Brothers Johnson co-founder leaves rich legacy
By David Sands
May 22, 2015
Louis Johnson, the bass-playing sensation who founded the hit-making Brothers Johnson band with his brother George, has died. Known for his funky soul stylings and slap technique, Johnson tore up the R&B charts with his sibling in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Later “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson, as he was called, would pursue a career as a solo artist and popular session musician. His skillful bass lines, for example, can be heard on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.
Johnson passed away Thursday, having just celebrated his 60th birthday in April, according to The Boombox. No cause of death was given by the site.
George and Louis got their start in high school in Los Angeles, performing as Johnson Three Plus One with their brother Tommy and cousin Alex Weir. They later joined Billy Preston’s group, but departed in 1973.
Quincy Jones scooped up the duo to play several songs on his 1975 album Mellow Madness and, liking what he heard, later toured Japan with them. He went on to produce their debut album for A&M, Look Out for Number 1.
Eventually a platinum-selling record, it rose to the top of Billboard’s R&B list and hit number ten on its pop chart. The brothers’ follow-up albums Right on Time, Blam! and Light Up the Night would also achieve platinum, and their songs “I’ll Be Good to You,” “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Stomp!” all became smash R&B hits.
In 1981, Louis Johnson recorded the gospel album Passage as a side project. He split ways with his brother the following year. The bassist would go on to issue a few more solo releases and occasionally reunite with George, but became better known for his session work, playing and composing for artists like Michael Jackson, Anita Baker, John Mellencamp and Peabo Bryson.
In his later years, Johnson became a teacher as well, recording video bass clinics to pass on his musical know-how to new generations of aspiring bass players.
Also of interest:
Marcus Miller reveals the true history of slap bass
FBPO interview with Larry Graham
Funk Bass, by Jon Liebman