As noted, former WWE composer Jim Johnston was a guest on Prime Time With Sean Mooney. Among many other things, Johnston talked about how he got started with WWE, the staggering number of songs he has written for WWE over his 32-year run with the company, and when he became a WWE employee. Also, Johnston and Mooney discussed how much WWE has changed over the years.
According to Johnston, he started working for WWE after he befriended the WWE's art director at the time, Brian Penry, who frequented the same sushi joint as Johnston.
"I befriended this guy." Johnston continued, "I knew that he worked for this WWE/WWF thing. I didn't really know anything about it. I didn't watch. Then, one night he comes in [to the restaurant] and he said, 'didn't you say that you do music or something?' And I said, 'yep', lying, and he said, 'my boss wants to make a video for the NATPE convention and I can probably fake my way through putting the video together, but I have no clue how to do the music to it.' And I said, 'oh, God! No problem!' In any case, I quickly read up on how to do that. Vince liked the music. I met him and he said, 'what else,' he asked, 'what else do you do?' And I said, 'I can basically do whatever you need.'"
Mooney pointed out that WWE was very different at that time and a person could get hired by someone on WWE payroll making a suggestion to Vince McMahon.
"A lot of people don't understand what the company looked like back then. I mean, you're talking '85 and they made this move to Connecticut. Basically, it was a pretty small staff." Mooney reflected, "people look at it today and it's a gigantic corporation, but literally it was a guy saying, 'hey Vince, you should listen to this guy' and if Vince liked it. It was kind of the way things were done back then."
Johnston commented on WWE's humble beginnings by recalling the company's original office building, which was located next to a dump.
"He was over in this little, little business building that was right next to the dump. And they had one floor of it. And 'one floor' makes it sound like it was huge. It wasn't that huge. And he had one corner office and Linda had another corner office. And there just weren't that many people around. Brian was the art director. He probably had the nicest office because he had all these cool drawing tables and stuff. I mean, in those days, everything went through Vince."
Johnston said the first piece he wrote for WWE was a WrestleMania theme.
"I think it was a WrestleMania theme. Yeah, it was a saxophone piece. Things were very different back then," Johnston considered. "Back then, it was pretty much, 'hey, we're on.' It was a wild, high energy 20-second wild saxophone piece. And, 'throw to Vince [McMahon] in the ring.'"
Johnston would go on to write roughly 10,000 songs for WWE.
"Someone once told me that the catalog registration at BMI, which is the performers' rights society that I belong to had 10,000 titles listed. I'm sure there are duplicates in there. Certainly, they aren't all [entrance] themes. There were a million pieces of incidental music, promos, and stuff. But, yeah, I've written a lot of music."
In the early days of WWE, Johnston would take McMahon's brief explanation of a character and run with it when coming up with entrance music.
"I think part of it was a very lucky osmosis kind of a 'using the force' kind of communication between myself and Vince where he would just say something, maybe a sentence, about a guy, and I would say, 'okay, I get it'. And so I would do something and I would say most of the time, I was on the right track. Occasionally, he would say, 'boy, that's horrible' or 'that's not at all what this guy is.'"
Also during the interview, Johnston revealed that he did not become a WWE employee till the company's stock market launch in 1999.
"Oh, I didn't become an employee until the IPO. It escalated quickly. It escalated very quickly. Vince had the mission to grow the business quickly and he had boundless energy. And anything that seemed like a good idea, he was like, 'let's do that! Damn! Let's do that!' So anything I might suggest, would certainly be entertained."
Check out the interview here. If you use any of the quotations from this article, please credit Prime Time With Sean Mooney with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: Prime Time With Sean Mooney