Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson, performing together in 1994 at Blueberry Hill.
Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" is one of the greatest rock & roll songs ever written. That's just a fact. Don't embarrass yourself with attempts to argue; you will look like a fool. The timeless classic is said to have been written in tribute to Johnnie Johnson, Berry's longtime bandmate from 1952 to 1973.
"I played no part in nothing of Johnny B. Goode," Johnson told Monroenews.com in a 1998 interview. "On other songs, Chuck and I worked together, but not that one. We were playing one night, I think it was Chicago, and he played it. Afterward, he told me it was a tribute to me. He did it on his own. I didn't know nothing about it. It was never discussed."
Johnson passed away in 2005, but before that, the prolific piano man laid down a recording of the song on the keys for drummer/producer Mike Mesey, who has also toured with Berry. It was the first and only time he recorded the song (the original was done by Lafayette Leake).
Years after Johnson's death, Mesey heard guitarist Steve Scorfina, formerly of Pavlov's Dog and REO Speedwagon, performing "Johnny B. Goode" on a lap steel guitar. Mesey was reminded of Johnson's piano tracks, which had never been released, and quickly enlisted Scorfina to record as well. Scorfina suggested the duo contact five-time Grammy winner Michael McDonald to sing on the track, who happily obliged. Soon legendary saxophonist David Sanborn signed on as well, in addition to Jimmy Vivino, Conan O'Brien's long-time bandleader, who added guitar tracks. The finished product is a somewhat slowed-down, fuller version of Berry's indelible hit.
The group collectively decided that the song should be used to raise money for a documentary on Johnson's life entitled, appropriately, Johnnie Be Good, which features interviews withKeith Richards, Eric Clapton, Bob Weir, the late Bo Diddley, Bonnie Raitt, Joe Perry, Buddy Guy and more. (Watch a trailer for that still-upcoming project here.)
Purchase the song for a scant $.99 via iTunes and stream it for yourself below.