Music Industry Art Director Bill Johnson Passes

Bill with wife Cynda in New Orleans 2010.

Grammy Award winning art director Bill Johnson has died at age 68. He passed away at home in Nashville on Wednesday (6/15) following a battle with lung cancer.

As the art director at CBS Records in the 1980s and 1990s, he left his visual imprint on an entire generation of country record makers. Johnson was noted for the vibrancy and saturated colors of his album-jacket designs, posters and advertisements. CBS graphics of the era were also noted for their attention to detail in everything from hair styling to wardrobe.

Johnson won his first Grammy Award for Best Album Package for 1987’s King’s Record Shop by Rosanne Cash. He won again the following year for Tired of the Runnin’ by The O’Kanes.

Other notable packages that bore his distinctive touch included Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Willie Nelson (1981), George Jones’ Shine On (1982), Rodney Crowell’s Diamonds & Dirt (1988), Dolly Parton’s Eagle When She Flies (1991), Merle Haggard’s Chill Factor (1987) and the Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces (1998).

Among the dozens of artists whose visual images he affected are Janie Fricke, Larry Gatlin, Waylon Jennings, Joe Diffie, Ricky Skaggs, Mickey Gilley, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Van Shelton, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless and Exile.

Prior to arriving in Nashville, Johnson was active in San Francisco and New York. He designed the iconic logo for Rolling Stone, which the magazine uses to this day, as well as the MusicRow magazine logo.

During the past five years, Johnson had been concentrating on his own artwork. His works have been regularly exhibited by The Arts Company in downtown Nashville.

He is survived by his wife, Cynda. Funeral arrangements were incomplete at press time.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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