It was odd looking at the NY times online and seeing this article:
You might not recognize the name, bob Johnston, but I guarantee you have heard some of the music he produced. I never knew who bob was until 15 years ago, when I was furiously working in Café Trieste (i think it is called a-taste-of-rome these days) in Sausalito each evening on the computer. I was not part of the local group, yet, I wasn’t a tourist either. It was a place I could go for dinner each night and over time, the man behind the counter, “Larry” asked me what I was working on.
“Oh a new show idea, it takes and implodes the audience with audio and visual like nothing I have ever seen before, plus it can tour and be moved.”
“You need to meet Nashville Bob.”
“Bob Johnston. They used to call him Mr. Nashville at one time.”
“I am sorry, but I never heard of him.”
“Ever hear of bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen…”
This is how my life works, many times you just show up to life and things happen, I was in Sausalito, in a house rented with a guy that was supposed to partner up on the audio systems that wanted to play, while his other company was sold to a defense contractor, probably fronted by the NSA for his “little brother” video surveillance technology. At that time we had a whole lot of cool equipment in the house, yet, only a crappy baud modem to dial out, yet an oc-12 network inside the house. Then, I meet some guy in a cafe, taking my nightly pizza order, who actually was an A&R guy for Atlantic Records back the day, when we were talking about a house built on top of a mountain I saw inGstaad, Switzerland that I wondered what it was like. Larry opened his wallet andhe had a picture of himself in it.
"it was owned by a family that owned an airline." he smiled.
"what on earth are you doing here?" was my question.
he went on to explain the tale of flying high, and then not so high, and from that moment, we bonded and the portion sized got to be "local" and not tourist.
“You need to call bob, he would be interested in this.” And he writes bobs telephone number on the page of a restaurant order pad.
Yeah, I did call bob and the phone was answered by a man with a southern/texas drawl of sorts asking, “Who the hell are you. How did you get this number?”
“Larry in Sausalito said to call you and get a meeting.”
“Who the hell is Larry?”
“He said to tell you he was an A & R guy for Atlantic Records.”
“Well, when you coming, Atlantic wasn't that bad of a label. Call me when you get to town.”
So that is how I met Bob Johnston, had a meeting, explained the technology and how it could be used for a live show. The man was older at the time, yet, in the middle of his Hot dog at the Noshville Diner (all he wanted to eat was a hot dog) he says, “I have this great song for a rock band, and I just don’t know who to give it to.” And this old man breaks into singing the song as if he was a 20-year-old lead singer of a rock band.
I quietly shut my mouth and kept eating and started listening.
Many people in Nashville came up to greet him, they all knew who he was. I just found him a peculiar old man, who loved hot dogs. Then he asked, “Can we get this stuff to do a show for the Beatles?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The Beatles (sans john Lennon) are thinking about getting back together, this would be a great way to kick off their tour, just the opening few shows, you can show off what it does, and it will make the reunion start really special."
I didn’t know if the man was serious, senile, or full of it, But based on him singing that rock song, and a resume of artist…I was wise enough to take him seriously.
Sadly, George Harrison got sick and that reunion tour never made it. But I did have more talks and meetings with bob Johnston – he told me of the old Nashville, how record companies created artists and records, and how he loved to be Leonard Cohen’s bandleader on tour.
“That was some of the best times of my life. God, I loved going out with him on tour.”
Wow…I wasn’t expecting to read the man had passed on, much less, me ramble on about him. Those that worked with him, probably have a lot more interesting tales to talk about, as Nashville bob was indeed a rare breed of human being.
I think it was 2001 and he said, “the record business is dead, now, I want to just set up a company and let the artists come in and make singles…. that is how the future will be, owning the company that produces hit singles, nothing else.” (That is a paraphrase, as I don’t remember the exact model he was going to use with a new production company, but it made sense that he was ahead in the digital age of music)
Seems odd, but that was my life back then. Today, it is very different indeed. But the odd way things happen…still happens, sort of like that photo. i forgot i even took it. the couple was lost in way too agressive PDA, and i just was walking by the window and saw the reflection....if anyone knows who they are, send me their email.