At Hotel2Tango Studio in Montreal (left) with Howard Bilerman (right)
May 14, 1932 |
Hillsboro, Texas, United States
|Genres||Rock, folk, folk rock, blues, country, gospel|
|Associated acts||Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel|
Johnston was born into a professional musical family. His grandmother Mamie Jo Adams was a songwriter, as was his mother Diane Johnston. Diane had written songs for Gene Autry in the '50s and scored a hit in 1976 when Asleep at the Wheel covered her 1950 demo "Miles and Miles of Texas". After a stint in the Navy, Bob returned to Fort Worth, then he and Diane Johnston collaborated on songwriting for rockabilly artist Mac Curtis, and others. From 1956 to 1961 Bob recorded a few rockabilly singles under the name Don Johnston. By 1964 he had moved into production work at Kapp Records in New York, freelance arranging for Dot Records and signed as a songwriter to music publisher Hill and Range. He also married songwriter Joy Byers with whom he began to collaborate.
Elvis and Joy Byers
In recent years Bob Johnston has claimed that songs still credited to his wife Joy Byers were actually co-written, or solely written by himself. He has cited old "contractual reasons" for this situation. The songs in question include Timi Yuro's 1962 hit "What's A Matter Baby", plus at least 16 songs for Elvis Presley's films between 1964 and 1968, including "It Hurts Me", "Let Yourself Go" and "Stop, Look and Listen". Two songs credited to Byers, the aforementioned "Stop, Look and Listen" and "Yeah, She's Evil!" were recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets before being used by Elvis (the latter song was retitled "The Meanest Girl in Town" when Presley recorded it). Elvis Presley recorded "The Meanest Girl in Town" on June 10, 1964, while Bill Haley recorded his version a week later, on June 16, 1964.
Columbia, Dylan, Cash, Cohen
Johnston worked briefly as a staff producer for Kapp Records, then for Columbia Records in New York, where he began producing a string of notable and highly influential albums (see list below). He was already producing Patti Page when in 1965 he was successful in gaining the assignment to produce Bob Dylan, followed by Simon and Garfunkel, The Pozo-Seco Singers, Johnny Cash, Flatt & Scruggs, and then Leonard Cohen. His style of production varied from a 'documentary' approach capturing a fleeting moment (exemplified by Dylan's albums and Cash's live albums) to providing subtle arrangements with strings, background vocals and seasoned session musicians (exemplified by Cohen's studio albums).
After a couple of years in New York, Johnston became head of Columbia in Nashville, Tennessee, where he had known many of the session musicians, such as Charlie Daniels, for years. He produced three of Cohen's albums, toured with him and also composed music to the Cohen lyric "Come Spend the Morning", recorded by both Lee Hazlewood and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Dissatisfied with his salary earnings as a Columbia staff producer, particularly after several hit albums which earned him no royalties, Johnston became an independent producer, most successfully with Lindisfarne on Fog on the Tyne, which topped the British album chart in 1972.
In 1978 he produced Jimmy Cliff's Give Thankx album, featuring "Bongo Man". In 1979, Johnston produced an album with the San Francisco band Reggae Jackson, titled Smash Hits that featured Jimmy Foot, Cheryl Lynn, Kenneth Nash, and Wayne Bidgell (the low voice heard on Jimmy Cliff's "Bongo Man" track).
In 1985, Johnston produced an album Walking In The Shadow by the San Francisco band The Rhyth-O-Matics, for engineer Fred Catero's newly formed Catero label. Billboard magazine's "Pop Pick of The Week", the album's release was plagued with distribution difficulties.
During a period of financial difficulty, when he was under scrutiny from the IRS, Johnston moved to Austin, Texas and did no record production for some time. He eventually returned with work on Willie Nelson's 1992 album The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? (Nelson had his own financial difficulties at the time).
In the late 1980s Johnston produced Carl Perkins' album Go Cat Go which featured numerous guest stars including Paul Simon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as unreleased recordings of Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" by John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. This album's release was delayed until 1996..
In more recent years Johnston has returned to working with fresh talent including singer-songwriters Natalie Pinkis (USA), Eron Falbo (Brazil) and indie rock band Friday's Child (USA). Falbo's album 73 was released in 2013.
Selective discography as producer
- Patti Page: "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" US #8 (1965)
- Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (with the exception of "Like a Rolling Stone") (1965), Blonde on Blonde (1966), John Wesley Harding (1967), Nashville Skyline (1969), Self Portrait (1970), New Morning (1970)
- Simon and Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence (1966), Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966)
- Marty Robbins: Tonight Carmen (1967), Christmas with marty Robbins (1967), By the time I get to Phoenix (1968), I Walk Alon (1968), It's A Sin (1969), Today (1971), No Signs of Loneliness Here (1975)
- Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (1968); The Holy Land (1969); At San Quentin (1969); Hello, I'm Johnny Cash (1970); The Johnny Cash Show (1970); I Walk the Line (1970); Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1971)
- Burl Ives: The Times They Are A-Changin' (1968)
- Leonard Cohen: Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971), Live Songs (1973)
- The Byrds: Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (1969)
- Lindisfarne: Fog on the Tyne (1972), Dingly Dell (1972)
- Michael Murphey: Geronimo's Cadillac (1973), Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir (1973), Michael Murphey (1973), Blue Sky - Night Thunder (1975), Swans Against the Sun (1976)
- Hoyt Axton: Less Than the Song (1973), Road Songs (1977)
- Pete Seeger: Rainbow Race (1973), Link in the Chain (1996)
- Loudon Wainwright III: Attempted Mustache (1973)
- New Riders of the Purple Sage: Oh, What a Mighty Time (1975)
- Alvin Lee: Rocket Fuel (1978)
- Jimmy Cliff: Give Thankx (1978)
- Joe Ely: Down on the Drag (1979)
- John Mayall: Bottom Line (1979)
- The Waterboys: Fisherman's Blues (1988) (produced one track only)
- Willie Nelson: The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? (1992)
- Carl Perkins: Go Cat Go (1996)
- Eron Falbo: 73 (2013)
- Evans, Rush (8 February 2011). "Dylan producer, Bob Johnston, recalls lifetime of musical memories". Gold Mine Mag. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- Black, Louis (30 September 2005). "Momentum and the Mountainside Sound". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- Hilburn, Robert (2013). Johnny Cash: The Life. Hachette Digital Inc. ISBN 9780316248693.
- Simmons, Sylvie (2012). I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. Random House LLC. ISBN 9780771080425.
- Elvis Presley: The Originals.
- Bob Johnston interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969).
- Kingsbury, Paul (1998). The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music. Oxford University Press. p. 297. ISBN 9780199770557.
- "Engelbert Humperdinck – Come Spend the Morning". AllMusic. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- Black, Louis. "A Work in Progress". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
- "Breedlove Presents Bob Johnston at Festival". Cascade Business News. 7 July 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- Nelson, Paul (31 May 1969). "Nashville Skyline". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- Bob Johnston Official site
- Mix Online 2003 interview with Bob Johnston
- On The Tracks interview with Bob Johnston
- Johnston's early rockabilly
- Page with samples on Don Johnston's rockabilly singles