I was surprised he made it to this age, but Chuck Berry died today in Missouri—at 90. I haven’t time to write a long obituary, but of course he was one of the pioneers of rock and roll, one of the earliest black rock stars, and this was one of the songs that made him famous. Written in 1958 and rising to #2 on the U.S. charts, “Johnny B. Goode” is instantly recogizable from the opening guitar riff, which, as you’ll read below, wasn’t really original. The song was covered by, among others, both Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles.
And some background from Wikipedia:
Written by Berry in 1955, the song is about an illiterate “country boy” from the New Orleans area, who plays a guitar “just like ringing a bell,” and who might one day have his “name in lights.” Berry has acknowledged that the song is partly autobiographical and that the original lyrics referred to Johnny as a “colored boy”, but he changed it to “country boy” to ensure radio play. As well as suggesting that the guitar player is good, the title hints at autobiographic elements, because Berry was born at 2520 Goode Avenue, in St. Louis. The song was initially inspired by Johnnie Johnson, the regular piano player in Berry’s band, but developed into a song mainly about Berry himself. Johnson played on many other recordings by Berry, but Lafayette Leake played the piano on this song.
The opening guitar riff of “Johnny B. Goode” is essentially a note-for-note copy of the opening single-note solo on Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” (1946), played by guitarist Carl Hogan. Neither the guitar intro nor the solo are played at once. Berry played the introductory parts together with the rhythm guitar and later overdubbed the solo runs.