One of the unsung heroes in pro wrestling over the last 35 years has been composer and musician Jim Johnston. He worked for WWE for 32 years before being released in 2017 and he provided virtually all of the theme songs for WWE’s biggest Superstars.
Johnston did this essentially all by himself as he rarely enlisted the help of outside musicians. He talked about his lack of collaborations in an interview on Kiwi Talkz.
“I rarely collaborated. There weren’t really collaborations that happened. There were periods where we would go outside and I would give a theme to a young, hot upcoming band and they would record their version of it. That was fun to see what they would come up with and working with them,” said Johnston.
“But it was never really a collaboration where we’d get together and go, ‘Let’s write a theme together or a song together.'”
Johnston said he likes producing bands but that collaboration isn’t his strong suit.
“I would love to collaborate if people? I think the stage fright thing really enters into it,” revealed Johnston. “I’m not being good at being in a room with someone else trying to write something because I’m so self-conscious. I can’t let go and do the letting-go-inhibitions-down process that is involved in composing. You have to be willing to do stupid stuff. You have to be willing to say, ‘Ok, I was going to use a raging electric guitar. But maybe it’s an oboe or orchestral chimes.’ I always feel very self-conscious if I’m in a situation with someone else throwing out ideas like that. It’s almost like, ‘Oh my God, you’re a moron! Get out for even suggesting that.’ It probably would work if someone sent me some ideas that I could think about and mess around with and send something back.”
For someone who has been creating music for as long as Johnston has, you would think that his stage fright would have dissipated by now. But he says it hasn’t when asked if it has improved over the years.
“No, I’m sure it hasn’t because I haven’t done anything about it. It isn’t like I’m going out, playing in coffee houses and trying to have a break through.
I am still nervous playing my wife a new song,” admitted Johnston. “I will hem and haw and say, ‘Ok, it’s not quite done yet and the chorus part, I’m really not sure of the lyrics.’ She just gets so frustrated with me and is, ‘Just play the song, will you?’ That’s the nature of these kind of syndromes as they’re largely built up in your own mind and I’ve decided that there’s real danger involved in this. I can’t let go and just go out and do a little concert thing and have fun doing it.”
As of 2019, there have been 204 inductees into the WWE Hall of Fame but Johnston isn’t one of them. That is despite the fact that the Hall of Fame has a legacy wing for individuals who have made great contributions to pro wrestling. Johnston certainly meets the requirements for induction and he was asked if WWE has ever reached out to him for the Hall of Fame.
“No,” Johnston replied before being asked if he’d decline if offered due to his stage fright. “No, if I said no it would be because of getting fired, not because of stage fright.
“From my perspective, it’s one of those weird things where you’re of very differing, conflicting views on something. On a practical level and getting outside myself, it’s bizarre that I haven’t been asked. I have to ask, ‘Exactly, what do you have to accomplish to get in?'”
Johnston stated he doesn’t know what the criteria is to get in after the host brought up the fact that people like Drew Carey and Sylvester Stallone are in the WWE Hall of Fame.
“But at the same time, I’ve got the emotional part which is, wait a second, where are we? You decided to boot my ass out the door and now you’re saying you want me in the Hall of Fame? So, make up your mind,” stated Johnston.
In 2017 Johnston was released after working for WWE for 32 years as the company made a full transition to CFO$ for themes. Johnston admitted that he had to cope with being fired and that music played a part in the healing process.
“There was definitely a divorce period where? It really is so similar to a divorce if even if you didn’t want to be there anymore ? which I really didn’t ? it’s even if you don’t want to be with this woman anymore, you still end up going through all the stuff of sadness, anger, regret. I definitely had some of that but it was definitely the music that got me through,” said Johnston.
“It was really nice to be able to write whatever I wanted suddenly. It got me back to a much more pure form of remembering how much I loved music, just for the music sake and not what kind of living can I make. But just for the enjoyment of writing it, recording it and working on it.
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Kiwi Talkz with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.