Forgotten series: Johnnie Johnson – Blue Hand Johnnie (1987)

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Many is the legend with a forgotten sideman who helped make him great. Count among them Johnnie Johnson, the sleeper pick’s sleeper.

See, you’ve been listening to him for years, as the barreling bar-room pianist in those old Chuck Berry records.

Do yourself a favor, if you love that early rockin’-88 style of pop music: Pick up this release on Evidence, which was Johnson’s first as a band leader. (He died in July 2005.)

Johnson and Berry worked together on several seminal hits, including “Maybelline” — and the blues B-Side “Wee Wee Hours” — in a collaboration that lasted in the studio and on the road through 1973.

So, yeah, most folks probably bought “Blue Hand Johnnie” because of Berry. You’ll stay, however, to hear how it plays out because of Johnson’s easy-rolling blues genius. Ironically, his take on “Johnny B. Goode” — which Johnson clearly had a good bit of influence on — is one of the weaker tracks.

Later, Johnson sued for credit on several other tunes, including “No Particular Place To Go”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Roll Over Beethoven.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Nick’s Picks: “Johnnie’s Boogie,” Fats Washington’s “O.J. Blues” and “Black Nights” — along with what may be my favorite version of “See See Rider” … and that’s saying something.

Listening again reminded me of this story: Johnson was known to be as passionate about alcohol as he was the keyboard. But, Berry recalls in his autobiography declaring that there would be no drinking in the car while the band was on tour. Johnson complied with the request … by putting his head out the window.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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