Johnnie Johnson, the pianist who gave Chuck Berry his first break and who Berry wrote ‘Johnnie B. Goode’ about, has died at age 80.
One of Berry’s best-known songs, “Johnny B. Goode,” was written as a salute to Johnson, whose dynamic keyboard work often played equal partner on recordings with Berry’s stinging guitar licks.
“When I heard he’d died, I put on the record of ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ and when I listened to his solo, I just began to weep,” Chicago-bred keyboardist Barry Goldberg, a prominent blues-rock player since the 1960s, said Wednesday. “What he did was so mind-blowing for that time.”
Goldberg continued: “Johnnie incorporated the boogie-woogie style into rock ‘n’ roll. He had all those percussive licks and he did that slide thing [up and down the keyboard]. The combination was really amazing.”
Another pioneer was Bo Diddley, I mean, people like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee and Bo, invented rock and roll out of what they knew. Go back and listen to Bo Diddley. His backing musicians included some of the best Chicago bluesmen around. He was a bluesman, we just didn’t know it. And Johnnie Johnson briought boogie-woogie to the then emerging genre of rock and roll.