Bill Johnson

Bill Johnson's career reached back to virtually the beginnings of jazz and he is credited with being the first jazz person to pluck (as opposed to bowing) the strings of his bass, an innovation that led to the string bass eventually replacing the tuba. Johnson started out as a guitarist, switching to bass in the late 1890s. He worked in New Orleans as early as 1900, with the Peerless and Eagle Bands, playing tuba for their parades. Johnson left New Orleans originally in 1908, playing jazz in Los Angeles and helping to introduce the as-yet unnamed music to the West Coast. His group, the Original Creole Band (which included Freddie Keppard), traveled throughout the country before breaking up in New York in 1918. Johnson freelanced, settled in Chicago and during 1922-1923 was a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, playing both bass and banjo. Although he did not record that often (and only led two titles in 1929 which were really features for the singing of Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon), Johnson was a fixture in Chicago for over 25 years, making records with Johnny Dodds in 1928 and working with Bunk Johnson in 1947. Bill Johnson retired in the early '50s and settled in Mexico and later Texas, living to be 100. ~ Scott Yanow

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