‘Johnny B. Goode’ recording to help fund film about Chuck Berry’s long-time pianist Johnnie Johnson | St. Louis Public Radio

‘Johnny B. Goode’ recording to help fund film about Chuck Berry’s long-time pianist Johnnie Johnson

Jan 6, 2016

On Wednesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” several local musicians joined host Don Marsh to discuss a new recording of the famed Chuck Berry tune “Johnny B. Goode.” The recording will raise money to fund the completion of KSDK anchor Art Holliday’s documentary about Berry’s long-time pianist Johnnie Johnson, who many say the song is named in tribute of. The piano on the track was actually recorded by Johnson himself, before his death in 2005.

Here’s who joined the show to talk about it:

  • Mike Mesey, percussionist and producer of the "Johnny B. Goode" recording, toured with Chuck Berry
  • Steve Scorfina, guitarist, known for his work with REO Speedwagon and Pavlov’s dog
  • Dan Duncan, LCSW, the recently-retired Associate Executive Director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse - St. Louis Area, who helped coordinate the project and plays congas on the recording

“Everybody in the world knows who Chuck Berry is, but not everyone knows Johnnie Johnson,” said Duncan of the impetus to contribute to the documentary in some way. Funding for the film had hit some potholes in recent years, with the death of renowned producer/director George Hickenlooper and licensing costs for high-profile celebrity interviews and music that are included in the film.

About a year ago, Mesey and Duncan reunited for a musical reunion in Ferguson, where they grew up. While it was there they decided to finish the new “Johnny B. Goode” recording, it was not the place the recording began.

In 2000, Mesey had been touring with Chuck Berry and had called Johnson come to the studio and do the piano track. The version is different that your typical recording—a little slower and in a boogie-rock style. Little did Mesey know, however, but it was the only piano track of “Johnny B. Good” that Johnnie Johnson had ever recorded in studio.

“I held on to it, because I knew it was something special,” Mesey said. “He was smiling from ear-to-ear. He was so thrilled to be playing the piano track to it; he was having so much fun.”

After 15 years had passed, Mesey and Duncan reached out to Steve Scorfina to see if he would be interested in contributing to a recording that used Johnson’s piano track. He agreed and suggested they reach out to saxophonist David Sanborn, guitarist Jimmy Vivino and five-time Grammy winner Michael McDonald to sing on the track.

Chuck Berry gave his blessing and an interview to the documentary itself, but said he couldn’t contribute to the track because that would open the floodgates of re-recording requests.

After seeing a cut of the documentary, the group mutually decided to contribute funds from the sale of the track (now available online on Amazon, as well as iTunes and CD Baby) to the documentary. The song will also be included in the credits to the documentary, once it is eventually released.

"Johnnie did with the piano what Chuck did with the guitar. They're both just so iconic."

“A lot of people revere his piano playing. If you listen to his tracks on this, it is just amazing to listen. What he did, most piano players will say it is unbelievable,” said Mesey. “It is so natural, so heartfelt, so him.”

“Johnnie did with the piano what Chuck did with the guitar—they’re both just so iconic,” Mesey said.

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.