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Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode

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Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode

No one predicted that “Back to the Future” would top the U.S. box office for 11 weeks, would go on to make more money than any other film in 1985, and would 30 years later be a major pop culture touchstone beloved by generations.

And Marty’s rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance was perhaps the critical moment that cemented the movie’s place in film history. The 17-year-old hero, by this point, has won over the audience by being both totally cool and adorably dorky — and both sides of him are on display as he gets carried away playing the Chuck Berry’s rock and roll hit. It’s a scene packed with 1950s nostalgia, wink jokes, memorable one-liners, and a crowd-pleasing musical performance, and it supplied the feel good moment that solidified the film’s emotional hold over its audience, transcending it from mere time travel genre adventure to a beloved instant classic.

Johnny B. Goode

Once upon a time, rock'n'roll was an idiom that enabled young people from humble circumstances to escape poverty and make a name for themselves. This was before scions of the landed gentry, masquerading as outcasts, began forming bands like the Wallflowers and the Strokes, producing a brand of music best described as plutocrap: cute, but extraneous.

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Michael Fox as Marty McFly

 

In the official version of events, supplied to Rolling Stone magazine by Berry himself, the song is autobiographical: A poor boy from a rustic corner of the Deep South with little education and few prospects masters the electric guitar and becomes the leader of a famous band. In fact, Berry was not from the Deep South; he grew up on Goode Avenue in Saint Louis, an unusually cosmopolitan Midwestern city with a rich musical tradition.

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St. Louis, Goode Avenue

 

“The song had its birth when a [1955] tour first brought me to New Orleans, a place I’d longed to visit ever since hearing Muddy Waters’ lyrics, ‘Going down to Louisiana way behind the sun,’ ” writes Berry in his autobiography. “That inspiration, combined with little bits of dad’s stories and the thrill of seeing my black name posted all over town in one of the cities they brought the slaves through, turned into ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ ”

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Chuck Berry

 

After naming the song’s protagonist Johnny after his keyboardist Johnnie Johnson, Berry wrote the lyrics in two weeks of “periodic application.” The repeated chorus calls of “Go Johnny Go” are a tribute to Berry’s mother’s constant encouragement, while other imagery was also inspired by his family. “I’d been told my great grandfather lived ‘way back up among the evergreens’ in a log cabin,’ ” Berry writes. “I revived that era with a story about a ‘colored boy name Johnny B. Goode’…but I thought that would seem biased to white fans...and changed it to ‘country boy.’ ”

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Chuck Berry

 

“Johnny B Goode” was produced by Leonard and Phil Chess, founders of Chicago's celebrated Chess Records. Berry was introduced to the Chess brothers by blues legend Muddy Waters, who, according to one apocryphal tale, was busy painting the walls of the recording studio when a very young Mick Jagger popped by for a visit.

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Johnny B. Goode, singel 1958

 

The opening guitar riff on "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. Chuck Berry played the introducing parts together with the rhythm guitar and overdubbed later the missing solo runs.

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Chuck Berry

 

The single was recorded on December 29 or 30, 1957, with Berry backed by a lean, swinging blues trio of Willie Dixon (bass), Lafayette Leake (piano) and Fred Below (drums). The same session also yielded “Reelin’ and Rockin’ ” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

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Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode

 

"Johnny B. Goode" was the first rock & roll hit about rock & roll stardom. It is still the greatest rock & roll song about the democracy of fame in pop music. As Billy Altman notes in his liner notes to The Chuck Berry Box (MCA), the song has become so ingrained in American culture that it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist. And, thanks to the late astronomer Carl Sagan, the whole universe may know the tune by now; it was hauled off on the Voyager 1 space probe, hurtling past Jupiter and Saturn and toward Neptune, some four-billion miles away.

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John Lennon & Chuck Berry sing Johnny B. Goode

 

"Johnny B. Goode" is the supreme example of Berry's poetry in motion. The rhythm section rolls with freight-train momentum, while Berry's stabbing, single-note lick in the chorus sounds, as he put it, "like a-ringin' a bell" — a perfect description of how rock & roll guitar can make you feel on top of the world.

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Chuck Berry

 

Johnny B. Goode lyrics


Deep down 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 the guitar just like a ringing 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

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Chuck Berry

 

 

Last Updated (Thursday, 23 June 2016 11:58)

 

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