Louis Johnson (1955-2015)
I’ve been meaning to write something about this for a few days, but haven’t made time until now.
Louis Johnson is one of the grandfathers of slap or thump bass. He and Larry Graham are the two senior pioneers of the style. I’ve never seen either of them live, but the wife and I were fortunate to see Marcus Miller two months ago, and his method of playing is very much descended from what Louis and Larry originated.
On May 21st (4 days ago) Johnson passed from unrevealed causes. He left behind a legacy of funk and R&B records with dozens of famous artists. I mainly knew him through his work on Michael Jackson‘s albums in the 80s. He provided the bass for every track but one on Thriller, and on other albums from Jackson. As much of a proponent of extreme metal as I am, I remember being a kid and loving the sound of Billie Jean. I still really appreciate the bassline and someday, when I’m quicker, I’m going to learn it.
Johnson’s nickname was “Thunder Thumbs“, and anyone who sees or hears him play won’t have any questions about why that’s the case. Here’s an instructional video from him, produced by Star Licks where he explores his bass style and its history (he really got hurt a lot developing his thump). It was shared on Sundry Musings from the Heartland, which is another fantastic bass blog that also discusses craft beer. Its on my bass blogroll – take a look when you have a chance!
Another link to the same video can be found here, where I originally saw it in 2011:
Here’s some more info about Thunder Thumbs:
- Wikipedia: Louis Johnson
- Talkbass: RIP Louis Johnson
- The Guardian: Louis Johnson obituary
- Rolling Stone: Brothers Johnson’s Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson Bassist, Dead at 60