Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry

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"Johnny B. Goode" - Chuck Berry (1958)

“Johnny B. Goode” is a semi-autobiographical song written by Chuck Berry about a prodigious guitar player.
Released in 1958, it was originally inspired by the life of Chuck Berry’s piano player, Johnnie Johnson- but quickly developed into a song about Berry’s own life.

Chuck Berry was born on 2520 Goode Avenue in St. Louois, an inspiration for his alter-egos name. In his autobiography, he recalled that his mother told him: “one day your name will be in lights,” a prophecy which he transferred to his description of Johnny B. Goode, whose mother tells him, “maybe some day your name will be in lights.”

An exciting, fast paced track, the song starts with a riff that is practically a note-for-note copy of the opening solo of the 1946 song “Ain’t that just like a woman” by R&B pioneer Louis Jordan. As Berry’s resonant, semi-nasal voice takes up the vocals, the riff changes to a catchy, driving refrain, typical of this first generation of rock n roll tunes. Between verses, Berry takes the chance to show off his guitar talents in electrifying melodic solos.

Almost matching Berry’s guitar playing for verve and skill, session pianist Lafayette Leake keeps up a constant accompaniment on the piano, keeping to a steady riff during the verses and accompanying the guitar improvisation between them.

“Johnny B. Goode” was at first also described as a colored boy, but the final version of the song referred to him as a country boy instead, a move that Berry explained was to ensure radio play.

Probably the first song ever written about the rags to riches life-story of a rock n’ roll musician, the lyrics of the track are not only prophetically descriptive of Berry’s own life, but also of many artists of the coming generation. Chuck Berry was the first one to observe the ability of music to liberate those who played it from their humble beginnings, as he describes it in this song.

For these reasons, the track has developed an epic status, not only as a great song, but also as emblematic of the “American Dream” and the spirit of Rock n’ Roll.

Berry sings that Johnny B. Goode comes from “deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans,” the area where the blues, which was to develop into Rock n’ Roll, was actually born. Johnny B. Goode first starts playing by the railroad track, “strumming with the rhythm that the drivers made,” which is also indicative of Rock n’ Roll’s genesis in the new fast tempos of the modern industrial age.

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