LINCVOLT TEAM MEMBER LARRY JOHNSON REMEMBERED
L.A. Johnson, a man who invented a new language with his movies about music and changed the way we saw rock & roll, died suddenly Thursday in Northern California. Over the course of over 40 years and countless collaborations with Neil Young and others, Johnson's prodigious talents as a producer, director, cinematographer and sound editor, among many other abilities including producer of Young's recently released Archives: Volume I collection, made him one of the most respected creative people in his field, and included an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound for his work on Michael Wadleigh's documentary film "Woodstock". The way he saw and felt music was always original and inventive. L.A. Johnson never settled for the road already taken, he would rather take off after his own muse.
Larry Alderman Johnson was born June 11, 1947 in Ft. Benning, Georgia. A self-described "army brat," he learned early of how to live a life on the move, which equipped him uniquely for the rock & roll lifestyle. His early influences were working with the East Coast contingent that included Martin Scorsese, Brian dePalma, Thelma Schumaker and L.M. Kit Carson during the late 1960s, fueled by an energetic political sensibility and street-smart visual moves.
It's appropriate that one of Johnson's first film credits is for the documentary "Woodstock" in 1970. At that culture-defining event he was working with director Michael Wadleigh and legendary cinematographer David Meyers, recording and filming the three days that would change music forever. He grasped the overwhelming power of rock music captured on film, and also saw how being in the right place at the right time is one of moviemaking's most decisive elements. Meeting Neil Young at Woodstock would begin a four-decades long partnership that continued right up to the present, with the release of the Grammy Award-nominated "Neil Young Archives: Volume I" Blu-Ray box set, which has been described as a groundbreaking work combining all the various mediums of music, film and print in a way that has never been done. Mr. Johnson was instrumental in creating this revolutionary new Blu-Ray Media platform, which may very well be recognized as the enduring standard to experience music and other historical events in the digital age.
As the '70s began, L.A. Johnson worked alongside his life long friend and mentor Cinematographer David Meyers as a sound recordist on a new style of films being produced in Hollywood, a combination of music and documentaries that included "Marjoe" and, later, Bob Dylan's "Renaldo and Clara". After the huge surprise success of the Woodstock film, Johnson began visualizing a revolutionary type of cinema that combined the improvisatory excitement of rock and the realistic elements of film. He and Young, again working with David Meyers, produced "Journey Through the Past," which was a cinema verite exploration of life inside the rock & roll world that is considered a futuristic work even today. That was the filmmaker's true strength: music had set him free to find his own voice. Johnson never looked to traditional filmmaking techniques for direction. He was too busy creating his own. Being one of the line producers on Martin Scorcese's "The Last Waltz" allowed Johnson to help capture what many consider to be one of the finest concert films ever. It also opened the door for his second officially released production with Young and Meyers, "Rust Never Sleeps" in 1979.
The following year Johnson produced "Shadows and Light" for Joni Mitchell, which captured that singer-songwriter's creativity like never before. Often cited as one of the great music documentaries, it also began a decade of producing the Bernard Shakey-directed dramatic film "Human Highway" and "Solo Trans" with Neil Young. It was obvious that Johnson, Young and their collaborators were creating a new type of film work, and were clearly in the throes of a freedom of style that let them follow their muse. They didn't look to plug their films into any set framework, instead letting the originality become the most important component.
Many other movies would follow, including Jim Jarmush's "Year of the Horse" (1997) "Silver and Gold" (2000), "Greendale" (2003), "CSNY/Deja vu" (2008) and Jonathan Demme's "Neil Young Trunk Show" (2009), and well as co-producing the recent Neil Young albums "Greendale" and the politically driven "Living with War". Along the way, L.A. Johnson worked with many other artists and events, and never lost the eye and ear of an original artist, one unafraid to listen to himself first. Even more, he also kept his playful spirit and sense of humor, the things that sparked his heart for a lifetime spent doing what he loved best: listening to music and making movies. He leaves in production the Shakey Pictures film "Lincvolt" a musical documentary about re-powering the American Dream.
In addition to his movie and record making, Larry found time to contribute his talent and guidance to the Bridge School Board of Directors and was instrumental in production of the video elements of the Bridge School Concert series for 24 years. His fundraising efforts, as well as guidance and support of the Bridge School web site and video operations was unwavering. His love and support for the families and students of the Bridge school will be happily remembered and deeply missed.
Larry Johnson, a seminal artist in his generation, is survived by two beautiful children, Ben Johnson and Hannah Johnson, and their mother, twice married and divorced, who he loved dearly, music contractor Leslie Morris.