Mike Zito and Friends – Rock’n’Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry | Album Review

Mike Zito and Friends – Rock’n’Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry

Ruf Records RUF 1269

20 songs – 68 minutes


Mike Zito delved deep into his personal struggles from addiction to musical success with his most recent previous CD, First Class Life, but goes in a completely different direction here: Joining forces with 21 other guitar giants to salute rock-‘n’-roll pioneer Chuck Berry, with whom he shares a common thread.

Berry was born and raised in St. Louis and spent the majority of his life in the surrounding area. Zito is also a Gateway City native, where he was already a fixture in the local music scene in his mid-teens. “I worked at a small musical instrument store where (Chuck’s) drummer also happened to be employed,” Mike recalls. “Chuck’s son also would drop by on occasion.

Berry “was an icon, and deservedly so,” he adds. “I’ve been playing his songs since I was a kid. He was a tremendous influence on my career, and, of course, many other musicians’ as well.”

Now age 49 and a St. Louis ex-pat, Zito burst onto the music scene with the release of Today on the Electo Groove label in 2008, and hasn’t looked back. This is the 15th album in his catalog, both as a soloist and with Royal Southern Brotherhood, the supergroup he founded with Devin Allman and Cyril Neville after first meeting Allman when they were both working at a local Guitar Center.

Guitar geeks will love this collection, which features a who’s who of guitar talent, including Joanna Connor, Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa, Anders Osborne, Ryan Perry, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Jeremiah Johnson, Luther Dickinson, Sonny Landreth, Tinsley Ellis, Alex Skolnick, Richard Fortus, Ally Venable, Kirk Fletcher, Josh Smith, Tommy Castro, Jimmy Vivino, Albert Castiglia and Kid Andersen.

Produced by Zito at his own MARZ Studios in Nederland, Texas, the disc combines straight-ahead covers with clever new arrangements of tunes woven into the musical fabric of America. A redo of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” opens the action and features Chuck’s grandson, Charlie Berry III, on six-string before the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s music takes over for the balance of the 68-minute set. The fret masters are supported by Matthew Johnson on drums, Terry Dry on bass and Lewis Stephens on keys throughout.

The action heats up with Zito and Connor sharing vocals on “Rock and Roll Music” before Trout joins for a blazing version of “Johnny B. Goode” and Bonamassa’s at his bluesiest best for “Wee Wee Hours.” Other high points here include “Memphis,” a sweet shuffle with Osborne, “Back in the U.S.A.” with Gales, “Havana Moon” with Landreth, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” guitar bonanza featuring Fletcher and Smith and “My Ding a Ling” aided by Andersen.

Available through most major retailers, as you might imagine: there are no dead spots in this set. Strongly recommended.

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