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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

RIP Bill Johnston

Posted By on Wed, Aug 7, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Poster from The Warehouses opening night gig
  • Poster from The Warehouse's opening night gig

New Orleans music pioneer Bill Johnston — who battled throat cancer since January 2012 — died at age 69, according to WWL.

In 1970, Johnston helped open the 30,000 square foot music venue The Warehouse, a former cotton warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street. After graduating Holy Cross and serving in the Air Force, Johnston worked in Chicago bars and met the band Chicago (then The Big Thing, and then Chicago Transit Authority), then followed the band to New York City's Filmore East — he wanted to bring a venue like that to his hometown.

The Grateful Dead showed up to the venue on opening day — January 30, 1970 — in the band's station wagon. After the show, Warehouse co-founder Bill Simmons busted the band out of jail after a marijuana bust at its Bourbon Street hotel (referenced in the band's song "Truckin'" from American Beauty).

The Allman Brothers, however, served as The Warehouse's unofficial house band, performing no less than twice a month for five years, including three New Year's Eve shows. (The band later dubbed its 1989 Superdome-bound tour The Warehouse Reunion.) The Warehouse became a sort of "Filmore South" to the East and West iterations of the famous venues.

The venue hosted acts such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bob Marley, The Band, Sly & The Family Stone, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Grand Funk, Fleetwood Mac, The Clash, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Thin Lizzy, Foghat, The Police and dozens others, including The Doors' final performance with Jim Morrison, and the venue's last show, featuring the Talking Heads, in September 1982. (Read more about the venue in this 2009 Gambit cover story.)
Johnston left The Warehouse in 1975 and went on to manage Gino Vannelli, as well as Vince Vance and The Neville Brothers. Most recently, he served as entertainment director at Harrah's, where he produced the popular New Orleans revue Joint's Jumpin'. He also helped re-launch the Joy Theater on Canal Street with its initial music bookings.

Filmmaker Jessy Williamson recently finished a comprehensive documentary about the history of The Warehouse and submitted the film to festivals in New Orleans, Austin, Memphis and Asheville, N.C.

Johnston's Mass will be held 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12 at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home Chapel. Visitation begins at 1 p.m.

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