A lifetime of work has paid off for one local man.
Robert "Bobby" Johnston was inducted June 17 into the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame located in Bean Blossom. He is only the 18th person to receive this mark of distinction. But it was a long road to this point.
Johnston was born at home in New Maysville in 1938. He began playing the fiddle early on in life -- around the age of nine.
"We didn't have television or even electricity back then. So we would just sit around and play together," Johnston said. "I learned by listening to recordings and picking out the right note. I would just play around until I found the right one, then write it down in tablature form."
Tablature is a way of using letter, numbers or any other form of notation to indicate the note and string being played. This is an alternative to reading music.
By the age of 13, Johnston was already writing his own songs. One song titled "Putnam County Breakdown" is still being played. Johnston said that a member of WREB radio station in Greencastle even told him that a member of the Putnam County Fair Board called asking how they could use the song for the fair.
Johnston's first band was called "Indiana Ragtime Ramblers" even though they were a country band, not playing ragtime at all. From there, he encountered Charlie Haggard who had his own radio show in Lebanon and Frankfort where they played. Haggard is one of the original members to be inducted into the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
Following his stint on the Charlie Haggard show, Johnston played with many well-known country artists. He was on numerous recordings of Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard as well as playing for some local Nashville, Tenn. Bands.
His history with such iconic country figures is a moot point for Johnston though. He simply mentions this to give a background of his career. What he is most proud of is his Bluegrass playing career that began around 35 years ago.
During one of his performances at a Bluegrass jamboree, Bill Monroe approached him with a job offer. Johnston never traveled with Monroe and his band though.
"Whenever he was in the area, I would go out and play shows with him," Johnston said. "Most of the time what I was playing was jamborees when different artists would get together and just jam."
Around 1985, Johnston was given the Kentucky Colonel, the highest award one can receive from the Kentucky Governor. He was alongside Marie Osmond who also received this award at the same time.
Now, Johnston is retired from the road and currently freelances with bands from both Indiana and Fla., where he splits his time. Following his induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, Johnston donated his first fiddle that was 130 years old.
The induction did not come a surprise to Johnson though.
"I knew about it for around a year before I was actually inducted," Johnston said. "I learned about it a few weeks after having open-heart surgery in the summer of 2007."
Johnston recently recorded with a member of the Bill Monroe band, Bill Box. The albums will be released soon. He also boasts a friendship with Martinsville native, Bobby Helms of "Jingle Bell Rock" fame. At one time, Johnston had a "regular" job with J.C. Products until they moved to Dallas, Tx. when he decided not to move along with the company. He is a lifetime member of the 669 Masonic Lodge in Indianapolis.