And you thought all influential rock and rollers were guitar
Coming from a guitar player this column might be a bit traumatic
for me, but as Gloria Gaynor said "I will survive." So let's talk
about some of the greatest and most influential piano players in
the rock and roll era.
Fats Domino was born New Orleans, Louisiana in 1928, his style did
not evolve into a traditional rock and roll style, instead it
defined the borders of what rock and roll was, and still is. Fats'
style opened the doors for legends to come like Dr. John and the
multi-talented Allen Toussaint.
Fats' came from a musical family, that explains much about his
early development as a piano player and composer. Fats Domino
recorded and released 5 gold records (million sellers) before the
year 1955 was over, positioning him as truly one of the earliest
"kings of rock and roll." His truly amazing catalog of signature
songs are too numerous to list, but here's some of my favorites
(some well know others not as much): "The Fat Man" (1950), "Every
Night About This Time" (1951), "Ain't That a Shame" (1955), "My
Blue Heaven" (1955), "Blueberry Hill" (1956), and one of my
favorites "Walking to New Orleans" (1960).
Yes folks Antoine "Fats" Domino is still a "king of rock and
roll" and on piano too!
Richard Penniman, oh yeah "Little Richard" that's what his name
is. When you talk about a rock and roll groundbreakers there is no
one who can surpass Little Richard. His screaming and hollering,
his over the top costuming, his effeminate flamboyance, combined
with his songwriting and bandleader abilities, puts him as a direct
influence to Michael Jackson, Prince, Mick Jagger, and David
Little Richards records were so full of energy that white
teenager audiences, although heavily discouraged by their parents,
bought his "race records" by the millions. Even the milkbread Pat
Boone covered his songs in a feeble attempt to capture what Little
Richard had recorded on vinyl.
And if you wanna hear where Led Zeppelin's John Bonham got the
drum idea for the intro to "Rock and Roll" on Led Zep 4,
listen to the intro "Keep a Knockin' from 1957. His hits also fall
into the "too many to list" category, but here's a few for ya:
"Long Tall Sally," "Lucille", "Good Golly Miss Molly", "Tutti
Frutti", and "Rip it Up".
Ouch! What a powerhouse Little Richard was, and still is.
When you say the name Johnny Johnson to any historian of early
rock and roll, they smile and will probably say "you know your
stuff son." Yes folks Johnny Johnson did not front a band, he never
sang, he never even got credit for his biggest contribution to rock
and roll, but he is one of the most respected musicians in early
rock and roll.
Johnny was the piano player that backed up the great Chuck Berry
on all of his early and most famous recordings. Johnny was the glue
that kept the rhythm section together while Chuck noodled and duck
walked his was around his great songs. But in an ironic twist of
musical history the riff that Chuck Berry used time and time again
was lifted from his piano player Johnny Johnson. It's not just any
riff or lick, Mathis is the riff replayed by every guitar player
who every lifted up a guitar. Yes, it's the opening riff in the
greatest rock and roll song of all time "Johhny B. Goode"! Nuff
Okay y'all mountain dwellers I'm outta here, but if you want a
few great rock and roll piano players that didn't fit in this
column (maybe a part two?) check out my man the great Leon Russell,
or Nicky Hopkins (Joe Cocker and the Stones), and Max Middleton
(Jeff Beck Group). Peace. Joey