Bob Johnston – who produced albums for Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash – has died aged 83.
According to a report in The Tennessean, he died on Friday, August 21.
Johnston was born on May 14, 1932 in Hillsboro, Texas. After trying his hand at songwriting – including composing numbers for Elvis Presley movies – he took a job at Columbia Records in New York.
One of his first production credits was Patti Page’s “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte,” which became a Top 10 hit in 1964.
He began working with Dylan in 1965, on Highway 61 Revisited.
Speaking to Uncut’s February 2014 issue [Take 202] Johnson recalled, “When I first went in there for Highway 61. I found a piece of paper on the floor. I said to Dylan, ‘What’s this?’ and he said. ‘It’s something Al Kooper wrote down, it’s overdubs.’ I said, ‘If you keep doing that there won’t be anything left.’ ‘I’m gonna cut live. If we have to overdub, we’ll overdub. But not because Al Kooper wants 14 chances to be a little better.’”
Writing about Johnston in Chronicles Volume 1, Dylan said, “You could see it in his face and he shared that fire, that spirit. Columbia’s leading folk and country producer, he was born one hundred years too late. He should have been wearing a wide cape, a plumed hat, and riding with his sword held high.”
The following year, the pair worked together again on Blonde On Blonde.
They collaborated again on four more albums – 1967’s John Wesley Harding, 1969’s Nashville Skyline, 1970’s Self Portrait and New Morning.
During this period, Johnston also worked with Johnny Cash, producing both of his live prison albums – 1968’s At Folsom Prison and 1969’s At San Quentin.
Among his other production credits during this period were Simon & Garfunkel‘s 1966’s album Sounds Of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, produced Leonard Cohen‘s Songs From A Room (1969) and 1971’s Songs Of Love And Hate.
He also produced The Byrds‘ Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (1969) and Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Race (1973).
Although Johnston’s work was principally with American musicians, he did accept an unusual commission to record in England in 1972.
“Guy stood on the front steps of my house in Nashville on a Sunday night,” he told Uncut. “Tells me he’s got a group in England who he wants me to record. He says to me, ‘I have a castle in Crowborough. If you record the group, and get them to 99 on the charts, you can come and live in the castle for a month’…
“I said, ‘Can I really? What will you give me if I get them a number one?’ He said, ‘You can stay there a year.’ So I went over to England and recorded Lindisfarne for Fog On The Tyne…”
He continued working through the Eighties and 1990s, during which time he produced albums for Willie Nelson and Carl Perkins.
In an email sent to Uncut by Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black, who also published an online biography of the producer, Johnson had been in a memory facility in Nashville and in hospice for much of the past week before being confined to a bed.
“For several days before, singing, swaying and waving around his hands, telling stories out loud, entertaining and consuming all those that saw and heard him. Once he was confined to bed and connected to machines, hospice only gave him a few days to live.
“He was on morphine to help any pain he was experiencing. Bob’s wife told me he pass[ed] away peacefully. The grand master waved his magical wand for the last time, then disappeared off into the night.”
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