Almost two weeks ago Johnnie Johnson passed away at the age of 80. With illness and death closer to home, I failed to acknowledge the loss of who some call "The Father of Rock & Roll." At the very least he was the "Father of Rock & Roll Piano."
One of the first 45 rpm records I bought was "Johnny B. Goode." I was twelve. I still remember picking it off the shelf. Rock & Roll was new then, lighting my world on fire. And Chuck Berry's anthem was a tribute to Johnnie Johnson, his keyboard player, and much more. A member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the "sideman" category, his influence was well appreciated by his peers, if not the public.
Jerry Garcia once introduced a live Grateful Dead version of "Johnny B. Goode" as "the one it's all about." He may have been right. It is impossible to think of the early years of Rock & Roll without it.
Johnnie's death occasioned several tributes. NPR's Day to Day had one. Rolling Stone, published an interview of Keith Richards. ABC News published a remembrance by Chuck Berry.