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Marcus Johnson

Maui bassist plays with a who’s who of musical artists.

August 5, 2014
Louise Lambert - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

Bassist Marcus Johnson plays with a who's who of musical artists--from Amy Hanaiali'i and Willie K to Tom Scott and Willie Nelson.

Raised in a musical family, Marcus always loved jazz. His whole family sings and harmonizes, and on his visit back to Wisconsin last month, he jammed with the family, including his 89-year-old drummer dad. Both Marcus' girls are musical as well. His daughter, Mickey, recently played her first professional gig at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center with him and Gene Argel.

In 1984, Marcus came to Hawai'i as a bandleader on a cruise ship and made Maui his home. Playing hundreds of gigs he may not have gotten if he lived elsewhere, his first few Maui shows were with George Benson, Gabe Baltazar and Henry Allen.

Article Photos

Marcus Johnson and his U-Bass

Marcus played in the band Gypsy Pacific with guitarists Phil Benoit, Tom Conway and violinist Willie Wainwright. It's Maui's loss that they disbanded; the band didn't want to continue without the irreplaceable Willie, who moved to Las Vegas.

One time, while recording with Steve Lowry, when Marcus was influenced by bassist Jaco Pastorius, Steve said, "I like what you played. Now do it again and take half that s**t out." Marcus learned to value space in the music.

Marcus advised, "If you're not inspired, don't play."

He told a story about a sideman with Miles Davis, who told Miles he didn't know what to play. Miles said, "Then take the horn out your mouth."

Marcus played, arranged and produced two albums for Benoit Jazzworks, produced Eve Moffat's gospel album, played with Michael Buble and Dave Benoit, and will play again with hot Texas singer Deborah Vial this fall. He often joins Sal Godinez and Latitude 21 N., Randall Rospond and the Ha'iku Hillbillies.

Marcus tastefully accompanies all styles, whether playing his upright acoustic bass, electric or U-Bass. In the San Francisco airport, recently, 'ukulele artist Derick Sebastian saw Marcus carrying his U-Bass, introduced himself, and offered him a gig back on Maui.

Marcus is slappin' and poppin' on the five-string fender with Omar and Rare Vibration most Sundays at Kono's. He plays with the Makai Jazz Quartet Thursdays at Mulligan's On the Blue with Shiro Mori, Jimmy C and swinging soprano/tenor sax man Bruce Boege. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays he's at the Four Seasons with great pianists Argel, Godinez and Shiro. Friday, Aug. 22, he will perform at Three's Bar & Grill in Kihei with yours truly.

A freelance writer, jazz vocalist and pianist, Maui Swing Queen Louise Lambert teaches voice, piano and "How to Sing and Play in a Band" workshops. She provides world-class musical entertainment and performs at Three's Bar & Grill in Kihei on Friday nights.;; (808) 205-3971.



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