According to his obituary online, Johnston died on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, at the age of 65 in the rural Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tenn., after battling COVID pneumonia.
Born in Monroe, La., on Sept. 8, 1956, Johnston moved to Nashville at the age of 24 to pursue a career as a drummer. His 40-year career saw him play drums for a wide array of country artists, and he also served as the drummer in the country group Bandana, which recorded for Warner Bros. Nashville from 1982 until 1986. That group released a string of singles to country radio, scoring two Top 20 hits with 1982’s “The Killin’ Kind” and “Outside Lookin’ In” in 1983.
He later landed a gig as the staff drummer for the Grand Ole Opry, fulfilling the dream he’d set for himself when he left Louisiana for Nashville. His memorial states that he was focused on helping other musicians who made the decision to move to Nashville, networking with them to help them find work. He also played drums on a volunteer basis in the “Little Band That Could” at his church whenever called upon.
Johnston is remembered as an enthusiastic cook whose Thanksgiving get-togethers were open to anyone who wanted to come. He is also remembered as a devoted husband and father who made time for all of his kids’ games and school functions, and in later years, he was a frequent presence in the crowd at the Cadillac Three’s gigs, flying out to as many shows as he could.
Johnston is survived by his wife of 45 years, Karen Roark Johnston; children, Jaren Ray Johnston (Evyn) and Texa Rae Johnston; one grandson, Jude Daniel Johnston; brothers, Jody Lane Johnston (Judy), Randy McKnight (Diane) and Jimmy Johnston (Deborah); uncles Billy Johnston (Irene) and Clifford Johnston (Novis). He also had 4 brothers-in-law and a sister-in-law, as well as a number of nieces and nephews.
Johnston was laid to rest in his native Louisiana per his request, in a private service in West Monroe with his brother-in-law, Robin Roark, officiating. A memorial service in Tennessee will follow, the details of which have not been announced.
The family is asking for donations to Music Cares, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Wounded Warriors Project or the charity of one’s choice in lieu of flowers.
Jaren Johnston turned to social media to honor his father’s memory with a series of happy pictures from his life, writing, “Dad, thank you for everything. I will still text you every time anything cool happens in my life. I will probably still call you everytime I’m trying to take a back road short cut in Nashville to get somewhere quicker. I will try to learn how to make Mexican cornbread for Mom and Texa… and most importantly I will never forget how loved I felt my whole life. I will make sure Jude feels that same love everyday.”
The singer and guitarist also gave his followers a somber warning, sharing that his father tested positive for COVID, entered the hospital and died in a matter of mere weeks.
“And if you are reading this and have someone in your life that doesn’t want to get vaxxed for whatever reason, I will tell you this… My dad chose to be unvaccinated and would have had a chance to live if he were,” he writes. “My Superman went down in 3 weeks. This virus is not a political joke. It is real. It is scary. And it has dug a big 6 foot hole in so many peoples lives including mine. Not sure I’ll get over this one.”
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May they rest in peace …