Johnnie Johnson ‘Johnnie B. Bad’


Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#798 in the Series) is Johnnie Johnson, Johnnie B. Bad

On New Year’s Eve 1953, history was made when Check Berry walked on stage for the first time with the Sir John Trio creating an embryonic musical moment pairing up Johnnie Johnson, the Grand Poobah of the Piano, with arguably the greatest guitar player of all time, creating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup worthy blending of scorching three chord guitar rock with boogie woogie piano blues.

Using the same “If Lee Harvey Oswald was never born would John F. Kennedy still be alive?” progression of thought, it would be relatively safe, albeit futile, to assume that had Chuck Berry not walked on stage that night with Johnnie Johnson he would not have become the Chuck Berry we know today, and Johnnie Johnson would have been the band leader for Arsenio Hall.

A 28 years in the making, love and sometimes hate relationship, Johnnie Johnson and his rhythmic piano were major contributors on all of the iconic Chuck Berry hits, and it is largely believed that JJ was the major inspiration for the mega hit “Johnny Be Good.”  Just don’t ask Chuck as he mostly discounts this theory, and anyone that should think otherwise could very well end up with a Telecaster up his Mandolin.

Johnson, despite not being credited on a Chuck Berry song since 1973, was a huge influence on contemporary guitar players and counted among his friends Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Stephen Tyler, and it was Richards that pulled Johnson from his gig driving a senior citizens bus to participate in a Chuck Berry tribute concert film and documentary, Hail!, Hail!, Rock ‘N’ Roll in 1987.

It was on a random Saturday night, at the Street Talk Tavern, somewhere in the bowels of Galveston, when Blues Man emeritus Reverend Otis Futhermucker played “Tanqueray,” a song my ears had here-to-for, never experienced, and is the opening track from Johnnie Johnson’s 1984 release Johnnie Be Bad. The song, co-written with Keith Richards who appears on the album along with Eric Clapton, is intoxicatingly uncomplicated, and ecstatically simple in its song structure, in other words, a classic blues song.

Listen to me baby – hear what I got to say
Listen to me baby – hear what I got to say
I’m going round the corner
To have a drink of Tanqueray

Another musician that Johnnie met on Hail” Hail” Rock ‘N’ Roll was bassist Joey Spampinato. At that time Joey was the long-time bassist for the iconic band NRBQ. This would be important since “The Q” as a band were all over this project as well. They back most all of the tracks and keyboard player Terry Adams helped produce the project and also wrote a couple songs. Drummer Tommy Ardolino added one as well. Even original NRBQ member Steve Ferguson who hadn’t been with them in years came back to be part of the fun.

The blues d’elegance continues, with “Hush Hush”, a piano blues boogie woogie tune that would make Jerry Lee Lewis fall of his piano bench, and the title track “Johnnie Be Bad,” sounds a bit like a hipper, infinitely cooler instrumental version of Johnny B. Good, with “Creek Mud”, another a bit more drawn instrumental.

“Stepped in What” is a classic sing speak song that compares our hero’s propensity for woman troubles to stepping in it, and the classic “Key to the Highway” is delivered with grit and soul.

Johnnie Be Bad is a classic blues album right up there with Bobby “Blue Bland’s” Two Steps From the Blues, and should be featured front and center in your blues library.

Walt Falconer, Houston, Texas, USA

Track Listing

  1. Tanqueray (Johnnie Johnson / Keith Richards) 4:51
  2. Hush on Hush (Pearl King / Roosevelt Sykes) 3:19
  3. Johnnie B. Bad (Terry Adams) 2:35
  4. Creek Mud (Ardolino / Johnson) 5:24
  5. Fault Line Tremor 3:40
  6. Stepped in What?! 4:08
  7. Can You Stand It 2:42
  8. Key to the Highway (Muddy Waters) 3:19
  9. Blues, No. 572 (Johnnie Johnson) 3:28
  10. Baby What’s Wrong (Jimmy Reed) 3:35
  11. Cow Cow Blues (Cow Cow Davenport) 3:12
  12. Movin’ Out (Johnnie Johnson) 3:51


  • Johnnie Johnson, piano, vocals
  • Keith Richards, guitar, vocals (1,8)
  • Joey Spampinato, bass, vocals (1-5, 7-9, 11, 12)
  • Steve Jordan, drums, background vocals (1,8)
  • Bernie Worrell, keyboards, vocals (1,8)
  • Bernard Fowler, background vocals (1,8)
  • Steve Ferguson, lead guitar, vocals (2-5, 7, 9, 12)
  • Al Anderson, rhythm guitar, vocals (2, 3, 5, 7, 12)
  • Tom Ardolino, drums (2-5, 7, 9, 11, 12)
  • Tery Adams, harmonica (5)
  • Eric Clapton, guitar (4, 9)
  • Michael Ray, trumpet (11)

Listen to a few tracks from Johnnie B. Bad

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Posted by Larry Carta

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