With Chuck Berry’s passing a few days ago I have been listening heavy duty to his recordings. Chuck Berry is one of my favorite guitarists and lyricists in rock music. One of the keys to Chuck Berry’s sound was a man named Johnnie Johnson- a true unsung hero of rock ‘n roll. Johnnie Johnson was a pianist on most of the great Chuck Berry tunes and also helped Chuck on the arrangements to many of the songs. Johnnie Johnson was the Johnny that Berry was singing about in “Johnny B. Goode” [although Johnson didn’t play piano on that tune} In listening to “The Great Twenty-Eight” this morning I was concentrating on listening to Johnson’s contributions on the piano. They helped make the songs go. His contributions can’t be overlooked. He never received much recognition until the 1987 documentary on Chuck “Hail” Hail! Rock “N Roll.” At that time Johnson was driving a bus in St. Louis to support himself. The recognition he received from that documentary got his music career back on track and he would be active until his death at age 80 in 2005.
Johnnie Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 in the category of sidemen.
A side not Johnnie Johnson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for breaking racial barriers in the military, as he was a Montford Point Marine – where the African-American unit endured racism and inspired social change while integrating the previously all-white Marine Corps during World War II