johns worked on many landmark rock albums of the late Sixties and Seventies, including Led Zeppelin's II, III, IV, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti; Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St., Goats Head Soup and It's Only Rock 'n Roll by the Rolling Stones; and Television's celebrated debut, Marquee Moon. Though he followed the same traditional route, from tape operator via engineer and mixer to producer as his older brother, the more famous Glyn Johns, the ten year age difference meant that they seldom collaborated – even if both occasionally appeared on the same credit lists when they separately assisted name producers like Eddie Kramer or Jimmy Miller.

More prone to the rock'n'roll lifestyle than Glyn, Andy Johns admitted that, much like Miller, his time with the Stones resulted in him developing "a bit of a drug problem. Working on Exile was really long, sitting around in the South of France, waiting for the band to show up. There was always smack around. The boredom is why I started doing it," he admitted. Yet he recognised Exile's significance and helped complete the project in a marathon three-day mixing session at Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles in March 1972.

"I knew more about what was on the tapes than anybody else, because I was concentrating so hard. I knew what all the details were. Everybody else was sick of the damn thing. I learned about perseverance. I also learned that there was another way to live, beyond the norm," he said. "Rock and roll back then meant a little bit more than it does now. It had social significance, breaking down the establishment. It represented the way a generation felt about things."

Born in Epsom, Surrey in 1952, he attended The King's School in Gloucester. By his mid-teens he was already within the Stones orbit, since his brother shared a house with Ian Stewart, the group's pianist and "sixth member". Glyn presented him with a bass he'd acquired from Bill Wyman and Andy was intent on emulating his hero and becoming "the next great bass player of all time" – until he started accompanying Glyn to Olympic Studios in Barnes during school holidays, realising that what his brother did "looked a lot better than working".

Within a few days, in 1967, he was assisting Kramer on the sessions for Axis: Bold as Love, the seminal second album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. "It was a serious learning experience," he recalled of another time running the tape machine and errands for the Stones as they cut the psychedelic manqué album Their Satanic Majesties Request. "Back then, you didn't need to train for years. I got a lot of work straight away," he said of his step up from tape op to engineer. In November 1968 he depped for Glyn and assisted Miller during the recording of the Stones epic "You Can't Always Get What You Want" at Olympic.

Like Glyn, Andy was not exclusively attached to one studio facility, and undertook a lot of work at Morgan Studios, helming Free's 1969 debut Tons of Sobs, and engineering and mixing Jethro Tull's second album, Stand Up, a No 1 in August 1969. The same month he received his first production credit for Ahead Rings Out by Blodwyn Pig, the blues-rock group led by the former Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams. "I didn't know what I was doing then. I didn't have a clue," he later reflected, somewhat unfairly, since both the Blodwyn Pig debut and their follow-up, Getting to This, which he also produced, reached the Top Ten in the UK.

He reverted to an engineering role for releases by Traffic, Ten Years After, Spooky Tooth and Blind Faith, and began developing a trademark style on the Free albums he produced before and after their 1970 breakthrough with "All Right Now", which he missed out on because of commitments at Morgan. "I was the only engineer there. I was just at the point of absolute nervous exhaustion," he remembered.

He recovered and perfected his diplomatic skills and production touch with the Stones, and made sterling contributions to classic Led Zeppelin tracks like "Stairway to Heaven" and "When the Levee Breaks". In 1972, he produced the self-titled debut by Bobby Whitlock, of Derek and the Dominos fame, as well as Why Dontcha, the first album by the power trio West, Bruce and Laing, and Free's swansong album, Heartbreaker.

In the mid-Seventies, he relocated to Los Angeles. His involvement with the pioneering New York group Television might have seemed unlikely, but guitarist Tom Verlaine had been listening to Goats Head Soup. "My first impression was that they couldn't play and couldn't sing and the music was very bizarre. But after we finished mixing, we went to some rehearsal place and played it on these large speakers, and I was bowled over," said Johns, who beautifully captured the dual guitars of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd on the tour de force title track, "Marquee Moon", and made Television one of the most influential acts of the post-punk era.

In 1978, he showed his versatility as the right-hand man to Tom Dowd, helping to turn Rod Stewart's "Da' Ya' Think I'm Sexy?" into a disco smash. The following year, he engineered Shadows and Light, Joni Mitchell's excellent double live set. From the mid-Eighties, he hit another purple patch, with a steady stream of big-sounding rock albums for Gary Moore, Ozzy Osbourne, Cinderella, Joe Satriani and Van Halen.

Even if he loved talking about compressors and developed a wonderful understanding of 5.1 mixes, his approach to production remained simple. "My idea is to make it sound as if you are at the best rehearsal that the band ever did, and you are about twelve feet back from the stage," he said.

As a producer, his forte was the layering of guitar parts and achieving a meaty drum sound, but he had other strengths. "With arrangements, it's obvious to me when something isn't working and it's easy for me to figure out how to make it work. I have a firm grasp on how I want the thing to end up instead of vacillating all over the place," he said.

His recent credits included Chickenfoot, the eponymous 2009 debut of a supergroup featuring Satriani, Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar of Van Halen fame and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers. "There's been ups and downs," he commented in The Encyclopedia of Record Producers. "But I've had a lovely time. There's one or two things I'd change, but not much."

Johns' sons have also gone into music. Will Johns, his son from his first marriage to actress/model Paula Boyd, the sister of Pattie Boyd of "Layla" fame, is a singer-songwriter. Evan Johns, his son from his second marriage, was the drummer with the US alternative group HURT between 2004 and 2008.

Andy Johns, producer and engineer: born Epsom, Surrey 1 January 1952; twice married (two sons); died Los Angeles 7 April 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game