On April 13, 2005, when Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Johnnie Johnson died in his sleep, his obituary appeared in Time Magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and Rolling Stone; Reuters sent the story around the world. Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Steven Tyler sent flowers to his funeral, while former Grateful Dead member Bob Weir attended in person. Johnson’s death was an international headline because he is widely considered to be one of the handful of musicians who helped create the musical stew which became rock and roll, and because he once hired an unknown guitar player named Chuck Berry.
Berry, the brilliant lyricist, and Johnson, a master of jazz, boogie woogie and the blues who never learned to read music, became one of the most important song-writing teams in music, heavily influencing the Rolling Stones and the Beatles; combined those bands covered eighteen Chuck Berry songs. Berry and Johnson collaborated on hits such as “Maybellene,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “No Particular Place to Go” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” but only Berry’s name appeared on the writing credits.
It will always be contested how many of Berry’s songs should have been co-credited to Johnson. In fact, a lawsuit brought by Johnson attracted worldwide attention because it might have settled the matter, but the suit was thrown out of court because too much time had passed. In the documentary, Johnson’s lawyer insists that during mediation, Chuck Berry admitted that Johnson co-wrote many of the songs.
In the mid-80’s a documentary directed by Taylor Hackford, “Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll,” jump-started Johnson’s career. He was driving a senior citizen’s bus when Keith Richards hand-picked Johnson for the all-star band that paid tribute to Chuck Berry on his 60th birthday. Johnson showed the world his keyboard wizardry and in the years follwing that film, he began recording his own music and played with superstars Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and Richards. In 2001, Johnnie Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the sideman category. Music experts in Johnnie Be Good insist he was much more than a sideman and never got the credit he deserved as one half of rock and roll’s first great song-writing team.
In Addition, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Weir, Joe Perry and John Sebastian share their opinions. Also interviewed are five key participants in Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll, the movie which caused the music world to rediscover Johnnie: Clapton, movie director Taylor Hackford, movie producer Stephanie Benett of Delilah Films, Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, and drummer/producer Steve Jordan. Paul Shaffer, music director for The Late Show with David Letterman shares his opinions about Johnnie Johnson, as do guitarist Jimmy Vivino from the Conan O'Brien band, rock legend Al Kooper, Bruce Hornsby, Michael McDonald, and long-time New York d.j. Pat St. John of Sirius Satellite Radio. Music historians Rob Bowman , who wrote Johnnie's bio for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame program, and Bruce Pegg, who wrote the Chuck Berry biography Brown Eyed Handsome Man share provocative viewpoints.
Pat St. John
Lou Gossett Jr,
Through A Lens Photography
Diana Trombino Mestman
Social Media & Publicist
St. Louis, MO
Film grants provided by:
The Commission for Access & Loca Original Programming (CALOP) University City, MO
The Regional Arts Commission
of St. Louis