I finished Bob Dylan’s Chronicles over the weekend and was left feeling a tad melancholy at having to part ways with such a singular voice. It’s no secret that Dylan is some kind of special — that didn't stop me being bowled over at his eternal sense of optimism; his predilection for love and harmony that left me feeling warm all over.
I was particularly drawn to a section on the late Bob Johnston, Dylan’s right-hand man in the studio when the prince of folk went electric. Johnston went on to be by his side through some of his most tumultuous years, luring him down to Nashville to bring Blonde on Blonde to life, an album that Dylan regarded as “the closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind.” The record sent shock-waves through the world and is still regarded as one of the most seminal albums in rock-and-roll history. To this day the album sends me to the moon and back. It’s transformative. Magic in a bottle.
Johnston was born and raised in the Lone Star state during the heart of the Depression. He started out writing songs for Bill Haley and Elvis Presley before being tapped as an in-house producer at Columbia Records. Johnston soon developed a reputation for excellence, a southern gentleman of the first degree. His success in the studio went on to include Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love & Hate and Johnny Cash’s revered live-recording At Folsom Prison.
While he liked to say he did little more than power up the tape machines, the artists he recorded knew better. As Dylan reveals: “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 100 years too late. He should have been wearing a wide cape, a plumed hat and riding with his sword held high.”
Kick back and listen to Dylan’s seminal masterpiece here.