Ronnie Wood and Mike Zito: Tributes to Chuck Berry - Playin' Guitar Like Ringin' a Bell

Doug Collette By

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Chuck Berry should be revered as one of American history's great storytellers. His depictions of people ("Johnny B. Goode"), places ("Memphis Tennessee) and things ("Rock and Roll Music") carried a vivid attention to detail further distinguished by the author's immediately recognizable electric guitar sound: marrying the blues with country music Berry set himself apart from forebears on the instrument including icons like Elmore James and T-Bone Walker. Little wonder this man has wielded such widespread influence over contemporary rock—where would The Rolling Stones be without him?— and continues to generate tributes like those of Ronnie Wood and Mike Zito. It's a measure of the durability of the material that each in its own way is not only legitimate homage, but also a direct reflection of the musicians' varied skills.

Ronnie Wood with His Wild Five
Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry

If this album proves anything, it is the versatility of Chuck Berry's original material. In the hands of guitarist/vocalist Wood and his Wild Five—plus special guests like sultry singer Imelda May on "Wee Wee Hours"—the performances runs the gamut from the slow blues of the latter tune, the instrumental title track and the tuneful travelogue "Back In The USA." Recorded live in 2018, the setlist radiates the pure pleasure of a musician such as pianist Ben Waters having the proverbial time of his life. Mastered by Bob Clearmountain to the enhance clarity of the recording without applying too much polish vintage, each of the eleven cuts captures the ensemble proceeding through the numbers with nary a wasted note. Certain selections like the modified twelve-bar "Blue Feeling" may be less familiar to casual listeners than "Little Queenie" with its trademark guitar peals, but that only illustrates another of the main themes here: other than the judicious decoration of the horns on "Worried Life Blues," Chuck Berry's work flourishes on its own terms without undue ornamentation.

Mike Zito & Friends
Rock 'n' Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry
Ruf Records

These twenty renderings of Chuck Berry tunes are sometimes more dutiful than infectious, but nonetheless feature an array of talent as diverse as the chosen material (which might better have not included "My Ding A Ling"). To his great credit, the co-founder of Royal Southern Brotherhood never threatens to steal the spotlight but instead chooses to humbly (and wholeheartedly) support his guests. New Orleans' Anders Osborne certifies his Southern roots on "Memphis," setting the stage for North Mississippi Allstars' Luther Dickinson's playful take on "Too Much Monkey Business." Distaff fretboard wunderkind Ally Venable acquits herself as stylishly on "School Days" as her contemporary blues peer Albert Castiglia with "Thirty Days." And,, in a true rite of passage, Berry's grandson, Charlie III performs with an infectious gusto on "St. Louis Blues:" on the first cut here, appropriately enough, introducing the fundamental theme of this record: truly great songs such as these of Chuck Berry's can simultaneously accommodate varied treatments and elicit that which is most unique from the respective musicians who play them.

Tracks and Personnel

Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry

Tracks: Tribute to Chuck Berry; Talking About You; Mad Lad; Wee Wee Hours; Almost Grown; Back In The USA; Blue Feeling; Worried Life Blues; Little Queenie; Rock 'N' Roll Music; Johnny B Goode.

Personnel: Ronnie Wood: vocals, guitar; Ben Waters: keyboards; Antti Snellman: tenor saxophone; Tom Waters: alto Saxophone; Amy Mayes, Denise Gordon: backing vocals; Imelda May: lead and backing vocals; Dion Egtved; bass Guitar; Dexter Hercules : drums.

Rock 'n' Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry

Tracks: St. Louis Blues; Rock N Roll Music; Johnny B. Goode; Wee Wee Hours; Memphis; I Want to Be Your Driver; You Never Can Tell; Back in the USA;No Particular Place to Go; Too Much Monkey Business; Havana Moon; Promised Land; Downbound Train; Maybelline; School Days; Brown Eyed Handsome Man; Reeling and Rocking; Let It Rock; Thirty Days; My Ding a Ling.

Personnel: Mike Zito: guitar, vocals; Charlie Berry III: guitar, vocals; Joanna Connor: guitar; Walter Trout: guitar; Joe Bonamassa :guitar; Ryan Perry:guitar; Robben Ford:guitar; Anders Osborne: guitar, vocals; Eric Gales: guitar; Jeremiah Johnson:guitar; Luther Dickinson:guitar, vocals; Sonny Landreth:guitar; Alex Skolnick :guitar; Tinsley Ellis: guitar; Richard Fortus: guitar; Ally Venable: guitar, vocals; Josh Smith: guitar; Kirk Fletcher: guitar; Tommy Castro: guitar; Jimmy Vivino: guitar; Albert Castiglia: guitar; Kid Andersen: guitar; Lewis Stephens: piano, organ; Terry Dry: bass guitar, vocals, percussion; Matthew Johnson; drums, vocals, percussion

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