Bob Johnston

Donald William 'Bob' Johnston (May 14, 1932 – August 14, 2015) was an American record producer, best known for his work with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and Simon & Garfunkel.[1][2]

Bob Johnston
Bob Johnston
At Hotel2Tango Studio in Montreal (left) with Howard Bilerman (right)
Background information
BornMay 14, 1932
Hillsboro, Texas, US
DiedAugust 14, 2015 (aged 83)
Nashville, Tennessee, US
GenresRock, folk, folk rock, blues, country, gospel
Occupation(s)record producer
Associated actsBob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel

Early days

Johnston was born into a professional musical family. His grandmother Mamie Jo Adams was a songwriter, as was his mother Diane Johnston.[1] 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.[3] 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.[4]

Elvis and Joy Byers

In later years Bob Johnston claimed that songs still credited to his wife Joy Byers were actually co-written, or solely written by himself.[4] 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 (the latter song was titled "The Meanest Girl in Town" when Presley recorded it). Presley recorded "The Meanest Girl in Town" on June 10, 1964, while Bill Haley recorded his version a week later, on June 16, 1964.[5]

Columbia Records: Dylan, Cash, and 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,[2][6] followed by Simon & Garfunkel,[2] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Bob Johnston was very sophisticated. His hospitality was extremely refined. It wasn't just a matter of turning on the machines. He created an atmosphere in the studio that really invited you to do your best, stretch out, do another take, an atmosphere that was free from judgment, free from criticism, full of invitation, full of affirmation. Just the way he'd move while you were singing: He'd dance for you. So, it wasn't all just as laissezfaire as that. Just as art is the concealment of art, laissezfaire is the concealment of tremendous generosity that he was sponsoring in the studio.

— Leonard Cohen quoted in The Stranger Music of Leonard Cohen by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine

At the beginning of "To Be Alone with You" on Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan asks Johnston "Is it rolling, Bob?"[9]

Independent producer

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 1972 he toured with Leonard Cohen as a keyboard player, and produced the resulting live album Live Songs.

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 mid 1990s, 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.

Towards the end of his life Johnston returned to working with fresh talent including singer-songwriters Natalie Pinkis (USA), Eron Falbo (Brazil)[10] and indie rock band Friday's Child (USA).[11] Falbo's album 73 was released in 2013.


Johnston was in a memory facility and a hospice in Nashville for the last week of his life before dying on August 14, 2015.[12] His wife Joyce Johnston (nee Byers) died in May 2017.

Selective discography as producer


  1. ^ a b Evans, Rush (February 8, 2011). "Dylan producer, Bob Johnston, recalls lifetime of musical memories". Gold Mine Mag. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Black, Louis (September 30, 2005). "Momentum and the Mountainside Sound". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  3. ^ Hilburn, Robert (2013). Johnny Cash: The Life. Hachette Digital Inc. ISBN 9780316248693.
  4. ^ a b Simmons, Sylvie (2012). I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. Random House LLC. ISBN 9780771080425.
  5. ^ Elvis Presley: The Originals.
  6. ^ Bob Johnston interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  7. ^ Kingsbury, Paul (1998). The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music. Oxford University Press. p. 297. ISBN 9780199770557.
  8. ^ "Engelbert Humperdinck – Come Spend the Morning". AllMusic. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  9. ^ Nelson, Paul (May 31, 1969). "Nashville Skyline". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  10. ^ "Breedlove Presents Bob Johnston at Festival". Cascade Business News. July 7, 2011. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  11. ^ [1] Archived March 31, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Bob Johnston, producer for Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash & more, dies at 83". Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  13. ^

Further reading

External links


"Blistered" is a song recorded by American country music artist Johnny Cash. It was released in October 1969 as the first single from his album Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. The song peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. It also reached number 1 on the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada. The song was written by Billy Ed Wheeler.

"Blistered" was also featured as an album track on "And Then Along Comes...The Association" (Valiant Records, June, 1966). This version featured Russ Giguere on vocals and had a quick-tempo rock and roll sound.

Blues (Bob Dylan album)

Blues is a single-disc compilation album by Bob Dylan, released on June 27, 2006 and distributed exclusively by Barnes & Noble. By November 2011 it also became available to members of the Jazz Heritage Society through their Review, Release # 564.

Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits

Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits is the first compilation album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on March 27, 1967 on Columbia Records, original catalogue number KCS 9463. It contains every Top 40 single Dylan enjoyed through 1967. It peaked at  No. 10 on the pop album chart in the United States, and went to  No. 3 on the album chart in the United Kingdom. Certified five times platinum by the RIAA, it is his best-selling album in the U.S.

Dylan (1973 album)

Dylan is the 13th studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on November 19, 1973 by Columbia Records. The album was compiled and issued by the label with no input from Dylan himself. The album followed the artist's departure from Columbia for Asylum Records, and the announcement of his first major tour since 1966. In Europe the album was released under the title A Fool Such as I. The Dylan album has caused some dispute between fans; regarding whether the release is deemed a studio album or compilation. Its category was clarified when it was included in the Complete Album Collection boxset, which only featured studio and concert albums, aside from the boxset exclusive, Side Tracks.

Flesh and Blood (song)

"Flesh and Blood" is a 1970 single written and recorded by Johnny Cash and was featured in the film, I Walk the Line starring Gregory Peck (see: soundtrack album I Walk the Line). The song went to number one on the U.S. country singles chart for one week, spending a total of thirteen weeks on the chart.

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (Johnny Cash album)

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 is, as the title implies, a greatest hits compilation by country singer Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records in 1971 (see 1971 in music). It combines older songs from Cash's years with Sun Records ("Hey Porter" and "Folsom Prison Blues", among others) with more recent hits, such as "A Boy Named Sue" from Cash's At San Quentin album and the Kris Kristofferson-penned "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down". "Big River", one of the songs from the Sun years, was released as a single. The album was certified Gold on 1/25/1977 and Platinum on 2/16/1995 by the R.I.A.A.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash is the 33rd album by American country singer Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records in 1970 (see 1970 in music). "If I Were a Carpenter", a famous duet with Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, earned the couple a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1971 (see Grammy Awards of 1971); the song also reached No. 2 on the Country charts. This album also includes "To Beat the Devil", the first Kris Kristofferson song covered by Cash; the two would later collaborate numerous times, most famously on "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down". "See Ruby Fall" and "Blistered" were also released as singles, and the album itself reached No. 1 on the country charts and No. 6 on the pop charts. It was certified Gold on 1/29/1970 by the R.I.A.A. The album has been released on CD (Sony Music, Original Album Classics, along with The Johnny Cash Show and Man In Black) and it has been made available on official download sites. This album is not to be confused with a best-of cd that has the same name.

Homeward Bound (song)

"Homeward Bound" is a song by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel written by Paul Simon and produced by Bob Johnston. The song was released as a single on January 19, 1966 by Columbia Records.

The song appears on the duo's third studio album, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966), although it was recorded during the sessions for their second album Sounds of Silence and included on that album in the UK. It was their second single, the follow-up to their enormously successful breakthrough hit "The Sound of Silence". It performed very well domestically, peaking at number five on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the charts for 12 weeks. Internationally, the song performed best in Canada, where it hit number two; it was also a top five hit in the Netherlands.

A live version of the song is included on the compilation Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits, and it was also performed during the duo's legendary 1981 reunion, The Concert in Central Park.

I Walk the Line (soundtrack album)

Not to be confused with Walk the Line (soundtrack) or I Walk the Line (1964 album)I Walk the Line is a soundtrack album to a 1970 film of the same name starring Gregory Peck. Released that same year on Columbia Records, it is, in essence, a country album by Johnny Cash (his 36th), as the entire soundtrack is composed solely of Cash songs, including a rearranged version of the famous title song. Also included is "Flesh and Blood", a ballad written by Cash which reached the top of the Country charts.

The album is released on CD in 1999 backed with the soundtrack Little Fauss and Big Halsy [Bear Family Records 4000127161307]. The Bear Family release features an alternate longer version of the title song.

Little Fauss and Big Halsy (soundtrack)

Little Fauss and Big Halsy is a soundtrack album to the 1970 film of the same name. Released on Columbia Records in 1971, it features primarily songs by country singer Johnny Cash (and is his 37th overall album). The album includes tracks written by Cash, Carl Perkins and Bob Dylan, as well as several tracks performed by Perkins, but did not chart.

Masterpieces (Bob Dylan album)

Masterpieces is a compilation album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on March 12, 1978 by CBS. The triple LP set was released in Japan, Australia and New Zealand in anticipation of his 1978 tour. Primarily a greatest hits collection spanning Dylan's career up to that point, the album features one previously unreleased track, a unique (1962) outtake version of "Mixed-Up Confusion". It also includes a live performance of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" from Dylan's 1966 World Tour, which was first released as the B-side of his "I Want You" single in 1966. Masterpieces was reissued on CD in 1991 by Columbia (Cat. No. 4624489), but is no longer in print.

Nashville Skyline

Nashville Skyline is the ninth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on April 9, 1969, by Columbia Records as LP record, reel to reel tape and audio cassette.

Building on the rustic style he experimented with on John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline displayed a complete immersion into country music. Along with the more basic lyrical themes, simple songwriting structures, and charming domestic feel, it introduced audiences to a radically new singing voice from Dylan, who had temporarily quit smoking—a soft, affected country croon.

The result received a generally positive reaction from critics, and was a commercial success. Reaching  No.  3 in the U.S., the album also scored Dylan his fourth UK No. 1 album.

Soul Sister (Aretha Franklin album)

Soul Sister is the eighth studio album by American singer Aretha Franklin, released in 1966 by Columbia Records.

Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down

"Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" is a song written by Kris Kristofferson that was recorded in 1969 by Ray Stevens before becoming a number one hit on the Billboard US Country charts for Johnny Cash.

The Best of Bob Dylan

The Best of Bob Dylan is a single-disc compilation album containing songs by Bob Dylan, released on November 15, 2005.

The Best of Bob Dylan is available in a digipak format, in an attempt to imitate a vinyl record. The album has liner notes written by Bill Flanagan, with commentary on each of the album's tracks.

The Best of Bob Dylan, Vol. 2

The Best of Bob Dylan, Vol. 2 is a compilation album released in the U.K., New Zealand, Australia and Canada on November 28, 2000. It is the sequel to The Best of Bob Dylan, Vol. 1, released 3 years earlier in 1997. It was later released in Europe and Japan; although it has never been released in the United States.

The Best of Bob Dylan (1997 album)

The Best of Bob Dylan is a compilation album released in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Canada on 2 June 1997. It was later released in Europe and Japan; although it has never been released in the United States.

The Holy Land (album)

The Holy Land is a concept album, the third gospel album and 30th overall album by country singer Johnny Cash, released on Columbia Records in 1969. He recorded the album inspired by a visit to Israel (the Holy Land of the title) with his wife, June Carter Cash and in fact most of the album consists of on-site recordings made by Cash using a portable tape recorder during a visit describing what he sees as he visits holy sites in and around Jerusalem. The remainder of the album consists of gospel songs. All but three of the songs were written by Cash, though the sole single, "Daddy Sang Bass", which reached #1 on the Country charts and remained that spot for six weeks, was penned by Carl Perkins.

The cover has a picture of Cash standing in front of the chapel on top of the Mount of the Beatitudes, immediately north of the Sea of Galilee. Some versions of the album had a 3-D picture on the cover.

This album features the final Cash recordings made with original Tennessee Two lead guitarist Luther Perkins before Perkins' death.

The album has been released on CD through Harmony Records in 1999 and later by Columbia as part of the Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection box set in 2012.

The concept of Cash visiting Biblical locations and combining storytelling with music would be revisited twice more in his career for the 1973 soundtrack album The Gospel Road and the 2000 release Return to the Promised Land.

The Johnny Cash Show (album)

The Johnny Cash Show is the 35th overall album and live album by country singer Johnny Cash, recorded at the Grand Ole Opry and released on Columbia Records in 1970 as a tie-in with Cash's then-current TV series of the same title. Though one of Cash's lesser-known live records, it spawned the highly successful single "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", which helped kickstart the career of singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson. The song and album reached No. 1 on the Country charts. The

album was certified Gold on 2/16/1995 by the RIAA.

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