If we were to create a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon list for Jimmy Ryan, it would probably include everyone on planet Earth. This musician, arranger, and producer has been associated with some truly great recording artists, including Carly Simon. In fact, Simon’s galactic hit “You’re So Vain” features one of the most memorable guitar solos in 1970s pop music—courtesy of Jimmy Ryan. In his first crossover into the world of literature, Behind: Autobiography of a Musical Shapeshifter, Ryan reveals a wealth of tales never told from his long, six-decade career in the industry.
Beginning with his tenure on Kapp Records with the Critters (whose hits include “Younger Girl” and “Mr. Dieingly Sad”) and touring with the insanely entertaining Arthur Brown (“I am the god of hellfire! / and I bring you / Fire . . .”), Ryan recounts his work on tours, concerts, and recordings with artists such as Jim Croce, Jimmy Webb, Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Kiki Dee. And, of course, Carly Simon. Along the way, we discover Ryan’s many attempts to form or participate in original bands or to go solo—all of which were consistently and weirdly intercepted by other musical opportunities.
Behind includes so many fantastic Carly Simon anecdotes that Ryan could have written a separate biography about the superstar. In fact, there are more entertaining stories involving the daughter of Richard Simon of Simon & Schuster in this book than have been revealed elsewhere to date. For Carly fans, this book is a must-read. For instance, readers discover that “Anticipation” was written about Cat Stevens. One evening when Simon was dating Stevens, she had prepared a special dinner for him. He ended up being incredibly late, and while waiting impatiently, she composed the classic song.
There are a handful of fascinating tell-alls included, such as James Taylor falling asleep on Simon’s dressing room floor during her concert at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. His girlfriend at the time, Joni Mitchell, was unamused. There are tales of tours with crazy nights off spent at Playboy mansions, background vocal sessions with Bonnie Bramlett, Doris Troy, and Paul McCartney; awkward and fateful encounters with celebrities, including Warren Beatty; and tons of explanatory bridges between private and publicly known life events that Simon fans have been scratching their heads over for years.
Going beyond its many star-studded behind-the-scenes stories, the book also includes some of Ryan’s admittedly regrettable career choices. For example, Ryan recalls a foot-in-mouth moment with the Who’s late bassist, John Entwistle, while recording the rocker’s Mad Dog album. Apparently, Entwistle gave Ryan and his wife tickets to a Who concert, but the couple hit the exit when the band launched into material from Quadrophenia, Ryan’s least favorite Who album. Afterward, while flattering Entwistle about the show, Ryan unfortunately added, “And I noticed Townsend didn’t break his guitar.” Entwistle growled back, “. . . course he did.” This was Ryan’s last musical adventure with the rock icon. Happily, years later, in 2000, they had a chance encounter at NYC’s Manny’s Music Store and hung out together like nothing ever happened.
Behind also documents the writer’s unfortunate split with Cat Stevens after turning down his request to back him on his platinum-selling Buddha and the Chocolate Box tour. Ryan was one of the more high-profile musicians on the album.
But as important as the Buddha sessions were to him, Ryan was also burned out from almost nonstop travel for international recording sessions, so he respectfully passed on the tour. From the author’s perspective, it was a missed opportunity, although the tour turned out to be lackluster and unfulfilling for the musicians involved. Perhaps it was more of a dodged bullet than a lost chance
Behind takes the opportunity to describe a musician’s positive journey, one that has always been ahead of the curve. It includes Ryan’s stints as a musician, producer, arranger, Broadway actor, TM teacher, TV and film composer, and now, a gifted storyteller. While the world of entertainment is often filled with knife-drawn competition and abhorrent behavior, the book takes a refreshing turn from the adversarial norm. Its sub-premise—backing others creatively so everyone enjoys themselves—is admirable. Anyone who has even a passing interest in music and enjoys well-told, often hilarious, sometimes cringeworthy stories about famous people will thoroughly enjoy Behind.
Read more about Jimmy Ryan’s long career in the music industry in this Interview with Mike Ragogna.