The Times West Virginian

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June 26, 2014

The Father of Rock ’n’ Roll

Johnnie Johnson Festival honors legendary blues musician

FAIRMONT — Next weekend, musicians will come to Fairmont to pay tribute to a man considered the father of rock ’n’ roll piano.

The 13th annual Johnnie Johnson Blues & Jazz Festival will be held July 5-6 at Palatine Park.

A Fairmont native, Johnson taught himself to play piano, and his talent led him into a partnership with musician Chuck Berry — Johnson wrote the music for more than 60 Chuck Berry songs but did not receive writing credits.

Johnson was a humble man, said Bill Stalnaker, his friend and founder of the Johnnie Johnson Festival.

“They were probably the first songwriting team in rock ’n’ roll history,” Stalnaker said.

It was that partnership, partially, that got Johnson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame years later.

He couldn’t be inducted as a solo artist because inductees must have been recorded for at least 25 years.

“Johnnie had just really been recorded in the late ’80s ... So he didn’t have that 25-year window,” Stalnaker said. “They created a category — and this is unprecedented — called the Side Man category.”

The category gave musicians who were major contributors to other famous records a chance to be in the Hall of Fame.

That year, Johnson came to Fairmont for a homecoming concert that brought in more than 7,000 people.

His homecoming concert sparked the idea for the Johnnie Johnson Festival, which has over the years featured several Grammy Award-winning artists, members of various halls of fame and international award winners.

This year’s headliners are Greg Piccolo, one of the founding members of the legendary big band blues act, Roomful of Blues; Paul Geremia, a well-known artist from the 1960s who plays 1920s- and ’30s-style blues music; Daryl Davis, who is currently Chuck Berry’s piano player; and blues and jazz pianist Roddy Barnes.

The festival will feature other acts as well, and will offer several food vendors.

Stalnaker praises the festival for being family friendly and open to everyone who wants to hear good music.

“There’s a picture that always stands out to me from the very first year we did the homecoming concert. There’s a little boy there ... he’s wrapped up in an American flag ... You see that, and then across the way you see a woman who’s probably in her 80s. I thought, ‘That’s it,’” he said. “‘That’s what music does.’ It crosses all ages, all colors — any differences we have can be crossed by music. Definitely, music is a bridge.”

The festival should serve as a reminder that people are closer to each other and more have similar backgrounds than we may think, Stalnaker said.

“I think it’s important that we pay tribute to people that have done well and do well in our community because that pays tribute to us,” he said.

The festival is at Palatine Park and runs from noon until around 11:30 p.m. Saturday and from 1 p.m. until around 7 p.m. Sunday. Guests can purchase a weekend pass for $15 or a one-day ticket, which is $15 for Saturday and $10 for Sunday. Passes are on sale at Rider Pharmacy and Cashland Pawn Shop, but they will also be available at the gate.

Concert-goers are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets.

For more information about Johnnie Johnson or the festival, go to www.johnniejohnsonbluesandjazz.com or call 304-363-5377.

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.

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