Word came through this morning that bassist Louis Johnson had sadly passed away on Thursday at the age of just 60. Most famous for his work with brother George with The Brothers Johnson, Johnson was one of the funkiest bass players to ever record, becoming the go to man to provide the funk on many of the biggest records in soul and pop music. Based in Los Angeles The Brothers Johnson hit the big time in 1976 with the debut album Looking Out For #1 – produced by none other than the legend Quincy Jones. The album combined George’s vocals and tasty guitar with Louis’ pounding bass on hits such as ‘Get The Funk Out Ma Face’ and the brilliant ‘I’ll Be Good To You’. The band would go on to have great success combining elements of funk, soul and disco together until the band split in 1982.
In honour of ‘Thunder Thumbs’ we’ve picked some of our favourite Brothers Johnson songs, as well as a few classics that Johnson played on. If you’ve got a personal favourite, or you’d like to share some memories of Johnson’s work email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brothers Johnson – Free & Single (Looking Out For #1, 1976)
Taken from the band’s debut album, the horn intro alone is worth clicking play. Johnson’s bass pounds away, as his brother’s wah-wah guitar rides the groove perfectly. It’s one of the duo’s best and funkiest songs.
Brothers Johnson – Never Leave You Lonely (Right On Time, 1977)
This is a delightful piece of seductive groove. Thunder Thumbs and Lighting Licks deliver another great combination of guitar licks and thumbing bass, along with a particularly wonderful sultry vocal. It’s a bit more laid back than some of their biggest hits, but don’t let that put you off, it’s still incredibly funky.
Brothers Johnson – Stomp (Light Up My Life, 1980)
Arguably one of the best recordings the Brothers Johnson recorded; it’s our personal favourite here at TFSR. Sure, it’s overplayed but it’s a classic that is guaranteed to move anyone and pack the dancefloor. Everything about this song is perfect: the bass, the guitar, the horn and string arrangements are all brilliant. Co-written by Yorkshire-man Rod Temperton, the song is an infectious piece of groove, one that will remain an all time classic.
Michael Jackson – Get On The Floor (Off The Wall, 1979)
The official stated position of TFSR is that Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album is the best of his career: it’s the most perfect piece of disco-soul released. This song is perhaps one of the least well known on the album, but it’s absolutely incredible, mostly thanks to Johnson’s fast-paced slap bass playing. Watching videos of Johnson play this bassline is simply incredible; his hand moves so fast it’s a wonder how he manages to control the bass and produce such a magnificent sound. Another Quincy Jones production, the rest of the song is equally superb: Jackson’s vocals are brilliant and the horn arrangement is even better, making it one of Jackson’s best hidden gems. Johnson would go on to perform on Thriller, most notably on ‘Billie Jean’. During this time in the eighties, Johnson was becoming Quincy Jones’ preferred session bassist.
George Benson – Off Broadway (Give Me The Night, 1980)
Another Quincy Jones/Rod Temperton collaboration, this song is in response to Benson’s cover of ‘On Broadway’ from his excellent Weekend in L.A. album. It’s an instrumental, and Johnson plays it fairly straight on this one allowing for Benson to demonstrate his guitar chops. It’s a pioneering song, the first of many that would help come to create the genre of smooth jazz.
Quincy Jones – Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me (The Dude, 1981)
Yet another Quincy Jones production, Johnson played on all of his excellent album The Dude, a personal favourite here at TFSR. Johnson’s bass really drives this song along, creating that delightful slap bass sound. Following the success of The Dude commercially as well as at the Grammy Awards, Jones performed a series of concerts with a full orchestra in Japan and Johnson played bass for the performances, which can be heard on a very rare album ‘Live at the Budokan’, but performances are available on YouTube to view.
Jeffrey Osborne – I Really Don’t Need No Light (Jeffrey Osborne, 1982)
From Jeffrey Osborne’s debut album – which was most famous for the song ballad ‘On The Wings of Love’ – this is a nice funky groove that has Johnson’s bass switching between playing straight, and a few tasty licks. The string and horn arrangements are equally brilliant on this one, and Osborne’s voice sounds very good – indeed, he’s a very good soul singer, one that deserves to be recognised more than just for ‘On The Wings of Love’.
If you like us never got to experience the Louis Johnson bass experience in person then check out this recording of the Brothers Johnson here on YouTube – they perform all their biggest hits, including a brilliant ten-minute rendition of ‘Stomp‘ to close the set.