Comprised of pianist Ray and saxophonist Plas, the Johnson Brothers were a popular club act around New Orleans while still in their teens which soon led to their backing Erline Harris on Regal Records in 1949 as well as cutting their own sides with the label before each went on to prolific careers as session musicians.

Ray, born in 1930, and Plas, who came along a year later in 1931, were part of a musical Creole family from Louisiana whose father, Plas Sr., played saxophone, banjo and guitar and along with their mother Grace, a pianist, they gigged all over Louisiana when the boys were children and their sister Gwen was on her way to becoming an accomplished singer in her own right. The boys got their first paying job just after reaching puberty when 13 year old Ray switched from sax and drums to play piano on their initial gig with Plas was playing his soprano sax behind him.

Over the next few years their reputations grew and they would later attend Dillard University to further their musical education but left for California to become part of the growing Los Angeles studio scene led by Maxwell Davis. Plas took his first job away from his brother when he was hired for Charles Brown’s road band in 1951.

After a stint in the Army he hooked up with Johnny Otis, then with Capitol Records, who brought Plas to the major label’s attention where he rapidly became the go-to horn for hire on a wide variety of sessions, not just rock but also jazz and pop on sessions for everyone from Lex Baxter to Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. Legendary composer Henry Mancini grew to rely on Plas to lay down some of the most distinctive sax lines in music history on such compositions as The Peter Gunn Theme and The Pink Panther Theme.

All the while Plas continued playing in rock circles, contributing on everything from surf-rock classics by The Mar-Kets to the avant garde work of Frank Zappa… from backing twangy guitar master Duane Eddy to adding to the psychedelic gumbo of Dr. John… and from taking part in the orchestral rock output of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to the proto-punk of Don & Dewey. He was featured on huge hits from the 1950’s by Larry Williams, the 1960’s with Sam Cooke, the 1970’s by Rod Stewart and Steely Dan and was still in demand in the 1980’s working with such luminaries as Tom Waits and The Isley Brothers and the 1990’s with Aaron Neville before easing back on his session work after fifty years in the business.

His brother Ray never attained the notoriety of his brother did but he too remained an active musician, often as a solo act in which featured his singing as well as his piano playing. He cut rock singles for Mercury in the early 1950’s, calypso records in the late 1950’s and soul and funk organ instrumentals in the 1960’s as well as still finding time to do sessions for a variety of artists in the studio, most notably playing behind Ricky Nelson during his peak commercial run in the early 1960’s, Sam Cooke, and Canned Heat later in the decade as well as having the honor of playing on Nat “King” Cole’s last huge hit “Rambling Rose”, taking Cole’s place behind the piano. Throughout this time Plas and Ray would frequently be booked for the same sessions and of course a lot of their solo work often featured the other in a non-credited supporting role.

Both brothers appeared on television in notable fashion, Ray playing on the 1960’s rock show Shindig behind Aretha Franklin and later adding acting to his credits – usually as a pianist – on shows such as The Nanny, while in the 1970’s Plas’s main occupation was in the studio band of Merv Griffin’s legendary talk show alongside an impressive array of jazz musicians.

Each of them was still active into the next century with Ray recording an album in 2000 and playing at the Oscars behind Queen Latifah in 2003, while Plas taught music and was still gigging even beyond that.

Ray died a month shy of his 83rd birthday in 2013 while as of this writing Plas remains one of the few artists to have recorded in rock of the late 1940’s who is still around.
THE JOHNSON BROTHERS COMBO DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Regal 3233; July, 1949)
As backing band behind… Erline Harris. A blistering performance by Harris aided by The Johnson Brothers leading the band who match her passion every step of the way. (9)

(Regal 3233; July, 1949)
As backing band behind…. Erline Harris

(DeLuxe 3227; August, 1949)
A decent, if not too memorable, debut by the teenage siblings leading the band through their paces topped off by a Ray Johnson vocal… jazzy at times but with enough of a rock foundation to suffice. (4)