RIP Mydolls Guitarist Kathy Johnston
Sometimes people come into our lives with the force, elegance and nimbleness of water. Musician, photographer, and patient advocate Kathy Johnston, the Mydolls guitarist and percussionist who passed away barely beyond midnight this past Sunday, invoked those traits. She had been battling leukemia since 2004, according to a memorial at soberdriver.wordpress.com.
Photos by David Ensminger The Mydolls' Dianna Ray and Kathy Johnston at Rudyard's, July 2011
"Kathy was such a huge part of our lives. We already miss her intensely," bandmate and friend Trish Herrera is quick to testify.
My own heart filled with crows when I heard that she was gone, which stirred an outpouring of sympathy on Facebook and punkwomen.wordpress.com, where Tracy Richardson noted, "Kathy was a talented musician, animal lover, friend and humanitarian. I am one of the many who will miss her. She helped me be a better person."
A bit estranged after returning to Houston after my stint in Oregon a few years ago, I soon encountered the Mydolls. Fortunately, they opened their arms and welcomed me. I began snapping photos of the band, documenting their lore and ephemera, curating their archives (mydolls1978.wordpress.com), and even substituting on drums for original member George Reyes when he was stuck out of town.
Bass player Dianna Ray and guitarist and singer Trish Herrera became vital "informants" for a series of articles I penned examining women, Hispanics, gays and lesbians in the punk and hardcore scene. These texts later formed the backbone of my book Visual Vitriol.
The band was already legendary in my mind, ever since hearing them in the mid-1980s on the Cottage Cheese From the Lips of Death compilation. Being their companion only increased my awe as they helped me organize gigs benefiting victims of heart disease and cancer, and led to efforts to popularize, promote, and teach at Girl's Rock Camp Houston.
Kathy Johnston, the iconic fifth Mydoll married to Dianna Ray, was a heartfelt, diligent presence during all these activities, bringing her wit and honesty to the forefront.
"I met Kathy not too long after she and Diana started dating. Not sure if this was the first time I met her, but my first clear memory of her was at a gathering at Dianna's apartment. There were a lot of girls there. I was a little cagey about Kathy at the time because Dianna is like a sister to me, and I felt very protective of her," observes Andrea Armstrong.
"I remember thinking Kathy was quick-witted, quick to laugh, and had a dry, slightly sarcastic sense of humor. All qualities I admired. I also remember thinking she was the smartest girl in the room."
"In the 1990s, we had a couple of short-lived bands, Women with Instruments (WWI) and Black Dresses with Kathy. WWI was a crazy fun band with an euphonium player!" Herrera recalls with glee. "Black Dresses was more of a folk-oriented type musical endeavor, and we wrote wonderful songs, helped raise money for animal rights activist groups, and played out a few times, but never really got it off the ground.
"It was then we discovered how talented Kathy was at guitar, who led most of the creative power behind the Black Dresses combo. The late 1990s brought Mydolls back together to perform occasionally, and we asked Kathy to join us."