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He and his younger brother, Budd Johnson, began their musical careers singing and playing first with their father and later with Portia Pittman, daughter of Booker T. Washington. Keg played various instruments but is most noted for the trombone. The two brothers played in Dallas-area bands as the Blue Moon Chasers and later in Ben Smith's Music Makers. Eventually they performed with an Amarillo group led by Gene Coy called The Happy Black Aces.
Around 1928, in Kansas City, Keg and Budd played in several bands but by 1930 Keg left for Chicago to play with Louis Armstrong, recording his first solo on Armstrong's Basin Street Blues album. When in 1933 Keg went to New York, he played with such greats as Fletcher Henderson and Benny Carter, eventually playing with Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club. Keg remained with Cab Calloway for some 15 years, coinciding with fellow trombonists Claude Jones and DePriest Wheeler and later Tyree Glenn and Quentin Jackson, as well as other musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, before moving to Los Angeles where he briefly changed careers renovating houses. During the 1950s he returned to New York City where he and his brother recorded the album Let's Swing. In 1961, Keg began playing with Ray Charles and was still in his band when Keg died in Chicago on November 8, 1967.
His son, Frederic Homer "Keg" Johnson, Jr. (October 24, 1939 — May 16, 2015), was a record producer whose first production was the R&B oldies hit, "Going In Circles" performed by The Friends of Distinction. He also produced The Sylvers, Lakeside, Shalamar, LeVert, The Brothers Johnson, Gene Harris, Bobby Womack, The Blind Boys of Alabama and more.
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With the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band
- Gillespie, Dizzy (2009) To Be, Or Not... to Bop, p. 108. U of Minnesota Press At Google Books. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
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