Johnnie was born in Fairmont, West Virginia in 1924. His first taste of the keyboard was at the age of 5, when his mother purchased an upright. He recalled:
As soon as the piano came in, I sat down and started playing it, my mother cried out that it was a gift from God, that I could just sit down and started playing laughed Johnnie. He continued: from there on then, wherever I was, I had me a piano and a band ..... though you'd never hear me singing.Over the years his music developed and he learnt from listening to his mothers 78 vinyl records of Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith. He grew up during the ‘Big Band ‘ era of Count Basie, Glenn Miller an the Dorsey Brothers.
In 1942 he graduated high school and then moved to Detroit to work at the Ford Motor Companies plant. A year later he found himself in the Marines after being drafted and served in the special weapons crew in the Marshal Islands. He stayed for 31 months island hoping most of that time.
In 1946 his tour of duty, ended and he returned to Detroit. He recalled that:
It was then that I heard T-bone Walker a guitar player doing the blues. I was playing jazz at the time and this was my first introduction to it, I got hooked. I went to see him as often as I could ... he really influenced my sound.After three years back in Detroit, Johnnie had exhausted performing in all the clubs in the ‘Motor City’, he said:
A friend told me that the scene in Chicago was much hotter ..... I arrived on a Tuesday and was playing on the Friday. I got hired right away and over the years, got to sit in with Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, little Water, Memphis Slim, Etta James, and the Moonglows .... half the time I wasn't on the payroll, but I didn't care1952 saw Johnnie Johnson moving to St Louis, where his brother lived and got him a job. working for Penn Railroad. Although there was jazz and blues in this city, there were few clubs so his band played mainly parties. That New Year Eve, his saxophonist called in sick, and he hired an unknown muso called Chuck Berry. Chucks music raised all kinds of eyebrows, because they were nor used to seeing a black man playing ‘hillbilly’ music.
That union between Johnson and Berry created an infectious style that transformed popular music of the day and influenced a generation of musicians. The famous collaboration toured for 18 years and still play together today. The cream of the music and entertainment industry is amongst the fans of Johnson.
Eric Clapton described him as ... the best blues pianist in the world - a humble genius Eric regularly invites Johnnie to join him on-stage at his annual concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Johnson was recognized for his pioneering contribution to popular music in the widely acclaimed film ‘Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll’. Keith Richards invited Johnnie to play on his solo recording, the Gold Record, hangs proudly on Johnnies' wall. Mick Jagger was so impressed, he invited him to play with his band.
In March 1998 Johnnie Johnson received formal notification from the US Patent Office, that he had been awarded the service mark ‘Father of Rock and Roll’. In June 1998 his ‘Johnnie B Live’ CD was released. On behalf of his world wide fans and connoisseurs of popular music, I thank Johnnie for his contributions to its development and promotion and Im sure he will continue to entertain us for many years to come through his recordings and his US concerts.