How a pair of weight-lifting gloves helped Louis Johnson play slap bass

George Johnson (L) and Louis Johnson (R) from the Brothers Johnson perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1976
(Image credit: Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

Ranked number 38 on our list of The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time, Louis Johnson, or ‘thunder thumbs,’ as he was also known, was one of the most enigmatic thumpers to ever pick up a bass guitar. His pioneering use of slap bass landed him on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller albums – including the disco romp of Get On The Floor and the hit single Billie Jean – as well as George Benson’s Give Me The Night and Michael McDonald’s I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near).

Johnson also scored a number of hits with his brother George as part of The Brothers Johnson, whose funk anthems included Stomp!, Get the Funk Out Ma Face, and Strawberry Letter #23. He played with such power that he regularly blew his bass amplifier’s speakers.

Using his custom MusicMan Stingray – designed by Leo Fender himself – Johnson was able to produce a distinctively funky, slap sound, as seen in his two instructional videos, Louis Johnson Master Session 1, and somewhat inevitably, Master Session 2.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.