JOHNNY B GOODE, 1958
Lead Vocal: Juanita Mankuleo
"If you tried to give Rock n Roll another name, you would call it Chuck Berry"
-- John Lennon
Chuck Berry was one of the first popular musicians to write his own songs. And his guitar playing influenced countless: starting with Keith Richards who essentially lives off the double stops and the rhythmic lead that Chuck pioneered.
The secret to his songs was to take the beats and chord patterns from Rhythm and Blues (in the 50s, most music by African Americans was categorized as "R&B''), combine these with guitar licks and phrasings from old Country Western standards, and mix them together with lyrics about fast cars, teenage romance and school days. He combined black music and white music, at a time when Rhythm and Blues was finally starting to be played on traditionally "white", mainstream radio. The time was ripe for this thirty-year old man from St Louis, who was writing and performing songs that were blowing away teenagers from New York and Los Angeles to London and Liverpool.
Chuck's influence, both direct and indirect, can be heard on countless rock songs. For the most obvious example, listen to The Beach Boys anthem "Surfin' USA." It's essentially the Chuck Berry song "Sweet Little Sixteen" (they eventually settled a plagiarism lawsuit). Not content to be plagiarized by others, Chuck frequently plagiarized his own songs! "Nadine" is a reworked "Maybelline." "School Days" redoes "No Particular Place To Go." Going full circle, Berry was sued by his long time piano player Johnnie Johnson for credits on several of his seminal hits.
Chuck kept performing through most of his life, but never paid a back up band. Whether performing large venues or small private parties, he would ask the organizers to throw together a back up band for him (since everyone knew his songs) and take payments in cash only. The IRS did, eventually, catch up with him!
Chuck Berry died on March 18, 2017.
'Johnny B Goode' starts with that iconic opening riff every budding guitar player has to learn. Interestingly, or perhaps predictably, Chuck didn't come up with that riff himself. He stole it from "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" (1946), played by guitarist Cad Hogan. The drums on this song are subtle but important -- catch them swing! Very different from the modern, simpler ''straight eighths+ backbeat" rock drumming! While they may not be technically 'swung' this looser feel is actually one of the unrecognized essences of many Rolling Stones songs.
Of course, Johnnie Johnson's piano was a key, if unheralded, part of Chuck Berry's sound. Bobby had a hard time with the piano part when he first heard it - but he took it home, practiced, and nailed it when we recorded.