When disc-jockey Alan Freed changed the name of his rhythm and blues radio show to the (slightly naughty) “ Rock and Roll Show” — knowing full-well the spicy and full implications of the original meaning of the phrase — he started something so big that even he could never have predicted where it would go. That the phrase has entered our everyday lexicon is one (extraordinary) thing. That the lifestyle the black music fostered — a lifestyle of doing what you pleased, when you wanted, to live your life any way you wished — a lifestyle that took hold across the world, must have seemed an alien and unfathomable prospect to most white, middle-aged, working class, post-war, American folk. Rock and Roll was genuinely revolutionary… and the first and truly greatest of this revolution’s proponents must surely have been Chuck Berry.
Nevertheless, and slightly misleadingly, the first track on “Rock N Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry” the new compilation album offered by Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist, singer, producer, and songwriter MIKE ZITO with a starry array of twenty-one invitee guitarists, (due out Friday 1st November via Ruf Records) begins with “St. Louis Blues” feat. CHARLIE BERRY III.
This number was one of the first blues songs to succeed as a pop song and brushed the very edges of jazz too. The sheet music made W. C. Handy a very wealthy man. In that respect, this song is a perfect specimen of proto-rock. Here, on this album, the speedy full-electric Berry version (heard on Chuck Berry in London) rocks like it has enough gas to roll from Chicago down to New Orleans. There are squirts of electric guitar that hustle with assembled horns… and a chortling French-style bar-piano that frolics near the back-room to remind you of the song’s early twentieth century, pre-Depression origin. Yep, this is a honky-tonk treat.
Next is “Rock and Roll Music” feat. virtuoso guitarist JOANNA CONNOR (who also provides mediocre backing vox) which has plenty of oomph with squeezy guitar and throaty horns.
Then “Johnny B Goode” which is one of the most recognizable songs in the history of the world and, right now, it hurtles at unimaginable speeds toward the outer galaxies, as it emerges from our solar system’s heliopause… yes, it is 11.7 billion miles away from us (stored on a golden record aboard Voyager 1). This rendition features WALTER TROUT and therefore, has enormous punching power, and lots of pyrotechnic solar-flares of guitar right from the start. This number has super-thrust.
“Back in the USA” feat. one of our favorite guitarists ERIC GALES and Zito’s Royal Southern brother is suitably raunchy, and also kinda sticky, like molasses, and thick with orange-rind, stingy guitar and lots-and-lots of rhythmic atmosphere.
Now, when people say “Rock and Roll!” they mean: Ready to go? But back in when 1941 when Berry started his career, the phrase meant: Feeling horny and getting jiggy?
Well are ya?
Want to recreate the fun-loving pep of those early years? Enjoy some of the most spirited guitar wizardry you’ll ever hear… CHECK OUT: Rock ‘N’ Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry by Mike Zito & Friends, due November 1, 2019.