Bob Johnson

Guitar/Mandolin 1972-76; 1980-2000


Bob was the bands guitarist throughout its most popular 'Classic' mid 70's era and then from 1980 all the way through to 2002 when he retired from music. His influence cannot be understated. Peter described him as 'Mr Steeleye' as all his efforts and ambitions in music were satisfied by being in Steeleye. He very rarely did anything outside Steeleye musically apart from his 1977 Concept album project with Peter Knight - 'The King of Elflands Daughter' which was narrated by Christopher Lee.

Bob started out working professionally in a number of small pop/rock bands in the early 60's, including backing Paul Raven (see below. But when the implied success never materialised became disillusioned with music and trained as a computer programmer. He then became interested in folk music as a hobby and visited the local folk clubs being particularly impressed with Martin Carthy and started to consider performing himself. It was at this time (1968) that Peter Knight moved into the house share he was living in and so the two of them worked up a repertoire and started playing the local clubs in their spare time.  It was just as Bob was considering taking this up full time that Pete got the call to join Steeleye so Bob, now a systems analyst gave up music again for a year to focus on his career. He was eventually persuaded to work on an album with Roger Nicholson (see below) and then soon after Bob also got the call to join Steeleye. Having always been interested in bringing pop sensibilities into traditional music this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

 Bob's influence on the bands success was very significant as not only did he realise the commercial potential of Gaudete when he heard it in Church, but he was responsible for almost all the Group's big ballads which became their signature sound and are still dominate the set list today. Long Lankin; Thomas the Rhymer; King Henry; Alison Gross; Tam Lin were all devised, arranged, often with newly written melodies, by Bob. All these songs continue to appear regularly.
In keeping with his wish for privacy, once he retired from the band due to ill health he completely retired from music and did not do any interviews or was 'seen' after apart from the recent short 50th Anniversary DVD documentary. The only other exception to this was that the Band asked him to contribute to the 'Wintersmith' project as they knew he loved Terry Pratchett. He wrote 'Ancient eyes' and 'The Wee Free Men' and sung backing vocals. Even better are his demo versions that appear on the Wintersmith 'Deluxe' CD where plays and sings.

Bob never really wanted to do anything 'solo', in his words: "Everything I was doing worked perfectly well in Steeleye Span! It just so happens it did. There was Peter playing and Maddy singing, and what more could I want?"

Bob Johnson 1944-2023

15th Dec 2023 was a very sad day for all Steeleye Span fans. The legendary guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Bob Johnson has passed away after a long illness. He will be very much missed by all Steeleye and Folk music fans.  Below are various statements from the record company, former band members and links to two obituary's.

Park Records:  A very sad day today for the band and all Steeleye Span fans
Our dear friend guitarist,singer and songwriter Bob Johnson has passed away this afternoon.
He had been poorly for a few months now but finally left us in search of the rainbows end.
Bob was a key member of the band during the glory days and responsible for many of the bands big ballads
including Thomas The Rhymer and Long Lankin..and most recently Bob's lost track The Green Man was released with much delight to the world.
Out thoughts and prayers are with Bobs wife Mandy and his family

Rick Kemp:  I am shocked to hear of Bob's passing - I thought he would out live us all. His contribution to the band was huge
Not only though his many songs but his ever ready smile and sharp quirky wit , these will be with all of us who had the pleasure to work with him for ever. Long Lankin and Edward my own personal favourites were a Joy to play and sing.
Bob we will miss you greatly

Maddy Prior:  Bob Johnson was the man who brought the big ballads into Steeleye Span.
His settings of Thomas the Rhymer, Tam Lin, Long Lankin, Black Jack Davy, King Henry, Edward and Alison Gross, plus many others over the years, have been a joy for me to sing and have brought those wonderful stories vividly to life and spread to a much wider audience.
His contribution to the band gave us a gravitas and profound attachment to the tradition that we might not have otherwise had.
His passing has left the folk world, and Steeleye, so much the poorer. His final contribution was a track from the 80s, lost and rediscovered lately, The Green Man. We re-mastered the original and also did a new version, which he apparently loved.
He will be so missed by all who knew him, for his amazing humour and innovative view of the tradition.

Peter Knight: It's been a sad day for me today. Bob Johnson was a friend first first, and a colleague second.
We knew each other long before the Steeleye days, and my day has been filled with memories, each one a gift, the most recent being the summer of this year, when I sat at his table eating a takeaway curry and drinking beer. He was not well then, but we talked and laughed for an afternoon. I will cherish that day forever.
He was an extraordinary man, and although he is known for his love of the tradition, and those incredible arrangements of the big ballads that Steeleye Span performed, to his friends and family he is known and loved for so much more.
I will miss my friend. That feeling that there was so much more to know.
RIP Bob.

On the 22nd December the Sheffield Live radio programme 'Thank Goodness It's Folk' interviewed Maddy Prior and Peter Knight about their memories of Bob Johnson. It can be heard HERE at the moment and will also be made available at MixCloud here. 

Early years 1960-66

After starting to play the guitar at 14 Bob first joined a local band in Tooting called 'Earl Sheridan and the Houseshakers' until they left Earl and became the 'The Pack'. They got picked up by Paul Raven to become 'Paul Raven and the Pack' for about 2 years but never made any money! After returning to regular work Raven's brother introduced him to 'Andrew Oldham' who made part of the House Band at Immediate Records, which also involved recording with Thane Russal. (Here he is playing lead guitar on a minor hit 'Security' for 'Thane Russal and the Three' on the video opposite). Bob also worked with P J Proby at some point during this time. After becoming disillusioned with Pop music he gave up the music business before eventually turning to Folk music.

Nonsuch For Dulcimer (1972)

In early 1972, before joining Steeleye, Bob recorded an album with Roger Nicholson, the renowned Dulcimer player. The album features Bob playing the acoustic guitar and singing. The album shows that Bob had already performed and recorded 'trad folk', and in particular his singing of 'The Sheep Stealer' and 'The Layly Worm and the Mackerel of the Sea' on the album gave hints of what to expect (notwithstanding that the latter also had a variant that Bob later turned into 'Alison Gross'.)  It also highlights the lazy PR around Bob (and Rick's) joining Steeleye that the only focus on was their Rock background when joining Steeleye.  


This concept album was conceived by Bob and it was very much his labour of love. It is an adaption of the 1924 Fantasy Novel by Lord Dunsany. He enlisted Peter to help him, along with various other friends in the music business. Nigel Pegrum played drums on most of the tracks. It even has Christopher Lee as the narrator. Tony Secunda, who was Steeleye's manager at the time was happy to support it and according to Peter, in order to get the backing needed, Tony had to go to Chrysalis and persuade them to provide £30k to fund this obscure album. He managed this by telling Chrysalis Bob and Peter would leave Steeleye if this album wasn't made! Chrysalis agreed but didn't promote or market it at all so it was not a commercial success. Ironically Peter and Bob did leave Steeleye anyway, but apparently nothing to do with this album which was reported in the press at the time.

With Christopher Lee recording Album