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 would most likely remember them for the smash hit ‘Stomp!’. But also for 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.
– Working on completing the updating of our data basis has never been synonymous with remaining away from what’s goin’ on. With the news of an upcoming Netflix documentary on the life of Quincy Jones sufficing enough to tickle our curiosity at the time. And eventually break the period of silence which we’ve gone thru to give it a warm welcome. This in addition to the release of a new single – ‘Keep Reachin’ – along with Mark Ronson and Chaka Khan.
Mind you, we’re speakin’ of one of the most influential artists/producers/entrepreneurs of all times. A character who, despite the countless challenges he had to go thru, has managed to… keep reachin’ against all odds.
A talented trumpeter who’s managed to become the sideman of countless stars. From Miles Davis to Dizzie Gillespie among countless others. But also collaborating with Frank Sinatra for the very first time back in 1958. And from then becoming the arranger of some of his albums. Meanwhile establishin’ a strong friendship with him. Eventually admitting Sinatra took him to a whole new planet. “I worked with him until he passed away in 1998”, he said. “He left me his ring. I never take it off. Now, when I go to Sicily, I don’t need a passport. I just flash my ring…”
An Oscar winning soundtrack composer… Remember the seminal ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ or ‘The Color Purple’ among others. And also an entertainment-industry mogul… Remember ‘Vibe’, the magazine he launched back in 1993. And most definitely a hit-maker Pop producer… Remember The ‘Off The Wall’, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’ albums which he produced for Michael Jackson… As many roles he most definitely assumed meanwhile settin’ the gold standard for each.
All in all, Jones, 85, has achieved an unprecedented 79 Grammy Award nominations. And he has won 27 Grammys, including a Grammy Legend Award back in 1991. This in addition to a staggering six decades of entertaining commitment. Enough reasons to honor him and his legacy in a documentary. And who better than Rashida Jones (one of his daughters) could do it? This along with Al Hicks, an Australian musician-turned-filmmaker…
Producers describe the film as awarding “an intimate look into the life of icon Quincy Jones”. And Jones as having “transcended racial and cultural boundaries”. With his story “inextricably woven into the fabric of America.” The Dude eventually writing on Facebook that “it makes my soul SMILE to have such a dream team share my story.”
The trailer for Quincy features the likes of Barack Obama, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg,Kendrick Lamar, Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey who all credit Jones as a true inspiration for their careers.
View Trailer – Quincy: A Life Beyond Measure
View on Netflix
– A native of Chicago, IL, Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. happened to be one of a ten children family. By 1943, he and his family relocated to Bremerton, WA, where his dad got a wartime job. Then after the war, everybody moved to Seattle where Jones attended Garfield High School next to his home. Eventually developing his skills as a trumpeter and arranger at the time.
Quincy started playing with classmate Charles Taylor. And, by the age of 14, he introduced himself to a then 16 years old Ray Charles, quoting him as an early inspiration for his own music career. In 1951, he earned a scholarship to Seattle University. This with a young Clint Eastwood – also a music major there – watching him play in the college band. Then, after one semester, Jones transferred to what is now known as the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, MA.
He would soon after be given his first big break after receiving an offer to tour as a trumpeter, arranger, and pianist with bandleader Lionel Hampton.
In 1953, Jones travelled with Hampton to Europe where fellow members of the group did various recordings for labels such as Vogue in France and Metronome in Sweden. Thus helping to set up Jones’ reputation as a writer and arranger. He finally left Hampton and relocated to New York where he worked as a staff arranger for CBS Records. And in 1956, he became musician, arranger and musical director for the Dizzie Gillespie band on a major tour. He also began considering production seriously. Eventually collaborating with Dinah Washington that same year.
Jones moved next to Paris where he worked as a staff arranger for the Disques Barclay label. Studying composition and theory during his time off with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen, he recorded with Sarah Vaughan and many French artists. Then he returned to America in 1959 where he produced an album for Count Basie. He then came to sign as an artist to Mercury Records in 1961 then became the Vice-President of the label three years later. This bringin’ him to work with artists such as Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan. Meanwhile he delivered various recordings on his own. Beginning with the memorable ‘Bossa Nova’ back in 1963. An album which spanned the classic ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ which Canadian Hip-Hop twosome Dream Warriors sampled eighteen years after on their classic ‘My Definition Of A Boombastic Jazz Style’.
Jones also arranged ‘Sinatra Live In Las Vegas At The Sands’ with the Count Basie Orchestra. And by 1963, he relocated to Hollywood, CA. Becoming the first Black Jazz musician to penetrate the American film score. His film credits including ‘The Deadly Affair’, ‘In Cold Blood’ and ‘In The Heat Of The Night’. But also ‘Cactus Flower’, ‘The Anderson Tapes’ and ‘The Getaway’. Not to mention ‘The Color Purple’ years after (in 1985).
As a recording artist, Jones signed to A&M Records. There, he delivered various albums between 1970 and 1981. Including ‘Body Heat’ in 1974, itself featuring Minnie Riperton on ‘If Ever I Lose This Heaven’. But also its follow-up – ‘Mellow Madness’ – that saw him collaborating with The Brothers Johnson the year after. Not to mention ‘Sounds… And Stuff Like That’ which spanned the classic ‘Stuff Like That’ in 1978. Then the multi-Grammy Award winning ‘The Dude’ three years later. An album that saw him sharing the duties along with Patti Austin on both ‘Razzmatazz’ and ‘Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me’. This in addition to the ‘Every Home Should Have One’ album which he produced for her on his Qwest Reecords label. An effort most likely remembered for the classic ‘Baby Come To Me’ that saw her duetting with James Ingram.
In 1975, Jones founded Qwest Productions, for which he arranged and produced hugely successful albums by Frank Sinatra and other major Pop figures. And three years later, he produced the soundtrack for ‘The Wiz’, the musical adaptation of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’, whose feature film version starred Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.
The end of the 70’s, early 80’s saw him crafting countless classics for many artists who eventually became regular collaborators on his productions. Of course, how not to think of Michael Jackson first? This with the ‘Off The Wall’, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’ albums which he produced for him between 1979 and 1987. The latter resulting in an impressive amount of classics. From ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ to ‘Rock With You’. Then ‘Thriller’, ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Beat It’ or ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. And ‘Bad’ and other ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’. This in addition to ‘I Just Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’ featuring an uncredited Siedah Garrett. But Jones also happened to produce other artists like The Brothers Johnson. Thus givin’ birth to extra classics such as ‘I’ll Be Good To You’ (1976), ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ (1977) and ‘Ain’t We Funkin’ Now’ (1978). Not to mention ‘Stomp!’ in 1980.
An ultra in-demand producer, Jones also came to work with Rufus & Chaka Khan on their 1979 ‘Masterjam’ album. An effort which you might remember for the firing ‘Do You Love What You Feel’. With the same applying to George Benson with his 1980 album and cuts such as ‘Love X Love’, the mellow ‘What’s On Your Mind’ and its title cut. In other words, ‘Give Me The Night’. Meanwhile, I guess it’s fair to say that James Ingram partly owes him a part of his recognition. This, among others with the classic ‘Yah Mo B There’ along with Michael McDonald. With the list to be incomplete without a mention of his production of Donna Summer‘s eponymous album in 1982. The latter including the memorable ‘State Of Independence’.
Then how not to think of the memorable ‘We Are The World’?!? A project and a song in the meantime which he put together back in 1985 with the aim to raise money for the victims of Ethiopia’s famine. This with the contribution of United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa. In other words a cohort of luminaries from Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie who co-wrote the song. To Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Diana Ross and Tina Turner among countless others.
By 1989, Jones made quite a sensation while teaming up with Ray Charles and Chaka Khan on a cover version of The Brothers Johnson‘s ‘I’ll Be Good To You’. But also launching the career of a then 23 years old Tevin Campbell, this while introducing him on ‘Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me)’. And pretty much boosting Al B. Sure!‘s profile as well when choosing him to sing along with Barry White, El DeBarge and James Ingram on the smooth soul suite ‘The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)’. With all these gems comin’ as a part of his ‘Back On The Block’ album with its title track featuring rappers Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel among others.
Jones would eventually gather another cohort of luminaries six years later on his ‘Q’s Jook Joint’ album in a blend of classics and new tunes. This two years after havin’ launched his own magazine by the likes of Vibe.
More recently (in 2017), Jones and French producer Reza Ackbaraly launched Qwest TV, the world’s first subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service for Jazz and eclectic music from around the world. The platform features a handpicked selection of ad-free concerts, interviews, documentaries, and exclusive, original content, all in HD or 4K.
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