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Bob Johnston, Who Produced Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash Classics, Dies at 83

His Work Ran the Music Gamut From Folk to Country to Rock

Legendary record producer Bob Johnston — who masterminded albums for Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Flatt & Scruggs, among others — died Friday (Aug. 14) at a Nashville hospice. He was 83.

Don William Johnston was born May 14, 1932 in Hillsboro, Texas. Both his grandmother and his mother, Diane, were songwriters. His mother wrote the Western swing classic made famous by Asleep at the Wheel, “Miles and Miles of Texas.”

During the 1950s, Johnston took turns at songwriting, music publishing and recording as a solo artist. But he gradually settled into producing, often leaving Texas to oversee sessions in Nashville.

For a brief period, he worked as an A&R representative for Kapp Records in New York. He took over as head of A&R for Columbia Records in Nashville in 1967, stepping in for famed producer Don Law when he retired.

His tenure as a Columbia executive was brief, however. Billy Sherrill replaced him the following year.

In 1965, after Johnston had produced tracks for most of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan began recording with Johnston regularly in Nashville, drawing on the city’s musical talent for the albums Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and parts of Self Portrait.

Johnston also produced Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin, Flatt & Scruggs’ Changin’ Times and Marty Robbins’ Grammy-winning “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife.’

In the pop field, Johnston produced Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme and Leonard Cohen’s Songs From a Room and Songs of Love and Hate.

“If there is a common thread running through Johnston’s 1960s projects,” writes Richie Unterberger on allmusic.com, “it’s a willingness to blend forms — rock, country and folk in particular — that prior to the mid-‘60s had not intersected much in a serious, singer-songwriter fashion geared toward the album market.”

Johnston continued producing artists of note throughout the 1970s, including Loudon Wainwright III, Tracy Nelson, Michael Martin Murphey, Joe Ely and Hoyt Axton.

In 1992, Johnston helped Willie Nelson compile The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories? and in 1996 produced Carl Perkins’ Go Cat Go with guest artists Paul Simon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

One of Johnston’s final projects was producing tracks in Nashville for the album 73 for Brazilian artist Eron Falbo. It was released in 2013.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.