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 89)
Donaldsonville, Louisiana, U.S.
InstrumentsSaxophone, piccolo, flute, clarinet
Associated acts

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, he sang with his family's group until his saxophonist father bought him a soprano saxophone. 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, and Plas first toured with R&B singer Charles Brown in 1951.[2] After army service, he and his brother moved to Los Angeles in 1954,[3] 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.[4][5][6] 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.[5]

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.[5] 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.[5][7]

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. 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."[2]

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.[8][9]

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.[4] He continues to record and perform, particularly at jazz festivals.[6]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

As Johnny Beecher[edit]

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

As sideman[edit]

With Chet Baker

With Marvin Gaye

With Dr. John

With Johnny Rivers

  • New Lovers and Old Friends (Epic, 1975)

With Maria Muldaur

With Ry Cooder

With Rita Coolidge

With Teena Marie

With Boz Scaggs

With Joni Mitchell

With Elton John

With Liza Minnelli

With Les Baxter

  • Jungle Jazz (Capitol, 1958)

With Linda Ronstadt

With Deniece Williams

With Tom Waits

With Benny Carter

With Bette Midler

With B.B. King

With Rod Stewart

With Bobby Darin

With Etta James

With Clifford Coulter

With Minnie Riperton

With Maria Muldaur

  • Waitress in a Donut Shop (Reprise Records, 1974)

With Ella Fitzgerald

With Nicolette Larson

With Carole King

With Peggy Lee

With Neil Diamond

With Henry Mancini

With Sam Cooke

With Aaron Neville

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

With Les McCann

With John Neel

  • Blue Martini (Ava, 1963)

With Shorty Rogers

With Pete Rugolo

With Lalo Schifrin

With Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson

With the Gerald Wilson Orchestra

With The Platters

With Rhoda Scott

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

With Steely Dan


  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 177. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ a b Michael G. Mooney, "Plas Johnson gave character to 'Panther' theme", Chicago Tribune, September 5, 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2017
  3. ^ Jesse Hamlin, "'Panther' tune has 9 lives for visiting sax cat Plas Johnson",, January 2, 2007. Retrieved 22 January 2017
  4. ^ a b Biography by Scott Yanow, Retrieved 21 January 2017
  5. ^ a b c d Plas Johnson biography, Retrieved 21 January 2017
  6. ^ a b Biography, Archived 2013-08-14 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 21 January 2017
  7. ^ Ron Wynn, "Johnny Beecher", Retrieved 22 January 2017
  8. ^ "HARMONICA SLIM "Complete Harmonica Slim" (Travis Blaylock) | Content Curated By Darin R. McClure & a few photos". Retrieved 2017-01-17.
  9. ^ Cub Koda (1934-12-21). "Harmonica Slim | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-01-17.

External links[edit]