Nashville music producer Bob Johnston dies at age 83

Bob Johnston

Music producer Bob Johnston, who played a key role in landmark recordings like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison, has died at the age of 83.

He is being remembered as a maverick who helped bring Nashville into the folk rock era.

Peter Cooper, an editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said on Tuesday that Johnston helped open Nashville up to music and musicians from other places.

He said Johnston was responsible for Dylan coming to the Music City, and that Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde was one of at least three recordings Dylan and Johnston made in Nashville.

Johnston’s influence is showcased in an exhibit at the museum called Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City.

Ron Cornelius, a long-time friend of Johnston whose folk rock band West recorded albums with Johnston in 1967 and 1968, said, "They would not have that exhibit ... if it weren’t for Bob."

Johnston grew up in a musical family in Texas and began pursuing a career in music after a stint in the US Navy.

In the early 1960s, after a short career as a rockabilly artist, he began writing songs for Elvis Presley movies, and traveling to Nashville to record demos.

He would later get a job at Columbia Records in New York. One of the first recordings he produced there was Patti Page’s Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, which became a Top 10 hit in 1964.

Following that success he began working with Dylan, eventually persuading him to come to Nashville.

Johnston also helped revitalise Johnny Cash’s career when he supported Cash’s plan to record a live album inside a prison, something label executives had repeatedly rejected.

In 1968, Cash put on a performance for the inmates of Folsom State Prison. The resulting album won widespread acclaim.

"He was a maverick," Mr Cooper said. "He was the guy who fulfilled Johnny Cash’s vision of recording albums in prisons."

Johnston also produced multiple stellar albums by Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel, Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Marty Robbins and several other now-legendary artists, all within a 10-year span. His career continued through the 1990s, when he produced albums for Willie Nelson and Carl Perkins, and into the new millennium.