Louis Johnson (bassist)

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Louis Johnson
Louis Johnson.jpg
Louis Johnson in 1980
Background information
Born (1955-04-13) April 13, 1955 (age 60)
Origin Los Angeles, California, United States
Genres Funk, R&B, soul, jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, record producer
Years active 1972–present
Labels A&M, Capitol, Star Licks Productions, Hal Leonard Publishing

Louis Johnson (born April 13, 1955) is an American bass guitarist.

Johnson is 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.[1] His signature sound is 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 is nicknamed "Thunder-Thumbs".[2] His slap bass playing arrived soon after Larry Graham brought it into the mainstream,[2] and both are considered the "grandfathers" of slap-bass playing.[citation needed]

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"[citation needed]. 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 incorporates 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 has recorded and performed with the following artists (list in alphabetical order):

Solo releases[edit]

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
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



  1. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2003). All Music Guide to Soul: The Definitive Guide to R&B and Soul. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 81–82. ISBN 9780879307448. Retrieved 1 September 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Leslie, Jimmy (Summer 2011). "Louis Johnson". Bass Player (Slap Masters). p. 24. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Hal Leonard Corporation – Closer Look Video. Halleonard.com. Retrieved on 2011-08-13.