Biography
Bob Johnson was a member of Steeleye Span during the band's most commercially successful era, from 1972 through 1977. Born in 1944, he took up the guitar as a boy and had a strong interest in folk music, which drew him into the early-'60s folk revival in England. During the mid-'60s, Johnson formed a folk duo with fiddle virtuoso Peter Knight. Between the two, Knight had the more obvious music credentials given his status as a classically trained player, while Johnson later directed his academic efforts elsewhere, earning a degree in psychology, which would serve him well several decades later. The two worked together through 1970, when Knight joined Steeleye Span, which had just undergone a major membership change in the wake of their very first album. Two years later, amid another membership shakeup in the band, Knight brought Johnson into the lineup as a guitarist and singer.

He and bassist Rick Kemp had a tough act to follow, replacing folk revival legend Martin Carthy and the band's co-founder, Ashley Hutchings, but they quickly carved out a place for themselves among the group's burgeoning fandom. Steeleye Span had been moving in a significantly heavier electric direction with their sound, and Johnson replacing Carthy in that lineup was a bit like Joe Walsh succeeding Bernie Leadon in the Eagles -- suddenly, instead of one foot in electric folk music and the other in traditional acoustic sounds, Steeleye Span could rock out on folk melodies like nobody's business. Starting with the album Below the Salt (1972), Steeleye Span's heaviest electric album to date, their sound began drawing in an ever widening audience, not just of folk enthusiasts but college students who enjoyed the hard rock stylings of acts like Jethro Tull.

In the two years that followed, with the addition of a permanent drummer and their embrace of a full-on rock sound, Steeleye Span became known internationally as one of England's top folk-rock bands, touring America and receiving heavy airplay on FM radio, and getting support on their albums from such big-name guests as David Bowie. Johnson's playing (along with that of Kemp and drummer Nigel Pegrum) was integral to that new sound; if he wasn't as visible as multi-instrumentalist Knight or co-founder (and fellow guitarist) Tim Hart, his presence was still felt, especially when they rocked arena settings as an opening act for groups like Jethro Tull. Their albums Now We Are Six, Commoners Crown, and All Around My Hat achieved low six-figure sales, and it looked as though Steeleye Span would have a long future.

Johnson remained with the group across six albums and numerous tours, but in 1977, following the release of Rocket Cottage, an album that fell victim to the punk-inspired backlash (seemingly against all established acts) in England, Knight suddenly departed the lineup and Johnson followed him out soon after. The two wrote and produced the concept album The King of Elfland's Daughter, an all-star production that included Mary Hopkin, Alexis Korner, and Chris Farlowe. The record was a commercial and critical disaster, and by 1980 he was back in Steeleye Span, where, after the departure of Tim Hart that same year, Johnson was left as the group's only guitarist. He was a core member of the group for the next two decades, but in 2000 health problems forced him to leave the group. Although he has participated on some of their recordings since then, Johnson hasn't toured with the group since the 1990s. He continues to teach music, however, and also practices his formal profession, harking back to his degree in psychology, as a therapist. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi




 
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