Dennis Keith Johnson by Joe Gagliardo
In 1971, you couldn’t turn the radio on without “Get It On” by Chase exploding out of your car’s sound system! Who can forget that driving bass, and that line-up of trumpets led by Bill Chase?! Back then, we knew little about the musicians in bands—that information was not readily available. Due to the success of “Get It On, and the band’s Chicago home base, there was a taping of a live concert that was broadcast on TV, and I was lucky to be there. Now, I’m seeing this bass player, Dennis Keith Johnson, in a live setting, and I’m thinking, ‘where the hell did this guy come from, and how did he learn to play bass like that!’ He was a monster, and he was barely 21.
Go check out “Get It On” and “Open Up Wide” from the first Chase LP, and “So Many People” from the Ennea LP, and you will know what I’m talking about. After hearing those songs, it is no surprise that Dennis’ playing was influenced by Tim Bogert, Motown, and Ron Carter.
Fast forward to about 1977, and I am in a Chicago club checking out this hot new band, Survivor, and there is Dennis Keith Johnson again, laying down a heavy rock bottom.
Check out the first Survivor LP, where Dennis and drummer, Gary Smith, cause the opening track, “Somewhere in America,” to chug like a freight train. Also “Can’t Getcha Offa My Mind.”
Back in those Survivor days, you would often see Dennis wearing a T Shirt that said “More Bass,” shirts he had made as a reminder to the sound person to make sure the bass was heard in the live mix, after he received complaints that the bass could not be heard!
Back in the Chase and Survivor days, Dennis’ go-to basses were a ‘62 Jazz bass, and a ‘72 P bass. Today, his bass of choice is a 35-inch scale Modulus bass, with a graphite neck.
You can catch Dennis with his project of over 31 years, the Dennis Keith Experience.