As a studio musician, recording engineer and record producer, Johnson played a role in iconic hits by Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and others. Musician Jason Isbell posted on Twitter, writing "The mighty Jimmy Johnson has passed. A lot of my favorite music wouldn't exist without him."
Bassist and business partner David Hood said Johnson was a "friend who became a brother" and an inspiration to him and countless others in the music business. "Jimmy was just an all-around phenomenal music guy," Hood said.
Johnson began work as a professional guitar player at an early age and became a studio musician with Fame Studio. He later helped found the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which became a recording destination for well-known artists.
According to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Johnson's "distinctive guitar fills" can be heard on the recordings of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers and others. Johnson also was renowned as a recording engineer working the controls of Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" and the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses" and other hits.
Hood said in the studio that Johnson could hear things that others didn't. "When he first signed Lynyrd Skynyrd, nobody thought anybody would want to hear that," Hood said of the long-haired group. "But he believed in them, fought for them and never gave up on them." The group immortalized the Swampers with a reference on "Sweet Home Alabama."
Johnson always remained humble, Hood said, recalling how Johnson's mother would host home-cooked dinners for "all these rock and roll people" in their small home in Sheffield. Johnson's son, Jay Johnson, wrote on Facebook: "He is gone. Playing music with the angels now."