100 Greatest Guitar Solos: 12) "Johnny B. Goode" (Chuck Berry)
Chuck Berry helped shape rock and roll by mixing elements of blues and country, adding some boogie woogie piano, and kicking it all together with his own slashing shuffle rhythms. Berry also was instrumental in making the electric guitar rock and roll’s primary instrument. In fact, for many years rock guitar was practically defined by Berry’s distinct, T-Bone Walker-inspired doublestops and frequent, dramatic use of slides, slurs and bends. A renaissance man rocker, Berry was not only a brilliant guitarist and performer, but was unparalleled as a songwriter as well. And his most enduring song, appropriately, celebrated himself; “Johnny B. Goode” was a thinly disguised account of Berry’s rise to international stardom.
“The song had its birth when a  tour first brought me to New Orleans, a place I’d longed to visit ever since hearing Muddy Waters’ lyrics, ‘Going down to Louisiana way behind the sun,’ ” writes Berry in his autobiography. “That inspiration, combined with little bits of dad’s stories and the thrill of seeing my black name posted all over town in one of the cities they brought the slaves through, turned into ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ ”
After naming the song’s protagonist Johnny after his keyboardist Johnnie Johnson, Berry wrote the lyrics in two weeks of “periodic application.” The repeated chorus calls of “Go Johnny Go” are a tribute to Berry’s mother’s constant encouragement, while other imagery was also inspired by his family. “I’d been told my great grandfather lived ‘way back up among the evergreens’ in a log cabin,’ ” Berry writes. “I revived that era with a story about a ‘colored boy name Johnny B. Goode’…but I thought that would seem biased to white fans...and changed it to ‘country boy.’ ”
The single was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago, on December 29 or 30, 1957, with Berry backed by a lean, swinging blues trio of Willie Dixon (bass), Lafayette Leake (piano) and Fed Below (drums). The same session also yielded “Reelin’ and Rockin’ ” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.” While those tunes also became standards, their impact pales in comparison to that of “Johnny B. Goode.” As Billy Altman notes in his liner notes to The Chuck Berry Box (MCA, 1988), the song has become so ingrained in American culture that it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist. And, thanks to the late astronomer Carl Sagan, the whole universe may know the tune by now; it was hauled off on the Voyager 1 space probe, hurtling past Jupiter and Saturn and towards Neptune, some four-billion miles away.
You Might Also Like...
12 hours 40 min ago
13 hours 46 min ago
17 hours 22 min ago
19 hours 12 min ago
19 hours 20 min ago
19 hours 56 min ago
20 hours 5 min ago
In the Magazine
Most Commented Articles
Guitar World on Facebook
Guitar World On Twitter
GuitarWorld RT @bradangle: @JasonCNewsted just dropped by @GuitarWorld office & immediately tagged our conference room wall t.co/qyxjsc0Kxc
GuitarWorld Lesson: Learning Paganini's 16th Caprice in G Minor, Part 2 t.co/x0N0Zpf1JC Includes tablature. @WillWallner
GuitarWorld Listen: @Megadeth Premiere New Song, "Kingmaker" t.co/41XIqqcRWS #NowPlaying
GuitarWorld Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington Performs and Releases Single with Stone Temple Pilots t.co/gmMewM5Plf
GuitarWorld Video: @OfficialSabbath Release Behind-the-Scenes Footage of Making of '13' Cover Art t.co/vVPNuvm45U #Fire #13
GuitarWorld Photo Gallery: Top 10 Weirdest Custom Guitars t.co/v8RsI88FEW