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Louis Johnson (bassist)

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Louis Johnson
Johnson with his Music Man StingRay, 1980
Johnson with his Music Man StingRay, 1980
Background information
Born(1955-04-13)April 13, 1955
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedMay 21, 2015(2015-05-21) (aged 60)
Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Musician
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • bass guitar
  • double bass
  • bass synthesizer
Years active1973–2015

Louis Johnson (April 13, 1955 – May 21, 2015) was an American bass guitarist. Johnson was best known for his work with the 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, Michael Jackson's Thriller.[1]

His signature sound came from the Music Man StingRay bass guitar, which Leo Fender made for him, and from his slapping technique. He is ranked number 38 on Bass Player magazine's list of "the 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time".[2]


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".[3] His slap bass playing arrived soon after Larry Graham brought it into the mainstream,[3] and both are considered the "grandfathers" of slap-bass playing.[4]

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 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 technique, 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.[3] 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.

Johnson also worked with Andrae Crouch, Angela Bofill, Aretha Franklin, Billy Preston, Bill Withers, Björk, Dave Grusin, David Diggs, Deniece Williams, Donna Summer, Donn Thomas, Gábor Szabó, Herbie Hancock, Hiroshima, Irene Cara, the Jacksons, James Ingram, Karen Carpenter, Kent Jordan, Kenny Loggins, Leon Haywood, Lesley Gore, Makoto Izumitani, Natalie Cole, Paul McCartney, Peabo Bryson, Peggy Lee, Phil Collins, Pointer Sisters, Rene & Angela, the Ritz, Rufus, Sérgio Mendes, Side Effect, Sister Sledge, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, Sweet Comfort Band, Temptations, Toshiki Kadomatsu and The Supremes.


Louis Johnson died on May 21, 2015, at the age of 60.</ref> The cause of death was esophageal bleeding.

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
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



With Aretha Franklin

With Billy Preston

With Deniece Williams

  • I'm So Proud (Columbia Records, 1983)

With George Benson

With Michael McDonald

With Peabo Bryson

With John Mellencamp

With Barbra Streisand

With Jeffrey Osborne

With Betty Wright

  • Wright Back At You (Epic Records, 1983)

With Michael Jackson

With Irene Cara

With Patti Austin

With Bill Withers

With Donna Summer


  1. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir (2003). All Music Guide to Soul: The Definitive Guide to R&B and Soul. Backbeat Books. pp. 81–. ISBN 978-0-87930-744-8. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  2. ^ "The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time". guitarworld.com. NewBay Media. January 9, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Leslie, Jimmy (Summer 2011). "Louis Johnson". Bass Player. No. Slap Masters. p. 24. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  4. ^ "Hey, what's that sound: Slap bass". the Guardian. June 1, 2009. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
  5. ^ "Hal Leonard Corporation – Closer Look Video". Halleonard.com. Archived from the original on April 3, 2017. Retrieved August 13, 2011.