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Pianist and bandleader Johnnie Johnson hired Chuck Berry in 1953.

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Friday Dec. 1, 2000

Robots Attempt White House Coup

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Nothing like lying on your back for a week, blindsided by the flu, to realize how fragile and temporal our existence on this planet really is. CNN's Election 2000 coverage and the David Geffen bio might not seem like the best medicine to accelerate recovery (much as I dig Marilyn Manson's Holy Wood, you might not want it on the stereo at the moment when you feel like you're about to pass out of this life), but CNN and 300 or so pages of "The Operator" are an oddly compatible couple. Here's "Mini-Me" Bush, hiding on his ranch, letting his dad's bullying friends take charge to ensure that the Republican candidate gets installed in the White House — the populace be damned. James Baker has more in common with The Terminator than a human being, and the Republican operatives provided to media outlets were clearly programmed with a loop: "...there was a count and a recount and a recount and a recount and a..." Al Gore has taken the high road, but there's something a bit off about him. His obsession with counting every vote — at least as articulated incessantly on CNN — is scary, though not as scary as the Baby Bush disconnect. Power is hard to resist, and apparently those who get a little become insatiable. That's certainly the message that comes through loud and clear in the Geffen bio. As author Tom King, a Wall Street Journal reporter, tells it, Geffen clawed his way to the top, seeming to alienate just about every major figure in the music and movie business, from Bob Dylan to Steven Spielberg... 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.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

© 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.