Thursday, April 14, 2005

Piano Great Johnnie Johnson Dies

Johnnie Johnson, pioneering pianist for Chuck Berry, died Wednesday at his St. Louis home. He was 80 years old. It's safe to say there wouldn't have been a Chuck Berry as we know him without a Johnnie Johnson. And without Chuck Berry, you've lost the template for rock and roll.

In addition to giving the young guitarist a job filling in for a sick member of the Johnnie Johnson Trio on New Year's Eve in 1952, Johnson actually composed the music for several of Berry's biggest hits on piano. However, he was never properly credited, so he missed out on the royalty train. Johnson parted ways with Barry in the early Seventies, and he had to drive a bus for senior citizens to make ends meet.

After being prominently featured in the 1987 Chuck Berry documentary, Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll!, Johnson's musical contributions were more widely acknowledged. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Johnson finally sued Berry for unpaid royalties in 2000, but a judge dismissed the suit in 2002, saying too much time had passed since the songs in question were written.

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