Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel producer Bob Johnston dies, aged 83

Former Columbia Records producer worked on some of the most famous albums of the 60s and 70s

Producer Bob Johnston, who worked on a number of seminal 60s and 70s records, has passed away aged 83 in Tennesse.

Johnston was a staff producer at Columbia Records before going independent, and worked on notable albums by the likes of Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash. He’s particularly famed for his work with Dylan.

Johnston linked up with Dylan shortly after the folk star went electric, in 1965. He worked with the iconic singer on six albums between the mid-60s and early-70s, a period that saw Dylan produce some of his most respected work.

His production credits include the albums ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, Blonde On Blonde’, ‘John Wesley Harding’ and ‘Self Portrait’. The producer is also referenced in Dylan’s music, at the start of ‘Nashville Skyline’ track ‘To Be Alone With You’, before which Dylan asks “is it rolling, Bob?”


The Texan producer also worked on some of Leonard Cohen’s most famous releases, including 1971 release ‘Songs Of Love And Hate’. He linked up with Simon and Garfunkel on early albums ‘Sound Of Silence’ and ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’, and with Johnny Cash on six albums, including ‘At Folsom Prison’, ‘At San Quentin’ and ‘I Walk The Line’.

The Austin Chronicle reported that Johnston died on Friday (August 14), following a week spent in a hospice and a memory facility. His career in music production lasted more than fifty years, much of which was spent in New York and Nashville though Johnston was born and raised in Texas. His production style was particularly noted for its flexibility, with Johnston varying from straight documentation to adding complex arrangements to songs.

In Dylan’s ‘Chronicles: Volume 1’, he describes his producer as follows:

“Johnston had fire in his eyes. He had that thing that some people call ‘Momentum.’ You could see it in his face and he shared that fire, that spirit. Columbia’s leading folk and country producer, he was born one hundred years too late. He should have been wearing a wide cape, a plumed hat, and riding with his sword held high.”

Cohen said of Johnston on the documentary ‘The Stranger Music of Leonard Cohen’:

“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.”