Before his nineteenth birthday, Andy Johns was working as Eddie Kramer's second engineer on classic recordings by Jimi Hendrix and many others. In a carrer spanning more than thirty years, he's engineered or produced records, by artists ranging from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to Van Halen and Rod Stewart, whose sales total in exess of 160 millions copies. Universal Audio's Matt Ward caught up with Andy in Cherokee Studios' beautiful new 5.1 mixing room, Studio Two, where he was putting the finishing touches on a new LA Guns record.
UA: How did you get started with producing? You were a musician first, right?
Andy Johns: Well, Yes. I was going to be the next greatest bass player of all time! No, I got started because my brother [Producer Glynn Johns] does the same thing. He would take me to the studio and it looked a lot better than working.
UA: So he was your older brother?
Andy Johns: Yes, he was older and of course he was a musician. He gave me my first guitar. Like most children, I loved music. When youre subjected to musicians playing instead of just listening to the radio, there is even more magic.
UA: When did you start?
Andy Johns: When I started it was so much easier to become an engineer. Not like now, whey have to train for bloody six years. My brother started Olympic Studios and I hung out for two days and on the third day they put me on a session, which in those days really just meant running the tape machine, plugging a few things into the mics, and punches. So, within three days there I was working on sessions. I was a big Jimi Hendrix fan at that time, before he was the huge icon that he is now. He came in and was working on what was going to turn out to be Axis Bold as Love. Eddie Kramer was the engineer and I was the assistant. It was a serious learning experience; the man was a genius. He was exceptional. Beyond exceptional.
In those days you could go into one studio and Joe Cocker was working, and then youre working with Jimi Hendrix in studio one, or down the corridor Eric Clapton is doing something. It was a serious center. A lot of talent was there. Plus, you got to do orchestras and jingles. You had to record many, many different kinds of instruments--- cymbalines, harpsichords, sleigh bells--- about anything you could hit or blow through to make a noise. You dont get so much of that anymore.
UA: How has your job, or what you do, changed in the last thirty years?
Andy Johns: It hasnt changed a bit; it is the same exact thing. Just try and get it right, it is your duty. It is almost a semi-religious duty. You are working with talented people and it is your job to make them become what they hear in their heads. Also its your job to make certain suggestions to make their music a little better than perhaps it would have been. If you dont do that, you let them down, you know, its their careers, their lives. They have a picture in their heads of what they want to be and you had better get it, because if you dont, youre an asshole.
UA: So all the technological changes in the last thirty years are kind of not relevant?
Andy Johns: It doesnt make any difference at all. It is just more stuff to play with. Its psychosomatic in a way. Say you listen to an AC/DC record from 1976, and it sounds fabulous. Then you listen to something from this year or last year, and there is more bottom end and more top. It just depends on the moment you are in. Listen to Gimme Shelter from Let it Bleed by the Rolling Stones, it was one the most perfect mixes of all time. The groove is outstanding. Wonderful. You could listen to that forever.
We are using the same gear. The music is coming out of speakers, you know, JBLs. I am using the microphones that I grew up with: Shures, Neumanns, and AKGs. Usually people love older mixers, gimme a Neve or an API, or something. You look around and nothing has changed. The only thing that has really changed is that you dont get to work on two inch [tape machines] as much anymore.
When they first came out with digital machines, the 3M 32 tracks, everyone was saying Andy you cant use that, youll lose ambiance! It sounded fine to me! In fact, the record came out and people were calling me up and saying Hey would you work with us, we love that sound! I never worked with an analog tape machine that was flat. I have hassled with all my life, although the sound, when you get it right works you got the right kind of tape, you got the right machine, you tweak it properly, it is a lovely sound.
UA: What about the difference in the amount of tracks?
Andy Johns: Well that is the luxury that one can tend to abuse. I know I have. The way that I make records today would be quite different than the way I did ten years ago. I try not to use as many tracks. I dont do everything in stereo. Oh, [becomes animated] he is going to play keyboard, it is a little flotsam. I need two tracks for that. No, Who cares. It is how you mix it, you know. That is psychosomatic, too.
UA: Is there a characteristic Andy Johns sound?
Andy Johns: I am told that there is. I would like to think that there is. I would be an egotist if I told you what I really thought it was. Fidelity is obviously of primary importance. 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, in a nice rehearsal place. It might mean that six tracks for the rhythm guitars sound like two guys playing. I might use four different sounds for the melodies of the guitars. I might need a different sound on the chorus or the bridge, or the solo or the counterpoint. But hopefully, when it is mixed it sounds like the band is playing. Youre supposed to be there and feel them playing.
UA: Do you do most of your own engineering?
Andy Johns: Always.
UA: Do you find it difficult to keep up with all the technological changes?
Andy Johns: Trying to keep up with all the new gear, thats a little difficult. I have assistant engineers for that. I havent got time to sit down and study a new piece of gear for two hours. But, it is not that difficult to turn it on, plug it in, see what it does and sort of ditz with it yourself.
UA: What experience in the studio really stands out?
Andy Johns: That would be Exile on Main Street. As a child, at school, I thought that the Rolling Stones were the shit. Youd be on the bus, and the people who liked the Beatles would be on one side of the bus, and the people who liked the Stones would be other side of the bus. I loved the Beatles, but the Rolling Stones were a little dirtier, a little more serious about the blues.
Luckily enough I worked with them because I knew Jimmy Miller, who was their producer. He was a really great producer. I worked on Sticky Fingers. I went through the test thing with Jagger, the steamroller, and managed to pass the test. Then I became their guy. For Exile On Main Street, we went to the south of France for six months. We went to Keiths house and they just built this truck, the Rolling Stones mobile. It was the first proper mobile in Europe. Being with those guys was like being in center of the universe at that point. Watching their process and their courage in rearranging things fascinated me.
After six months there, we came here to do overdubs and mixes. I was twenty-one. That was a big learning experience. I ended up mixing the thing after they got rid of me for a couple of months. I got this phone call from Jagger saying, Hello, well its five mixes you did, we have been working with [another engineer]. It didnt really work out, you want to mix the rest of the record? I went, Pssssssssh. There it went. I ended up mixing ten or twelve songs, in a big thirty-six hour mad session. Just on my own. When the record came out, most of it was pretty damn fine. Yeah, that was a pretty big learning experience. But, I have never been as quick since. I tend to ponder a bit more.
UA: How about an experience that stands out in a negative way? There is no reason to name names. You can name names if you like.
Andy Johns: Well, Negative, I dont know. Even if it becomes tiresome, and you dont understand what is going on, later you can look back at it. It is like Napoleon, he used to on campaigns set aside one hour to see what went wrong, and try and take advantage of it. So if things dont go well, and you might become suicidal. You ponder on that and try not to make the same mistakes, again. Of course, they are unavoidable. Because you dont control fuckin everything, and if you did, you would be sitting in a room on your own. So, Who needs that?
Negative I dont know. There are people that I have worked with to where after you do three or four records you kind of lose creative touch with each other because you start doing the same things. Which isnt negative, it just the way it is. I always hope at the end of any project, doesnt matter what it is, that you have learned something. Even if it was how to shut-up, sit down, and be quiet or something, you learn how to do that.
UA: Do you have a particular approach to getting an electric guitar sound?
Andy Johns: Well, Yes, and it is very simple. When I was a kid it was the hippie thing. Someone would bring their amplifier and their guitar and youd think, Thats what he means to sound like? Id better make it sound okay. Well the drum kit would be struggling to get a sound and it wouldnt be there, and you would think that it was your fault. It took me years to realize, Wait a minute, the gear they got is just not fuckin right.
For electric guitar sounds I quite often use 2 [Shure SM] 57s-- one straight on and one at a forty-five degree angle. So you dont have to find a sweet spot, for the EQ. Or I might use a Neumann U 47 and a Sennheiser 421-- whatever is good that day. Its whats coming out of the amplifier, pal. If you have the worlds greatest stereo system on the planet and you put a shitty program through it, it sounds like shit. If it is horrible, you can EQ it and compress it and do anything you want, but youre just fuckin a turd, you know.
UA: What are you working on now?
Andy Johns: Well, I just finished a record with L. A. Guns and I am about to start with this band called Asthma in New York. They are very cool. I just did a five point one with The Cult, a live record. They just split up, so I am probably going to be doing a record with Ian, the singer. They are casting around for musicians right now. Ian Ashbury from The Cult is a really good poet and a really good lad, too. I like him, and hes English. I dont get to work with English people very much. Yeah, always fuckin Americans. Which is why I came here. The home of rocknroll, man.
UA: It is unusual to hear an Englishman admit that.
Andy Johns: Oh, Good Lord. Do you remember when Eric [Clapton] was playing with Delaney and Bonnie? I was working with all these English bands, Free and Traffic and Blind Faith, Ten Years After. There was some serious blues going on, but it would seem to take a long time to get to the growth. Delaney and Bonnie, who were playing with Jimmy Gordon, Carl Rydel, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Price and Bobby Keys playing horns, would walk in the room and it was like turning a fucking light switch. Instant groove. I thought, Jesus Christ, These guys are professionals! It doesnt take them an hour to get into it or two hash joints to get there. Theyd just, bing, and there it was. Theyd say, Hey did you get that? And I thought, Fuckin hell! Its true. Its the real thing.
UA: You have to record from the first take, huh?
Andy Johns: Well, Yes. You have to be quick. I always used to like lazy rocknroll. The Stones they dont show up till midnight, you have been sitting there since two in the afternoon. Hey Man. Nothing gets done for days at a time. Then Delaney and Bonnie came on they changed the whole scene. Those people from that rhythm section played on a lot of records in two years: All things Must Pass, Georges [Harrison] big quadruple record, and Gary Wright, with millions of things, and the horn section in London, which impressed Bobby Keys. I learned from them, and I thought, Hell, Why are they coming here, I wanna go there.
I came over here in 1970, because I was working with Jimmy Miller and he was an American who had a production company out here. The studios were a little behind the times, though. When I was mixing Stairway to Heaven over at Sunset Sound and I wanted to pan something, I said, You dont have pan pots on the channels. They responded, We have a pan pot. Bring on the pan pot! They bring out this guy on a gurney, you know? A big box with a huge knob, a pan pot man. Christ, the Americans sent someone to the moon, but they only had one pan pot. It was like having one meatball. You can have all the bread you want, but only with one meatball.
UA: Andy, thanks so much for talking with us.
Andy Johns: Well, Yes. Its been a pleasure.
Andy Johns' Tips & Tricks
UA: Is it true that you have used the 1176 on most if not all of the records you have done in the last thirty years?
Andy Johns: Since you guys came out with the device, I have used them on every record since. If I am shown a new room, and of course the studio owner is always very proud of his gear, and you have to go through this: We have this and we have that. Then I say, These monitors are all right, the mixer I can work with. But how many 1176s do you have? There are two? Do you have more? They say, Well we can get more. Well two is not enough. I am going to need six, because they are workhorse compressors. When I run out of 1176s, I go to the 2As, 3As, or 4As. After that it doesnt matter so much because it is like, compress? Okay fine.
UA: Not to betray any state secrets, but are there any particular settings you use for certain program material youd be willing to share?
Andy Johns: It is hard to pinpoint that. Having used the device for this long, it depends on the material. For drums, I will give an example: When the Levee Breaks had two microphones up the stairs and nothing else. I didnt use compressors, but I thought Levee Breaks sounded really good, but you cant do that all the time; its not an effect--what an idiot. After a couple of years, I had been ditzing with orchestral micing and things that bleed. You know, bleeding into other mics. I started using room mics all the time. Thats a fact. In any city that you go into now, I can take credit for this without being an asshole. I more or less invented it because of Levee Breaks. What you do is, you run your room mics through a couple of 1176s, just so that they are nudging a bit. This brings up the decay time of the room when your guy hits the bass drum or the snare. If its a very quick tempo it wont work, but at medium or half-time tempo it brings up the room. Its wonderful and there is not another compressor that will do it the same way as an 1176!
For vocals there really isnt a better compressor. Sometimes an LA-2A is good because it grabs on a little bit more. Plus, on the LA-2A, you have the limiter position. Thats the other trick that I use, which I dont think anybody has really caught onto. I got awards and all that rubbish for drum sounds; it is insane but true. I concentrate on the drum kit because it is the only instrument in a rocknroll band that is actually acoustic. You know getting the proper trenches? Everything is bloody-- the bass is electric, the Hammond is electric-- The acoustic guitar and the vocals are the only other acoustic things.
When I am mixing, I melt the bass drum and I melt the snare. The bass drum will not be even, so the first bass drum track doesnt have the 1176 on and it gets to breathe. Then I put another bass drum next to it with an 1176 at four to one [ratio setting]. It evens it out a bit. I sneak that in and the bass drum is more constant. Of course, you have to change your EQs appropriately. You might want to use the 1176 before or after the EQ. For the snare, I use one normal track that I EQ to death. Then I will use another one that has gone through a gate, hopefully a keypex-2. I put an 1176 on it to make it pop. I sneak that in. Not only to get rid of some of the dross because of the gate, the high hat, all the rubbish and symbols and shit. The 1176 will make it pop a little, and you sneak that in and all of a sudden the snare just comes up.
For Do You Think I am Sexy, which we did in this very building, [Drummer] Carmine [Appice] had a bunch of kits. This was disco so he needed to be in mono. We used two or three mics and a small kit, and I compressed it so it could breathe. The bass drum pushed the cymbals away so of course I used an 1176. What else are you going to use? I used an 1176 and then I put an extra bass drum on another track so that I could control the volume of it-- but that was an 1176 thing. Now I know that a lot of people hate, loathe that song, but what did that record do? We did twelve million. That was the single that was an 1176.
Would you like the Black Dog guitar tone story?
UA: Absolutelywhich Led Zeppelin album was that?
Andy: That is the fourth one, the really, really big one. Stairway To Heaven, Levee Breaks, and Black Dog. It sold about eighteen million-- something bloody ridiculous. Who would have known, you know? I had been trying to get this sound from Buffalo Springfield for a long time and I met Bill House. He said, just put two 1176s in series. He didnt really want to let me know what they were. It was a direct sound and I thought that I knew what to do. There were three guitars on Black Dog so I triple tracked it. When I mixed it, these three guitars were down here and the rest of the tracks were up here. Since the sound was so loud, it gave me much more room for the other stuff. Anyways, he meant two 1176s in series, one of which has the compression buttons punched out, so it is like an amp. You hit the front of the next compressor really hard and make the mic amp distort a bit with the EQ-- a bit of bottom to make it sing. So Black Dog has a direct Gibson Les Paul Sunburst 52 or something, going right into the mic amps on the mixer, which is going through two 1176s, and it sounds like some guy in the Albert Hall with a bunch of marshals. I couldnt have done it without the 1176s. There is not another compressor that will do that, because you can take out the compression stuff.
In England, before we had 1176s, there were Pylamitches. Audio Design and EMT made one or two different versions, and they were cool. They were very good but they didnt do what this thing does. It is almost-- how can I put it-- Universal Audio springs to mind. If you're doing gardening, you'll need a spade. If you're going to drive your car, you might want to put petrol in the tank and if you're making a record, you need some 1176s. It is paradoxically a universal thing. You have to have them, and if you dont its just sort of sad. You can get around the situation, but they always make life easier.
UA: Andy, Thanks so much for talking with us! It has been a pleasure!
Andy: I am very proud to be involved!
Andy Johns Discography
(P) Produced - (M) Mixed - (E) Engineered
LA GUNS WAKING THE DEAD P E M
Alejandra Guzman SOY E
Marilyn Manson Up coming DVD E M
The Cult Up coming DVD E M
Stegosaurus STEGOSAURUS M
Honky Toast WHATCHA GONNA DO HONKY? P E M
Bon Jovi GOOD GUYS DONT ALWAYS WEAR WHITE P E M
Joe Satriani THE EXTREMIST P E M
Van Halen FOR UNLAWFUL CARNAL KNOWLEDGE P E M
Van Halen RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW P E M
Ozzy Osborne JUST SAY OZZY P E M
M.S.G. M.S.G. P E M
Cinderella NIGHT SONGS P E M
Cinderella LONG COLD WINTER P E M
Detective DETECTIVE P E M
Ron Wood ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR P E M
Rod Stewart FOOLISH BEHAVIOR P E M
Eddie Money WHERE'S THE PARTY P E M
Blod Wynn Pig A HEAD RINGS OUT P E M
Blod Wynn Pig BLOD WYNN PIG 2 P E M
Gary Wright EXTRACTION P E M
Gary Wright FOOTPRINT P E M
Jack Bruce OUT OF THE STORMS P E M
Free TONS OF SOBS E M
Free HIGHWAY P E M
Free HEART BREAKER P E M
Free FREE LIVE P E M
Hughes/Thrall HUGHES/THRALL P E M
Televison MARQUEE MOON P E M
Autograph LOUD AND CLEAR
P E M Beck Bogart & Appice GIZZ WIZZ P E M
Guiffria GUIFFRIA P E M
House Of Lords HOUSE OF LORDS P E M
House Of Lords CANT FIND MY WAY HOME P E M
Gary Moore RUN FOR COVER P E M
West Bruce & Laing WEST BRUCE & LAING P E M
Laing LAING P E M
Derek & The Dominos CROSSROADS P E M
Stone Fury STONE FURY P E M
Stone Fury THE BEST OF P E M
The Killer Dwarves DIRTY WEAPONS P E M
The Killer Dwarves METHOD TO THE MADNESS P E M
Broken Homes WING AND A PRAYER P E M
Tangier FOUR WINDS P E M
The Motion Pictures THE MOTION PICTURES P E M
Wild Side WILD SIDE P E M
Axis AXIS P E M
Riggs RIGGS P E M
Jim Price SAN DEGOS TRAVELING ORCHESTRA P E M
Bobby Keys KEY WEST Co-P E M
D.F.K. D.F.K. Co-P E M
Sky SKY Co-P E M
Sky SKY 2 Co-P E M
Eric Clapton ERIC CLAPTON E M
Ginger Baker GINGER BAKERS AIR FORCE E M
Ginger Baker DO WHAT YOU LIKE E M
Billy Prestion BILLY PRESTON LIVE E M
Delaney & Bonnie LIVE E M
Traffic LAST EXIT E M
Traffic MEDICATED GOO E M
Steve Winwood JOHN BARLEY CORN E M
Blind Faith BLIND FAITH E M
Jethro Tull STAND-UP E M
The Rolling Stones STICKY FINGERS E M
The Rolling Stones GOATS HEAD SOUP E M
The Rolling Stones EXILE ON MAIN STREET E M
The Rolling Stones ITS ONLY ROCK & ROLL E M
The Rolling Stones - Movie LADIES AND GENTLEMAN
THE ROLLING STONES E M
Led Zeppelin LED ZEPPELIN 2 E M
Led Zeppelin LED ZEPPELIN 3 E M
Led Zeppelin LED ZEPPELIN 4 E M
Led Zeppelin PHYSICAL GRAFFITTI E M
Ten Years After SHHH E M
Ten Years After CIRCLE WOOD GREEN E M
Ten Years After WHAT E M
Humble Pie AS SAFE AS YESTERDAY IS E M
Humble Pie TOWN & COUNTRY E M
Leon Russell SHELTER PEOPLE E M
Joe Cocker CAN YOU PLEASE CRAWL OUT YOUR
BATHROOM WINDOW E M
Joe Cocker LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS E M
Cat Stevens TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN E M
Cat Stevens MONAS BONE JAKON E M
Spooky Tooth SPOOKY TOOTH E M
Steven Stills LOVE THE ONE YOUR WITH E M
Rod Stewart FOOT LOOSE & FANCY FREE E M
Rod Stewart BLONDES HAVE MOOR FUN E M
Rod Stewart THE BEST OF (1982) E M
Eddie Money NO CONTROL E M
Eddie Money LIFE FOR THE TAKING E M
Eddie Money EDDIE MONEY E M
Mott The Hoople MOTT THE HOOPLE E M
Mott The Hoople SHADES E M
Mott The Hoople BRAIN CAPERS E M
Kenny Loggins IM ALL RIGHT E M
Joni Mitchell LIVE AT THE GREEK E M
Jack Bruce SONGS FOR A TAILOR E M
Cal Jam II CAL JAM II E M
Les Dudeck GHOST TOWN PARADE E M
Procul Harem SALTY DOG M
Joe Cocker WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS M
Joe Cocker FEELING ALLRIGHT M
ADDITIONAL PRODUCTION & ENGINEERING FOR:
Derek & The Dominos
Beck, Bogart & Appice
Spencer Davis - Live in Germany with Alexis Korner
The movie THAT WILL BE THE DAY with Keith Moon and Ringo Starr M
Jethro Tull - LOOKING INTO THE SUN
Spooky Tooth - THAT WAS ONLY YESTERDAY
Steve Miller - CHILDREN OF THE FUTURE
Humble Pie - TOWN AND COUNTRY
Ronnie Wood - 184.108.40.206.
Broken Homes - WING AND A PRAYER
Gary Wright & Steve Windwood
Mick Jagger - STAR FUCKER