Piano great’s songwriting claim against Chuck Berry tossed:
- So it goes in St. Louis, where a federal judge has tossed a royalties lawsuit filed against the rock icon by former sideman Johnnie Johnson, the pianist immortalized in Berry’s classic “Johnnie B. Goode.”
Johnson sued Berry in 2000 claiming to have cowritten the music for 52 of Berry’s songs from 1955 to 1966, including such rock ‘n’ roll staples as “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “No Particular Place to Go.” Johnson said he had come up with the rollicking piano riffs and trademark rhythm backing Berry’s lyrics.
Through his suit, Johnson was attempting to recoup potentially millions in unrealized profits from Berry and his publishing company, Isalee Music.
But in a 19-page opinion issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Donald Stohr determined that under the federal Copyright Act, Johnson, 77, was not entitled to anything because he had simply waited too long to pursue his case against Berry, 76, who copyrighted all the songs himself.
Johnson’s attorney, Mitch Margo, had argued that decades of excessive alcoholism coupled with a low IQ had hindered his client’s ability to comprehend the situation and was easily manipulated by Berry. “Johnnie is a man who is a genius at the piano but has trouble doing other things,” Margo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Stohr, however, said he was “unpersuaded,” and challenged Johnson’s claim that he was incapacitated.
For its part, Berry’s camp was psyched about the outcome. But Berry’s lawyer says the rocker is sympathetic to his former pianist’s struggles…..
Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a “sideman” in 2001 – his piano was integral to the Berry sound:
- Johnson began playing at age four when his parents brought a new piano into their Fairmont, West Virginia, home. The youngster seemed to possess an innate mastery of the instrument. By nine he was playing jazz tunes by Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Earl “Fatha” Hines on a local radio station. While serving in the Marines, Johnson performed alongside seasoned jazz professionals in the Special Service Band, and it was here he decided to make music his life’s work. Moving to Chicago after the war, Johnson apprenticed with such blues masters as Muddy Waters and Albert King on the club scene. By the early Fifties, he was living in St. Louis, where he worked in a factory by day and fronted the Johnnie Johnson Trio, an R&B band, as time allowed. When he had to replace an ailing saxophonist for a club date on New Year’s Eve 1952, he called a guitar-playing friend on short notice to sit in. His name was Chuck Berry.