‘I found it by mistake’: How Glyn Johns helped showcase Led Zeppelin’s huge drum sound

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Glyn Johns, who engineered Led Zeppelin’s 1969 self-titled debut, basically stumbled upon a new way of recording drummer John Bonham — creating the dynamic stereo cadences that drive tracks like “Communication Breakdown.”

Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page produced the album, but it was a microphone switch by Johns — famous for his work, too, with the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and the Who — that changed everything: In setting up multiple mics for Bonham, Johns accidentally had one of them directed to one side of the stereo mix. The rest of his performance was emanating from the middle.

“Half of the drums were coming out of the left, by mistake,” Johns says in this Q&A. “And I thought: I wonder what it would sound like if I took the one in the middle, and put it on the other side. And there is was — the beginning of stereo drums.”

“Communication Breakdown” was influential in other ways. Guitarist Johnny Ramone once said he developed his signature down-stroke style based on Page’s riff. But everyone began to hear drums in a new way after Led Zeppelin arrived.

Not that Johns is ready to take too much credit: “I found it by mistake. Like anything good that’s ever happened to me, really — it’s been a fluke of some sort,” he says. “So, I can’t really take any credit for it, other than recognizing it.”

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