In the late 1970s and over into the early 80s, the Los Angeles-born self-taught musician was one-half of the Grammy-winning hit making duo, the Brothers Johnson, along with his brother, George. The Brothers Johnson placed memorable singles like “I’ll Be Good to You,” “Stomp!,” “Get the Funk Out Ma Face” and “Strawberry Letter 23” onto both the pop and R&B Top 40 charts.
Nicknamed throughout the industry as “Thunder Thumbs,” Johnson was well-known for his crisp, percussive thumb popping and slapping. It was common for him to play what he felt, not what was written. Music legend Quincy Jones considered Johnson to be a core member of his production ensemble and “one of the best bass players to ever pick up the instrument.”
The instrumentalist’s signature bass licks were essential to the sound that helped shape Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller albums. Johnson was an in-demand session musician, accompanying an incredible range of performers and artists including Herb Alpert, George Benson, Stanley Clarke, Aretha Franklin, Michael McDonald, Stevie Nicks, George Duke and Paul McCartney among others.
Johnson’s cause of death still has not been confirmed. He was 60 years old.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for the Burton Wire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.