Johnnie Johnson, a rock’n’roll pioneer who teamed with Chuck Berry for hits like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “No Particular Place to Go,” died today (April 13) at his St. Louis home. He was 80.
The cause of death was not immediately known, according to the artist’s publicist. He had been hospitalized a month ago with pneumonia and was on dialysis for a kidney ailment, said John May, a friend and fellow musician.
Though he was never a household name, Johnson and Berry’s long collaboration helped define early rock’n’roll. Johnson often composed the music on piano, then Berry converted it to guitar and wrote the lyrics. In fact, Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” was a tribute to Johnson.
After he and Berry parted ways, Johnson performed with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley, among others. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 in the sidemen category.
“He left the indelible imprint of his sound,” May said. “He was able to transition through any musical style because he just loved to play music.” Berry was on a plane returning from a visit to Europe on Wednesday and unavailable for comment, a spokesperson said.
Johnson was born in Fairmont, W.Va., and began playing piano at age 4. He moved to Chicago after World War II, where he played jazz and blues in clubs. Relocating to St. Louis in the early 1950s, he formed his own R&B band, the Johnnie Johnson Trio. When a band member became ill on New Year’s Eve 1952, Johnson hired Berry to fill in.
Johnson and Berry parted ways in the early 1970s, and in 2000, Johnson sued Berry, seeking a share of royalties and proper credit for what Johnson said were more than 50 songs the men composed together. A federal judge dismissed the suit in 2002, ruling that too many years had passed since the disputed songs were written.
The lawsuit contended that Berry took advantage of Johnson’s alcoholism, misleading him into believing that only Berry was entitled to own the copyrights “and reap the monetary benefits.”
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