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Epilogue: Johnny Green, a living rock 'n' roll Rolodex

John "Johnny" Green, right, poses with Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander. Green is wearing a shirt for the band's 2007 tour honoring the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Green worked on the tour as a promoter and organizer. [Photo courtesy of Lyn Orns]
John "Johnny" Green, right, poses with Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander. Green is wearing a shirt for the band's 2007 tour honoring the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Green worked on the tour as a promoter and organizer. [Photo courtesy of Lyn Orns]
Published Jul. 9, 2018

As dozens passed through the veterans hospital in Bay Pines to visit John "Johnny" Green, nurses wondered: Who is this guy?

"He's sort of a local rock star," Lyn Orns, a longtime friend, told them.

It was true.

Mr. Green spent his 40-year career promoting musicians, putting on their concerts and partying with them, too. He couldn't play an instrument, but he could get an artist, or anyone else, anything they needed. A human Rolodex who collected contacts and kept them close, he counted celebrity musicians such as Jimmy Buffett and Cheap Trick vocalist Robin Zander as friends, as he did less famous people he met along the way.

So many wanted to see him that last week in May, nurses tried to cap the visits. His friends will pay tribute to him during a July 17 celebration at the Mahaffey Theater.

Mr. Green died June 2 from an E. coli infection. He was 72.

• • •

The St. Petersburg man used his connections to help others or show them a good time. He invited friends to dinners with musicians or introduced them backstage.

"He wouldn't ever brag about it," Orns said.

His networking extended into his work.

"In a business of relationships, a guy like Johnny was a gem," said Tom Gribbin, a vice president at Big3 Records who met Mr. Green in the early 1970s and worked with him for years.

"He had tremendous relationships he was able to keep over the years because he treasured them," Gribbin said.

Mr. Green could find people for the smallest jobs — say, someone who could sell duct tape in bulk — then turn around to organize a massive show.

"That's why he was on tour with us," said Zander, referring to his band's 2007 shows honoring the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in Las Vegas and New York.

His escapades after concerts still elicit laughs.

"In the roller coaster of rock and roll, he was right in the middle of it," Gribbin said, describing him as a counterculture man.

• • •

Mr. Green was born May 29, 1946, in Philadelphia to John and Elizabeth Green. When he was 7, his family moved to Gulfport, where he and seven siblings grew up.

His beginnings were no less gregarious.

When he was a boy, Mr. Green decided to sell fruit. He rounded up three of his younger sisters and had them climb trees to pick the product. Then, pulling everyone along in a wagon from house to house, he told Peggy, the youngest of the bunch, to walk up to people's doorsteps and smile.

"He just knew how to relate to people," said his sister, now Peggy Albury.

By his teens, he was rebuilding and racing cars with his friend, Gary King, whom he met in 1958.

"We lived on the edge," King said of their younger years. He recalled one instance when, riding on U.S. 19 on the back of King's motorcycle, Mr. Green egged him to pop a wheelie. King obliged, but only when he stopped at a light a few minutes later did he realize his friend had fallen off.

"Our lives were based on things like that," he said.

Mr. Green graduated from Boca Ciega High School and St. Petersburg Junior College. He served in the Navy for two years and, after returning, got into the music industry.

"Johnny thrived on being social. That was part of it," King said. "It was a very natural thing for him to be in an environment with rock stars and with a lot of people."

Mr. Green lived most his life in Tierra Verde, where he would play host to relatives every Christmas and pass around a phone to call those who couldn't come. Later, he moved to St. Petersburg, after his wife, Cathy Hansen Green, died.

• • •

On Memorial Day morning, the day before Mr. Green's 72nd birthday, King went to the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System hospital. He was the lone visitor.

Mr. Green lay bedridden, sheets covering all but his face. King asked a nurse if his friend was in a coma. No, she said, but all he can do is hear.

So for half an hour, King talked to Mr. Green, just them. When he spoke, King noticed his friend's breathing change.

"It was just a gift to be able to get that time with him when so many people were going there," King said.

He told him how much he loved him. He took a finger and gently pressed his friend's forehead, figuring it was the safest way to touch him.

It was meaningful to King.

"And I think it was meaningful to him," he said.

Five days later, Mr. Green was taken off life support. He died that night.

Contact Justin Trombly at jtrombly@tampabay.com.