Johnnie Johnson was born on 8 July 1924 in Fairmont, West Virginia. He is one of the pioneers of rock and roll. Growing up, he listened to the big bands on the radio as well as his parent’s record collection.
The self-taught pianist settled in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952 and formed the Sir John Trio. He invited guitarist Chuck Berry to sit in on New Year’s Eve 1953 and a historic collaboration that helped define a musical genre was born.
Johnnie can be heard on the classic singles “Maybelline”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Johnny B. Goode”, “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “No Particular Place To Go” and “Rock & Roll Music” just to name a few.
In 1987, Keith Richards (Rolling Stones) enlisted Johnnie to take part in a tribute concert for Chuck Berry. At the time, Johnnie was working as a bus driver for senior citizens. The event was filmed and released as Hail Hail Rock N Roll. Johnnie’s piano work is prominent and Keith points out Johnnie’s role in helping to create Chuck Berry’s sound. Eric Clapton was also a participant in this event.
In September 2000, Johnnie was awrded a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also presented a three day celebration of his music in recent years.
His most recent solo album is I’m Just Johnnie. It was preceded by Johnnie Be Back (1995) and That’ll Work (1993). Eric can be heard on his 1991 album, Johnnie Be Bad.
Johnnie joined Eric onstage for the now legendary “Blues Nights” at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990 and 1991. He can be heard on Eric’s album, 24 Nights.
Johnnie passed away in April 2005.