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Senior Voices: John Johnson

This week on Senior Voices, John Johnson remembers a rich period in Dayton music history, and working in concert promotion back in the 1960s and 70s. One venue he worked at was the Palace Theater, which stood across North Main Street from the Victory Theater. John shared his story with Dayton Metro Library volunteer interviewer, Liz Anderson.


John Johnson: Well, I love music so I got a chance to play instrumental music. I had a great couple of teachers. Ah, one of them the music teacher that taught instrumental music, his name was Gilbert Unger, and uh, he allowed me and convinced my mom that it was alright that I change instruments every year. So, I started out playing one instrument and before you knew it by the time grade school was over I had played, ah, trombone, saxophone, violin, drums, piano. And I just kept going on from there.

I, ah, played organ in church growing up, and ah, that’s what my attachment to music really was, was in playing gospel music. But of course, as I became a teenager I, uh, kind of fell in love with Grand Funk Railroad and that started me out in listening to rock ‘n roll.

Right now, I do play guitar still in a local band called “Sonic Mojo.” But I’ve had, ah, plenty of opportunities to play music. Ah, professionally I got to play with “Martha Rees and the Vandelas” and “Lou Christy” and, ah, even did a couple of shows with Chubby Checker.

In October of ’74 I started working for Victory Theater. So, I went to school at Sinclair and worked at the theater at the same time. And, ah, I stayed at the theater until about 1976. I got a chance to start from the bottom and work my way up to even being House Manager before I left and that’s when I got into doing promotions with different shows and that, that kind of thing. Got a chance to, you know, work for Belkin Enterprises and Ross, Todd and Jam Productions. Those were the productions companies that brought all the shows to the area here and Hara arena and Palace Theater. Um, that’s when I really, ah, remember about that era the most being involved with putting concerts on in Dayton. And getting a chance to get my friends in, or sneak them in, you know, into the Palace.

We got to see some great acts there like Kiss when they were first starting out, and, um, Mark Bolen. And, ah, let’s see, Robert Palmer with, ah, Vinegar Joe. Robert Palmer was in that band when they came. Ah, Joe Walsh with Barn Storm and, um, Bachman-Turner Overdrive when they first came out. You know, we got a chance to do all those shows. And see them first at the Palace and have them here in Dayton, ah, maybe in the spring and then by the late summer they were coming back playing Hara Arena, filling up the place and that kind of thing.

I’m probably one of the few people that still had the ability at the time, ah, to go through the underground underneath Main Street from the Victoria Opera House to the Palace. See a lot of people don’t know that in the hey day when those were the old-school, you know, working theaters, that the stage hands sometimes worked both houses and they accessed them through a passageway that actually went under Main Street. From one house to the other. And, ah, I used to get to walk around down through there before they filled all that in. And then they tore down the Palace and broke my heart. But we managed to save the Victory, that was part of a campaign I worked on. I’m glad they saved it. It’s beautiful house.

This interview was edited by Community Voices podcaster Patti Gehred. Senior Voices is a collaboration between the Dayton Metro Library, Rebuilding Together Dayton, and WYSO. This series is made possible through the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation. 

Copyright 2021 WYSO. To see more, visit WYSO.

Patti Gehred