Bassist Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson collaborator, dies at 60

By Marilyn Malara  |  May 23, 2015 at 10:43 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 23 (UPI) -- Louis Johnson, Brothers Johnson bassist and key Michael Jackson collaborator, died Thursday, May 21, at the age of 60. His nephew, Troy, confirmed the musician's death via Instagram and to Rolling Stone. Johnson's cause of death has yet to be reported.

Louis Johnson is well known for his multiple collaborations with the King of Pop. He played bass riffs on Jackson's Off the Wall and Thriller albums and is credited for his work on "Billie Jean," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "P.Y.T."

"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 in 2013 for the 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.'"

Producer Quincy Jones -- who worked with Brothers Johnson in the mid-'70s and '80s and produced their first album -- expressed shock and sadness on social media Friday.

"Louis 'Thunderthumbs' Johnson was one of the greatest bass players to ever pick up the instrument," he wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. "As a member of the Brothers Johnson we shared decades of magical times working together in the studio and touring the world."

The band played back-up for Jones in his albums Body Heat and Mellow Madness before releasing their studio albums Look Out for #1, Right On Time, Blam and Light Up The Night. Johnson went on to work with Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Herb Alpert and George Benson during his long solo career.

"When I went to the session with 'Billie Jean,' I took like 10 basses and I lined 'em up. I'd say, 'Michael, pick one'," Johnson told Rolling Stone. "He'd pick one with the zebra wood on it. It had 12 different kinds of wood, different layers. It was dark brown and tan and light-colored, and it looked like a tiger or a zebra. Michael picked it because it sounded good. I hot-rodded it. I beefed it up and put extra magnets underneath the pickups. I did all the things I knew how to do to get the best sound. That's how come the bass sounded like that."

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