Remembering Andy Johns, The Studio Wizard Behind Zeppelin and the Stones

The studio engineer behind albums like 'Physical Graffiti' and' Exile On Main Street' died on Sunday

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Brian Cahn / ZUMA PRESS

Andy Johns at the NAMM music expo in 2011.

It’s been a rough time for behind-the-scenes pop music figures recently. The great producer and engineer Phil Ramone left us on March 30th, and now Andy Johns, one of the most acclaimed recording studio stalwarts of the 1970s and 80s, is gone. Johns, who worked as an engineer on such Rolling Stones albums as Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street, as well as Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Graffiti and such classic albums as Television’s Marquee Moon, died on Sunday, at age 61, after a period of ill health.

The younger brother of the legendary producer and engineer Glyn Johns, Andy was a studio whiz kid who began working with the cream of “classic rock” artists like Led Zeppelin, Blind Faith, Jethro Tull, Traffic and the Rolling Stones when he had barely left his teenage years. (The past few decades found him working with a new generation of hard rockers including Van Halen, whose For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Johns produced.)

While it may be difficult to pinpoint a defining “Andy Johns sound,” it might be more rewarding to acknowledge how many terrific and durable albums display his sonic expertise. Exile comes off nothing like, say, Physical Graffiti, which comes off nothing like Blind Faith or Stand Up  by Jethro Tull, yet each has a distinct, utterly recognizable sound that captured the essential character of each band. Next time you hear “Stairway To Heaven” give Andy Johns a fond thought.