By Kristin M. Hall, AP News | Inside the Nashville basement studio of audio engineer Gena Johnson, she has mementos from many of the artists she’s helped to record and who have also shaped her own career. A turn of the century upright piano that Ben Folds helped her find sits next to the entrance. Polaroids of her and singer Ashley Monroe are scattered on her mixing board, and a sign in the lounge offers a cocktail called Handsome Johnny, a signature vodka drink that the late John Prine named after himself.
Johnson works behind the boards at the premiere studios in town, but her own home studio has the laid-back comfort of a friend’s house with enough reminders that Johnson is among the city’s top engineers.
But she was still surprised to get woken up with calls one recent morning to learn that not only was she nominated for engineer of the year by the Academy of Country Music, she was also the first female engineer to ever be nominated. The ACM Awards are airing on Sunday on CBS and the studio award winners will be announced at a later date.
“It feels like I’ve been seen by my community and that what I’ve been working for is paying off,” said Johnson.
Johnson has worked on hit records by Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile and The Highwomen. A friend and fan of Prine’s for years, she was in his home to record his last song, “I Remember Everything,” which earned Prine two posthumous Grammy Awards this year.
A year after his death from COVID-19 complications, Prine is still a big part of Johnson’s life. She easily recounts funny stories of the witty and wise songwriter, who adored Johnson’s tiny Chihuahua mix breed pup named June. June slept in a little doggie bed under Johnson’s mixing board while she worked on an upcoming Prine live project.
“I actually had tears in my eyes when we were recording because it just felt special,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think it was the last time that John would record anything.”
Follow Kristin M. Hall at http://twitter.com/kmhall[Thank you to Alex Teitz, http://www.femmusic.com, for contributing this article.]