Mike Zito & Friends: Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry

Jeff Tamarkin on January 10, 2020
Mike Zito & Friends: Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Tribute to  Chuck Berry

There are only a couple of sensible ways to pay tribute to Chuck Berry: Either play the songs the way the man wrote them, or don’t even try. Mike Zito, the whizbang guitarist who’s spent time in Royal Southern Brotherhood and released a flood of consistently rocking records of his own, largely takes the first route. With assistance from an impressive group of colleagues—Joe Bonamassa, Anders Osborne, Luther Dickinson and Sonny Landreth among them—Zito mostly acknowledges that Berry got it right and declines to embellish on the arrangements or otherwise switch things up more than they need to be. What he and his buddies can offer to personalize the tunes, of course, is brainmelting guitar. “You Never Can Tell” finds Zito and Robben Ford bouncing prototypical Berry riffs off one another, each entry a little gift box of primal rock-and-roll. Jimmy Vivino’s turn on “Let It Rock” is a soul revue in miniature, and Eric Gales tears up “Back in the USA” as if his life depends on it. The chill “Havana Moon” offered by Landreth is a welcomed change of pace, as is Bonamassa’s “Wee Wee Hours,” a reminder that, although he took it someplace entirely new, Chuck Berry came from the blues. And the tune that starts it all, “St. Louis Blues,” is a highlight even if Berry didn’t write it: the W.C. Handy composition features Charlie Berry III, the great man’s grandson, who brings it all back home. Only one complaint: Can’t we please forget that “My Ding a Ling” ever existed?