Johnnie Johnson’s driving, boogie piano was a key factor in the success of Chuck Berry’s music, and the title ‘Johnny B. Goode’ is said to be a reference to Johnnie’s rumbunctious behaviour when he was drinking. Credited with getting Chuck started and then sticking with him for twenty years, Johnnie had a late-blooming solo career which attracted the help of some very big Blues stars. Johnnie’s combination of R&B, swing and boogie piano styles and his songwriting and arranging talents produced some of the most exciting music of the day.
Johnnie pounds the 88s on ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ which he claimed to have co-written;
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‘Maybelline’ went to No. 5 in the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the R&B charts, and almost every thing Chuck recorded in the next 10 years went into the charts. Johnnie usually took care of the arranging, but Chuck took composing credits, and royalties, for almost all the songs. Johnnie later sued for co-writing credit on dozens of tracks but the case failed because it was out of time. At least Johnnie was immortalised in the title of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, supposedly a reference to his behaviour when drunk, and this track was blasted beyond the solar system on the spacecraft Voyager, carrying ‘The Golden Record’ of Earth’s best cultural achievements. Johnnie stayed in Chuck’s band until 1973 when he tired of the gruelling slog of touring, although he appeared with Chuck as a guest from time to time.
Live version of Johnnie’s ‘Tanqueray’;
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[stextbox id=”custom” caption=”Johnnie Johnson Discography” float=”true” align=”left” width=”300″]This was Johnnie’s major label debut and he sounds like he is having great fun with his young friends Eric Clapton and Keef Richards.
JOHNNIE B. BAD
[/stextbox]Johnnie spent 15 years out of the limelight, and probably drinking too much, until Chuck’s 1987 film ‘Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll’ re-ignited his career. A solo album ‘Blue Hand Johnnie’ soon followed and Johnnie guested on Keef Richards’ X-pensive Winos solo album, ‘Talk is Cheap’. Keef returned the favour when he appeared with Eric Clapton on ‘Johnnie B Bad’ in 1991. Johnnie gave up the bottle and returned to touring again, sharing the stage with John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and George Thorogood, and featuring on George’s ‘Let’s Work Together’ album. Johnnie’s 1999 biography, ‘The Father of Rock’n’Roll’ came with a CD of new recordings of his and Chuck’s music. To celebrate a major Birthday, he recorded ‘Johnnie B. Eighty and Still Bad!’, but sadly he died on the day the record was released in 2005.