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Johnnie Johnson:  Father of Rock 'N Roll
Page 1:  A Brief Biography. The Life of Johnnie Johnson
Page 1:  A Brief Biography. The Life of Johnnie Johnson  ·  Page 2:  Johnnie’s Official Biography, by Travis Fitzpatrick
Page 3:  Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame Induction, March 2001  ·   Page 4:  Johnnie’s Many Awards, Honors, & Certificates
Page 5:  Interviews with the Legendary Johnnie Johnson  ·   Page 6:  Johnnie is Honored in his Hometown of Fairmont

Intro to Johnnie:  Johnnie Johnson was born on July 8, 1924.

Johnnie Johnson was a self-taught pianist, who settled in St. Louis in 1952 and formed the Sir John Trio. He asked Chuck Berry to sit in that New Year's Eve, and a magical half-century collaboration was born.

Johnnie was rediscovered in 1986, when Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards sought out Johnnie for the documentary, "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll." Johnnie's piano playing in the 1987 movie won him a host of new fans, including Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.

Johnnie Johnson was considered by many to be the world's greatest Blues Pianist & the Founding Father of Rock & Roll Music. Johnnie received a Congressional Citation in 1999, for his lifetime contributions to Blues & Jazz Music. Johnnie Johnson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.


Johnnie Johnson:  A Brief Biography

Johnnie Johnson, The Father of Rock 'N Roll
Born July 8, 1924 in Fairmont, WV. Died April 13, 2005 in St. Louis, MO.

Johnnie Johnson was one of the unsung heroes of rock and roll. He was considered by many to be "the world's greatest blues pianist" and "the founding father of rock and roll." Johnnie was born July 8, 1924 on Diamond Street in Fairmont, West Virginia. Johnnie began playing piano in 1928 when he was four years old. His mother had purchased the second-hand upright piano as a decoration. Taking to the instrument immediately, Johnnie seemed to possess an innate mastery of the instrument even then. Unable to afford lessons, Johnnie practiced and absorbed the sounds of big band jazz and swing, barrelhouse boogie, and country western that he heard on local radio. His heroes were piano players: Count Basie, Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis. Johnnie studied each man's repertoire, mixing and matching until he found his own unique style. Johnnie even made his radio debut on local radio station WMND at the age of eight years old.

In 1943, with the war in full tilt, Johnnie enlisted in the Marines, becoming one of the first 1500 black soldiers in this branch of the service. He fought in the Marshall Islands and later had the opportunity to join the company band: The Barracudas, an elite group made up of some of the finest jazz musicians in the world. The band was made up of members of count Basie’s, Lionel Hampton’s, and Glen Miller’s bands. It was a dream come true to play alongside his radio idols at U.S.O. shows and by the time he had returned home, Johnnie had decided to make music his life.

After hearing T-Bone Walker playing in a Detroit club, Johnnie decided to move to Chicago where the post-war blues scene was at its height. Befriending and sitting in with legends like Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, and Little Walter sharpened Johnnie’s skills. He finally settled down in St. Louis in March of 1952. Johnnie formed a band called “The Johnnie Johnson Trio,” and soon landed a regular gig at one of the biggest nightspots in town, “The Cosmopolitan Club.”

On New Year’s Eve of 1852, fate stepped in, as Johnnie’s saxophonist became ill and was unable to make the show. Desperate for a replacement, Johnnie hired a fledgling guitarist named Chuck Berry to fill in for the night. Although he had only been playing professionally for six months, Berry had a gift for performance and a way with words that caught the audience’s attention. Johnnie decided to keep him on as a singer/guitarist, and for the next two years the Johnnie Johnson Trio rocked the Cosmopolitan every weekend.

In 1955 while still performing as the Johnnie Johnson Trio, Johnnie, Chuck Berry, and Ebby Hardy traveled to Chicago and recorded “Maybellene” along with the legendary Willie Dixon on bass for Chess Records. The record was a hit and soon reached number five on the charts. It was then that Berry approached his partner about taking over the bad. Confident of Berry’s business acumen and yearning to simply play, Johnnie entrusted Berry with his band. And so it was that Johnnie became the silent partner in the first writing and performing team in the history of rock and roll.

With Johnnie’s musical prowess, and Berry’s gift for words, they collaborated on some of the most influential songs in musical history; including: “Wee, Wee Hours,” “Sweet Little Sixteen (with which the Beach Boys later had a hit, “Surfin’ USA), “Roll Over Beethoven,” “School Days,” “Back in the USA,” and “Rock and Roll Music,” among many others. In fact, the song that many people believe to be the national anthem of rock and roll, “Johnnie Be Goode,” was written by Berry as a tribute to his musical partner and collaborator, Johnnie Johnson.

Johnnie would often keep playing long after the show ended, sitting in with jazz bands and anyone that would have him. “I would play anytime, anywhere, with anybody,” he Johnnie used to say. Referring to his disappearing acts, Berry would look at him and say, “Why can’t you just be good, Johnnie?”

Johnnie and Berry performed and recorded together through the seventies. However, as Berry’s popularity grew, and he began to travel to travel internationally, Johnnie elected to sty home in St. Louis. During this time, Johnnie also recorded and performed with the legendary Albert King, for whom he contributed a great number of musical arrangements, even performing in what many have said was the greatest Albert King Band ever. But through it all, Johnnie toiled largely unrecognized by the public.

That is until 1986, when Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards sought Johnnie out for the documentary, “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll!” Richards observed that many of berry’s songs were written in piano keys; Johnnie’s keys! And without Johnnie’s melodies, the most influential songs in rock and roll history would be “just a lot of words on paper.” Johnnie’s performance in the film left no doubt that he has no equals on the piano.

Since the release of the film, Johnnie has begun to receive the credit and the public acclaim he so rightly deserves. Johnnie has released six solo albums and contributed his considerable talents to recordings by Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, and the late greats John Lee Hooker, and Jimmy Rogers. Johnnie has also been inducted into the Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame; won the prestigious Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, received a Congressional Citation for Lifetime Achievement, and in March of 2001 was inducted into “The Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.”

In July of 2001, Johnnie was honored by his hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia with a Homecoming Concert, and July 8th, Johnnie’s birthday, was proclaimed, “Johnnie Johnson Day.” Over 7,000 people attended this celebration.

Johnnie served as “Artist in Residence” at Fairmont Sate University in the spring of 2002. In May of 2002 he was honored at Fairmont State University with an “Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree” graduating with the class of 2002.

In July 2002, he was honored in his hometown with the first annual “Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Festival.” On Saturday, July 13th, 2002, he was recognized by the State of West Virginia with a bridge dedicated in his honor. In 2004, Johnnie was presented the prestigious “New School Jazz Award” in New York City.

In the words of Johnnie’s guitarist Tom Maloney, “Fairmont, West Virginia is definitely an important part of Johnnie. Johnnie could have been born in New York, Chicago, Houston, St. Louis, or any other place in the world, but we wouldn’t have Johnnie or rock and roll music as we know it today.” “Fairmont should be very, very, proud of Johnnie.”

Johnnie Johnson has definitely suffered for his art. Yet, through it all he never lost the gentle self-effacing demeanor that caused everyone he met to love him. He had no bitterness, no regrets. Whether he was playing in front of thousands or in a small club, Johnnie played for the sake of playing. Volumes have been written about Johnnie’s influence and many more will be. Every time that a musician picks up an instrument, Johnnie’s influence is there, whether on stage in front of thousands, in a small club, or under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Whenever the shuffle and boogie woogie rhythms start, that’s Johnnie’s left hand saying come on let’s rock the house.

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Page 1:  A Brief Biography. The Life of Johnnie Johnson  ·  Page 2:  Johnnie’s Official Biography, by Travis Fitzpatrick
Page 3:  Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame Induction, March 2001  ·   Page 4:  Johnnie’s Many Awards, Honors, & Certificates
Page 5:  Interviews with the Legendary Johnnie Johnson  ·   Page 6:  Johnnie is Honored in his Hometown of Fairmont

 


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