The singer, songwriter and visual artist Daniel Johnston, performing in Austin in 2005. That album kicked off a prolific run of releases from Johnston, who is regarded as a pioneer of lo-fi folk and counts Kurt Cobain, the Flaming Lips and Tom Waits among his acolytes.
Born Jan. 22, 1961 in Sacramento, Calif., Johnston was a musician's musician, whose guileless lyrics found significant fans who brought his songs to a wider audience. The Austin-based musician attracted a small but devoted following for his simple, emotionally direct, and sometimes profoundly affecting songs, most of which he home-recorded and self-released on a series of cassettes in the 1980s.
Despite battling chronic mental illness, Johnston had an influential career as a singer-songwriter. After moving to Austin, TX in the early '80s, Johnston began building buzz on the local music scene (and amongst those covering it) before recording several new albums, including classics like Yip/Jump Music and Hi How Are You (Kurt Cobain was frequently photographed wearing one of Johnston's Hi How Are You t-shirts, featuring Johnston's own artwork). According to the article, Johnston's health had declined over the last few years and required multiple hospitalizations. Johnston told the Chronicle in 2018 that he had been working on a new album with Brian Beattie, as yet unreleased. In 2005, a documentary about Johnston was released, called The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and another movie about his life, Hi, How Are You: A Short Film, was made in 2015. Named to commemorate Johnston's 1983 album and famous frog mural, which lives at the site of a former record store in the Texas capitol's downtown district, the event is also meant to encourage mental health support. In a statement, Johnston's family said he was a "friend to all. He had just returned from a recent hospital stay and seemed (and looked) better than I'd seen him in a good while".