There’s always a “famous” person up the family tree. A few years ago, while I was working on my Goode ancestry (one of my paternal gr-grandmothers was born a Goode), I was given a copy of the following letter, which I have excerpted here. I found this interesting, although the family history (birthplaces and residences in KY) is not spot-on, the documentation is proven on the authenticity of this copyright. That is the reason for me posting it, in case anybody ever wants to tell it. I do not have copies of the legal papers, but I’m sure they would not be difficult to obtain from Sacramento, CA courts. The copyright was obtained in 1958, and should have been extended to 75 years from the date of that court ruling, by a 1976 Copyright Act.
Not wishing to get too deep into that, the “official” story goes that Chuck Berry wrote “Johnny B. Goode” about his friend Johnnie Johnson. According to this personal account from the niece of the actual Johnny B. Goode, the story is a little more complicated than that.
What follows here is a transcripted letter excerpt, dated 21 July 2003, sent by Sandra Lee Goode to her cousin “Shirley.”
“John Barlow Goode is my grandfather’s youngest brother. My grandpa is Lank Mitchell Goode, son of Frank Wolford Goode and Mary A. Brown. Both Frank and Mary were born in Casey County, KY. At some point, I believe it was after their marriage, they moved to Summer Shade, Metcalfe County, where all of their children were born. I believe there was nine children, though I’m not certain, will get back in touch with you. (NOTE: She lists eight children by name. She was unsure there was a ninth, and I have found no proof of a ninth one either – GCL).
“My grandfather left the Kentucky family farm in 1908, at the age of 17, and rode the rails to San Francisco, close to where my father, Robert Donald Goode, was born. I was also born in the Bay Area, and raised in Sacramento. I now reside in Utah near my married daughter and her family.
“One thing I can tell you with fair certainty: My grandmother Goode, Fredella Dorothy Scriver Goode, wife of Lank Mitchell, told me when I was 19 years of age, that Uncle Johnny did not actually write the lyrics and music to the song, but that the song was written for him by his best friend. Uncle Johnny left Summer Shade with a friend and headed for New Orleans, wanting to break into the music business. It was in New Orleans, in a log cabin shack that they were living in at the time, that Uncle Johnny’s friend wrote the music and lyrics to the song ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ The two of them went to Los Angeles, where Uncle Johnny’s friend was killed in a fight sometime around 1954. Uncle Johnny came up to Sacramento where my grandparents were living, and stayed with them for sometime. I was born in 1948, and remember Uncle Johnny from when I was a child. I also remember seeing him at my dad’s funeral in November of 1958.
“At any rate, after Chuck Berry started singing the song and making money off of it, my dad and my other grandfather, Frank W. Baker, a prominent Sacramento attorney at the time, helped Uncle Johnny get the copyright to the song. The copyright was obtained early in 1958, and my dad passed away later the same year. I used to see Uncle Johnny from time to time when I was working for the State of California on Capitol Hill. Uncle Johnny died in 1968, the year before I got married.
“I heard that Uncle Johnny had a wife and children, though I don’t know who or where they are. I would love to contact them and establish communication with them. I also hope they receive royalties from that wonderful song that was written for him, due to his obtaining the copyright (finally) in 1958.
“One thing I should also mention, is that I have a copy of Uncle Johnny’s death certificate, on which he is shown as the son of ‘William A. Goode.’ This is incorrect. I cannot recall just now who supplied that information, but I wanted to clarify this with you, and also whoever else might be searching in the same direction. John Barlow Goode is the son of Frank Wolford Goode and Mary A. Brown Goode, both of whom are buried in Beaumont Cemetery, Beaumont, Metcalfe County, Kentucky. Great-grandpa Frank died in 1918 (he was born in 1863), and Great-grandma Mary died in 1952 or 1953, I can’t remember exactly just now ( as stone shows 1952). Beaumont Cemetery is located (right off the edge of Hwy 90) about two miles directly east of Summer Shade.
Postscript – On a final note, Frank Wolford Goode was my gr-grandmother’s youngest brother. She was married in Casey Fork Church at Mud Camp, just over in Cumberland County, in 1867. The Goodes lived near Mud Camp at the time. Frank was three years old when she married, she was 19.