Plas Johnson

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Plas Johnson
Birth namePlas John Johnson, Jr.
Also known asJohnny Beecher
Born (1931-07-21) July 21, 1931 (age 92)
Donaldsonville, Louisiana, U.S.
Instrument(s)Saxophone, piccolo, flute, clarinet

Plas John Johnson Jr. (born July 21, 1931)[1] is an American soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist, probably most widely known as the tenor saxophone soloist on Henry Mancini’s "The Pink Panther Theme". He also performs on alto and baritone sax as well as various flutes and clarinets.


Born in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, United States,[2] Johnson sang with his family's group until his saxophonist father bought him a soprano saxophone.[2] Largely self-taught, he soon began playing alto and later tenor saxophone. He and his pianist brother Ray first recorded as the Johnson Brothers in New Orleans in the late 1940s. He first toured with R&B singer Charles Brown in 1951.[3] After army service, he and his brother moved to Los Angeles in 1954,[4] and he soon began session recordings as a full-time musician, backing artists such as B.B. King and Johnny Otis as well as scores of other R&B performers.[5][6][7] An early supporter was Maxwell Davis, who hired him to take over his own parts so that he could concentrate on producing sessions for the Modern record label.[6]

Recruited by Johnny Otis and executive Dave Cavanaugh for Capitol Records in the mid-1950s, Johnson also played on innumerable records by Peggy Lee, Nat "King" Cole, Glen Gray, Frank Sinatra and others. He remained a leading session player for almost twenty years, averaging two sessions a day and playing everything from movie soundtracks and Les Baxter's exotica albums, to rock and roll singles by such artists as Ricky Nelson and Bobby Vee, and R&B records by such performers as Larry Williams, Bobby Day, and Richard Berry. He played on many of the Beach Boys’ records, and was an integral part of a number of instrumental groups that existed in name only, such as B. Bumble and the Stingers and The Marketts.[6] Unlike many session musicians of the time he became known by name, but for a time also recorded under the pseudonym Johnny Beecher for the budget CRC Charter label to avoid contractual disputes.[6][8]

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a regular member of Henry Mancini's studio orchestra and in 1963 he recorded "The Pink Panther Theme", written by Mancini with Johnson in mind.[2] Johnson said of the recording: "We only did two takes, I think... When we finished, everyone applauded -- even the string players. And that's saying something... They never applaud for anything."[3]

In 1969, T-Bone Walker introduced Harmonica Slim to the record producer Bob Thiele. Thiele utilised a company of jazz and R&B musicians including Johnson, to work with Harmonica Slim on his debut album.[9][10]

Johnson joined the studio band for the Merv Griffin Show in 1970, and also played with a number of jazz and swing bands of the period. He joined Lincoln Mayorga in creating direct-to-disc recordings for Sheffield Labs. He later recorded for the Concord label, worked with the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut, and toured in 1990 with the Gene Harris Superband.[5] He has performed at numerous jazz festivals.[7]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

  • Plas Johnson [also released as Drum Stuff] (Tampa, 1956)
  • Downstairs, (A-side), The Loop, (B-side), (Capitol Records, 45-30564). Promotional Record Number: 4251.
  • Rockin' with Plas: The Capitol Singles (Capitol, 1957-59 [1982])
  • This Must Be the Plas (Capitol, 1959)
  • Mood for the Blues (Capitol, 1961)
  • The Blues (Concord Jazz, 1975)
  • Positively (Concord Jazz, 1976)
  • L.A. '55 with the Grease Patrol (Carell Music, 1983)
  • On the Trail! with Totti Bergh (Gemini, 1991 [1993])
  • Hot, Blue and Saxy (Carell Music, 1992)
  • Evening Delight (Carell Music, 1999)
  • Christmas in Hollywood with Ernie Andrews (Carell Music, 2000)
  • Keep That Groove Going! with Red Holloway (Milestone, 2001)
  • All Blues with Ernie Watts (Mojo [Japan], 2008)

As Johnny Beecher[edit]

  • Sax 5th Ave. (CRC Charter, 1962)
  • On the Scene (CRC Charter, 1962)

As sideman[edit]

With Ray Anthony

  • Like Wild! (Capitol, 1960)

With Chet Baker

With Les Baxter

  • Jungle Jazz (Capitol, 1958)

With Benny Carter

With Ry Cooder

With Sam Cooke

With Rita Coolidge

With Clifford Coulter

With Bobby Darin

With Neil Diamond

With Dr. John

With Ella Fitzgerald

With Marvin Gaye

With Etta James

With Elton John

With B.B. King

With Carole King

With Nicolette Larson

With Peggy Lee

With Henry Mancini

With Teena Marie

With The Marketts

  • "Balboa Blue" (Union Records 504, 1962; reissue: Liberty 55443)

With Les McCann

With Bette Midler

With Liza Minnelli

With Joni Mitchell

With Maria Muldaur

  • Waitress in a Donut Shop (Reprise, 1974)
  • Sweet Harmony (Reprise, 1976)

With John Neel

  • Blue Martini (Ava, 1963)

With Aaron Neville

  • Warm Your Heart (A&M, 1991)
  • The Grand Tour (A&M, 1993)
  • Aaron's Soulful Christmas (A&M, 1993)

With The Platters

With Minnie Riperton

With Johnny Rivers

  • New Lovers and Old Friends (Epic, 1975)

With Shorty Rogers

With Linda Ronstadt

With Pete Rugolo

With Boz Scaggs

With Lalo Schifrin

With Rhoda Scott

  • From C to Shining C (Doodlin' Records, 2009)

With Steely Dan

With Rod Stewart

With Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson

With Tom Waits

With Larry Williams

  • Heebie Jeebies (1958)

With Deniece Williams

With the Gerald Wilson Orchestra


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 177. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 1302. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  3. ^ a b Michael G. Mooney, "Plas Johnson gave character to 'Panther' theme", Chicago Tribune, September 5, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2017
  4. ^ Jesse Hamlin, "'Panther' tune has 9 lives for visiting sax cat Plas Johnson",, January 2, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2017
  5. ^ a b Biography by Scott Yanow, AllMusic. Retrieved January 21, 2017
  6. ^ a b c d Plas Johnson biography, Retrieved January 21, 2017
  7. ^ a b Biography, Archived August 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved January 21, 2017
  8. ^ Ron Wynn, "Johnny Beecher", AllMusic. Retrieved January 22, 2017
  9. ^ "HARMONICA SLIM "Complete Harmonica Slim" (Travis Blaylock) | Content Curated By Darin R. McClure & a few photos". Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  10. ^ Cub Koda (December 21, 1934). "Harmonica Slim | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved January 17, 2017.

External links[edit]