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Johnnie Johnson

Biography

From 1953 to 1981, Johnnie Johnson worked almost exclusively as the backing pianist for rock 'n' roll lynchpin Chuck Berry, which may account for his own relative obscurity. His rolling licks and nonstop pump are intrinsic to the sound of pretty much all of Berry's great singles. The pair often played off each other, and the similarities between Berry's guitar licks and Johnson's piano runs are often startling, sparking an ongoing discussion about whether or not Berry was in the habit of swiping Johnson's vamps for his own use. It doesn't really matter because those songs are some of the greatest ever recorded, and questions about Berry's honesty are pointless. Johnson embarked on a solo career in the late 1980s, recording for a handful of independent blues labels before debuting on Elektra in 1992 with Johnnie B. Bad. These records are mostly good and feature his signature playing style and tangible love for rock 'n' roll's earlier, bluesier days. The one drawback is some A&R guy's decision to beef up sales with a host of lame guest vocalists and collaborations with has-beens that only serve to cloud Johnson's talent. But when he's left alone and allowed to play his backbeat-driven rock 'n' roll, Johnson emerges as the genuine article.

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