Kyle Johnson, the original rhythm guitarist and co-founder of the beloved Minneapolis garage rock band Run Westy Run, passed away on Friday. He was 54 years old.
Run Westy Run formed in 1984 by Kyle and his brothers Kirk Johnson (who sang lead vocals) and Kraig (who played bass) in St. Louis Park, recruiting guitarist Terry Fisher and drummer Bob Joslyn to flesh out the band, and quickly rose to prominence in the bustling punk rock scene. “Run Westy Run—a stupid name is a good start,” the band declared in a pithy press kit put together by SST Records, the label that released their first two albums. They eventually moved over to hometown label Twin/Tone Records and then on to A&M, which released their final album, David’s Drum, in 1995. Kyle departed the band shortly before the A&M signing, in 1994.
Kyle’s brothers went on to participate in many other projects—for Kraig, the Jayhawks, Golden Smog, and his own band the Program; for Kirk, the quirky turn-of-the-millennium pop project Iffy—but Kyle left music to pursue other types of art, including visual art and furniture restoration.
Interest in the band has been revived in recent years thanks to a series of reunion shows, first at First Avenue and the Turf Club in December and then at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul last month. Although it was initially reported that Kyle would take part in the band’s reunion shows, fans at the First Ave show noticed his conspicuous absence on stage.
Johnson’s cause of death will not be released, but Kyle’s sister, Kelly Abernathy, posted a statement to his Facebook page on Saturday: “As many of you already know, our dear brother Kyle passed away yesterday. His family was blessed with time to surround him with our love and support and say our goodbyes. On behalf of our family we would like to thank all his friends for their friendships, love and support that you shared with Kyle over the years. He holds a special place in our hearts and we will carry him with us in the days ahead. Kyle has a big heart and a kind soul and we will miss him so much.”
Speaking on the phone this week about her brother, Abernathy said that Kyle lived a creative life filled not just with music but with painting and restoring furniture and woodwork. “He had all these great talents,” she said. “He was very creative; he could pick up anything and just do it. He could play harmonica in addition to bass and guitar. He made things look easy.”
Abernathy says that Johnson spent some time living and working in New York City and San Francisco, but for the majority of his life he was anchored in Minneapolis. “He loved to garden, he had a vegetable garden, and fish and ski. He was a beautiful skier,” she added. “And of all the things he made, the most important thing, and the thing he was most proud of, was his two kids.”
Kyle Johnson’s memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on August 23, 2014, at Washburn-McReavy, 5000 W. 50th St. in Edina, Minnesota, with a visitation starting at 10 a.m.