b. 12 December 1954, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. At the age of nine Johnson was given an acoustic guitar and promptly began teaching himself to play. His early influences included the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. Later, he began listening to jazz guitarists, in particular Wes Montgomery, and also to jazz players on other instruments, among them John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He moved from acoustic to electric guitar but then switched to electric bass guitar, eventually completing the transition to acoustic bass. Based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, when he was 17 he began playing a regular nightly gig in a band led by saxophonist Irv Williams. This job lasted for more than two years and then, at the age of 20, Philly Joe Jones hired him. This engagement took him to Philadelphia and New York and established his reputation. Thereafter, he moved around America, spending some intensive study time playing in Oklahoma City in the early 80s before eventually settling in Seattle in 1990.
In those intervening years he played with numerous artists, among them Chet Baker, Gary Bartz, JoAnne Brackeen, Eddie Daniels, Barney Kessell, Mark Murphy, Julian Priester, Claudio Roditi, Charlie Rouse, Bud Shank and Lew Tabackin. He also played with Hal Galper, with whom he made six CDs, and Jessica Williams, appearing also on half a dozen of her highly praised albums. The Galper engagement is another one which, like that with Jones, proved to be influential upon his development and his career. A thoughtful and highly supportive player, Johnson is highly regarded by his peers and in the early years of the new century was beginning to attract the attention of the wider jazz audience for whom he had been too long a relatively anonymous sideman.