Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is It Rolling Bob?

Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Bob Johnston
 If you know the name Bob Johnston, you probably know that he produced a lot of great albums, including Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan; Songs From a Room and Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen; Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel; and Johnny Cash Live At Folson Prison and At San Quentin, to name just a few.

Johnston, Cohen, and Ron Cornelius

He also played piano on Cohen's world tour in 1972. As he told the Austin Chronicle:

"I ended up on the tour almost by accident. He asked me to manage him; then he asked me to get his band together. Getting ready, I had said to Cohen, "Man, I'll get you the best piano player in the world."

"No, I want you," Leonard insisted

I protested: "I can't play piano. I can bang around, but I can't play, and you've got great musicians here. They're wonderful people."

"Either you come and play, or I won't go" was Cohen's response.

I thought, "Hell, I'm not gonna miss this." So we started off.

I just played piano and guitar and organ, whatever. I couldn't play very well, but he couldn't sing very well."

Tony Palmer made a documentary about the tour called "Bird on a Wire," which was lost for many years but is now available on DVD. The film included a scene in which Johnston sings an amazing version of the title song--strangely, this scene was left out of the DVD release. But thanks to the magic of You Tube, here it is--Johnston picks up the vocal midway through and turns this into the most beautiful rendition of this great and much-covered song I've ever heard.

Turns out Johnston's still around, and produced Harper Simon' eponymous debut album in 2010--Harper being the grown up version of Paul Simon's 9-year-old son from his first marriage mentioned in "Graceland." That circle is complete. Maybe Jakob Dylan, Roseanne Cash, and Adam Cohen can hire him to produce their next records.

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