I just celebrated a milestone birthday this past Thursday, May 21st but, while I was basking in my special day the news came out that renowned funk bassist and one of the grandfathers of slap bass playing Louis Johnson of The Brothers Johnson had passed that very day. We shared a common birth year and his death served as a stark reminder that tomorrow is not promised. An incredible talent gone way too soon.
(April 13, 1955 – May 21, 2015)
When we think about birthdays it’s usually about the celebration of the years lived and those memories, moments and for me, in particular, special films and music. In the 70’s and 80’s Louis and his brother George played the soundtrack of my life. Songs like: “Get the Funk Out Ma Face”, and “Ain’t We Funkin Now” were always at the top of my playlist.
Louis and his George got their start playing for Quincy Jones who later went on to produce the brothers debut LP Look Out for #1 in 1976. Over the next five years, the Brothers Johnson racked up three Number One hits on the R&B charts: 1976’s “I’ll Be Good to You,” their 1977 cover of singer-songwriter and soul musician Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23,”(featured in Quentin Tarantino’s film Jackie Brown) and 1980’s smash “Stomp!”
Louis garnered the nickname “Thunder Thumbs” as a nod to his innovative bass slapping technique. His signature sound was from the Music Man StingRay bass which Leo Fender especially made for him to first use and promote, and form his slapping technique.
Louis Johnson brought the “funk” to Michael Jackson’s hits “Billie Jean” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. He also appeared on “Off the Wall”,”Thriller and artists Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin tracks. The Brothers Johnson’s 1980 album Light Up the Night, featuring “This Had to Be” was co-written by Michael, featuring him on background vocals. The album rose to the top of the R&B charts.
Although the news of his passing saddens me, I’m grateful for the time we shared through his incredible musical performances. I honor his legacy and say – Thank you, Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson for bringing the funk! You will be missed.