The Brothers Johnson is an American funk and R&B band consisting of American musicians and brothers George aka 'Lightnin' Licks' and Louis E. Johnson aka 'Thunder Thumbs'. They achieved their greatest success from the mid-1970s to early '80s, with hit singles like "I'll Be Good to You"

Background[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Formation[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Guitarist/vocalist George and bassist/vocalist Louis formed the band Johnson Three Plus One with older brother Tommy, and their cousin Alex Weir, while attending school in Los Angeles,California.[1][2] When they became professionals, the band backed such touring R&B acts as Bobby Womack and the Supremes. George and Louis Johnson later joined Billy Preston's band, and wrote Music in My Life and The Kids and Me for him before leaving his group in 1973. In 1976, The Brothers covered the BeatlessongHey Jude, for the ephemeral musical documentary All This and World War II.

Quincy Jones hired them to play on his LP Mellow Madness, and recorded four of their songs, including Is It Love That We're Missing? and Just a Taste of Me.

After touring with various artists like Bobby Womack and Billy Preston, they were hired by Quincy Jones for a tour in Japan and produced their debut album Look Out For #1, released in March 1976 (#9 U.S.) Their Right On Time album was released in May 1977 and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 200Blam!! came out in August 1978 and reached number 7 on the Billboard 200.

Two of the duo's songs were featured on the soundtrack of the 1976 film Mother, Jugs & Speed. The instrumental track Thunder Thumbs and Lightnin' Licks refers to the brothers' nicknames. Get the Funk Out Ma Face was cowritten with Quincy Jones.

Their popular album Light Up The Night was released in March 1980 and rose to number 5 on the Billboard 200. It was number 46 on the "Top 100 LPs of 1980" list in Rolling Stone Magazine. The subsequent album, Winners, was self-produced by the brothers and released in July 1981, but was less successful, going only as high as number 48 on the Billboard 200.

Among their most popular songs are I'll Be Good to You (Billboard Hot 100 #3 in 1976), Strawberry Letter 23 (Hot 100 #5 in 1977, originally recorded by Shuggie Otis), Ain't We Funkin' Now (1978), and Stomp! (Hot 100 #7 and Hot Dance Music/Club Play #1 in 1980). Their styles include funk, and R&B ballads. In addition, each album would include an instrumental cut or more which would either be considered lite jazz (Tomorrow 1976, Q 1977 Similin' On Ya 1980 & Tokyo 1984) or Funk (Thunder Thumbs & Lightning Licks 1976, Brother Man 1976, Mista Cool 1978 & Celebrations 1980)

1982 Split[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The duo split up in 1982 resulting in brief solo careers for the brothers.

Louis Johnson's solo work[edit source | editbeta]Edit

They started doing separate ventures; Louis Johnson played bass on Michael Jackson's Thriller and recorded a gospel music album in 1981 with his own group Passage, which included his then-wife Valerie Johnson and former Brothers Johnson percussionist/singer, Richard Heath. Louis recorded a single in 1985 called "Kinky," released on Capitol Records. The track appears on his Evolution album, which was released that same year only in Europe. Louis then started to register his bass skills on video, and accomplished about 3 instructional lesson-tapes for the Starlicks video-distribution company, from which the first release was also in 1985. For a while, Louis got comfortable with family life his wife and son. By 1988 his then manager Diane Taren, talked him into going back to the studio to record his own projects and soon was back in the biz. He continued this initiative by starting his bass academy during the 1990s and giving workshop clinics to this day, via his own website.

George Johnson's solo work[edit source | editbeta]Edit

George Johnson released one single in 1985, titled "Back Against The Wall," on Quincy Jones' own Qwest label. There seems to be a complete album (recorded but unreleased) from that recording session, which George himself confirmed when he and Louis were interviewed around 1987/1988 for the Blues & Soul magazine in the United Kingdom (see link below). In addition to these solo projects, George delivered guitar work for Steve Arrington's album Dancing In The Key Of Life (1985) and had ad-libbed vocals on the track "Think Back And Remember" from the Galaxian album by the Jeff Lorber Fusion, released in 1981 on Arista Records.

Various 1980s reunions and other projects[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]Brothers Johnson in 1980

The brothers reunited briefly in 1984 to record an album. Produced by Leon Sylvers, the resulting LPOut of Control did not equal their past success, but did garner them another R&B hitwith "You Keep Me Coming Back." After an interim period, the duo regrouped again to record Kickin' in 1988. The album-title of the Kickin project was a collaboration with Irene Cara, who was then their neighbor. Although this album saw even more limited success, it did include the minor hit, "Kick it to the Curb."

In between those two albums, both George and Louis released their aforementioned solo material. The brothers also both appeared on the Street Shadows album of keyboard-player/arranger David Diggs, who formerly provided horn and string arrangements for albums like WinnersBlast, and the Passage project of Louis. "Last Night," the opening track on that David Diggs album, shows George's versatility to perform on the bass guitar as well. He previously showed his bass skills on tracks like "Teaser" from Winners and "The Great Awaking" from Blast, the same way that Louis shows his guitar skills on various compositions of the sibling duo.

In addition, during this time, the band's song "Tomorrow" (originally an instrumental on the B-side of "Get The Funk Out Ma Face") was recorded with vocals sung by Tevin Campbell for Quincy Jones' Back on the Block release in 1989. This album also included Jones' hit remake of the Brothers Johnson's "I'll Be Good to You," featuring Ray Charles and Chaka Khan.

The 2002 reunion tour[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Besides a brief appearance of the brothers in Japan around 1994, and George making a guest-appearance in the 1990s on a concert in Japan (including a released double-CD) of theGraham Central Station, the duo launched an expanded US tour in 2002 which got positive, wide exposure. It was visited by many fans and various artists in the entertainment business. Along with a website and discussion-forum, online visitors could share their experiences of the shows by reliving the hey-days of Funkadelala and wander through the Land of Ladies. A few years after that, a combi-release of live-CD + DVD came on the market under the name of Strawberry Letter 23: Live.

Until recently, the brothers have been doing performances on their own. In 2006, Louis gave a duo-show with a drummer, on the Poetry In Motion 1 Festival, Maryland. In late 2007, George performed with his own band at a Detroit-Festival, including a persona called Sir Nose. George also performs these days with a special band, including Adina HowardCherrelleRay Parker Jr., and a few more artists, which is an initiative of Michael Henderson.

Discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Studio albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Album Peak chart positions



certifications [5]

Record label


1976 Look Out for #1 9 1 Platinum A&M
1977 Right On Time 13 2 Platinum
1978 Blam! 7 1 48 Platinum
1980 Light Up the Night 5 1 22 Platinum
1981 Winners 48 10 42
1984 Out of Control 91 20
1988 Kickin'
"—" denotes the album failed to chart or was not certified

Live albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Album Peak chart positions Record label


2004 Strawberry Letter 23: Live Goldenlane
"—" denotes the album failed to chart

Compilation albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Album Peak chart positions


Record label


1982 Blast!: The Latest and the Greatest 138 23 A&M
1987 Classics, Vol. 11
1996 Greatest Hits
1998 The Best of the Brothers Johnson PolyGram
2000 The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Brothers Johnson A&M
2003 The Universal Masters Collection UMG
Strawberry Letter 23: The Best of the Brothers Johnson A&M
"—" denotes the album failed to chart

Singles[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Single Peak chart positions[4][6] Album


[ US


1976 "I'll Be Good to You" 3 1 Look Out for #1
"Get the Funk Out Ma Face" 30 4 11
"Free and Single" 103 26
1977 "Strawberry Letter 23" 5 1 35 Right on Time
"Runnin' for Your Lovin'" 107 20
1978 "Love Is" 50
"Ride-O-Rocket" 104 45 50 Blam!!
"Ain't We Funkin' Now" 102 45 43
1980 "Stomp!" 7 1 1 6 Light Up the Night
"Light Up the Night" 16 47
"Treasure" 73 36
1981 "The Real Thing" 67 11 50 Winners
"Dancin' Free" 51
1982 "Welcome to the Club" 13 Blast!: The Latest and the Greatest
1983 "I'm Giving You All of My Love" 75
1984 "You Keep Me Coming Back" 102 12 22 77 Out of Control
1988 "Kick It to the Curb" 52 Kickin'
"Party Avenue"
"—" denotes the single failed to chart

Videography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • 1977 - Right on Time
  • 1980 - Stomp
  • 1981 - The Real Thing
  • 1988 - Kick It to the Curb
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