Now and then

750 Words3 Pages
Why Rate? To paraphrase the old Chuck Berry tune, bye-bye, Johnnie. Johnnie Johnson, the rhythm-and-blues piano wizard whose pioneering partnership with Berry produced such indelible tracks as "Roll over Beethoven" and "No Particular Place To Go" and helped to lay the foundations for rock 'n' roll, died Wednesday. He was 80. According to his agent at New York-based Talent Consultants International, Johnson died of natural causes at his home in St. Louis. Musician John May told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Johnson had been hospitalized a month ago for pneumonia and had also been on dialysis for a kidney ailment. Despite his ailments, Johnson refused to stop playing, taking the stage as recently as two weeks ago Johnson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, influenced generations of rockers through his collaborations with Berry--everyone from Elvis Presley and Little Richard to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Fellow rock originator Bo Diddley, who performed with Johnson on Feb. 9, called Johnson "a great man and a great musician." "It was so much fun to play with Johnnie," Diddley said in a statement. "He will be missed but his music will live on." Berry was traveling back from Europe and was not immediately available for comment, according to his publicist. A self-taught musician, bandleader and composer, Johnson composed the riffs for many of Berry's most famous tunes, including "Maybellene," "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Rock and Roll Music," which Berry transposed to guitar. Berry wrote his best-known song, "Johnny B. Goode," in tribute to Johnson. But it was Johnson who actually gave Berry his first big break. On New Year's Eve in 1952, Johnson, then fronting the his own trio in St. Louis, was stuck. His sax player fell ill and he needed an emergency replacement, so he called in his pal Berry, a promising young guitarist, to fill in. The show was a hit, Johnson asked Berry to join the band, and soon the more charismatic Berry was the frontman. Their partnership produced dozens of hit songs before they parted company in 1973. Wracked by alcoholism, Johnson fell off the radar. He was driving a bus when Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards tracked Johnson down during the making of the 1987 Berry documentary, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll. Richards, convinced that Johnson should be in the rock pantheon alongside Berry, launched a high-profile campaign to get Johnson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

More about Now and then

Open Document