The Father of Rock and Roll- Johnnie Johnson

By Jerome Fitts

This week we are celebrating the life of The Father of Rock and Roll. The recognition of Johnnie Johnson during Black History Month, should be appreciated and applauded by everyone.

Johnny was born on June 8, 1924 in Fairmont, Virginia but for the majority of his celebrated life he resided with wife Francis, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Johnnie Be Good:

For nearly 30 years, Johnnie was the keyboardist for legendary guitar player Chuck Berry. However the song that is considered the original rock anthem “Johnny Be Good” was written by Chuck Berry as a tribute to Johnnie.

Johnnie Johnson and Chuck Berry. Photo used by kind permission. Getty Images. 2015
Johnnie Johnson and Chuck Berry.
Photo used by kind permission. Getty Images. 2015

The song has been covered by thousands of bands from around the world as well as being highlighted in the movie Back To The Future. The musicians that have covered the song has ranged from modern day pop singers to heavy metal legendaries such as Judas Priest.

Bayersheroff Hotel, Munich, Germany 2003. left to right- J.Fitts, Johniie Johnson, Roy, Kim Kelly
Bayersheroff Hotel, Munich, Germany 2003.
left to right- J.Fitts, Johniie Johnson, Roy, Kim Kelly

In 2003, after a series of shows in Munich, Germany, I asked Mr. Johnson to explain Johnnie Be Good.

“I had served in the second World War and had returned to Detroit then on to St. Louis, which is where I met Chuck. I hired him one night because I was short a musician and that’s when our (Chuck and Johnnie) history started.”

“Chuck and I worked on other material together, but Johnny B Goode was a tribute to myself. Chuck wrote that one about me.”- Johnnie said.

Legendary Status:

Mr. Johnson, fellow Blues and Rock originators, from Keith Richard (Rolling Stones), Eric Clapton to George Harrison (Beatles), have gone on record to acknowledge that their inspirations came from Johnnie.

To question whether or not if Johnnie received his full recognition from the music world, would be irresponsible from the music industry.

However in 2001, Johnny was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There is could never be enough recognition or accolades for the song that changed the music industry-“Johnny Be Good”. The legitimate argument would have to be directed at what has transpired within the music industry since.

Adversity Turned To Triumph:

Johnnie who faced adversity for several years during the 1970s due to neglect, recognition and LACK OF ROYALTIES from previous work, resurged in 1986. It wasn’t until Keith Richards amongst many other notable Rock Hall of Famers, guided their hero back into the main stage. Ironically enough that resurrection from retirement was in the Chuck Berry concert film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll of that year.

Johnnie playing live with Keith Richards
Johnnie playing live with Keith Richards

Throughout the 1990s and early millennium, Johnnie enjoyed a successful series of solo records as well as constantly being in demand as a live act.

Johnnie Johnson died on April 13, 2005, a mere eight days after performing at the NCAA Final Four in St. Louis, Missouri. The Father of Rock and Roll, was 80 years old.

Johnnie Johnson we salute you.

Discography:

1987: Blue Hand Johnnie.

1991: Johnnie B. Bad (Warner) with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Bernard Fowler
1991: Rockin’ Eighty-Eights (Modern Blues recordings) with Jimmie Vaughan and Clayton Love
1993: Blue Hand Johnnie (Evidence Music) with Oliver Sain
1993: That’ll Work (Elektra) with The Kentucky Headhunters and Jimmy Hall
1995: Johnnie Be Back (MusicMasters) with Buddy Guy, Al Kooper, John Sebastian and Max Weinberg
1997: Johnnie B. Live (Father of Rock and Roll Music) with Jimmy Vivino and Al Kooper
1999: Father of Rock and Roll (Father of Rock and Roll Music) – Accompanying CD with the book Father of Rock and Roll: The Story of Johnnie B. Goode Johnson, featuring all new recordings of Johnson and Berry songs.
2005: Johnnie Be Eighty And Still Bad! (Cousin Moe Music) with Jeff Alexander, Rich McDonough (guitar), Larry Thurston, Gus Thornton, and Joe Pastor (drums).

¨Who Do They Think They Are?”

By: JFitts

Dec. 25th, 2014

 

In late June 2014 someone told me that music shake the chemicals in our body and stimulates our soul. I couldn’t believe after nearly 17 years of Crownn Records, I was acknowledging the truth.

So what’s the problem with the horible music that is being released today?

“Who do they think they are? “- with the (JustAdd Water/Do It Yourself) systems of delivery. Does the world owe you something because you can upload to Itunes? Does that make the music better? Where is the efforts of PR, artist/band infrastructure, and quality of sound.

In this instant gratification world of ours, why is it that everything is put into categories or a genre? In closing out the year of 2014,  we have rock, hip-hop, dance and traditional. Then there is  horrific rock, hip-hop and quadrible copied dance, trap, EDM and no such thing as new traditional music.

January 2004- Cargo Records distribution deal.
January 2004- Cargo Records distribution deal.

The majority of those songs are done DIY style and released within the same two months of recording with zero structure or quality assured plans. The nontrust factor of a loyal team goes within the DIY. Who in the world world consider recording a song in one month and releasing it the next month? ahhh… PR? Process of delivery?

Its a dead give away that those artists music will be a Halloween costume if a single, album or video is being considered “dropped on such and such date” or released before there is a structured 4 month planner. Can we all repeat the words “brand building”?

Here is a bigger joke, those artist or bands then go online when they are DIY posting on the social media platforms and announce a live date and expect people to come. That insulting process, to the public and real industry likes, includes begging others for more shows in bars, clubs or other non MRPS (Mechanical Royalty Protection Society) venues. Then expect people to show up based on bathroom selfies and Android PR.

Hold your stomach because the hook and sinker is; they wont play live unless there is a gurantee financially from a venue, eventhough there is a DIY structure. As well as noone knowing who they are or have heard their music.  Hilarious right? Well they call themselves artist. Didnt artist take the risk of capturing an audience then stick their hands out for money based on a great series of songs? Hmm.. and now??“Who do they think they are?”

Then again its DIY and self entitlement and a free world that is surrounded by satellites to make releasing a song accessible for everyone. What would happen if we took a worldwide vote on uploading horrible music a crime?

With the exception of the bands from  Ireland and the UK, everyone else is copying the American sound. For the love of God, what is that?“WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE?”

The DIY, of the music business is more contagious than Ebola, except everyone is into it and spreading the horrible disease. Sure its a different world and the combination of creating and delivering good music is different, but there is nothing like the conventional method of creating a good sound, having the balls to play it live without “handout” excuses and seeing what happens. Those days when people saluted courage over stature seems like the smallest white golf ball on the moon. (You simply cant find it).

I remember in 2004, when Crownn signed it’s first major distribution deal and how excited we were. We were putting out tapes, vinlys and cd’s. For some reason we kept hearing in Berlin “Yeah but, the digital age is going to eat you up!”.

My first thought was why? It’s just another form of communication, so why not embrace it? I mean we still had to put out good music and  support our bands playing live, which meant radio plugging, PR, poster campaigns and a well defined guerilla marketing plan. Above all good music still sells know matter what format its delivered in. To me it should be easier to excercise the aforementioned than before.

“Master your craft first!”

Was 2004, the last year of a good song? No offense to Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters, without whom there wouldnt be any music worth listening to. Ok, Ok that was unfair, there are tons of great bands and music out there. However, the ratio of 3 to 1 in 2004 compared to the 100,000 to 1 in 2014 doesnt consistently shake the chemicals in us anymore.

Ensimi Tower Records Dublin 2005

Lets be honest here, a band competition would be the most boring event on the planet now. Anyone disagree? Why do we listen to music from 15 to 45 years ago to shake the chemicals in our bodies? Get it now?

Who does the “New Power Generation/DIY” music shakers think they are? Why listen to so called older music and never follow the blue print of how to get their music out there?

Its ironic that the term Master Your Craft can be considered an insult? For those who are offended then perhaps they are guilty.

Here is a possible solution from a nobody (me) who has been in the music industy would like to suggest;

  1. Try having a 45 minute listening session starting with The Wildhearts single “Its Only Love” (3 minutes), then take 45 seconds of the chorus of the T.I./ Justin Timberlake song “Dead and Gone”.
  2. Take a sip of water and put on “Estranged” by Guns and Roses (only for 3 minutes), and cut that with “You Drop The Bomb On Me” by the Gap Band. It may be wise to have a seat now.
  3. While sitting down to catch your breath or relax from the chemicals in your body from exploding, put on Elton John “Good Bye Yellow Brick Road”, then play any song by Public Enemy! ** It should be noted that Chuck D and company were decades ahead of themselves.
  4. Just when you think it cant get any better put on the single “Sing” by Travis. Then repeat the process again.

What do you think? Did you notice the difference in the creativity, diversity and the artist(s) “Mastering Their Craft?”

My point being is, all of those artist are from different backgrounds, cultures and influences yet  the chemicals in our body stimulates our soul with their craft that was mastered. We know who they are!

For the life of my imaginary gold fish, I cant understand why the DIY (artist, entertainers, uncredible agents and managers) cant supply one sales statement or tour talk settlement excel or a PR receipt. The aforementioned at the very least is the proof of efforts and sometimes the efforts doesnt represent the results although it does show they have attempted to try.

Without these simple components and NOT mastering their craft—

“Who Do They Think They Are?”

It would be amazing to hear what Prince , who is still with us, think of todays current music process. I can only imagine what the Father of Rock and Roll “Johnnie Johnson” is thinking from above.

“We know who they are!”

Backstage at "The Father of Rock and Roll" show in Munich, Germany 2004
Backstage at “The Father of Rock and Roll” Johnnie Johnson show in Munich, Germany 2003

In closing “Who do they think they are” to copy all of the remarkable chemical shakers from the past then mix, remix their music only to not follow the rules. Where is the honor amongst the theives? X-Factor, has to be the biggest contributor to those tears in heaven.. Sorry Mr. Cowell but you invented a new weapon to destroy us all. I am sure the same guy who invented the gun meant well, but look at how that device is being used in 2014.

JFitts