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"Johnny B Goode"
Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

Since its release Johnny B. Goode has been hailed as a rock ‘n’ roll classic. Written on tour in New Orleans, it has become a standard for every pub band and would-be guitarist in the land.

In his autobiography Chuck recalls " ‘Johnny’ in the song is more or less myself although I wrote it intending it to be a song for Johnnie Johnson". Chuck met Johnnie Johnson, a pianist and composer, in 1952 when he joined the Sir John Trio. The two continued to work together for twenty years, writing a number of songs including "Maybellene".  Johnnie remembers Chuck working on Johnny B Goode but had no idea it was meant to be about him.

Johnny Johnson
"it was a surprise to me - he had me in mind when he did this"

Chuck had originally conceived the song to be about a young black boy but these were the days of black and white segregation and Chuck didn’t want to alienate the white audience so he changed the lyric from "colored boy" to “country boy”. Eric Burdon, who would later join the Animals, remembers listening to the song and feeling far from alienated. He thought the song was about his native Newcastle.

Eric Burdon
"We never found a lyric sheet with the true lyrics on it."

Songwriters have always had their influences. Chuck’s included the great blues and jazz artists T Bone Walker, Louis Jordan and Muddy Waters. The distinctive guitar riff of Johnny B Goode impressed and influenced many young players in the fifties and sixties but it wasn’t entirely original. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page remembers listening to Louis Jordan and suddenly hearing something else.

Jimmy Page
"What Chuck did with Johnny B Goode is just beyond belief for any other musicians around in their day."

Chuck Berry created the driving train-like rhythm of Johnny B Goode by speeding up a standard twelve-bar blues figure, played on the bottom three strings of the guitar. It became the classic rock ‘n’ roll guitar rhythm, appearing on tracks from the Rolling Stones to Status Quo. Chuck’s other great innovation is his own adaptation of the Elmore James attacking slide intro. By combining urban blues with the early electric jazz guitar figures of Charlie Christian and the rhythms and humour of the 40s jump-blues of Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner he created an irresistible blend of danceable rock.

Johnny B. Goode wasn't actually released as a single in the UK and was never a hit. In America it appeared on the album Chuck Berry Is On Top and in the UK on The London Sessions but not until 1972. Chart hit or not, the song is firmly ensconced in music history and its legacy lives on today.

Recommended Reading
Chuck Berry, The Autobiography by Chuck Berry. Published 1987, Isalee Publishing.

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