Both German companies, veteran bass
makers Sandberg and all-round MI
suppliers Thomann have updated their
online configurators lately, the relevance to
us being that when ordering a bass product
you can tweak it to your satisfaction
without getting off your beanbag. In the
case of Sandberg, juicy new bass finishes
have been added to the available menu,
while Thomann are offering a bunch of
different options for their bass cases. All
very useful, we reckon.
'When I play, I become the bass; I'm no longer Louis Johnson, I am the bass - so the bass is
in trouble!' warned the younger of the Brothers Johnson, the Californian duo whose music
enthralled a generation of club-goers between 1976 and 1982. The late Louis Johnson, who died
on 21 May, and his guitar-playing brother George were much admired for their flamboyance and
musicianship, with the former particularly admired for his mastery of the slap bass technique. This
combined lightning-fast thumb slaps with string pops of such power that Johnson regularly blew
his bass amplifier's speakers, leading to a lifelong nickname of 'Thunder Thumbs.
Although Johnson was not the first bassist to adopt the now-ubiquitous slap style, having been
preceded by Sly & The Family Stone's Larry Graham, he was inspired to develop the technique
not by Graham but by older sources. As he later explained, “I was trying to find the little clicks and
pops I got when I strummed chords on the guitar.
.. I hadn't even heard of Larry yet, my influences
were Ray Brown and James Jamerson.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1955, Johnson was the youngest of three brothers, after Tommy and
George. They shared a guitar as children, although Louis moved to bass in 1961 after being
attracted to the sound of the gitarron, the large acoustic bass played by mariachi bands in a
Mexican-themed arcade in LA's Olvera Street. Together with a cousin, Alex Weir, the three
brothers formed a band called the Johnson Three Plus One, and played concerts at high schools
and festivals, opening for bigger bands such as the Supremes. George Johnson later recalled that
the boys would sometimes draw moustaches on their faces in order to get into the clubs while
In 1971, when soul singer Billy Preston met George Johnson at a band rehearsal, he asked him
to tour Europe with his band as guitarist; when Preston's bassist left the band, Louis Johnson
joined the group at his older brother's suggestion. For the next two years, the brothers toured with
Preston, supporting major bands such as Chicago, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Pink Floyd and
Grand Funk Railroad. Prolific songwriters, the duo wrote over 250 songs of their own while with
Preston, and quit in 1973 to form their own group, the Brothers Johnson.
Success came after the Brothers were adopted by the producer Quincy Jones, who became their
manager, mentor and collaborator on several key recordings. After the duo toured Japan in Jones's
band, he secured them a deal with the A&M label. Their Jones-produced debut album,
Look O ut
For #1,
was released in 1976, rapidly selling over a million copies. Four more albums followed in
the next five years, all but the last gaining platinum status: the Brothers' most enduring hit was
'Stomp!, from their fourth album
Light Up The Night,
released in 1980.
Tensions between the brothers led to a split in 1982, and Louis Johnson went on to become a
sought-after session bassist. His association with Jones led to several collaborations with Michael
Jackson: Johnson's catchy but economical bass-lines on the
Off The Wail
album (1979) helped
propel Jackson to superstardom. His parts on
(1982) are known to millions, as it became the
biggest-selling LP of all time. Johnson's best-known bass-line appeared on Michael Jackson's 'Billie
Jean, the song used for an ill-fated Pepsi commercial in 1984: an accidental fire occurred during
filming, leading to the loss of much of Jackson's hair.
Sessions with George Benson, Stanley Clarke, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin and dozens of
other musicians from the soul and rock field gave Johnson a comfortable living for the rest of his
life. He played bass on the 1985 USA For Africa collaboration 'We Are the World, and his line from
Michael McDonald's 1982 version of Leiber & Stoller's 'I Keep Forgettin,' was later sampled by hip-
hop musicians W arren G and Nate Dogg for their 1994 hit 'Regulate. Reunions and new albums by
the Brothers Johnson in 1984, 1988 and 2002 were met with limited success, although Johnson's
instructional videos on slap bass, released by Star Licks Productions in the 1980s, remain set texts
for all funk bass players.
Johnson died on 21 May 2015, aged 60. He is survived by his ex-wife Valerie, his brothers
Tommy and George, and his sons Kodi and Kenji.
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