Louis Johnson, one-half of the soul/funk Brothers Johnson, died on Thursday at the age of 60.
The Brothers Johnson originally included three siblings, Louis, George and Tommy Johnson plus their cousin Alex Weir in a group they called Johnson Three Plus One. After the members graduated, they started backing up artists like Bobby Womack and the Supremes for tours before George and Louis broke off to become part of Billy Preston’s band.
The brothers played with Preston until 1973, playing guitar and bass and writing songs for his album Music is My Life which included Will It Go Round in Circles. Over the following three years, they toured with various artists and were brought in by Quincy Jones to play on his 1975 album Mellow Madness, which included four of their songs, and Jones returned the favor by producing their first album as the Brothers Johnson, Look Out For #1.
Look Out For #1 went to the top of the R&B Albums chart and number 9 on the top 200, spawning two big hits, I’ll Be Good to You (1976 / #3 Pop / #1 R&B) and Get the Funk Out Ma Face (1976 / #30 Pop / #4 R&B). They followed the next year with Right On Time (1977 / #13 Albums / #2 R&B Albums) which included Strawberry Letter 23 (1977 / #5 Pop / #1 R&B).
The brothers released four more albums, including Blam! (1978 / #7 Pop / #1 R&B) and Light Up the Night (1980 / #5 Pop / #1 R&B) and had the international hit Stomp! (1980 / #7 Pop / #1 R&B / #1 Dance) before parting ways in 1982. Louis went on to record his own gospel album, played bass on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Thriller and Dangerous albums, Herb Alpert’s Rise and George Benson’s Give Me the Night and produced three bass instructional video tapes.
The Brothers Johnson reunited a number of times over the years, including additional albums, but never regained their popularity from the 70’s and 80’s.
Louis was known as “Thunder Thumbs” because of his slap style of bass playing which was similar to Graham Central Station’s Larry Graham. Along with his solo work, his playing can be heard on music by the likes of Stanley Clark, Grover Washington, Jr., Jeffrey Osborne, Earl Klugh and Michael McDonald.