Tales of The Tape:
An Interview with
Producer and Engineer John Burns is best known to Genesis
fans for his work on early 1970s albums like Foxtrot, Live,
Selling England by the Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
What most Genesis fans might not realize is that Burns comes from a
background rich in rock music history having
worked with a number of legendary
performers and bands in the creation of many classic songs and albums with
the likes Blind Faith, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Traffic, Free, Jeff Beck,
Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Mott the Hoople,
Marc Bolan and T.Rex,
Fleetwood Mac, Humble Pie, David Bowie, Del Shannon, The Average White Band,
Jimi Cliff, and countless others. Burns also engineered many live concerts
and festivals in the early '70s including work with legends like Jimi
Hendrix, The Doors, Miles Davis, and The Who.
Recently, John completed the production of the album Sinking Without You
by a new five-piece rock band, JEBO (which is also reviewed here), and worked with jazzy soul artist Lisa
July 2, 2006, World of Genesis.com’s own Dave Negrin sat down
for a long chat with John about his career in music, his current projects,
and his work with Genesis in the 1970s through his unique perspective from
behind the mixing desk. It is my extreme pleasure to present this interview.
John was incredibly candid, direct, and provided insight into things I've
never read before about Genesis and other legendary acts. Enjoy!
They held back on Selling England, because they had some gigs to do,
and they weren’t ready to do Selling England on the road straight
away. So, they came out with the Live album, did a small tour on the
strength of the band, and then they came out with Selling England
afterwards, but it was about 33 years ago.
WOG: For years, I heard rumors
that there was talk that Genesis Live might have been a double album
with “Supper’s Ready” included. Is that true?
JB: No, it was never going to be a double album as far as the band was
concerned. Double albums in those days were like slightly white elephants. I
remember when we were working on the follow-up album to Selling England by
the Pound, which was still unnamed at that point, and they said that it was
going to have to be a double album, I thought, “Oh my God!” When the Rolling
Stones came out with Exile on Main Street, it was slated in the press
to begin with, but its one of their greatest albums. It’s just that it is so
much to take in. You know, a single album with 8 or 10-tracks on it, people
can take in and go “Wow! That’s a great album!” When it’s a double album,
you’ve got a lot of listening to do. You can’t remember one track from
another, so you have to listen to it four or five times to really get into
it. So, I was worried about the business aspect. I wasn’t worried that they
could do it; I think all of the tracks are strong on The Lamb Lies Down
World of Genesis:
Can you tell me about the personalities within Genesis during the making
of albums like Foxtrot, Live, Selling England by the
Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? Who were more
dominant, musically speaking?
John Burns: They were all dominant in their different ways, you
know? That’s the thing. Obviously, Steve Hackett was not as dominant as
someone like Peter (Gabriel). Peter always had mad ideas in the studio. It
always used to freak me out, I’d go, “God, how am I going to get that
together?” …but I would just do it, and we would get there. Tony Banks
liked his parts and was very strong. Mike Rutherford was. Phil (Collins)
was strong on vocals and rhythms and things like that. They really each
had their own different way [about them]. Everybody had their different
levels of input as far as their personalities went. That’s how it all
gelled into Genesis, really. Musically, Tony Banks was a real strength,
but he was great friends of Mike Rutherford so they all made compromises.
Most of them went to school together, so there were good relationships
there. Peter was very powerful on everything.
They all contributed in their own way, but Tony was, I would say, the
strength musically, the lyrics and the melody line was largely Peter, and
the driving force was very much Phil. So, it had different angles to it.
It was a collaborative effort, but I think musically, Tony was the biggest
influence. I didn’t go to rehearsals though, so I didn’t see things from
the ground up.
Everybody had their own influences in their own ways. Tony and Mike
worked strongly together, Steve fit in his parts, Peter had the melodies,
and Phil was the driving force with the drums and also vocally since he
was on backing vocals. It was, however, a very keyboard orientated band.
That’s a difficult question to answer. I didn’t have any trouble with any
of them as far as musicians go.
WOG: I suppose by your comment, you’re suggesting that Steve Hackett was
Compare something like 80+ minute Lamb Lies Down with working with
JEBO today. In today’s market, it’s really not that uncommon to see a single
disc studio album that’s 75 minutes long. Do you think that is as much of a
concern today? Or, is there an advantage to releasing an album that’s still
only 45-minutes long?
JB: The debut album from JEBO is about 52 minutes long, but I edited some of
the songs down, so that it was a little more straight and direct. The songs
are right at you. For the next album, the songs might be longer. There will
probably be more jamming type things within it. These were just straight
songs; it was their first album. I wanted to keep it short and sweet and
direct. If it’s a known band, people will listen to things that go off
esoterically into a different vein and then come back to the songs. They’ll
listen to that, but for a first album, I felt that it needed to be strong
and tight. It’s like Selling England by the Pound. Selling England
had eight songs on it, and it’s a really strong album, because of that.
WOG: With Nick Davis going back and remixing those early Genesis albums you
were involved with, what are your thoughts on that as a fellow engineer?
Does it bother you that another engineer who was not involved with those
sessions is essentially going back and revising your work?
JB: Well, to be honest, I haven’t heard the new mixes, so I’ll have to wait
to comment. I mean, he probably copied it as close as he possibly could.
It’s such a different way. I mean, all of these albums were mixed by hand.
There were no digital desks or computerization or anything like that. You
literally had to move the faders and switch the buttons yourself and echoes
and everything else had to be done as is. I generally mixed only by my
hands. I didn’t have the whole band with me. I mean, with The Lamb Lies
Down, they all buggered off at ten o’clock and left me to mix… apart
from Phil a few times. A few times he stayed on and was encouraging.
If I made a mistake, like I forgot to switch a tambourine in or a backing
vocal, because there are so many different things on different tracks, I
would go back ten seconds, roll tape again, put that switch in, and just
edit it together.
WOG: Were his
contributions fewer, not as forced upon the others, or were they built more
upon the ideas of other members of the band? I’m just curious, because it
was only a few years later in 1977 when he quit the band, because he felt
that his ideas were not being fully explored by Genesis.
JB: I think with Foxtrot and Selling England by the Pound, he
was quite dominant, but not so much with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
John Burns with his dog, Bella
Some tracks may have many edits, it depends how clean they
were… the bits and pieces on them. With Selling England, which
like Foxtrot was only 16-tracks, you had to do that. There are only
16-tracks, but you had tambourines, flying geese, guitar solos and flute all
on the same track. So, it was quite a handful to get all the motions
together. I’m more interested in getting the balance of the band than
kicking the drums where they needed kicking.
Obviously, if it’s none now, digitally, you don’t have to do editing the old
fashioned way. Balance is so important. Because it was so hands on, you were
leaping around a desk. I used a desk like an instrument back then. You had
to play it. It would be 24-tracks with my ten fingers! You’d have to work
it. I think Nick has really got his work cut out for him. To try and follow
what I did is near on impossible. I could probably remember if I sat behind
a desk, but even that would probably take some work 30 years later. I think
I would remember, but he doesn’t know what the hell I was doing and the
different echoes and different delays…
I mean, there was a
certain amount of artistic friction, but I wasn’t terribly aware of it. With
all bands… I mean, when I was working with Free, for example, years and
years ago, they would have arguments and someone would say that they were
leaving the band. They would walk out and you would just carry on, and
eventually they would come back. Of course, Free did eventually break-up.
That’s just the sort of thing that happens, and you tend to take no notice
of it. ...You know, tantrums in the studio. You always have that sort of thing.
It’s the producer’s job really to iron it out. If it can’t be ironed out,
that’s the end of that.
WOG: As a producer, how much of your role is keeping an artist in check as
opposed to helping an artist find or develop the sound that they are looking
for on a record; or, maybe helping them to look at something differently
than in a way that it was originally envisioned, musically speaking?
JB: I would generally go along with the artist’s ideas. We would just try
and develop it and often, as things progressed, it would veer off in another
direction slightly. It would be creative. You go with their idea, because
it’s their music and their songs, you’d develop it and through discussion,
things would take their own course and you’d end up somewhere different than
they originally envisioned. It was organic. It would just naturally happen.
With Genesis, Tony Banks would put in some very weird chords, and I’d say,
“That’s really discordant.” Let’s say that those first chords were on organ.
Then, he’d lay piano over top, and then I saw that it all made sense
(laughs)! The next over dub just pulled it all together.
WOG: You’ve worked with a number of different artists covering a number of
styles and genres of music. Do you consciously seek out different types of
artists to work with to keep things interesting? As a producer, how do they
different styles of music impact your approach, if at all?
JB: No, I think that was just my good fortune. I mean, I really
like types of music. I love African, Jamaican, rock, folk, and so on. Coming
from being a guitarist, I just love music, but it all got very boring for me
in the ‘80s. It was drum machines, and then you’d put on the bass line and
the put the guitar on. I hated it! I called it painted by numbers. You know,
where you can go and buy a picture of a landscape or something numbered one
to twenty two, where you paint the color in the corresponding numbered box.
Cheating, really. I like to go in the studio with a band and lay down the
drums, bass, and guitar at least, and preferably a guide vocal, and you put
the whole thing down at once. You’ll probably redo the vocal or patch up the
guitar or re-do it, but have the atmosphere of the whole band playing at the
same time. So, you can actually see the foundations to it straight away.
I went back to that working with JEBO, and they were the first band I found
in twenty years that I really felt I could put some input into, and teach
them how to do it – not just one bit at a time.
WOG: How did you get involved with Ben Findlay from Real World on the JEBO
JB: I met him 15 years ago socially. I got a hold of him to mix it. I did
all of the recording myself. Obviously, that hasn’t changed much, but mixing
with Pro Tools has. I understand Pro Tools, but I am much too slow with a
computer. I’m an analog man. I knew Ben from about fifteen years ago. He was
asking me how he could get into studio work; he was a live engineer at the
time. I told him that it was difficult, but that he should try to get in,
even if he was making tea, and he’d move up slowly… and that is what
happened for him at Real World [for Peter Gabriel]. He got in, literally as
a tea boy, fetching and carrying. He quite quickly became a tape operator or
an Assistant Engineer. We were looking for somebody to mix the album, and
because I had known him a long time, we ended up giving him a point on the
album to do it, because the band didn’t have much money.
It was great working together. He had great respect for me for what I had
done in my analog days, and I have great respect for him for his use of Pro
Tools. There was a great gel. When you listen to
the JEBO album, it is apparent that Ben’s knowledge of digital recording
technology and my extensive experience of analogue tie together extremely
well, a perfect marriage of approaches really.
The JEBO album was a great record for their first outing. It’s a very strong
[debut], but it’s difficult to break a band. It’s in a different vein than
Genesis, but it’s a five piece rock band. It might be my influence in
production, but a lot of people have said that it’s Genesis-ish and the
singer, James, has hints of a Peter Gabriel type vocal quality. I’m really
happy to be back in producing again. I’ve always been working with bands,
but nothing that seriously again until recently. I’ve been helping bands to
develop, but not expecting to try and earn a living out of it.
The same with Lisa Doby, she is a fantastic artist. I’ve been over to
France, and I’ve recorded six tracks with her, so we’ve got the basis for
half an album, but it comes down to money. That’s the thing. See, JEBO
didn’t pay me anything, because I love the band so much. I said that I would
do it for nothing. That’s been a long project, it’s been about two years.
must be very difficult to recreate, because we were so limited with
equipment, on “The Colony of Slippermen” song, before I cut the album I
wasn’t happy with it. So I put it through an echoplex, which is like a delay
echo. So, I mixed the echoplex in mono into the middle of the stereo. I put
the whole track though it with the stereo out the side but the echoplex
signal coming out of the middle. It just boosts it. He wouldn’t know how the
hell to do that. He wouldn’t know what I had done. I don’t think the band
knew, I just did it. It was two hours before I had to go and cut it. It
might have been 16 bars; I’d have to listen to it. The poor guy’s got his
work cut out for him!
WOG: Knowing how difficult this
process must have been, how long did mixing those albums take?
JB: Well, Selling England was done in its entirety in three weeks.
Foxtrot was also done in about three or four weeks. Foxtrot was
extremely complicated. For The Lamb Lies Down, I spent about three
months or maybe a little less. Once Peter had done the vocal on it – because
Peter was always the last since he had to write the lyrics – Once he was
done, I’d mix it. Then I’d say, “C’mon Peter, get the next vocal fucking
thing together!” …and then I’d mix it (laughs). So, that was how we did
The Lamb Lies Down. I certainly don’t remember doing it all in one go.
We did do Foxtrot and Selling England all in one go. The
Lamb was such a big album that it was a bit of an epic and there was
obviously massive cross fading and editing. I think over approximately over
two months we did overdubs, vocals, and mixing. Maybe three months over all.
It was three weeks in Wales recording in a cow shed with a mobile, which was
great. Then, we went back to London and did some work, then they had a month
off, which I believe was when Peter went off (leaving the band to work with
Williem Friedkin). Honestly, I really didn’t take notice of it, because
bands were always splitting up and getting back together. At least he took
it on tour, which was great! Peter is a great guy.
WOG: Mike Rutherford had mentioned that some of those early studio albums
were rushed so that they could get right back out on the road. In your
opinion, was that pressure self-inflicted, their management or was it put
upon them by Charisma Records?
JB: Management, definitely. I had to come up with a budget for Selling
England, and I think it was about 13,000 pounds and the studio time was
40 pounds an hour, and of coursing costs related to tape all of that sort of
stuff and all the other bits and pieces. I think they came in under budget
or around the budget, but we had to work fast. I was a very fast engineer,
because I had to be. They didn’t have any money, and they were about 100,000
pounds in debt to Charisma Records when we did Selling England by the
Pound. Tony Stratton-Smith, from Charisma was great, he put everything
behind them. Genesis’ live shows were great! They were mega, you know what I
mean? They weren’t just some band playing on stage. There were all sorts of
costumes and things.
WOG: I’ve heard some
bootlegs of the sessions around Selling England by the Pound, and on them
Genesis performed a couple of cover tunes like The Kinks All Day and All of
The Night.” Were those cover songs ever professionally recorded?
JB: No, I didn’t record them. I heard them, but I didn’t record them. I
heard some of their rehearsals, but I didn’t actually get involved with
their rehearsals. I was always working. It was one album after another. I
might have one day off in-between, but then I would be starting another one.
On Selling England, they had to wait something like two months for
me, because I was completely booked up. I was engineering and producing
bands day in and day out. I might have one day off every two weeks, so I
didn’t go to rehearsals, really. With The Lamb, however, I did go
down to Headley Grange a couple of times and listened to
what they were doing. At that stage, it was going to be a single album. So,
I didn’t have time to go to rehearsals, but I did hear the rehearsal tapes.
I think they might have played me the cover versions just for a laugh, you
know what I mean? They were probably just done on to cassette I would think.
Generally, all the stuff was just done on to cassette.
WOG: During this period, Steve
Hackett and Peter Gabriel allegedly had an incomplete song called “Déjà vu”
which he completed years later and surfaced on his 1996 Genesis Revisited
album. Is that something you recall?
JB: Yeah, it was politically sometimes quite difficult. I mean, if it didn’t
fit in with the band, then it tended not to make the album. Songs didn’t
make it on the album for the sake of going on the album. There was a process
“More Fool Me” with Phil on vocals and Mike playing 12-string, they played
me that. I said, “That would be great on the album!” Because it was so
different that it was Phil singing, and I thought it was a nice little ditty
to include on the thing. I just said to the rest of the band that this is
going on, and they all said fine. It was two against two on the song’s
inclusion initially. Obviously, Mike and Phil liked it. I threw in my vote,
and said “It’s only a very short song, and it’s a bit different.” In the
end, it made the album.
Ben Findlay from Real World Studios
WOG: “More Fool Me”
was kind of like the first real pop song...
JB: Well, in hindsight, it may have been more of an indicator of what was
to come with Genesis, but “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” was the
most poppy. That was mad with the lawnmower and things. They just all made
noises and weird things and we put it all together with that
“R-A-A-O-A-R!” opening. Then I took a talking drum in that I brought back
from Nigeria, because I had just come from Nigeria after working with
Ginger Baker, and Peter played that on the song. That’s the “D-O-O-N!
D-O-O-N!” sound you hear in the beginning of “I Know What I Like,” but
Peter played it completely differently than the Africans. He played it
between his knees and squeezed his legs together. It really gave it some
character, and it was a reasonable hit in England.
WOG: In addition to
Lisa Doby and JEBO, do you have other projects in the pipeline?
JB: Just those two for the moment. I feel that generally I won’t do more
than three albums in a year anyway. Once I get involved, I’m involved with
the whole thing. Much more than just recording it and saying, “OK, I’ll
see you guys around!” I mean, I go to gigs, try to help out, and be one of
their fans, I suppose (laughs)! They sell albums on their site, but done
are the days of getting a half million pound record deal – unless you’re a
boy band. In England, anyway.
The second JEBO album will pick up from where
the first album left off. We’ll be carrying on from the high standard
achieved there from all the members, and now the new keyboardist, Nick,
will be making his very classical contributions to the arrangements. The
band is working very well together and there will be some co-writing
involved, too. For Lisa Doby’s forthcoming album, we’ve already recorded
six tracks and there’ll be more to come.
WOG: How did you first get involved as a Producer?
JB: When I was about
16 years old, I was in a band with Andy Johns, who later became quite a
famous engineer. His bother was Glynn Johns produced all of the early
[Rolling] Stones and Who stuff. Andy’s brother got him a job in a studio,
and I realized that I wasn’t as good a guitarist as some people, so when
the band broke up, I thought “Well, I’m not going to go through all that
again,” and I decided that I would follow a similar path. So, a year
later, when Andy started to engineer, I rang him every week and said, “get
me a job!” When he did get me a job, that was the best six or nine months
of my life. Fantastic! Absolutely mind blowing! Suddenly, I had landed a
job in music… actually in a studio. In those days, there were very few
studios and very few engineers, so I was very, very lucky. I had been a
guitarist since I was 12 or something, but not as good as some people – by
a long way in fact (laughs)! But I still play a bit – not too much though.
WOG: How were you first approached to work with Genesis on the Foxtrot
album? Were you basically in the right studio at the right time?
JB: Yeah, basically. They had a producer and engineer called Bob Potter,
who walked out on them. He just couldn’t understand where they were coming
from. Then, they had another engineer named Tony something that couldn’t
get on with them. By this time, they had David Hitchcock producing them. I
was then asked if I would do it, and I said, “Yes.” …and very, very
quickly, I realized that [Genesis] were great! I just knew that they were
a good band. I knew that it was going to be a hell of a challenge.
I was a very dominant engineer, because I used to work very fast. Studio
time was incredibly expensive; they were about 40 pounds an hour… and this
was 1971 or 1972. It was a heck of a lot of money, so I thought that you
really had to work fast to limit they amount that they were going to have
to pay. The producer was writing the track sheets, and, in some ways, I
sort of took over the production. I was using the talk-back mic and
saying, “Great guys! Fantastic! C’mon in and have a listen, and we’ll go
on to the next bit…” because Foxtrot was a lot of edits; it was
edited all in sections. Especially, “Supper’s Ready.” I had to put the
pieces all together. I am rather good with the razor blade [when it comes
to editing]. I fit it in perfectly. These other engineers were used to
recording a whole song at a time, but if it had to be edited, that’s a
complete contrast, and that shows in their work, doesn’t it?
WOG: I wonder if your
suggestion of using African instruments influenced Peter in a much greater
way? He experiments with a number of African rhythms and sounds on his
JB: Possibly. It might have
influenced him a little, but Peter was inclined that way anyway. He would
think of all sorts of mad ideas. I remember putting a plastic cup over the
microphone and getting him to sing into that to try and get a very odd
sound. I don’t think we ended up using that in the end, but I have used
that with other bands. I’ve used it on drums, and it sounds a bit like
shouting down a toilet roll or a tube. I had worked with a lot of African
and Jamaican music, so I think we came up with some alternative things,
but Mike Rutherford would even come in with a cello and things. He
couldn’t play the cello, but he had ideas to get sounds out of it. Peter
would play some flute or some oboe. They were virtuoso flute, cello or
oboe players, but we would get some interesting sounds out of it and that
was what we wanted. So, they were already experimental on their own in
Speaking back on what
you asked earlier about songs that didn’t necessarily fit a Genesis album,
I also remember going into the studio early one day, and Peter was there
and he was playing piano on his own. He was playing different songs of his
own. I said, “Christ, that’s great! Let’s use it on the album!” He said,
“No, no, no… I don’t think it will work.” I think he probably wanted to
save it for himself at that point, but he had some great stuff. He played
me two or three songs, and I was like, “Fucking hell, these are really
WOG: That was during
the Selling England time frame?
JB: It must have been, because we had done all of the recording of The
Lamb in Wales in the country. All of the tracks were recorded, so
there would not have been any space for any more. So, it must have been
WOG: So, perhaps in
1973 he was already considering venturing out on a solo career…
JB: Oh, I’m sure he was. I don’t think at that stage he was contemplating
leaving Genesis at all, but obviously everybody wants to do their own solo
album, don’t they?
WOG: Tony Banks had commented to me in my
with him that while the band got along that they fought very strongly over
artistic differences. He gave an example of a time when he stormed out
during the sessions for the Nursery Cryme album over such
differences. Do you have any recollections of such things during your
years working with the band in the studio? What was the chemistry like
within the band, musically speaking?
WOG: Do you think the reason that a
few of those other producers or engineer didn’t work out was because the
whole genre of Progressive Rock was so new? Things like odd time
signatures and so on?
JB: Yes, probably that. I had worked with Jethro Tull, and there were some
odd time signatures in that, and I was on the road with them for 18-months
traveling all over America. Then, I did the Aqualung album, and I
realized that I really wanted to get back into studio work. That was a
different sound, but in the same vein as Genesis, really. I was incredibly
lucky that I landed work with such incredible musicians. I mean, Blind
Faith… I was only an assistant engineer, but just to be involved with it…
That was my education. I was educated in a fantastic way rather than
working on jingles, adverts, and rubbishy music. I was so lucky to be
working with great musicians, and I picked up on the atmosphere of these
sessions, and that was my training. I learned how to run sessions, really.
WOG: Having worked with such an array of artists, what stands out as
being among your favorite moments of working in the studio?
JB: Well, I would say Humble Pie.
It was very
early in my career, I was Tape Operator (Assistant Engineer) I remember
the blend of Steve Marriot’s raw and vibrant guitar and Peter Frampton’s
beautifully melodic playing was magic. They gelled so well
together. They would come in the studio and just work, work, work and
bugger off. It was just high energy and good fun. They didn’t hang around
the studio discussing things for hours on end unless they were eating a
bit of food or something like that. They came in, got into the music, and
enjoyed it…I certainly enjoyed it, and the session ended after eight or
ten hours or whatever. I have many fond memories of various sessions, but
that would be one of the sessions that influenced me. It was great fun, I
loved the energy of the recording… it was very ‘live’ sounding. I suppose
after being on the road with Jethro Tull for all those months, it
developed a taste for ‘live’ sounds. That’s why I didn’t get into the ‘80s
stuff. It was a bit manufactured, if you know what I mean. Lots of echo
and Duran Duran and things like that. I mean, I’d hum along to the tunes,
but I certainly wouldn’t go out and buy them. It was all a bit dead. It
was just very different from Genesis and things like that. Then, it was
computerized drum machines and all this sort of stuff, which was against
my way of wanting to record, really.
Working with Humble Pie
was when I started to get the idea of how exciting a recording session
could be, and come the 80’s this spirit was hard to find. Some 20 years
later, I met JEBO, and they’re the kind of band I like to work with – they
have the spontaneity and zeal that encouraged me to get heavily involved
in producing again.
That happens all the time with bands. It wouldn’t have worried me. You
knew they would simmer down. Obviously, you talk about it to Tony or Peter
or whoever and try to make some sense out of it. You discuss it, and the
heat cools off a bit and you get on with it. It happens with all bands.
You have a group of people with slightly different artistic temperaments
who passionately see things their own way, which is normal. Tony was such
a great musician, and I don’t know what it could have been about, but
those sorts of things you just deal with. You chat about it for a few
minutes and you get on with the album.
WOG: Occasionally, Phil Collins would post to
website. I remember one comment in particular where a fan was kind of
on his case inappropriately about one of the last Genesis records, We
Can’t Dance. The person kind of blasted him saying it was too much of
a Phil Collins record. Phil’s response, which was quite telling and pretty
funny, was something like “I’d like to see any one of you tell Tony Banks
to do something he doesn’t want to do in the studio” (laughs).
JB: Absolutely (laughs)! Tony was such a strong musician. I remember, one
time, there was a fairy odd chord on the organ on a backing track. I
recall saying, “Christ, that’s discordant!” and Tony said, “Don’t worry,
its fine. Wait until I put the piano part on top.” When he did, suddenly,
it worked beautifully. It all came into place. I thought he was amazing.
He did have some very strange chords and sequences. Until he had done all
of his parts… An overdub Moog or synth or whatever, it wouldn’t quite make
sense. Then he would put the top line on and you’d say, “Fucking hell,
WOG: During the making of the Lamb album when Peter left the group,
the other guys in the band supposedly continued working on the music of
the album. Is that the way it went?
JB: I think that’s why they took a month off. So, Peter could go look into
some film thing or something and so that there could be discussions with
management or whatever. I thought, “All of this will cool down” and it
did. It resolved itself. I didn’t get involved with that. Too many cooks
spoil the broth as it were. I mean, I was aware of it, but it wasn’t
something that worried me. I knew the album would get finished.
WOG: There was no discussion
that you were aware of about replacing him at that point?
JB: No, that was after the album. Actually, after the tour, the band rang
me and asked if I knew any singers. I thought of a couple, but I thought
that it wasn’t really going to work. Obviously, Phil was a good singer,
but he was such a good drummer, that I couldn’t imagine Genesis using a
different drummer. Phil was an absolutely amazing drummer, but drummers
doing vocals as a band… I couldn’t see that working, you see. So, I must
admit, I never suggested Phil as being front man. I couldn’t imagine it.
JEBO's Rob Allen chats with John Burns during
the making of their CD
Having recorded Phil singing lead vocals on “More Fool Me” and things like
that, did he seem reluctant to be a lead singer at that time?
JB: No, he really liked doing “More Fool Me.” He was really chuffed that I
thought it should go on the album. I knew he would, himself, come out with
some solo stuff at some point, because he was a good singer, but it was
because he was such a good drummer that I couldn’t imagine him signing and
drumming at the same time.
Obviously, they discussed it and they worked it out. That was why I
stopped working with them. As mentioned, it was kind of like a new era for
Genesis. Otherwise, I would have still been seeing him as a drummer and
backing vocalist – even though I knew he had a great voice.
WOG: There are still
some early recordings from Genesis’ career that are classified as ‘lost.’
Has the band ever approached you about helping them to locate these
JB: I don’t know about the stuff I recorded with them. I did record a live
concert at The Shrine Auditorium, which the band has. The only thing I was
able to help them with was the Shepperton Studios filming from the era of
Selling England by the Pound. I happen to keep all of my old
address books, and I happen to have the guy who filmed its old telephone
number and his name. I gave them that number, but obviously, he’d moved on
since then. It wasn’t a terribly good recording. They didn’t use a full
PA, and they had a tiny amount of an audience. It was done in a great big
hanger, like a warehouse, so it was terribly echoed. As a result,
everything had to be mic’ed up close, and it was a bit like recording in a
studio. Anyway, I didn’t even get a chance to mix it, so I really don’t
WOG: Was anything ever recorded professionally on film or video for The
Lamb Lies Down on Broadway that you are aware of?
JB: No. Not that I know of, and after I was done recording the album of
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Peter left, the band decided that
they needed a fresh start and went with a new producer and engineer. It
was totally understandable. I thought, “Fair enough.” I mean, I guess it
would have been difficult. I got along very well with Phil (Collins), but
he was going from doing backing vocals to lead vocals, and with the new
sound, I thought it was absolutely logical to make a fresh start.
WOG: One or two of the
songs on The Lamb Lies Down, like “Counting Out Time” for example,
it sounds almost like there is a full double lead vocal… A lower Phil
Collins vocal track of him singing the lead vocals for the entire song and
then a louder Peter Gabriel lead vocal track over top of that. Were there
other songs recorded that way during your tenure with Genesis?
JB: Yes, that is true of “Counting out Time.” On certain ones that worked.
That was just part of their sound at the time, I think. I thought it
worked really well. To a certain extent it was conscious, but on the other
hand, the idea sometimes might come up and we’d do it and if it worked,
we’d say “Yeah, that’s in the bag. Let’s carry on.” Remember, because we
had to work quite fast in those days, we would just do it and keep going.
Nowadays, comparatively speaking, studios are fairly cheap and successful
bands generally have their own studio, because the equipment is incredibly
cheap. So, now you can spend hours and hours on end. In those days, you
had to get time in those expensive recording studios. I don’t know what 40
pounds is in today’s market compared to 1972, but it has got to be at
least a few hundred pounds an hour. I mean, they weren’t rich then. I got
richer quicker than they did, if you know what I mean, from the royalties.
Genesis had to pay so much back to Charisma (Records), because the label
put massive amounts of money behind them, which was great… but they were
severely in debt in those days.
WOG: By the time you got to the studio, had the band already worked out
what songs that they wanted on the album(s) and how they would be
JB: Yes, generally, but there would be a certain amount of changes in the
WOG: Steve Hackett had equated bringing a song to the band for
consideration like performing in front of a panel of Russian judges when
he wrote a song outside of Genesis, but wanted to incorporate it into the
creative process of a Genesis album.
sure it was (laughs)!
WOG: Back when you were
editing “Supper’s Ready” had the band already worked out the order of the
various parts of the song?
JB: Yes. Luckily, they handled all of that together. There might have been
a couple of bits added in, but there wasn’t any changing around. They had
planned it all and they planned that it was going to have to be done in
sections. It was not something that could be done in one take.
WOG: You mentioned that you would be doing another album with JEBO in the
studio. Is that something that will be coming up in the near future or
will they be touring for a while first?
they are touring a bit, but they’ve got about five or six tracks ready for
recording. It’s a question of finance again. They are not a rich band by a
long way. Whether we do it again like we did last time where we recorded
the backing tracks in the rehearsal studio and then go to Rob’s home
studio and do overdubs there.
Or, I just got in touch with John Brunswick, who was called Rabbit. I did
massive amount of work with him in the ‘70s. He’s a keyboard player who is
working with The Who now. I guess he has been for 20 odd years. He lives
very close to me and literally in the last few days we e-mailed and he
lives in the same county. He’s a great friend of mine, and I’ve used him
as a session musician a hell of a lot, and I worked a bit on his solo
albums. I also did some work with Pete and Simon Townshend, and I’ve sent
them the JEBO CD, to see what they recon about it. It’s basically about
getting distribution though. JEBO will be on iTunes shortly (webmaster's
note: you can get JEBO on
iTunes as of August 2006).
A few people in America have bought the album. It hasn’t got one bad
review from anyone in the public. It’s just getting them to listen to the
album that is the challenge. You need to listen to it two or three times
and then you’ll listen to it and say, “Fuck, this is a good album!” It
will stick in their head. I think Genesis fans in particular will enjoy
the first JEBO album. While it doesn’t necessary sound like Genesis, it’s
in a similar style. I really think they would embrace the record. The
music is basically from the same era. It’s strongly influenced by the
music of the ‘70s.
Genesis in the early '70s (L-R):
Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford, Hackett, and Banks
JEBO's debut album
REVIEW: JEBO - SINKING WITHOUT YOU
Jebo's melodic rock debut album definitely
harkens back to another era, heavily drawing influences from a number of
great late '60s and '70s rock bands. While I certainly would not say that
it has a Genesis sound in particular, the singer has a strong Peter
Gabriel-esque vocal quality at times. Admittedly, I had no idea what to
expect when I listened to this disc, but I was genuinely and pleasantly
surprised. This is a really strong album with very few low points.
Frankly, when I was first sent the CD as part of this interview, I wasn't
to keen on including a review of a non-Genesis album. After listening to
this album several times, however, I am more than pleased to do so. I
recommend it highly. It's a very good album. You will not be disappointed.
WOG: Have you kept in
any contact with the guys from Genesis since the 1970s? What were your
relationships like with the band members at that time?
JB: I haven’t talked to Phil in about 18 years now. Peter lives in the
same part of the country that I do. I live about three quarters of an hour
from his home studio, so I’ve had more contact with him. I think I got
along the strongest with Phil and Peter, although I had a good
understanding and relationship with Tony Banks, as well. With Tony, when
he had to do an intro or something on the piano that was just him on his
own, maybe a classical type piece that would serve as an intro to a song
like “Firth of Fifth.” I would put four or five mics around a grand piano,
and I’d say “just run thought it and I will check the sound out.” He’d
know that I was recording it, and I knew that he would play his best. The
first take is generally always the best, because you’re not thinking about
it too much. That worked through three albums that way… amazing (laughs)!
WOG: Is Tony’s piano intro on “Firth of Fifth” all from one take?
JB: I believe it was a single take, but I would have to listen to it
again. The acoustical guitar and piano number on Selling England
was all double track. I just wanted to make it different. Afterwards, I
wasn’t sure if it sounded all that good to be completely honest, but in
fact a hell of a lot of people really like it, so there you have it!
On another note, I am convinced that we did Selling England by the
Pound before the Genesis Live album, even though the live album
came out first. When we were finalizing the Selling England album
in the studio, we were asked to do a live album. So, I wrote out the track
sheet of what instrumentation that they used on stage while in the studio.
I was saying, “Well, we’ve only got 16-tracks to record you guys. How are
we going to do it?” That’s why I have the track sheet with “More Fool Me”
and “Cinema Show” or something like that.
WOG: That’s really
interesting, because that contradicts the previously stated dates that the
live material allegedly comes from. There has also been some question
about where that album was actually recorded in recent years. Are you able
to confirm that?
JB: I am
certain that it was recorded at the Rainbow, but it was 30 years ago. I
just don’t remember traveling up to
De Montfort Hall in
Leicester or The Free Trade Hall in Manchester. I don’t remember
traveling there with them, and I certainly didn’t go to Manchester or
Leicester on my
own! I just remember using the Rolling Stones’ mobile, and I am sure it was
at the Rainbow. I’m convinced it was, but I don’t have a copy of it.
WOG: Was there a lot of overdubbing on Genesis Live?
JB: Very little. On “Musical Box,” I think, there was absolutely no
overdubbing. It was basically as they were. I think they wanted to get
that album out quite quickly, so that they could get back out on the road.
I’m convinced that Selling England was recorded before the Live
JOHN BURNS ALBUMS:
Blind Faith - Blind Faith (1969)
Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Rich Grech! Includes: "Can't Find
My Way Home", and more. This is the Definitive Edition with a bonus disc
here to buy it!
Genesis - Foxtrot (1972)
Classic Genesis! Includes: "Supper's
of The Skies", "Horizons",
"Get 'Em Out By Friday" and more.
here to buy it!
Jethro Tull - Living In The Past (1972)
Includes Tull favorites like "locomotive Breath", "Song for Jeffrey",
"Love Story" and much more.
here to buy it!
Genesis - Live (1972)
Genesis captured live on the Foxtrot tour...or was it? Includes: "Watcher
of the Skies", "The Knife", "The Musical Box" and more.
here to buy it!
Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)
Incredible double album! Includes: the title track, "In The Cage",
"Counting Out Time", "It" and more.
here to buy it!
Special Thanks to John Burns for granting
This interview is © 2006 David Negrin and may not be reproduced in whole
or in part without permission. For more information on John Burns, please
his official website.
For more information on JEBO, please visit
their official website.
For more information on Lisa Doby, please visit
her official website.
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