Today, the Miami punk scene marks the second loss of an icon in a little over three months.
Just this past August, Dan Hosker of the Holy Terrors passed away some three months after a major late-night car accident.
Sadly, this morning, he's followed by another, equally influential contemporary: Bobby Johnston, better known to friends and fans as Bobby Load.
The frontman for the decades-running act Load, he died this morning in hospice at Jackson North Medical Center due to complications from alcoholism, according to friends.
In the band's prime, Load enjoyed an inarguable status as Miami's top punk rock act, fueled by Johnston's gleefully outsize, chaotic persona. Musically, they played as fast, loud, and urgently as the best of the genre, screeching along, almost dangerously close to veering off-key as Load bleated tales from the city's underbelly. His hard-living ways were hardly a secret, and they often informed the most evocative of his gonzo lyrics.
Under the sheer force of this onslaught, it was simply impossible to ignore Load, even from the first angrily strummed chord. The group also remained improbably long-lived, with Johnston carrying the group through the late '90s and beyond. Then, his legendary performances spurred some of today's scene darlings to start a band, however inexpertly at first. Load and Johnston helped remind everyone that in the best punk rock and roll, feeling often triumphs technique, and perhaps everything else is a pesky detail.
Miami New Times' then-music editor, Greg Baker, profiled the band in 1993 as the members sipped their way through a long night at the South Beach dive bar Ted's Hideaway. This paragraph succinctly summed up the Load ethos:
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Maybe the press would pay attention to a band that clearly deserves recognition if the members of Load would tell reporters their last names. Or at least put their names on the sleeves of their records or in their press releases. Or if Bobby would sober up for once. Or if they'd make a video. But then they wouldn't be a punk band.
Besides Load, though, Johnston fronted a number of other acts over the years, including Southern Flaw in the '90s and, more recently, Bobby Load and the Vomits, all proceeding with a similar outlook.
A less-publicized side of his creative output, though, was Johnston's visual art, which comprised paintings and drawings as seemingly haphazard and poignant as his music. "His art was no different from the rest of his persona. Every stroke meant something, as sloppy or as un-sloppy as it might appear," recalls Ferny Coipel of Humbert, a longtime friend. "His art just had a piece of his personality. If you looked at it, and then looked at a lineup of people, you'd think, 'Oh, I know who drew this. That guy right over there.'"
Memorial plans are still being determined, but Load's many friends and fans can gather this weekend at Churchill's Pub. The two-day Hialeah Fest starts there tonight, and Coipel and co-organizer Tony Landa have renamed the fest's indoor and outdoor stages after Hosker and Johnston, respectively.
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On Saturday night, starting at 1:45 a.m., the patio stage will host a rare moment of (relative) silence. At a festival that features nonstop bands, the live acts will stop in favor of a retrospective of Johnston's recorded output. Anyone is welcome, then, to get onstage and share Bobby Load remembrances and anecdotes too.
We will update later with further details and information about a memorial service. Miami musicians and Load fans, please share your memories in the comments or by e-mail.
And please check out that Load set above from Churchill's in 1997 for a taste of what we're all missing now.