Home of the Live Music Calendar Follow STLBlues on Twitter Follow STLBlues on Facebook Home of the Live Music Calendar Live Music Is Better, Book It Here!! Live music is better, book yours now!
  By Jeremy Segel Moss - PlaybackSTL

Johnson Johnnie

St. Louis’ Boogie Woogie Hero, Johnnie Johnson, died April 13th at his home in North St. Louis at the age of 80. Those familiar with St. Louis’ blues community know it’s nothing new to bury one of the elder musicians. Tommy Bankhead and Oliver Sain come immediately to mind when thinking of recently fallen icons, but none has touched the lives of so many around the world as Johnnie Johnson, Father of Rock’n’Roll.

Johnson’s early years of playing music in East St. Louis with guitarist Chuck Berry has been well documented (check out Father of Rock & Roll: The Story of Johnnie “B.Goode” Johnson, by Travis Fitzpatrick), but the last 15 to 20 years really brought him back to the forefront in St. Louis and around the world. He was featured in the movie Hail Hail Rock’n’Roll, where Keith Richards implied Chuck Berry’s guitar licks (and subsequent creation of rock’n’roll) were really variations of what Johnson had been doing on the piano. He was inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and was reintroduced to a new generation of music lovers when he performed with everyone from the Grateful Dead to Bonnie Raitt. Not to mention the fact that Johnson could be found performing often around St. Louis for a good cause, like the Stlblues Benefit for Cancer research a few months ago, or just for the love of music and friendship, like the time he surprised Bennie Smith for his birthday at the Venice Café a few years back.

Johnson’s wake, held at the Ronald L. Jones Funeral Home in North St. Louis, was a telling tale of the impact Johnson had on such a huge community of friends, family and colleagues. He was layed out in a blue suit with one of his trademarked cigars, military flag and Marines hat (interesting to note that Johnson was one of the first black marines to serve in WWII). Flowers lined the coffin from the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and the mysteriously signed “from a friend and fan, E.C.” Across the room a stage had been put together for the musicians to come play and pay their respect.

In true St. Louis tradition the music started in the early afternoon and went well into the evening. As Mae Wheeler put it, “This is a send off. We’re sendin’ him home.” The music, which barely stopped for more than a few minutes, definitely sent him home in St. Louis style. The jam included musicians like Beau Shelby, Gus Thornton, Marsha Evans, Billy Peek, Eric Foreman, Kim Massie, Rondo, Stacy Johnson and so many more there isn’t room to list them all, really! National musicians like Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and the Kentucky Headhunters came to pay their respects. But there was almost no better send off than that given by Johnson’s protégé Dona Oxford of New York and Darrell Davis from Washington DC who sat down at the piano and said what no one else could say with words. They said goodbye in the language of boogie woogie.

As I sat listening to the music for almost six hours I had time to reflect on Johnson’s life as well as the one he left behind. And with each new musician standing up and plugging in to say goodbye I could swear Johnnie had a little smirk on his face as if this is was exactly as he would have wanted it. And I realized Johnson isn’t really gone. He might not be on stage leaning over the piano the way he did, but he will forever be alive in the fingers and voices of every musician he touched. Hail Hail Johnnie Johnson!

 Live Music Calendar | Send Blues News | © STLBlues 2000 | Privacy Policy