Keg Johnson

Biography

The older brother of saxophonist Budd Johnson, Keg Johnson's tone was a bit weak but he could be a fluent soloist. He played several instruments (including cornet which he learned from his father) before settling on the trombone. Keg and Budd worked together in local bands in Texas in the late 1920's including the Blue Moon Chasers, William Holloway's Merrymakers, Ben Smith's Blue Syncopators and Terrence Holder's 12 Clouds Of Joy. He was with Jesse Stone in 1929, traveling to Kansas City where he joined George E. Lee. During the next couple of years Johnson had short stints with bands led by Grant Moore, Eli Rice, Jabbo Smith, Cassino Simpson, Ralph Cooper and Eddie Mallory. The trombonist played in Chicago with Louis Armstrong (with whom he recorded) and in 1933 moved to New York. Johnson was with the orchestras of Benny Carter (1933-34) and, Fletcher Henderson (1934) before spending a long period with Cab Calloway (1935-48). After leaving Calloway, Johnson worked with Lucky Millinder (1948-50) and Eddie Wilcox (1951) before moving to California. He played with Benny Carter and for a short time with Duke Ellington (1953) and then became a part-time player in order to work as a house decorator. Johnson still gigged now and then, often on guitar (including with Wardell Gray). In the late 1950's he moved back to New York and became more active in music, working with Eddie Barefield (1959), recording with Gil Evans in 1960 and for much of his last few years (starting in 1961) he was a member of Ray Charles' big band before he died unexpectedly. Keg Johnson never led his own record date but he can be heard in fine form during his period with Louis Armstrong.
 
- By Scott Yanow
All Music Group