George Johnson is not only a guitarist but a songwriter, arranger, and producer. He mentored under Quincy Jones following a childhood in which his ear was staple-gunned to the radio, following not only rhythm and blues, James Brown and Motown, but the British Invasion sounds of groups such as the Rolling Stones. When he and his brother, Louis Johnson, started doing their own music -- calling the band the Brothers Johnson, naturally -- he, in turn, not only influenced but provided a superior creative situation for a generation of popular performers including Ashford & Simpson, Toto, and Michael Jackson. The latter artist provides a typical example of a hit collaboration with the Brothers Johnson; he helped to compose "This Had to Be" on the Light Up the Night album, then sang backup at the recording session. Instrumentalists such as jazz pianists Herbie Hancock and George Duke, and composer and arranger Dave Grusin, were also part of the crowd hanging out with the Brothers Johnson who, from the mid-'70s into the '80s, seemed to be overwhelming almost all others in turns of funk influence.
The Brothers Johnson came from a period when musicians in this genre were judged by the dues they had paid in professional situations, and not by some kind of romantic notion of "street credibility." In this respect, the Brothers Johnson got off to an early start, forming a band called Johnson Three Plus One while still in high-school in Los Angeles. Louis Johnson played bass and sang, and the band also featured older brother Tommy Johnson (not to be confused with the country blues player), as well as cousin Alex Weir. After high-school, the group became a professional combo, backing up a selection of touring artists including the Supremes.
From there, both George and Louis Johnson were enlisted to join pianist and singer Billy Preston's group from 1971 to 1973, with George contributing fine original material to Preston's repertoire, including "Music in My Life" and "The Kids and Me." Then Jones stepped into the picture, hiring the Brothers Johnson for his own accompanying band, and producing the group's first album in 1976. While it would be an exaggeration to say the group have never left the charts since, it would be equally wrong to dismiss them as a wonder of one particular era or another. They continued coming up with hits into the mid-'80s, and when Quincy Jones created his epic Back on the Block concept album in 1989, he utilized both old and new material by Johnson in the program.
George Johnson also worked in the studios during that decade with performers such as Steve Arrington and Leon F. Sylvers III. He may have sat out portions of the '90s, resting on a glory heap that includes 16 gold and platinum albums, including his work with Preston and Jones, seven Grammy nominations, and one win. He also developed into an administrator during this period, serving on the Grammy board and working as an active member of NARAS. Besides continuing to collaborate with Jones in the late '90s, Johnson realized the new hip-hop generation was agog about the same music that had inspired him in the first place. That was a good enough reason to revive the Brothers Johnson for a series of international tours. He maintains a production company, actively seeking new artists to collaborate with. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi