Well, they’re at it again! In hour two Executive Producer Rich Reardin gets inside the stories and the head of one of the most amazing and prolific producers in music history, Bob Johnston. In part one we got a glimpse into his early life, and the beginnings of his career producing the likes of Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, and Johnny Cash. In part two we really get into the personality of the man- how he could play either the protagonist with artists, or the antagonist with the record industry, all the while being the force behind some of the most innovative ideas in music history. Many times we just think just about the songs artists write, and I’m acutely struck here about how much Bob Johnston’s ideas and attitudes opened a floodgate of creativity for any artist he worked with.
Part 2 starts off with a cut from the incredible Leonard Cohen, recorded in Nashville in 1969, with further finishing touches made at Bob’s request at Trident Studios in London by English arranger and conductor Paul Buckmaster, who was well known for his arrangements with other artists such as Elton John, David Bowie, Miles Davis, and many more. The depressing “Avalance” by Cohen is emotionally watermarked with deep, moody, and epic bass from Buckmaster’s cello and strings arrangement.
Again I found myself eagerly anticipating every animated and even censored word in Johnston’s stories. Reardin edits the interview in a hilarious manner, keeping the intent of Bob’s obstinate and expressive cussing in his speech through the occasional Ahooooga! of an old twenties car horn. I appreciate how Reardin was able to keep the dialogue alive with Bob’s meaning while advancing his own style of satirical producing and editing. Reardin bows to, but at the same time mocks the very thing Bob is usually swearing about… the attitudes of the conservative, bourgeois and uptight ‘Suits’ that run the record and media industry. (here meaning how the FCC continues it’s Puritan stranglehold on words allowed to be broadcast to this day in broadcast radio).
Johnston continues his highly entertaining tie raid on the establishment here in the beginning of part 2, talking about his move to Nashville for Columbia Records, and his subsequent grooming of Johnny Cash’s career. He starts off explaining how Sam Phillips of Sun Records had threatened to halt Cash’s career , denying his idea of performing and recording a concert at a prison. How Cash signed with Columbia and found the exact same stodgy sentiments from the Columbia execs, and how Johnston ignored them by calling the wardens of San Quentin and Folsom prisons in California and setting up the defiant recordings and concerts. The whole matter framed infamously by the public embrace of the first record with a ‘record’ 6 million sales for “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison”. I could go on and on about the stories that emerged from behind those prison walls, but I think it’s best that you hear them in Bob’s own Texas drawl. Such as Bob’s recollection about how the inmates “came unglued” when Johnny sang the lyric “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die…”
Without giving away the entire episode, it’s a journey in human drama, comedy and Texas hutzpa to hear Johnston’s stories about Cash, Dylan, and Willie Nelson by throwing more hot lava at your ears. If you want some insight into songs, artists, songwriting, and the music industry, this is another ‘must hear’ for any lover of music. Bob Johnston proves here that he’s truly a legend in his own time.