Keith L. Johnson Day

June 01, 1940 – April 06, 2021

A tribute to the trumpeter, keyboardist and bandleader

Trumpeter, keyboardist, and arranger-composer Keith L. Johnson passed away on Apr. 6, 2021, at the age of 80.

He was born on June 1, 1940, and grew up in Coos Bay and Eugene, Oregon, attending the University of Oregon during 1958-61.

Johnson gained experience as a trumpeter while a teenager, playing in clubs in Portland and San Francisco.

After he moved to New York in 1964, he worked wherever he could, getting his big break when Larry Coryell recommended that Paul Butterfield hire him for the Butterfield Blues Band.

With Butterfield, Johnson played at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, recording three albums with the band.

After four years with Butterfield, Johnson worked with Van Morrison for a year, participating on Morrison’s hit “Domino” and album Street Choir.

Johnson spent a dozen years as a member of Etta James’ band, becoming her musical director and an important writer in addition to playing trumpet and keyboards.

In 2018, Johnson moved back to Oregon, having a more relaxed lifestyle during his final years.

There is little film of Keith L. Johnson, but he can be seen in this Etta James clip from the 1993 Northsea Jazz Festival, playing behind the R&B singer as she sings “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home.”

-Scott Yanow