Every once in awhile my friend Jim will single out a song for review via a YouTube link, a copy of a CD, or when you’re a captive audience in his car. It’s a pretty random assortment–“In My Room” by The Beach Boys one time; “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve, the next.
One evening, as I rode shotgun on our way to a birthday celebration, he tested my music knowledge with a song I couldn’t name. Another friend, Brian, piped up from the backseat with the answer: “Strawberry Letter 23,” a Shuggie Otis song recorded by The Brothers Johnson. Brian and Jim are older than me–5 and 8 months respectively–so they’re entitled to have musical memories that we don’t share. What’s more, they both grew up in Minnesota, while I grew up in West Virginia, and their knowledge may reflect geographic differences in radio DJ taste.
The only flaw in those theories is the song came out in 1977, the year I moved to Minnesota. So I guess I can’t use my “youth” or origins as excuses.
Anyway, this car-ride quiz sent me on a mission to discover the music of The Brothers Johnson and Shuggie Otis, both of whom I’ve come to love.
In the summer of ’77, The Brothers Johnson shot to #1 on the R&B charts and #5 on the Billboard charts with their cover of Otis’s single.
Louis Johnson (April 13, 1955-May 21, 2015) was a bassist, known as “Thunder Thumbs.” He and his brother George fronted an LA-based R&B/funk band, which had its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s. They backed up Bobby Womack, The Supremes, Billy Preston, and others, and were taken under the wing of Quincy Jones, who produced their debut album Look Out for #1 and its followup, Right On Time.
The group split up in the 1980s to pursue independent projects. Louis played bass on Michael Jackson’s Thriller and for a host of other artists, including Earl Klugh and George Benson. He released a gospel album with his band Passage and later, Evolution, an album under his own name.
He is known for his slap-bass style, which he taught through a series of instructional videos.