Louis Johnson, founding member of funk band the Brothers Johnson and an in-demand bassist who appeared on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” died on Thursday, May 21st. He was 60. His death was confirmed by his nephew Troy on Instagram, though a cause of death has yet to be revealed.
“I’ve never been given parts to play in my whole life. I’m the most rare bass player in the whole world,” Johnson told Rolling Stone contributing writer Steve Knopper in 2013 for the upcoming book MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson. “No one ever gave me music paper to read; no one ever gave me anything to read. They tell me, ‘Here’s a track, play what you want.'”
The Los Angeles-based Brothers Johnson, a group featuring Louis and his brother George, got their start backing up Quincy Jones before releasing their acclaimed, Jones-produced debut LP Look Out for #1 in 1976. Over the next five years, the Brothers Johnson racked up three Number One hits on the R&B charts: 1976’s “I’ll Be Good to You,” their 1977 cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23,” and 1980’s smash “Stomp!” (Their rendition of “Strawberry Letter 23” was later featured prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.) The Brothers Johnson’s 1980 album Light Up the Night, featuring “This Had to Be” co-written by Michael Jackson and featuring the King of Pop on background vocals, ascended to the top of the R&B album charts.
“Louis ‘Thunder Thumbs’ Johnson was one of the greatest bass players to ever pick up the instrument,” Jones tells Rolling Stone. “As a member of the Brothers Johnson, we shared decades of magical times working together in the studio and touring the world. From my albums Body Heat and Mellow Madness, to their platinum albums Look Out for #1, Right On Time, Blam and Light Up the Night, which I produced, to Michael’s solo debut Off the Wall, I considered Louis a core member of my production team. He was a dear and beloved friend and brother, and I will miss his presence and joy of life every day.”
RIP to a musical legend!