Louis Johnson

Louis Johnson (April 13, 1955 – May 21, 2015) was an American musician and bass guitarist. Johnson was best known for his group The Brothers Johnson and his session playing on several hit albums of the 1970s and 1980s including the “best selling album of all time” Thriller. His signature sound was from the Music Man StingRay bass which Leo Fender especially made for him to first use and promote, and from his slapping technique.


His work appears on many well-known records by prominent artists. Johnson played on Michael Jackson’s albums Off the Wall, Thriller and Dangerous, and hit songs “Billie Jean” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. He also played on George Benson’s Give Me the Night. He was one of three bassists on Herb Alpert’s 1979 album Rise, which included its top-10, Grammy-winning disco/jazz title-track. Due to his distinctive style, Johnson was nicknamed “Thunder-Thumbs”. His slap bass playing arrived soon after Larry Graham brought it into the mainstream, and both are considered the “grandfathers” of slap-bass playing.

His slap bass lines figure prominently in his work with Stanley Clarke on the Time Exposure album, his work with Grover Washington, Jr. (Hydra), George Duke (Guardian of the Light, Thief in the Night), Jeffrey Osborne (Jeffrey Osborne, and Stay with Me Tonight). The bass line for Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” has been sampled as a backing track for dozens of rap songs. An excellent example of his thumb playing can be heard on the Earl Klugh song “Kiko” Without any plucking at all, Johnson sets a complicated funky bass line using a combination of counterpoint slapping with right hand using right thumb, counterpoint with left hand middle finger as a mute tec., called a slap choke, thus creating a percussive sound like drums, adding to the bass notes. His style incorporated more funk plucks in combination with his thumping, which along with the Music Man StingRay sound gives a very funky, unique sound.[2] He was the bassist on Earl Klugh’s 1976 jazz/pop album Living inside Your Love and 1977 jazz/pop album Finger Paintings, as well as Quincy Jones’ 1975 Mellow Madness.

Louis Johnson died on May 21, 2015 at the age of 60.] His cause of death was liver failure.


Louis Johnson recorded and performed with the following artists (list in alphabetical order):

  • Andrae Crouch
  • Angela Bofill
  • Anita Baker
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Billy Preston
  • Bill Withers
  • Björk
  • The Brothers Johnson
  • The Controllers
  • The Crusaders
  • Dave Grusin
  • David Diggs
  • Deniece Williams
  • Donna Summer
  • Donn Thomas
  • Earl Klugh
  • Gábor Szabó
  • George Benson
  • Gene Van Buren
  • George Duke
  • Grover Washington, Jr.
  • Harvey Mason
  • Herb Alpert
  • Herbie Hancock
  • Hiroshima
  • Irene Cara
  • The Jacksons
  • James Ingram
  • Jeffrey Osborne
  • John Mellencamp
  • Karen Carpenter
  • Kent Jordan
  • Kenny Loggins
  • Lee Ritenour
  • Leon Haywood
  • Lesley Gore
  • Makoto Izumitani
  • Michael Jackson
  • Michael McDonald
  • Natalie Cole
  • Patti Austin
  • Paul McCartney
  • Peabo Bryson
  • Peggy Lee
  • Phil Collins
  • Pointer Sisters
  • Quincy Jones
  • Randy Badazz
  • Rene & Angela
  • The Ritz
  • Rufus
  • Sérgio Mendes
  • Side Effect
  • Sister Sledge
  • Stanley Clarke
  • Stevie Nicks
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Sweet Comfort Band
  • Temptations
  • Toshiki Kadomatsu
  • Vanity 6

Solo releases

Year Title Format Label Additional info
1981 Passage Album A&M Gospel-directed album by this group, including Louis Johnson, Valerie Johnson (ex-wife) & former Brothers Johnson-percussionist/vocalist Richard Heath
1985 “Kinky”/”She’s Bad” Single Capitol Europe-exclusive solo release by Louis Johnson
Co-written by Tony Haynes
1985 Evolution Album Capitol Europe-exclusive solo release by Louis Johnson
1985 Star Licks Master Sessions VHS Video Star Licks Productions Louis Johnson instructional video re-issued on DVD by the Hal Leonard Company[5]
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