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Bob Johnson RIP. A vital Steeleye Span ingredient



In most discussion of Steeleye Span, Bob Johnson could be overlooked or at least overshadowed. 

Steeleye was/is Maddy Prior, Maddy is/was Steeleye. isn't that the case?

Look more closely and you see how important others were in the band’s great success. Think Ashley Hutchings, Tim Hart, Peter Knight, Martin Carthy, Rick Kemp … that list goes on. But Bob Johnson absolutely must be on it.


Bob died, aged 79, on December 15 after being unwell for several months.

A friend asked if I’d offered an obituary to The Daily Telegraph, for which I was not only a reporter but also for 20 years the resident folk bloke. He certainly deserves one, even if my links with that newspaper are fixed in the past. 

Looking back on the career of a band I have loved from the start, I remember briefly worrying about a review I'd read suggesting that Bob’s vocals sounded too, er, middle class before I realised that this wasn’t really much of an issue if an issue at all. Then I began to realise just how much he brought to the band.

If asked for one Steeleye track that stands out ahead of all others - one hell of a request given the treasure of material - I’d leap in a heartbeat for Long Lankin, a murder ballad given added tension, drama and stunning musical impact by Bob’s contributions: he wrote the music and arranged it.

The live version you see below shows him, initially unobtrusive on his electric guitar (on the right as you look at the clip  but then adding his supporting vocals). It is strikingly good. And It wasn’t the only big ballad in which was imposed a Johnson/Steeleye mark.


Peter Knight has just posted this tribute at Facebook:


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.


In all honesty, I cannot improve on that. Rest easily, Bob, brilliant musician, qualified psychologist, beloved husband and father.


philip robin

So very, very sad. Lovely man with great humour and wit. Bob created the perfect balance to everything else in Steeleye Span during their " classic" 70's years and continued to bring those big ballads throughout his time with them. From Alison Gross to the Elf Knight...there are dozens. Thank you so much Bob. Condolences and peace to your family and friends.

Ken Roseman

Hello from Silver Spring, Maryland. I am a music journalist and have loved Steeleye Span for decades. Wonderful tribute to Bob Johnson from Peter Knight. Here is my personal one: I will miss Bob very much. I always got on well with him. He was very gracious to me, and we shared a deep love of JRR Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS. Bob Johnson was a blend of "hippie" and "English gentleman. Unique. I will never forget him. I tried to get in touch with him over the past several years, but could not do so. I have been crying for 3 days. I feel like I have lost a family member. The only cure for my present distress may be an overseas move. The other maybe to really start working on these book ideas: My life With Steeleye Span And The English Folk-Rock Community or My Life With Steerleye Span and Folk-Rock Around The World. any advice/help/ etc etc gratefully accepted. condolences to Bob's family, colleagues and friends. If I am devastated, I cannot imagine how they must be feeling. To all: Be well and stay safe. Take care of yourselves. And please know that I am proud to be a member of the English folk-rock community, even though I am a Jewish guy who grew up in Maryland and Massachusetts. Peace-- Ken. I do not know where my deep Anglophilia comes from, but I'm happy with it. (Ken Roseman, December 17, 2023).

Peter Lrmth

Via Facebook

When Below The Salt came along it was clear that Steeleye - and folk-rock - had shifted up a gear, and while it wasn't all down to Bob Johnson they surely couldn't have done it without him. His work on subsequent albums, particularly the ballads, took the band to new heights and left an indelible mark on a whole genre of music. Very sad to see him go.

Peter MacDonald

Via Facebook

Sad but glad to have his legacy.


I met Bob when we both started at Westminster City school in 1955. We soon became friends and our senses of humour blended. I got a guitar at about 13 years old and started strumming and learnt a few cords. Showed Bob who took to it. Stayed friends after school and went to clubs, particularly The Troubadour. We drifted apart but resumed after his divorce. He became very reclusive but we stayed in touch right to the end. Poor Bob.

John & Eve wood

We’ve been Steeleye fans since the beginning. If we had to choose our favourite band member it was Bob.
We always waited for his “Elf” songs, but his input was more than that.
We’re so sorry he has now left us.
Our love and sincere condolences go to his family, friends in particular Peter Knight, they drove the band.
We saw Steeleye just before Christmas in Brighton, still fantastic, still playing Bob’s tunes.
Can’t say anymore very upset.

John & Eve Wood.


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