CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Glyn Johns, now aged 80, appeared at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for a book signing early last month. He was promoting his book, “Sound Man,” in conjunction with the Rock Hall exhibit opening of “Get Back to Let it Be,” a recent Disney+ documentary broadcast of The Beatles’ last record, “Let It Be.” Johns, a 2012 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, was one of the producers for The Beatles’ recordings.
Johns’ resume is impressive. He’s worked with numerous icons of rock and roll and the music industry, including Led Zeppelin, the Who, Traffic, Steve Miller, Joe Cocker, Joan Armatrading, Linda Ronstadt, and the Clash.
I slid three copies of “Sound Man” across the table for Johns to sign. A Rock Hall employee immediately admonished me, “You can only get two items signed.” Actually, I had brought six items to be signed: three copies of “Sound Man,” as well as the compact disc covers from records that Johns was credited as producing: Eric Clapton’s “Slowhand;” the Eagles’ “Greatest Hits;” and the Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll.”
I fumbled with the pile of memorabilia, prioritizing the list, and opted to cull the ephemera for an autograph for a lone copy of “Sound Man” and the “Slowhand” CD cover. The white space on the record cover left plenty of room for a distinct autograph.
When Johns began to sign the Clapton cover, I said, “‘The Core’ is a great song.”
Johns quickly scolded me. “It’s not a song. It’s an instrumental.”
Johns leaned back in his chair, as if literally affronted by the mischaracterization of the genre, and repeated his comment, to create a refrain.
“It’s not a song. It’s an instrumental.”
Johns seemed agitated at the notion that “The Core” fit into the “song” category. I don’t play any musical instruments, and would have been hard-pressed to explain the difference or why an instrumental wasn’t considered a song. U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson being asked during her March Senate confirmation hearings to define the meaning of a “woman” seemed less vexing.
Well over 200 people were queued in line behind me for the book-signing event in the lower level of the Rock Hall museum. I really didn’t want to argue with Johns and impose another delay on an already anxious crowd, still disappointed about the protocol of wearing face masks in the COVID-19 era. I thought: “Johns was the producer of ‘Slowhand.’ Maybe when he was working on ‘The Core’ recording back in the 1970s, it was originally an instrumental, but the vocals were added later?”
The ninth and final song on the “Slowhand” record is “Peaches and Diesel,” a definite instrumental. Not a word is heard amidst the music. “The Core” has vocals by Clapton, complemented with solos and duets with Yvonne Elliman.
The now-autographed “Slowhand” CD liner notes did not have a lyric sheet to prove Johns wrong on the spot that “The Core” is a “song.”
Perhaps Johns was confused. His discography as a producer covers hundreds of songs, spanning decades and scores of artists. Remembering all the details of studio edits from the last century is probably harder than recalling what he ate for dinner during the first recording session of “The Core.”
No one at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame gift shop informed me when I had purchased three copies of “Sound Man” an hour earlier in the day that I could only get two copies signed at the Johns appearance. I was tempted to go back to the gift shop and ask for a refund for the two unsigned books.
Bradley S. Le Boeuf is an Akron attorney.
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