The career of this classic jazz trumpeter can be divided into two sections, before the second World War and after. The second part was no career at all, at least in terms of the music business, unless Johnson slipped in a few performances of "Taps". While the careers of many of his peers include a return to full-time music following the end of hostilities, Johnson is an example of a player who simply stayed with the military. His background in the National Guard might have made him more prone to such a decision; at any rate, he was eventually posted to Colorado Springs, where his trumpet seems to have stayed in the case.
This horn and the man blowing it had begun a busy round of professional engagements in 1928 with groups such as Gene Rodgers' Revellers, Henri Saparo, Eugene Kennedy and Charlie Skeete. Based out of New York City, Johnson began a two-year stretch with Luis Russell in 1929, bouncing around between this band, the previously mentioned Kennedy and the superb Benny Carter in 1934. In the mid '30s Johnson numbered as one of Charlie Turner's Arcadians as well as working with Willie Bryant. His final and perhaps most important engagements pre-blitzkrieg were with the orchestra assembled by Louis Armstrong in 1938 and 1939 and the Don Redman band in 1936, 1937 and 1940.