Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode

This song is probably the most important rock and roll song in the history of rock. Parts of it have been borrowed, stolen, and picked apart. Any rock band should be able to play this song or their rock-card gets taken away.

This song that was released in 1958 is based on Berry’s life. It tells the tale of a boy with humble beginnings with a talent for guitar. Some details were changed… Berry was from St. Louis, not Louisiana, and he knew how to read and write very well. He graduated from beauty school with a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology.

Chuck got the name “Johnny” from Johnnie Johnson, a piano player who collaborated with Berry on many songs, including “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Sweet Little 16.” Johnson often wrote the songs on piano, and then Berry converted them to guitar and wrote lyrics. Berry joined Johnson’s group, The Sir John Trio, in 1953, and quickly became the lead singer and centerpiece of the band.

Berry got the word “Goode” from the street in St. Louis where he grew up. He lived at 2520 Goode Avenue

Johnnie Johnson as very well-respected among many musicians. He played with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and many others before his death at age 80 in 2005.

In 1977, NASA sent a copy of this on the Voyager space probe as part of a package that was meant to represent the best in American culture. Someday, aliens could find it and discover Chuck Berry.

The contents of the golden record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan. Some disagreed with the inclusion of Johnny B. Goode on the disc, claiming that rock music was adolescent. Carl Sagan responded, “There are a lot of adolescents on the planet.” 

The song peaked at #8 in the Billboard 100 in 1958.

From Songfacts

The line “that little country boy could play” was originally “that little colored boy can play.” Berry knew he had to change it if he wanted the song played on the radio, and he didn’t want to alienate his white fans, who could better relate to the tale of a “country” boy.

Berry lifted some guitar licks for this song: the intro came from the Louis Jordan song “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman,” and the guitar break came from a 1950 T-Bone Walker song called “Strollin’ With Bones.” Jordan was a very influential R&B singer and a huge influence on Berry; Walker was a famous guitarist in the ’40s and early ’50s who came up with an electric guitar sound and raucous stage act that Berry incorporated.

In 2000, Johnnie Johnson sued Berry, claiming that he never got credit for helping write many of Berry’s hits, including this. The case was dismissed in 2002, with the judge ruling that too much time passed between the writing of the songs and the lawsuit.

This song is a great example of the care and precision Berry used when writing and delivering his lyrics. He wanted the words to his songs to tell a story and stand on their own, and took care to clearly enunciate so listeners could understand them. Many of the Country and Blues singers who preceded Berry weren’t so clear with the words.

In 1981, Keith Richards went backstage at a Chuck Berry show in New York, where he made the mistake of plucking the strings on one of Berry’s guitars. Chuck came in and punched him, giving Richards a black eye. This wasn’t out of character for the sometimes-prickly Berry. Richards later said: “I love his work, but I couldn’t warm to him even if I was cremated next to him.”

Berry recorded a sequel to this song called “Bye Bye Johnny,” which tells the story of Johnny as a grown man.

Johnny Winter played this at the Woodstock festival in 1969. He released a studio version the same year on his album Second Winter.

At the Summer Jam in Watkins Glen, New York in 1973, The Band, The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead played this song as an encore. It was the largest rock concert ever, with about 600,000 people attending.

This was featured in the 1985 movie Back To The Future. Michael J. Fox’ character goes back in time and plays it to a stunned crowd as Marvin Berry looks on. Marvin rings his cousin, Chuck, saying that he thinks he has found the new style he is looking for, then points the telephone so that it catches most of the music coming from Marty McFly. This scene produced a classic line when McFly comes on stage and tells the band, “It’s a blues riff in B, watch me for the changes, and try to keep up.”

A musician named Mark Campbell sang Fox’s vocals, but was credited as “Marty McFly.”

Peter Tosh did a reggae version in 1983 that reached #48 in the UK and #84 in America. His producer, Donald Kinsey, told Mojo magazine that during the session, Tosh struggled to add anything sufficiently original to Chuck Berry’s rock and roll classic, but then Kinsey woke up with a breakthrough. “It hit me: the bassline, the vocal melody, The Almighty gave it to me,” he said. “I was so excited, I woke everybody up. The next day I told Peter, we need a hit record. Let me get the band and lay the track, brother. And if you don’t like it, burn it up.”

Along with Peter Tosh, these singers charted in America with covers of “Johnny B. Goode”:

71/64 Dion (#71, 1964)
114/69 Buck Owens (#114, 1969)
92/70 Johnny Winter (#92, 1970)

The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Sex Pistols and the Grateful Dead are among the many artists to cover it.

In 1988, a movie called Johnny Be Good was released with a version of this song by the British metal band Judas Priest as the theme. The film, which stars Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey Jr., was soon forgotten; the Priest cover was included on the soundtrack as well as their album Ram It Down. Released as a single, it reached #64 in the UK. The music video, directed by Wayne Isham, uses footage from the film.

In 1991 Johnnie Johnson released his first solo album: Johnnie B. Bad.

In 2004, John Kerry used this as his theme song at most of his campaign events when he was running for president of the US. In 2008, John McCain used the song in his successful run for the Republican nomination, but phased it out and began using ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me.” Chuck Berry made it clear that he supported McCain’s opponent, Barack Obama. >>

When AC/DC opened for Cheap Trick at a show in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on July 7, 1979 the bands joined together to play this song, a recording of which was circulated as a bootleg single. It was officially released in 2007.

Johnny B. Goode

Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell

Go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Johnny B. Goode

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Go sit beneath the tree by the railroad track
Oh, the engineers would see him sitting in the shade
Strumming with the rhythm that the drivers made
People passing by, they would stop and say
“Oh my that little country boy could play”

Go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Go Johnny go go
Johnny B. Goode

His mother told him “Someday you will be a man
And you will be the leader of a big old band
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying “Johnny B. Goode tonight”

Go go
Go Johnny go
Go go go Johnny go
Go go go Johnny go
Go go go Johnny go
Go
Johnny B. Goode

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

33 thoughts on “Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode”

    1. I mean how many people have lifted parts out of this song? It influenced everyone from Elvis to the Ramones…plus it’s a lead guitar that most beginners can master after some practice.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. He used to play Dallas and Fort Worth a lot back in the late 60s and early 70s. His manager or the agent that booked him in, had to find a decent band to back him because he didn’t travel with his own group. More money for Chuck. I’ve played that song so many damn times in the last 50 years, I almost hate it, but it’s always a crowd favorite. Chuck and anything Buddy Holly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We even play it when we get together practicing or goofing off…it’s one that if we are rusty…it puts us back on track.

      Bruce Springsteen said before they made it…they backed up Berry and they were nervous because he starts off in odd keys…”Mr Berry, what songs are we going to play?” Chuck said…we are going to play some Chuck Berry songs and take off playing.

      Like

  2. Voyager I is more that 14 trillion miles away from Earth now, not bad for a little country boy. I think the record for the largest concert is no longer Watkins Glen. Rod Stewart holds the current world record for the biggest gig of all time in 1994, he also performed on Copacabana Beach to to a staggering 3.5 million people celebrating New Year’s Eve.

    Like

  3. I love your write-up on this iconic tune, the mold from which all the rest followed. I believe Chuck Berry is the real King of Rock and Roll. He has a right to have a ‘tude and to punch Keith Richards in the eye for touching his guitar without permission. I remember Keith tried to slam Chuck in his book.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m going to write on that series for the movie posts I’m doing in our movie draft…man that movie WAS the eighties…you don’t get more eighties than that.

        Liked by 1 person

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