R.I.P. Columbia Records Producer Bob Johnston
Published Aug 17, 2015Renowned for a lifetime of work that included classic albums from the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash, record producer Bob Johnston passed away over the weekend at a hospice care facility in Nashville. He was 83.
Johnston worked for Columbia Records in New York during the '60s, producing records like Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde and Nashville Skyline.
Johnston also worked with Simon & Garfunkel (Sounds of Silence; Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme), Leonard Cohen (Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate) and Johnny Cash (The Holy Land; Hello, I'm Johnny Cash; I Walk the Line).
Johnston was often praised for his ability to capture spontaneous moments to tape. At the start of the Nashville Skyline's "To Be Alone with You," Johnston caught Dylan asking, "Is it rolling, Bob?" That knack proved useful again on live albums like Cash's At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin, as well as on Cohen's Live Songs.
Despite claims from Johnston himself that all he did was "turn the tapes on," the artists he worked with didn't see it that way.
"Bob Johnston was very sophisticated," Cohen said [via The Guardian]. "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 laissez faire as that. Just as art is the concealment of art, laissez faire is the concealment of tremendous generosity that he was sponsoring in the studio."
Following his years in New York, Johnston became the head of Columbia Records in Nashville, but left the company in the early '70s to work as an independent producer. The last record he helmed was Eron Falbo's 2013 effort 73.