Johnnie Johnson, collaborator and pianist with Chuck
Berry, just released a new CD. "Johnnie Be Eighty. And
Johnnie and I co-wrote all the songs, I produced it
on my label, Cousin Moe Music. All original and it rocks.
I used all St Louis musicians, and Johnnie played his
We cut it late last year. The manufactured product returned
from the factory the day before Johnnie passed. He knew
his music was here. -
Jeff Alexander - producer
June 27th is the release date of the DVD for "Hail!
Hail ! Rock and Roll!" The film was ostensibly about
Chuck Berry. It also was the beginning of Johnnie Johnson's
rise from obscurity. The film began the process by which
the public began to learn the truth about Johnnie’s
role in the creation of the songs credited to Chuck
Berry, and in the creation of Rock and Roll itself.
The public is still learning. There is still a lot to
tell, and a lot more for people to learn about Johnnie
To honor Johnnie Johnson Cousin Moe Music
will offer downloads of Johnnie's last
solo recording project, "Johnnie Be Eighty! And Still
Bad!". The music will be available at the website at cousinmoemusic.com
“Johnnie Be Eighty. And Still Bad!” is a completely
original project, taped live in the studio to capture
the essence of a Johnnie Johnson performance. As such
it offers a unique perspective on Johnnie’s collaborating
and songwriting contributions.
Johnson died on Wednesday, 13th April 2005 at his home in St. Louis,
at the age of eighty, after recent bouts with pneumonia
and a kidney ailment. With his death, rock & roll lost
a vital link to its roots in the Chicago boogie-woogie
of Meade Lux Lewis and the jumping-piano jazz of Earl
Hines and Count Basie.
Born on July 8th, 1924, in Fairmont, Virginia, Johnson
was the son of a coal miner and entirely self-taught
on the piano. By the early Fifties, he was in St. Louis,
leading his own combo. But on New Year's Eve 1952, Johnson
hired a struggling, local guitarist, Chuck Berry, to
sit in for another member of the band. Johnson quickly
ceded the limelight to Berry's guitar and songs, and
both of their lives were changed forever. Johnson went
on to become the greatest sideman in rock & roll, at
the very moment the music was being born.
He played on most of Berry's biggest and best records
of the Fifties and early Sixties, including "Maybellene,"
"Roll Over Beethoven," "Memphis, Tennessee," "Little
Queenie" and "Nadine (Is It You?)." Johnson played with
Berry, on and off, into the Seventies, until personal
tensions, compounded by Johnson's drinking, caused Johnson
to retire back to St. Louis. He was driving a van for
the elderly when Keith Richards brought him out of retirement
to play at the 1986 shows filmed for the Chuck Berry
concert movie, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll.
In the early Nineties, Johnson recorded two solo records
for Elektra's American Explorer series. And in 2001,
Keith Richards inducted Johnson into the Hall of Fame.
"It was so much fun to play with Johnnie," said Bo Diddley,
with whom Johnson played his final show. "The world
has lost a great man and a great musician."
The "Father of rock and roll"
Chuck Berry's apprenticeship with Johnnie Johnson
By early 1953 Berry was performing with Johnnie Johnson's trio, starting a long-time collaboration with the pianist. Although the band played mostly blues and ballads, the most popular music among whites in the area was country. Berry wrote, "Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering 'who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?' After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it."
Berry's calculated showmanship, along with mixing country tunes with R&B tunes, and singing in the style of Nat King Cole to the music of Muddy Waters, brought in a wider audience, particularly affluent white people.