Sunday, August 1, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 22

Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on June 24th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 17

Emmy Award-winning composer and Santa Ynez local Carl Johnson reflects on a rewarding career in film and television


Like many origin stories, the tale of Carl Johnson’s foray into professional composing (Looney Tunes, Care Bears, Batman: The Animated Series) and orchestrating (Monsters Inc., WALL-E, Skyfall) isn’t without happenstance. 

Master class
Visit to find out more about Allan Hancock College’s new online music business course, taught by Carl Johnson. Check out for more info on the composer.

Along with composing for several television and film projects over the last three decades, Carl Johnson has orchestrated for Skyfall, Monsters Inc., WALL-E, The Perfect Storm, and other blockbusters.

“Suddenly there was the piano,” said Johnson, revealing the first instrument he played, at age 7. “My grandparents bought my family a piano, and my parents had no idea until this piano showed up one day.”

Johnson’s parents then decided to sign him up for piano lessons, although he had no prior interest in music at that point. Could they have guessed their son might be orchestrating for a James Bond film someday?

“I took piano lessons all the way until I graduated high school,” Johnson told the Sun. “I ended up initially just kind of going along with it and then enjoying it more and more as I got older.”

Along the way, Johnson picked up some trombone skills as well, which resulted in a college scholarship, he explained.

“I ended up going to University of Kansas on a trombone scholarship, even though I wasn’t a music major,” Johnson said. “Just because they needed a certain number of trombones for marching band.”

During college one summer, Johnson’s marching band experience helped him nab his first paid gig as a musician, at the “happiest place on Earth,” no less, Disneyland. 

Santa Ynez-based composer Carl Johnson has worked on several of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh properties over the years, including Piglet’s Big Movie, Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, and Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving.

The opportunity to perform in Disney’s All-American College Band brought the Leavenworth, Kansas, native to Californiabut it was a film scoring program at USC that kept him there. Johnson stayed in Los Angeles after graduating and within a few years was hired to compose for Disney’s Goof Troop, based on a recommendation from one of his USC professors. This was Johnson’s first venture into the world of animated television.

Johnson began work on the show in 1992, composing for more than 50 episodes, and was able to maintain a chain of steady gigs with other productions from then on, he said. Animaniacs, Mighty Ducks, Pinky and the Brain, Gargoyles, and Invasion America (which scored him an Emmy Award) were just a few of the other ’90s titles he worked on.

“It’s kind of a small community of peoplecomposers, musicians who work in the animationand so I was able to sort of work for several different people,” Johnson explained, “and over the course of the years, build relationships and sort of bounce around from one project to the next.”

The first post-Goof Troop show Johnson hopped aboard however was Batman: The Animated Series, where he met another celebrated composer in the animation industry, Shirley Walker (also well-known as a frequent conductor for both Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer). 

After moving to Los Olivos in 1996, Johnson had Walker and her husband, Don, over for a few visits. It wasn’t long before the couple, like Johnson and his wife, quickly fell in love with the Central Coast.

“Within a year, they had sold their house in Chatsworth and bought a house in Ballard,” Johnson recalled. “It was really neat, they lived in the area for a while, and I got to spend more time with them.”

Shirley and Don started their own vineyard on Alamo Pintado Road in Los Olivos (Palmina Wines still carries the Walker Vineyard label) before they both passed away in 2006. 

“She made a real point to try to help up-and-coming composers,” Johnson said of Shirley, who he considered an important mentor. “She was just very open. Her observations wouldn’t hold back on criticism sometimes, but she was also very honest in her appreciations.”

Carl Johnson said his new online music business course at Hancock will give an overview of how the music industry works, from copyright and licensing issues to different career paths.

Johnson is taking on a mentorship role of his own this summer as Allan Hancock College’s new music business instructor. The composer described his new course as “kind of a bird’s eye view of what makes the music business tick.”

“It will give an overview of sort of the nuts and bolts of how the music industry works,” he said, “from copyright and licensing issues to different kinds of career paths for people who aspire to be performing artists or recording artists.

“The thing about the entertainment industry is it’s so vast, and there’s so many different niches and job titles that it’s impossible to know everything,” he added. “But I’m looking forward to visiting about the parts I know about and learning what the students that go there are interested in.”

Johnson previously taught orchestration courses at UCLA before committing to his latest scoring project, Looney Toons Cartoons (2020), which recently premiered on HBO Max. After commuting to LA from the Santa Ynez Valley for so long, Johnson said he’s excited to join the Hancock family and teach closer to homeor directly from home, as his music business course is online.

“I really enjoyed teaching there [UCLA], but it was a long drive, and I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home,” Johnson said. “But when this opportunity came up at Allan Hancock, especially being able to do it remotely, I figured I’d love to get back in front of some students againeven if only virtually.” 

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is rewatching Gargoyles on Disney Plus. Send comments to

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