After waking up and having the usual inner dialog about what song to blog about this week? Rique informed me of the sad news that Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson had passed away at the age of 60. Now,I was very back and forth about whether or not this matter should be addressed so soon. For one? Just did a major piece on the Brothers Johnson on the birthday of Louis’s eldest brother George. Another was that I didn’t want to come across as exploiting a tremendous talent I had nothing but respect and admiration for.
Took a 10-15 minute Facebook conservation with Rique to decide me on the matter. Louis’s career as a huge hit making and critically acclaimed musical success peaked at a crucial point in the music. A point where the circular nature of taste was veering away from instrumentalists again and back towards popular vocalists-following the post disco era. Taking a break from recording with brother George? Louis released his first and only solo album entitled Evolution in 1985. And smack dab in the center of the album was a song called “A Touch Of Class”. A song that left a strong impression on me personally.
Beginning with a slow paced,brittle uptempo drum machine rhythm accented with electronic hi hat on the second beat? Johnson’s slap bass comes right in and fast becomes the central body of the song. After this? A series of synthesizer based melodies build. The first is a more percussive oriented one-joined almost immediately by a light improvised trumpet melody from Bobby Rodriquez. Following this? Three more orchestral synthesizer elements come into the song that create something of the environment of big band horn sections-including voicing’s for trumpet,sax and trombone interactions. Following yet another solo for Johnson’s slap bass? A jazzier keyboard solo comes in before a series of twittering bird like,and more abstract electronics close out the jam.
First thing about this song that really impressed me was the fact that it was an instrumental. On a pop album rather than a jazz one. This was very common during the height of the 70’s funk era. Yet by 1985 in particular? Full on instrumentals were, in fact a lot less common on pop,rock,funk and soul records of the period. Louis Johnson celebrated his instrumentally based musicality in another important way on this song. Using then contemporary synthesizers and drum machines? He uses the medium of electro funk production to created a series of solos which accent (and emulate) his iconic slap bass playing. As a multi instrumentalist here? He accents Rodriquez’s single trumpet solo here with Quincy Jones-like orchestral synth arrangements. As a high quality joining of big band jazz and funk in the style of his mentor? This song in particular is, for me anyway, a wonderful solo musical legacy for the man to have left behind.