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Plas Johnson

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John Johnson Jr. (b 21 July 1931, Donaldsonville, Louisiana), known since childhood as Plas Johnson, is an American soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist, probably most familiar as the lead on Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther Theme”.

He and his pianist brother Ray first recorded as the Johnson Brothers in New Orleans in the late 1940s, and Plas then toured with R&B singer Charles Brown. After army service, he moved to Los Angeles and began session recordings as a full-time musician, backing artists such as B.B. King and Johnny Otis as well as scores of other R&B performers. An early supporter was Maxwell Davis, who hired him to take over his own parts so that he could concentrate on producing sessions for the Modern record label.

Recruited by Capitol Records in the mid-1950s, Johnson also played on innumerable records by Peggy Lee, Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra and others. He remained a leading session player for almost twenty years, averaging two sessions a day and playing everything from movie soundtracks to rock and roll singles, such as Ricky Nelson. He played on many of the Beach Boys’ records, and was an integral part of a number of instrumental groups that existed in name only, such as B. Bumble and the Stingers. In 1963, he recorded the Pink Panther theme, but played on only the first few of the cartoon series. Another solo for a well-known television series was on The Odd Couple’s theme music. Johnson was also used by Motown, and played on hits by Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and others.

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