A.Song.A.Day – Johnny B Goode

johnny b goode“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.”

Well, the quote above belongs to none other than John Lennon. Chuck Berry is one of those legends we should never miss out when we talk about Rock ‘n’ Roll music. A stalwart in the rock and roll music, he has been highly influential in the nurturing of the rock and roll guitar techniques. Chuck Berry was one of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One song of Chuck Berry which testifies his legendary status would be Johnny B. Goode.

The song is basically about a young boy from Louisiana who becomes famous owing to his guitar-playing skills. The song can be called autobiographical considering the fact that Chuck Berry himself had a middle class upbringing  and he also like Johnny B. Good could play the guitar just like a ringin’ a bell. Also the fact that Berry was born on Goode Avenue in St. Louis adds credence to this argument. But its also believed that the inspiration of the song is Johnnie Johnson, the pianist who played alongside of Chuck Berry. It is said that Johnnie Johnson’s drinking issues made Chuck Berry write the lines “Johnny Be Good“. Much later, in a November of 2000, Johnnie Johnson sued Chuck Berry claiming that he co-authored about a dozen songs of Berry, and demanding credits and royalty for the same.

Johnny B Goode opens with a guitar riff which is the most famous guitar riff in rock and roll history. It is essentially a note-for-note copy of the opening single-note solo on Louis Jordan‘s Ain’t That Just Like a Woman, played by guitarist Carl Hogan.  

Johnny B Goode is a gem of a song which leads us to appreciate the guitar play/ art of the genius Chuck Berry. Typical of the rock n roll songs of the time, it is a very fast rhythmic song with the vocals handled by Berry himself, accompanied on the piano by Lafayette Leake, a blues and jazz musician. The song was a defining musical turnaround in the life of Chuck Berry and he went on to use and reuse Johnny in two more of his subsequent compositions, Bye Bye Johnny and Go Go Go. The song is the rock and roll embodiment of the American Dream.

I think we can classify musicians into three categories, those who have covered Johnny B. Goode ,  those who haven’t covered Johnny B. Goode and the third being Chuck Berry. Numerous musicians have covered Johnny B. Goode that picking a few artists from among those talented musicians would be a hard endeavour. So sit back, relax, listen to the few versions of the song we have given below and B Good!

This article comes from our regular guest columnist Easwar. If you wish to contribute to this section or to any other section of Music Aloud please do drop a mail to response [at] musicaloud [dot] com.

Cover by Judas Priest (Courtesy Arun A S)