Johnnie Clyde Johnson
Born: July 8, 1924, in Fairmont, W.Va.
Died: April 13, 2005, in St. Louis, MO
Johnson was a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
pianist who was long-standing sideman
of Chuck Berry
He was the son of a coal-miner and learned to play the piano at the age of 4. During WWII while serving in the Marine Corps in the Pacific, Johnnie played in a band with musicians from Count Basie's and Lionel Hampton's bands.
Johnson was once known as the "baddest right hand in the land." He primarily played boogie-woogie-style piano and played in Berry's band for most of the 50's and then on and off in later decades. He also played with such acts as Keith Richards, Bob Weir and his band Ratdog, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Guy.
Johnson and Berry had a long musical relationship filled with up's and downs. In 1952, Johnnie was fronting a blues combo called Sir John's Trio at the Cosmopolitan Club in East St. Louis, where he hired berry as a last-minute replacement.
"When Chuck started with me, he didn't know but 12 songs all the way through and couldn't play the guitar that well,” Johnson said in his biography.
Chuck soon overshadowed the man who hired him and took control of the band. Johnson was deferential at first because Chuck had a car and was clearly more charismatic. But they soon conflicted over money and Johnnie's habitual lateness to shows due to his drinking. Johnson was eventually sidelined due to his alcoholism. He did however help Berry write many of his most famous songs for Chess Records including Maybellene and Roll Over Beethoven.
Johnson claimed he inspired Berry to write Johnny B. Goode in 1958. Berry has said that the lyrics were more about him, though some sources have claimed that he wrote it for Mr. Johnson. Later, in interviews, Johnnie would introduce himself as "Johnny B. Goode."
Johnson sued Berry for co-writing credit on 57 songs in 2000. He claimed that Chuck took advantage of his inebriated state during the 50s to take sole credit. However, a federal judge dismissed the claim saying too many years had passed since the songs were written.
In 2001, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized Johnson as one of the first inductees in its newly added sidemen category.
On a personal note I saw Johnson play a few times with Ratdog. I even saw him play Johnny B. Goode. He truely was an amazing rock/boogie-woogie/r&b pianist.