Johnnie Johnson Vs. Chuck Berry

Legendary piano man claims he co-wrote rock classics

Pianist and bandleader Johnnie Johnson hired Chuck Berry in 1953 to play guitar and sing in his Sir John's Trio. Did he also co-write hit songs such as "Maybellene," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock & Roll Music" - all part of the birth of rock 'n' roll? It will be up to the legal system to sort this out. Johnson, who claims to have written more than 50 songs with the legendary guitarist, sued Berry on November 29 in St. Louis Federal District Court; he is seeking both writing credits and royalties. While working on the documentary "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll" in 1986, Rolling Stone Keith Richards found Johnson living in poverty and working as a bus driver. Richards has said he believes Johnson had a significant role in creating the Berry classics. I spoke with Johnson during the making of "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll." At the time, he seemed to be reeling from his rediscovery, somewhat amazed that he was back onstage with Berry and the other rock stars who participated in the film. Johnson is a mild-mannered man who was never particularly sophisticated when it came to the music business - it's understandable that it took him over 40 years to finally decide to go to court. [Friday, December 1, 2000]

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