Friday, August 18, 2017

The Brothers Johnson – Strawberry Letter 23

Classics: The Brothers Johnson – Strawberry Letter 23 (A&M)

Given a salutary push by Quincy Jones who would produce some of their biggest successes soon after… George Johnson and his brother, Louis, have recorded 8 albums under The Brothers Johnson guise from 1976 to 1988. One most likely remember them for the smash hit ‘Stomp!’. But also this cover version of Shuggie Otis‘s classic ‘Strawberry Letter 23’.

A cut taken from their 1977 ‘Right On Time’ album, it features luminaries such as Harvey Mason on drums and Lee Ritenour on guitar. Not to mention Dave Grusin on synths and keyboards, and Ralph McDonald on percussion. It eventually found extra exposure 21 years after as a part of the ‘Jackie Browne’ OST…

Considered as one of the grandfathers of slap bass playing along with Larry Graham, Louis Johnson has contributed to some of the greatest recordings of all time. Beginning with Michael Jackson‘s ‘Off The Wall’, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Dangerous’. Then Grover Washington, Jr.‘s ‘Hydra’, George Duke‘s ‘Thief In The Night’. And, last but not least, George Benson‘s ‘Give Me The Night’ to name but a few…

Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, George and Louis Johnson formed the Johnson Three Plus One while at school. The third being their elder brother, Tommy. And the Plus One, cousin Alex Weir. As they evolved, they started as a backing band for luminaries such as Bobby Womack and The Supremes. Meanwhile, George and Louis joined Billy Preston‘s band for some time before contributing to the recording of Quincy Jones‘s ‘Mellow Madness’ in 1975. The Dude inviting them to tour in Japan before producing their debut-album – ‘Look Out For #1’ – the year after. An album which spanned the classic ‘Get The Funk Out Ma Face’. But also ‘I’ll Be Good To You’ which Jones re-recorded 13 years later with Ray Charles and Chaka Khan.

From then, and along with Quincy Jones, The Brothers Johnson would score an impressive string of classics. From ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ to ‘Ride O-Rocket’ and ‘Ain’t We Funkin’ Now’. Then ‘Light Up The Night’ and ‘Stomp!’ which is probably their most famous one. With Louis also playing bass on numerous Quincy Jones‘s productions. Beginning with Michael Jackson‘s album ‘Off The Wall’ and ‘Thriller’.

Louie and George parted ways in 1982, after the release of their ‘Winners’ album featuring the unsung ‘Caught Up’. Meanwhile A&M released a compilation of their classics – ‘Blast’ – that same year. The brothers would regularly reunite though, putting out the ‘Out Of Control’ album in 1984. Then ‘Kickin” which would be their very last, 4 years later.

The least one can say is that Louis and George‘s solo careers didn’t reach their expectations at the end. Louis recording one single – ‘Kinky’ – on Capitol back in 1985 from an album – ‘Evolution’ – which only got released in Europe. Meanwhile George released ‘Back Against The Wall’ the same year on Quincy Jones‘s Qwest label. A single from an album he recorded that never saw the light.

Louis Johnson was sadly found dead at his home in Las Vegas, NV on May 21, 2015. The cause of death was gastro intestinal bleed of the esophagus.

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