Mike Zito & Friends – Rock N Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry – Words by Adam Kennedy
Widely regarded as the ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ it goes without saying that Chuck Berry’s contribution and influence within this beloved genre is far-reaching. None more so than in his home town of St Louis, Missouri where his statue sits proudly on The Delmar Loop across the road from his restaurant Blueberry Hill.
This being a city with a vibrant music scene that has produced a whole raft of artists who have broken out onto the international stage. You would expect nothing less from a city that has the Mississippi River, the lifeblood of the blues, flowing through its veins.
Queue blues-rock virtuoso Mike Zito, an artist who spent 32 years living in the river city. Without a shadow of a doubt, Zito wears his heart on his sleeve – you just have to look at the tattoo of the city’s Gateway Arch on his arm to see how much St Louis means to him. And for this now his 16th album, Zito decided to switch things up and pay homage to his beloved stomping ground and one of its most famous sons Chuck Berry.
A much-loved figure on both the domestic and international blues scenes, for his latest offering, Zito called in a whole raft of his esteemed friends and colleagues. And the result is an impressive twenty songs and a 21 strong guest list who each feature on a different Chuck Berry cover on the record.
So what better place to start than St Louis Blues itself, and an appearance from the rock legend’s grandson Charlie Berry III. Like a rocket out of the Midwest, this track is the epitome of honky-tonk rock and roll at its best. Whilst the uplifting and somewhat swinging Berry staple Rock and Roll Music is one of many of the legend’s fondest tracks to feature.
The beauty of this record is that each song truly plays on the strengths of the guests featured. There is no one more fitting than the elder statesman of the blues Walter Trout to grapple with Johnny B. Goode, whilst Joe Bonamassa makes his guitar sing like a bird with some emotive playing during slow blues number Wee Wee Hours.
Robben Ford joins Zito on the timeless You Never Can Tell. The latter being a real earworm, and you simply can’t stop yourself from singing along. The calibre of guitarists on this record is simply world-class. Widely regarded as one of the best – Eric Gales, delivers a rock and roll injection to Back in the USA.
But most importantly this record also represents the city’s homegrown talent. Bluesman Jeremiah Johnson is a product of the city’s music scene, and features on the classic No Particular Place To Go. The interplay between Johnson and Zito is simply sublime. Whilst the St Louis connection is further strengthened by Richard Fortus, current guitarist for Guns N Roses, who appears on a foot-stomping cover of Maybellene.
Throughout the twenty songs on the record, Zito traverses the wide musical spectrum in Berry’s repertoire. None more so than on the wonderfully mellow Havana Moon, which in turn, transports the listener to warmer climes and features some stunning slide play from Sonny Landreth. The same can be said about My Ding A Ling.
Despite this, one of the stand out tracks on the record comes via School Days featuring Texas blues guitarist Ally Venable who adds some blistering fretwork and beautiful vocals to the track.
Whether you are a Chuck Berry aficionado or are looking for an introduction to his vast discography, this tribute to the man himself orchestrated by Mike Zito and his esteemed band of friends is the perfect starting point or celebration of his work. Make sure you clear your schedule and enjoy it to the fullest whenever you’ve got ‘No particular place to go’.