April 13, 2006 is the one year anniversary of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Johnnie Johnson’s death.
Two years before Johnnie died, I had begun working on a feature length documentary about Johnnies life, music, and relationship with the legendary Chuck Berry. This email is an update on Johnnie Be Good and the documentary web site, http://www.JohnnieBeGood.net, which is online now. JohnnieBeGood.net includes a trailer for the documentary, a photo gallery and quotes from some of the musicians who admired Johnnie.
Some of you are friends of Johnnie, some of you performed with him, some are fans, whether you discovered Johnnie back in the day or only recently. Youre located all around the world including Johnnies hometown of Fairmont, West Virginia where a good portion of the documentary was shot. From California to New York, Canada to South America, Europe to Australia, Johnnie Johnson was a citizen of the world because you all loved his music. Some of you receiving this email have actually worked on the documentary, sharing your diverse and wonderful talents. Im reaching out to all of you receiving this email.The easiest way to help, and it wont cost a dime, is to forward this email to other Johnnie Johnson fans, music fans, or documentary fans to make them aware that the project is alive and well and gaining momentum. Send it around the world. Im trying to take it to a level that will get Johnnies story out there. Its what he deserves. My biggest regret about this project is that I wasnt able to finish the documentary while Johnnie was with us. I wanted him in a theater so he could get an ovation when the lights came up, but it wasnt to be. Im working closely with Frances Johnson to get it done. July 2007 is my target date. Our chance of success grows exponentially if some of you decide to help. Some of you know somebody who knows somebody: a decision-maker who could make a difference for Johnnie Be Good.Also on the web site is information about how to get a tax deduction by donating toward the completion of the film. The nonprofit Higher Education Channel (HEC) believes in the project, helped me obtain a grant, and will work with me with fund-raising through the completion of Johnnie Be Good. (Dennis Riggs, thank you!) HEC helped me get a grant and part of the grant deal is a prime time showing of the documentary on cable television in St. Louis while still maintaining all rights.Johnnie Be Good began in earnest in 2003 when I attended a recording session with Johnnie Johnson and Johnny Secret Agent Man Rivers. They did some killer tracks that day. The same unreleased cd project includes Johnnies collaborations with Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby and John Sebastian. Since that recording session, Ive been to Toronto, Chicago, Houston, Syracuse and Fairmont, Johnnies West Virginia hometown which hosts the Johnnie Johnson Jazz and Blues Festival. Ive shot over 80 hours of material with Johnnie and Frances, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Bonnie Raitt, Bo Diddley and Bob Weir. Two members of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards and Chuck Leavell, have committed to future interviews. So has hall of famer John Sebastian. I just returned from Syracuse, where I interviewed music historian Bruce Pegg, the author of the excellent Chuck Berry biography, Brown Eyed Handsome Man. I recently interviewed former Rod Stewart guitarist Billy Peek, who also performed with Johnnie and Chuck Berry.Johnnie Be Good will include an interview with Houston businessman George Turek, whose chance meeting with Johnnie led to friendship and ultimately a successful and exasperating campaign to get Johnnie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ive also interviewed Travis Fitzpatrick, Georges stepson. Travis began writing Johnnies biography, Father of Rock and Roll, when he was nineteen and he supplies one of the best quotes in the documentary: Whoever Johnnies playing with, thats the best band in town that night. I approached music historian Rob Bowman for an interview after reading the official hall of fame bio he wrote for the night Johnnie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bowman only had a page to make his case, and he did as well as anyone whos tried to explain why Johnnie made history. Ive licensed Johnnies emotional induction speech and it will be a highlight of the documentary. Ive also interviewed Bill Stalnaker, who singlehandly made Fairmont, West Virginia recognize Johnnies accomplishments, then organized a jazz and blues festival named after the piano legend.Some of the best sound bites come from two musicians who greatly admired Johnnie: Richard Young and Dona Oxford. Young, who recorded with Johnnie as a member of the Kentucky Headhunters (check out Thatll Work, the cd title) tells a funny story about meeting Johnnie for the first time at the Grammys as well as sharing his observation that bands play the way Johnnie wants them to play. Johnnie would pull you back to Johnnie Johnson speed, and once you get a taste of it, its like a drug, you got to do it again. Dona Oxford, a wonderful boogie woogie protégé of Johnnie Johnson who became his friend, shares the joyful story of the night she took the stage with Johnnie Johnson and Keith Richards in New York. Dona also supplied the music and arrangement for a tribute song, Goodbye, Johnnie, Goodbye which can be heard when you go to johnniebegood.net.Because art is often created at the expense of family, the music life meant Johnnie was often on the road away from his family. In the documentary, youll hear from Johnnies daughters as they share what it was like to reconnect with Johnnie later in life and appreciate his musical contribution. Much of Johnnies family attended his three day performance at his music festival, including grandkids and great grandkids. Johnnie was thrilled to have them by his side as he celebrated his 80th and final birthday in his hometown.When the documentary is completed, youll learn Johnnies secret weapon when he was courting Frances Johnson: cotton candy, but it almost backfired. And theres the story of superfan Pam Rudolph. Johnnies last performance, April 9, 2005 was the wedding reception of Rudolphs daughter. As usual, Johnnie was doing the right thing for a friend. In the documentary Rudolph says when she introduced herself to Johnnie many years ago, he said I used to be with Chuck Berry. And Rudolph replied, no, Chuck Berry used to be with you. She says they got along great after that.The documentary will also contain rare photos of Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry and drummer Ebby Hardy, in the early days when they played the Cosmopolitan in East St. Louis. All of the vintage photos are from the collection of Bill Greensmith, many of them shot by photographer Harry Davis, Chuck Berrys first cousin. Some of these historic photos have never been seen by the public.My executive producer and story editor is documentary and feature film director George Hickenlooper. Hickenloopers current project is Factory Girl starring Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce, Hayden Christensen and Jimmy Fallon. His previous feature was The Man From Elysian Fields starring Andy Garcia and Mick Jagger. Hickenloopers documentaries include Mayor of the Sunset Strip about KROQ dj Rodney Bingenheimer and Hearts of Darkness about the making of Apocalypse Now.My name is Art Holliday and this is my second documentary. The first can be found at http://www.beforetheyfall.com. Its an honor and a labor of love to tell Johnnies story, from playing the piano live on the radio when he was nine, to his Montford Point Marines experience breaking the militarys color line, to an emotional induction speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.Johnnie Johnson fans, let me hear from you. About the project, about the web site, about Johnnie. Please support this effort to tell Johnnies story by sending this email around the world to other fans of Johnnie Johnson and great music.Art HollidayDirector, JOHNNIE BE GOOD