Johnnie Johnson didn't get interviewed much-- but here's a long, rambling one that you'll enjoy once your eyes adjust to the jarring background. Check it out here.
I once got a chance to see Johnson perform at the Seattle art and music festival, Bumpershoot. That performance had to be after "Hail! Hail!" when Johnnie had become pretty well known in his own right. Of course, Chuck Berry fans always knew him.
There's talk that he didn't get enough credit for his work on Chuck Berry's big hits. There's truth to that talk, of course-- though it's really only because no one bothered to put the names of the players on those records. In another sense, of course, he got a little too much credit. He was the only Chuck Berry piano player I ever heard of before I started seeing better notes, published recently, that list people like Lafayette Leake and Otis Spann, both of whom played on giant hits. And, of course, there were many others.
But Johnnie and Chuck obviously had a special something. You can see it in Chuck's eyes, or in his manner when the two start trading riffs. (Johnnie's eyes were congenitally sleepy.)
And beyond the music, Johnson is credited with the single best line from the "Hail! Hail!" experience. When Chuck Berry war reportedly heard flipping out in the background about "beating that rap," Johnnie is said to have shrugged and told the all star musicians: "You know him just as well as I do. I've just known him longer."
Here he is playing at Montreux.