R.I.P. The father of Rock & Roll

Johnny Johnson and Chuck Berry
Johnny Johnson and Chuck Berry

no not Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard or Chuck Berry but…

Johnnie Johnson*, the rock and roll pianist who died on Wednesday aged 80, gave Chuck Berry his first break, played with him for 20 years but was later dropped from the band for alleged drunkenness.

The two first worked together on New Year’s Eve 1952 when Johnson invited Berry, an unknown “hillbilly” guitarist, to play with his band, Sir John’s Trio, for a fee of four dollars, filling in for the band’s saxophonist, who was ill. It did not take long for the more aggressive and flamboyant Berry to take over the band, which soon became the Chuck Berry Trio.

Johnson worked with Berry until the 1970s, his rhythmic, hard-driving bass piano chords and glissandi providing the background to Berry’s guitar riffs on most of his classic hits, including Maybelline; Roll Over Beethoven; No Particular Place to Go and Rock and Roll Music. One of Berry’s best-known songs, Johnny B Goode, was written as a tribute to his sideman.

Johnson played an important collaborative role in the process of composition, often hammering out the music on the piano while Berry converted it to guitar and wrote the lyrics, but Berry claimed sole credit as performer and songwriter. Thus, while the royalties rolled in for Berry, Johnson had little to show for his musical career.

Full obituary for Johnnie Johnson

Johnnie Johnson Official Site

*though of course Ike Turner released the first rock ‘n’ roll record…

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