Even those who don’t follow the niche entertainment-form that is professional wrestling may be familiar with some of its famous tunes.
In any industry with characters or theatrics, music is a perfect fit. Epic, recognizable songs can captivate an audience and convey a message or persona like no other artform on earth. This is why the world’s leading sports entertainment company, WWE, has more than their fair share of hits on iTunes, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
Their performers each have a distinct song, and even their events get a theme. It’s a common practice even in competitive athletic organizations like the UFC, though WWE’s character-focused environment makes the music even more important.
For over 30 years, the man behind the music was Jim Johnston. Though he never stepped between the ropes, Johnston had a massive impact on the pro wrestling industry. He helped make stars and launch careers with his wide array of compositions, covering a variety of styles and genres.
Johnston was responsible for the themes of many iconic wrestlers, including The Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Kane, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and many more. Johnston would usually write his themes after watching the wrestlers in action and learning about their characters.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer reported that Johnston had been released by the company after his contract expired. It was reported that Johnston wanted to stay with them, but had a very high contract and was not given the option to renew.
Johnston always remained somewhat of a mysterious figure, despite his massive impact on the WWE. Though many other prominent non-wrestling personnel in the company have been given time in front of the camera and even been involved in the occasional storyline, Johnston remained almost entirely behind the scenes during his decades on the staff.
WWE has taken steps to look toward its future in recent years. The developmental brand NXT has fostered many of the organization’s younger talents, and helped stars from other brands adapt to the company’s unique sports-entertainment style.
Around this time, the WWE also brought in the two-person musical act titled CFO$. WWE has been relying on this act more heavily for their themes for the past several years. CFO$, consisting of John Paul Alicastro and Michael Conrad Lauri, have created some well-received themes of their own, for the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, and Bobby Roode.
Johnston preferred to create his themes without personal input from the wrestlers, though he did make exceptions in some cases. He wrote Austin’s theme after being requested to produce something similar to Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade.
His release could also be a move by the organization to cut costs. They reported their strongest quarter ever recently, but they’ve also been slashing expenses. In addition to removing pyrotechnics from events, they cancelled a great deal of the original programming on their network. They even released several talents recently, including Emma, Summer Rae, Darren Young, and James Ellsworth.