World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Johnnie Johnson (musician)


Johnnie Johnson (musician)

Johnnie Johnson
Johnson at the 1996 Riverwalk Blues Festival
Background information
Birth name Johnnie Clyde Johnson
Born (1924-07-08)July 8, 1924
Fairmont, West Virginia, United States
Died April 13, 2005(2005-04-13) (aged 80)
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Genres Chicago blues, jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Piano
Years active 1952–2005
Labels Chess Records
Associated acts Chuck Berry

Johnnie Johnson (July 8, 1924 – April 13, 2005)[1] was an American pianist and blues musician. His work with Chuck Berry led to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


  • Career 1
  • Legacy 2
  • Discography 3
  • Singles 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


He was born Johnnie Clyde Johnson[2] in Fairmont, West Virginia[1] and began playing piano in 1928. He joined the United States Marine Corps during World War II where he was a member of Bobby Troup's all serviceman jazz orchestra, The Barracudas. After his return, he moved to Detroit, Illinois and then Chicago, where he sat in with many notable artists, including Muddy Waters and Little Walter.

He moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1952 and immediately put together a jazz and blues group, The Sir John Trio with drummer Ebby Hardy and saxophonist, Alvin Bennett. The three scored a regular gig at the Cosmopolitan Club in East St. Louis. On New Year's Eve 1952, Alvin Bennett had a stroke and could not perform. Johnson, searching for a last minute replacement, called a young man named Chuck Berry, the only musician Johnson knew who, because of his inexperience would likely not be playing on New Year's Eve. Although then a limited guitarist, Chuck Berry added vocals and showmanship to the group. As Bennett would not be able to play again because of his stroke, Johnson hired Berry as a permanent member of the trio.

They would remain the Sir John's Trio until Berry took one of their tunes, a reworking of Bob Wills' version of "Ida Red" to Chess Records. The Chess brothers liked the tune and soon the trio were in Chicago recording "Maybellene" and "Wee Wee Hours" – a song Johnson had been playing as an instrumental for years for which Berry quickly penned some lyrics. By the time the trio left Chicago, Berry had been signed as a solo act and Johnson and Hardy became part of Berry's band. Said Johnson, "I figured we could get better jobs with Chuck running the band. He had a car and rubber wheels beat rubber heels any day."

Over the next 20 years, the two collaborated in the arrangements of many of Berry's songs including "School Days", "Carol", and "Nadine". The song "Johnny B. Goode" was reportedly a tribute to Johnson, with the title reflecting Johnson's usual behavior when he was drinking. The pianist on the "Johnny B. Goode" session was Lafayette Leake, one of the two main session pianists for Chess (the other being Otis Spann). Leake also played on "Oh Baby Doll", "Rock & Roll Music", "Reelin' and Rockin'", and "Sweet Little Sixteen".

Berry and Johnson played and toured together until 1973. Although never on his payroll after 1973, Johnson played occasionally with Berry until Johnson's death in 2005.

Johnson was known to have a serious drinking problem. In Chuck Berry's autobiography, Berry tells of how he declared there would be no drinking in the car, while on the road. Johnson and bandmates complied with the request by putting their heads out the window. Johnson denied the story but said he did drink on the road. Johnson quit drinking entirely in 1991, after nearly suffering a stroke on stage with Eric Clapton.

Johnson received little recognition until the Chuck Berry concert documentary, Live: Let's Work Together. In 1996 and 1997, Johnson toured with Bob Weir's band, Ratdog, playing 67 shows.[3] In 1997, Johnson, Raymond Cantrell, and Stevie Lee Dodge made up the St.Charles Blues Trio.

In 1998, Johnson told Doug Donnelly of that "Johnny B. Goode" was a tribute to him. "I played no part in nothing of Johnny B. Goode," Johnson said. "On other songs, Chuck and I worked together, but not that one. We were playing one night, I think it was Chicago, and he played it. Afterward, he told me it was a tribute to me. He did it on his own. I didn't know nothing about it. It was never discussed."

In 1999, Johnson's biography was released, Father of Rock and Roll: The Story of Johnnie B. Goode Johnson by 23-year-old Travis Fitzpatrick. The book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by Congressman John Conyers, and garnered Johnson more recognition.

In 2000, Johnson was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

In late 2004, Johnson recorded his final project, Johnnie Be Eighty. And Still Bad! It was recorded in St.Louis, and all the songs were originals (written with the producer, Jeff Alexander); this was a first for Johnson. the project was released the same week he died in April 2005.

In 2005, he played piano on Styx's Big Bang Theory on the re-recording of "Blue Collar Man", entitled "Blue Collar Man @ 2120." It was recorded at the Chess Studios at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, on the 46th anniversary of the recording of "Johnnie B. Goode", at that same studio.[4]


In November 2000, Johnson sued Berry, alleging he deserved co-composer credits (and royalties) for dozens of songs, including "No Particular Place To Go", "Sweet Little Sixteen", and "Roll Over Beethoven", that credit Berry alone. The case was dismissed in less than a year because too many years had passed since the songs in dispute were written.

In 2001, he was inducted into the Rolling Stones' guitarist, Keith Richards.

He also has his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[5] His last band still performs today as The Johnnie Johnson Band.

Johnson was the subject of a Homespun Tapes piano instructional video entitled The Blues/Rock Piano of Johnnie Johnson – Sessions with a Keyboard Legend. Originally released in 1999 (DVD version in 2005), the video is hosted by David Bennett Cohen, along with Johnson's band featuring guitarist Jimmy Vivino.

Johnson died in St. Louis, Missouri on April 13, 2005.[1] He was interred in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

The Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Festival is held annually in Fairmont West Virginia, only a few blocks from where Johnson was born.


  • 1991 : Johnnie B. Bad (Warner) with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Bernard Fowler
  • 1991 : Rockin' Eighty-Eights (Modern Blues recordings) with Jimmie Vaughan and Clayton Love
  • 1987 : Blue Hand Johnnie (Evidence Music) with Oliver Sain
  • 1993 : That'll Work (Elektra) with The Kentucky Headhunters and Jimmy Hall
  • 1995 : Johnnie Be Back (MusicMasters) with Buddy Guy, Al Kooper, John Sebastian and Max Weinberg
  • 1997 : Johnnie B. Live (Father of Rock and Roll Music) with Jimmy Vivino and Al Kooper
  • 1999 : Father of Rock and Roll (Father of Rock and Roll Music) – Accompanying CD with the book Father of Rock and Roll: The Story of Johnnie B. Goode Johnson, featuring all new recordings of Johnson and Berry songs.
  • 2005 : Johnnie Be Eighty And Still Bad! (Cousin Moe Music) with Jeff Alexander, Rich McDonough (guitar), Larry Thurston, Gus Thornton, and Joe Pastor (drums).
  • 2015 : Meet Me in Bluesland (Alligator) with The Kentucky Headhunters[6]


See also


  1. ^ a b c "The Dead Rock Stars Club 2005 – January to June". Retrieved January 20, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Web Page Under Construction". Retrieved January 20, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Bob Weir & RatDog Band Members". RatDog.Org :: Bob Weir and RatDog. Retrieved January 20, 2015. 
  4. ^ "STYX: Notes from the Band Archive 4-26-04". Retrieved 2013-02-15. 
  5. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Retrieved April 25, 2013. 
  6. ^ Allers, Hannahlee (April 11, 2015). "Kentucky Headhunters Announce New Album Featuring Legendary Blues Pianist". The Boot. Retrieved May 12, 2015. 

External links

  • Inductee: Johnnie Johnson from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website
  • Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Society in Fairmont, West Virginia
  • St. Louis Walk of Fame
  • Johnnie Johnson, 80, Dies; Inspired 'Johnny B. Goode', April 14, 2005. New York Times. Accessed November 2, 2009.
  • Keith Richards Remembers Johnnie.
  • Johnnie Johnson on Find-A-Grave
  • Johnnie Johnson: The Movie website for documentary Johnnie Be Good
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.