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Andy Johns dies at 62; helped produce Stones, Led Zeppelin

April 09, 2013|By Reed Johnson and Randy Lewis
  • Andy Johns, a record producer who worked with the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many other rock bands, has died at 62.
Andy Johns, a record producer who worked with the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin… (ZUMA Wire Service/Alamy )

This post has been updated. See below for details.

British record producer and sound engineer Andy Johns, who like his older brother Glyn Johns worked with some of the biggest rock bands of the 1960s and '70s, including the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, has died at age 62. British newspapers reported that Johns passed on after suffering from a liver ailment.

PHOTOS: Notable deaths of 2013

Andy Johns started his career as a tape operator at London's Olympic Studios during a period of exceptional musical ferment. He later recalled that "in those days, you could go into one studio and Joe Cocker was working, and then you're working with Jimi Hendrix in Studio One, or down the corridor Eric Clapton is doing something."

He worked as an assistant producer with the Stones during recording of their landmark 1972 album,  "Exile On Main St." He also was involved with two of the band's follow-up albums, "Goat's Head Soup" and "It's Only Rock 'n Roll." During his career, Johns also helped capture the studio sound of Free, Jethro Tull and Humble Pie, among other groups.

Later in the 1970s, Johns relocated to Los Angeles and became a go-to producer for heavy metal stalwarts such as  Van Halen and Cinderella.

[Updated at 11:23 a.m. April 9, 2013:] As one might hope from a man of his unique vantage point, Johns had many anecdotes about his studio sessions with various rock legends. He shared some of them in a 2009 interview with music historian and author Harvey Kubernik. Here's an edited sample of one of their exchanges, from a transcript that Kubernik provided to Pop & Hiss:

You had a recording history and personal history with the Rolling Stones before you engineered “Exile on Main St.” You were a tape operator at Olympic Studios for “Their Satanic Majesties Request” sessions, and knew the band even earlier owing to your brother Glyn engineering their sessions from the beginning of their career.

 Well, I was aware of them when Glyn did their first demos at IBC. They didn’t even have a record deal. I remember him bringing that stuff back to the house. They soon started making records.... I remember Bill Wyman had this bass that he’d made himself. Hand-made bass that used to be under [Ian Stewart’s] bed. And there was a copy of ‘Satisfaction’ in 1965, and it hadn’t come out in England yet. So, here I am this teenager with a copy of the latest Stones single, which just happens to be ‘Satisfaction.’ And I started banging around on Bill’s bass and that’s when I really got interested in playing bass.

And then at Christmas time, Glyn said, ‘What do you want for Christmas?” And I said, ‘Well, there’s that bass underneath Stu’s bed, you know. I wouldn’t mind that.’ And he said, ‘Oh, Bill is not gonna get rid of that ‘cause he made it himself.’ And I didn’t think anymore about it. And then Christmas Day came and I didn’t get very much for Christmas ‘cause I’d already weasled my stuff before Christmas. Everyone else is opening gifts and they’re getting watches, Christmas stuff.  And I’m not getting anything. So, I was a bit downhearted, you know. And at the end, Glyn says, ‘Guess what? I forgot I’ve got something for you.’ And he went out and came back and I could see it was a bass guitar. And I opened it up and it’s this gorgeous little bass that Bill used to use on the ‘Top of the Pops’ program. So that knocked me for six…And I couldn’t believe it....So, obviously, I never looked back.

Tell me about Jimmy Miller as a producer and a mate. Spencer Davis once said, "Jimmy Miller was the first genius producer I ever worked with."

Well that’s easy. Jimmy was an extremely talented man. His main gift I think was his ability to get grooves. Which for a band like the Stones is very important. Look at the difference between ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ and ‘Satanic Majesties.’ He put them right back on the rail. So he was quote influential then and came up with all sorts of lovely ideas for them. In fact, that’s him playing the cowbell at the beginning of ‘Honky Tonk Woman.’ He sets it up. He was somewhat of a frail individual and they got to him like they got to everybody. Sooner or later you lose your mind. By the time we got to ‘Exile on Main St.’ they weren’t really listening to him anymore. So he felt a bit like a fifth wheel. He was being squeezed out a bit and I was watchin’ that go down.

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