One Song – Three Versions – Johnny B. Goode

Wherein I take a song you know and see how it sounds reinterpreted. Or at the very least, louder. Let’s dedicate this one to the memory of these three gents.

I’m not going to bother saying much of anything about Chuck Berry. What the hell is there to say? Nothing. Without Chuck there would have been rock and roll – it just wouldn’t have been the same. (Oh no, I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough.)

“Johnny B. Goode” (Chuck was born at 2520 Goode Avenue, St. Louis) is arguably the most famous and certainly one of the most influential songs in the history of rock and roll. Hell, it IS the fucking history of rock and roll.

Released on March 15, 1958, Billboard said it “featured a swagger and showmanship that had not yet invaded radio.” And for a nation of teenagers, it kicked open the doors not only to rock and roll but ultimately a couple of other deviant things as well:

Peter Tosh was a Jamaican reggae star, an original member (along with Bob Marley) of the Wailers, one of the earliest and most influential of all reggae bands.

Tosh was an accomplished self-taught musician and wrote (with Marley) “Get Up Stand Up.” The Stones were early adherents to reggae and Tosh, with Mick Jagger, recorded a duet of the Smokey Robinson-written Temptations song “Don’t Look Back.” (I actually like The Tempts version better.)

I heard Tosh’s version of “Johnny B. Goode” whilst wandering around the Lowell Folk Festival. I recognized the tune, couldn’t quite place it and later figured out it was Tosh. He ran the song through Reggae-o-Meter 2.0, moved it Jamaica and came out with this funky, horn-driven version. To be blunt, you’ll want to roll out your best stuff on listening to this:

Although my buddy Steve has veered off into bluegrass these days, I don’t think he’d put up much argument that Johnny Winter is his favorite guitarist of all time. Johnny was a bluesman right down to the marrow.

But he went through a rock and roll period and proved that yes, the blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll. Many have done this song, few with the albino Texan’s intensity (although Hendrix’ is pretty awesome):

 

 

 

 

21 thoughts on “One Song – Three Versions – Johnny B. Goode

  1. Boy you picked a tricky one to cover here. I’ve heard so many versions of Johnny B… it’s always gonna be hard when the original was such a landmark and while Messrs Tosh and Winter certainly do it justice (there are some bloody piss poor versions of it out there) there’s no beating Chuck

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    1. I hadn’t done a “Three Versions” in a while so felt overdue. And I’d always liked these versions. Tosh lays it back; Johnny revs it up. I started to cop a few of Winter’s licks in my blues playing. He plays out of that blues well but he’s got some classic licks. As to other versions, Hendrix as mentioned is good. And if any self-respecting bar band can’t do a good job of this, they should find something else to do.

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  2. I completely agree – Chuck Berry didn’t invent rock & roll, but it wouldn’t have been the same without him. And there’s perhaps no other tune that better illustrates the point than Johnny B. Goode.

    It’s the quintessential classic electric rock & roll song, in my opinion! And BTW, watching Berry perform it is just priceless – he was such a great showman, even if his live performances sometimes suffered from the fact that he didn’t have a standing touring band and instead insisted that concert promoters hire local musicians to back him up – oftentimes without any prior rehearsals!

    I also like the Peter Tosh cover, which really takes the song to a completely different place. I had heard it before but completely forgotten about it.

    And Johnny Winter is always pretty pool – boy, what a crazy shredder this guy was!

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    1. Yeah, the bands would always know Chuck’s tunes cold. But then he would fuck around with time signatures and keys and whatnot. He could be an irascible prick when he wanted to be. And what I like about J. Winter is that he was the real deal. He didn’t adopt a blues lifestyle to be cool. He was a true bluesman through and through. I got inspired yesterday to learn some of his signature licks. He was clean and precise.

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  3. Never heard the Peter Tosh version before, he does a great job with it. Winter just smokes it like no one else can. Great job picking these two out of the thousands of versions out there..

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