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Glenn Snoddy, 96, Accidental Inventor of the Fuzz Tone, Dies

Glenn Snoddy, 96, Accidental Inventor of the Fuzz Tone, Dies


Glenn Snoddy, the studio engineer who was at the controls for the historic Nashville recording session that inadvertently produced the sound that became known as the fuzz tone, died on Monday at his home in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He was 96.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Dianne Mayo.

Though typically associated with ’60s rock — and maybe most famously with Keith Richards’s fat, buzzing guitar riff on the Rolling Stones’ 1965 hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” — the fuzz tone emerged from the studio session that produced the country singer Marty Robbins’s otherwise euphonious 1961 single “Don’t Worry.”

A malfunction in the console through which the playing of the electric bass guitarist Grady Martin was being transmitted caused the original fuzz-tone effect, Mr. Snoddy said in a video made by the National Association of Music Merchants in 2014.

The low, reverberant sound produced by Mr. Martin’s bass on “Don’t Worry,” which reached the country Top 10, was reminiscent of a rumbling car muffler.

Overriding the objections of Mr. Martin, who felt that another take was needed to fix what he considered an unwelcome sonic intrusion, Mr. Snoddy and Don Law, the session’s producer, believed they had a unique sound on their hands and decided to leave their putatively flawed recording intact.

Their instincts paid off, especially after Mr. Snoddy designed a device that could reproduce a fuzz tone on demand.

“It was several weeks, or maybe months, later that the industry picked up on this and they had fuzz tones all over the place,” Mr. Snoddy said in the 2014 video.

The resulting piece of equipment — a preamp commonly known as a fuzz box that was sold by the Gibson guitar company, for which Mr. Snoddy received royalties — allowed guitarists to change the tone of their instrument from clean to dirty with the tap of a foot pedal.

Before long the fuzz tone had become a hallmark of ’60s guitar rock, especially among its more psychedelic exponents, like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. Loud and arresting, the fuzz tone was well suited to expressions of rock’s more disruptive and rebellious impulses.

Even without his association with the fuzz tone, Mr. Snoddy’s career as a recording engineer, including his work on landmark recordings by Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, would have secured his place as a shaper of the Nashville Sound of the 1950s and ’60s.

His efforts to start a Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy, for which he served as branch president in 1973 and 1974, likewise secured his place in the music industry at large.

Glenn Thomas Snoddy was born on May 4, 1922, in Shelbyville, Tenn., one of two sons of Julius and Gaynelle (Searcy) Snoddy. His mother was a homemaker, and his father, who died when Glenn was 12, worked as a postal carrier and served as the song leader at his local church.

Mr. Snoddy learned to play trombone and piano at an early age but ultimately pursued a career as a recording engineer after being introduced to radio technology while serving in the Army during World War II.

Upon returning home after the war, he worked as an audio engineer at radio stations in Tennessee before taking a job at WSM, where he began engineering broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry, as well as swing bands and gospel revues, in 1955.

In 1960 Mr. Snoddy became an engineer at the producer Owen Bradley’s famous Quonset Hut studio, where he created the first stereo recording console in Nashville and worked on projects featuring artists like Flatt & Scruggs and Ray Price. He also hired a scuffling young Kris Kristofferson to work as the studio’s custodian.

In 1967 Mr. Snoddy opened Woodland Sound in a refurbished movie theater in the Five Points neighborhood of East Nashville. He quickly established it as one of the city’s premier recording studios. By the time he retired, in 1990, Woodland had become the site of some well-known recordings, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a 1972 release with multigenerational guest stars, and projects by Tammy Wynette, Neil Young and the blues singer Slim Harpo.

The progressive rock band Kansas recorded its 1978 hit “Dust in the Wind” at Woodland Sound as well.

In addition to his daughter Diane, Mr. Snoddy is survived by another daughter, Glenda Keller; a son, James; four grandsons; and a great-granddaughter. His wife of 69 years, Sara Francis (Fite) Snoddy, died last year.

In 2016, more than a half-century after the fact, Mr. Snoddy reflected with droll amusement on the incident that inspired the creation of the fuzz box.

“We thought there was something wrong,” he said in an interview with The Daily News Journal, of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

“And something was wrong,” he went on. “The transformer in the amplifier blew up!”



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