When Bobby Johnston, better known locally as Bobby Load, passed away yesterday, it seemed a particularly unfair piece of bad news for a segment of Miami's rock veterans. Following the old cliche of bad things happening in threes, Johnston's death marks the third loss in as many months for the same scene.
We would be remiss if we didn't again note the passing of the Holy Terrors' Dan Hosker this past August. But just over a week ago, fans and friends also mourned the loss of Eric Rivers, the singer for bands like Genetic Mistake and Pontius Pilot, who died two weeks after getting caught in a tragic office shooting in Minneapolis.
As Bobby Load, Johnston served as a sort of pied piper for this whole scene. At once a merry prankster and a slightly battered street poet, his many friends and admirers fondly recall a sweet-souled joker with a complicated legacy. Load, his band, started its upward ascent at just about the time Nirvana turned into a national sensation. Fans and critics thought the equally poster-boy-attractive and incandescent Johnston might follow the same path.
And though Load, at one point, outdrew the other local rock success story, Marilyn Manson, Johnston had little interest in playing the music industry game. In fact, in a nose-thumbing gesture, the group even printed a run of infamous T-shirts that proclaimed itself "louder than Sub Pop."
Indeed, what those close to him -- and the many who wished they were close to him -- remember is that above all else, Johnston lived completely on his own terms until the end. With him, friends say, you always knew what you were getting -- a true individual who wouldn't be tamed, and who would, amidst the rock and roll circus, surprise you with his kindness, wit, and smarts.
Memorial services for Johnston are still being planned. In fact, to make sure they happen, his friends and family need your financial help. Anyone wishing to contribute to Johnston's cremation and funeral costs should visit the Bobby Load Tribute page on Facebook, or head directly to Paypal to send money to Bobby's brother, Jeff Johnston, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will update here further on services, tribute gigs, and so on, but in the meantime, we started to reach out to some of Bobby Load's friends and fans for their thoughts on his life and legacy. After all, it wasn't just in the '90s during which Johnston had an artistic impact -- some of today's younger musicians and artists cite his performances as influences.
Click forward to read some of these reflections, and we'll be updating throughout the weekend -- feel free to share in the comments below or by e-mail.
Jessicka Adams, currently of Scarling., former frontwoman for Jack Off Jill:
"Truthfully, I hadn't seen Bobby in years. Any time I bumped into him in South Florida he greeted me as if we had just seen each other a week before. He would always then ask if I would buy him a beer, which I often did. There was a charming kindness about Bobby. When you were with him you remembered how it felt to view everything with child-like innocence.
I always loved playing shows with Load because of that reason. They were often very magical nights. The South Florida music scene did more than our fair share of alcohol and drugs. We did not have limits and thought we were invincible. We all took it to the wall, myself included. I don't know how some of us knew when it was time to stop.
I hate the fact that Bobby Load is gone. Selfishly a part of my history has died with him as it did with Brad Stewart in 2008. All I can really say is that I consider myself very lucky to have known both of these talented men who left us way too soon."
Juan Montoya, current guitarist of MonstrO and Stallone, former roadie and second guitarist for Load:
"He was confident onstage. He wasn't nervous about the microphone, he didn't hide behind it. He just blurted out anything that came to his mind. He improvised a lot of stuff -- and he was funny, he was outrageous. He wasn't a singer who could hold notes and stuff, but he knew what to say along with the music. If the song ended, he would keep on talking until the next song started, and it was hilarious. People would either be rolling their eyes and holding their guts from the laughter.
That's how he was when he wasn't onstage either. He would just make jokes, constant jokes. He would hang out for a minute or two and would make you laugh before he would step away, and then he'd do the same thing to the group next to you. I just remember him being sweet every time.
I remember when Load was touring the south and becoming one of the biggest bands in the region. They were one of the first bands to really get out of Florida and do stuff. We would go to Charlotte and Richmond and other places, and people were already in love with Load. It was great. It gave me hope for Florida bands, actually -- when I was in bands like Cavity, it seemed like nobody wanted us around.
Anyways, they would have parties for Load after the shows. Bobby always kept cassette tapes in his jean jacket, and no matter what was happening, he would take off whatever was playing at the party, and then he would pop his tapes in, and pretend that nothing had happened. He would basically DJ the party with these cassette tapes, and he would get away with it because he was the guest of honor."
Tom Bowker, current drummer for Blowfly (and, disclaimer, a past contributor to New Times):
"There's almost an entirely category of local stories that are Bobby Load stories. It's public lore. But there are several sides to him. He was very good-looking when he was young, and he was very insecure about that, and he was cursed and blessed by the fact that Nirvana blew up right when Load started. They were the biggest band in South Florida. Loud outdrew Marilyn Manson almost double in Miami. But because they wouldn't play the game, they were always cursed.
They were a phenomenon here, and they brought their own fan base. There was a gang of like 35 people who hung with them, including whole other bands. There was never an empty show, because even at the most un-promoted gig, the crew would be there. They just got better and better and dirtier and dirtier, which was funny because they came out of this real rules-based hardcore scene.
You look at these photos people are posting now and they were so young and good-looking and innocent-looking, and it's funny because we were total degenerates. We lived fast and not everybody made the whole trip. But Load couldn't be a real sober band. That's not really how rock and roll works.
But onstage, he was almost like a Charlie Chaplin kind of physical comic. Bob was kind of our clown prince, and I don't think there's anything disrespectful about saying that."
Sean Piccoli, former music critic for the Sun-Sentinel:
"Bobby already had a backstory as a ferocious punk singer when I met him, and his drinking ways were part of the lore. I never saw Load, but whatever reputation he had as a raging frontman and drinker, he was always a gentle person. He told funny stories about people and places he'd encountered, and the little stoner laugh he emitted was always part of the punchline. He could read people, including himself, but wasn't ever cruel.
He also did a lot of painting, and I think I knew his folk-arty canvasses better than I knew his music. Finally seeing him on stage with Southern Flaw was a pleasure, but by then I already knew Bobby was an artist in the sense of somebody who sees things acutely and could put his experiences in words and pictures. I remember him as being very humane and genuine."
Ferny Coipel, frontman of Humbert and owner of the Shack North studio:
"Even when he was at his most convoluted moments, there was alway something that would come out of him that was in some way philosophical or profound, in a certain Bobby way. One time Humbert was playing with his band Southern Flaw somewhere in Hollywood, and he walked up to introduce his own band, and instead of saying the name of the band, he just said, 'Hi, we're over 30, but dress like teenagers!' That was so Bobby Load! It was perfect!
For me personally, he was an influential character because he was 100 percent for real. There was no covering things up with him. He said what he had to say and did what he had to do, and didn't make excuses for it."
Michael Mut, current bassist for Electric Piquete:
"Everyone has a Bobby Load story, and that's because Bobby Load was the embodiment of punk rock. It didn't get any bigger in the Miami rock scene in the early '90s."'
Aiden Dillard, filmmaker and visual artist:
"I met him a couple of years ago at a party held by artist Clifton Childree. He was very charming as he entertained us with stories of his wild glory days into the wee hours of the night. He made a drawing of Iggy Pop and gave it to me, titling it World's Forgotten Boy. On the back of the frame he made another drawing of his own face and wrote, 'Your mom sucks dog dick, so does mine -- Bobby Load.' This guy was a legend and will be remembered for being full of hilarity and energy."
Jose Flores, current guitarist and frontman for Pool Party:
"The first local show I ever went to was Load, at the Kitchen Club in Coconut Grove. Bobby was dressed like nightcrawler from the X-men, and he was spazzing out like crazy. I'd never seen a real live punk band until then. They were so loud, so wild, so fucked up, and jaw-dropping. I was 15 and I was so scared and impressed. He was writhing all over the stage. He looked so lost when he wasn't singing but he was so scary and acrobatic on stage. I totally assumed they'd become bigger than Nirvana."
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Myles Kaplan, current bassist of the Axe and the Oak:
"I think the first time I saw them play was at either Washington Square or Churchill's. What really impressed me about Load, besides the fact that they were a great, great band, was, first, that they didn't sound a lot like other people doing in Miami at the time, which was more like straight-up New York hardcore. Load was more West Coast-sounding, and kind of scary to me as a little punk kid -- scary in a good way. There was real energy, and it wasn't rehearsed too much. Anything could happen. It was real punk rock."
Danny Gonzalez, current bassist of Jacuzzi Boys:
"I first saw Load at the old Kitchen Club in Coconut Grove. I was there to see some friends play, and Load just happened to be on the bill that night. As I watched them set up, I quickly realized this was something completely different, these were men and they weren't there to play nice. Everything about those four guys made a lasting impression on me that night. I've been a fan ever since."