Not long ago while driving with my wife and listening to the splendiferous Bluesville station on Sirius, this song title, ‘Wee Wee Hours,’ scrolled across our radio display. I glanced over to her, then back to the road, and with attempted sincerity asked, “Do you think this is a song about very late in the evening, or the time assigned for when someone has to take a leak?” Predictably (and accurately), she rolled her eyes and murmured, “Just so juvenile.” Still, when it got going it was all either of us could do not to pee in our pants (and I’m barely joking).
This is originally a Chuck Berry tune, written and recorded in 1955 as the B-side to the song that launched Berry’s career, ‘Maybellene.’ Thinking it would be a good fit with the Chess Record’s blues roster, Berry had submitted the slow, twelve-bar blues of ‘Wee Wee Hours’ on his audition tape to Leonard Chess. Berry landed the recording contract, alright, but Chess took him, and the history of rock and roll music, in a slightly different direction. And while the original put some exceptional piano from Johnnie Johnson at the forefront, leaving Berry’s activity strictly to delicate accent phrases, here in this modern remake Mike Zito positively assails the listener with about a million scathing guitar notes like his urethra’s on fire.
The song appeared on Zito’s 2019 album, Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry, and featured him covering 20 Berry songs along with a who’s-who of 21 guest guitarists. On this one it’s Guitar World’s current #1 ranked blues guitarist, Joe Bonamassa. But honestly the assault of overwhelming chops is so relentless I’m not at all sure where Zito began or Bonamassa took over (or vice versa). There’s a long-held, deserved place of respect in the blues world for players of restraint and moderation, who leave breathing space between notes and during phrases. This just isn’t that place.
Zito has been a fixture on the contemporary blues/rock circuit for nearly twenty years, primarily as a solo artist and fronting his band The Wheel, as well as being part of the blues/soul-inspired supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood, which included Cyril Neville (of The Neville Brothers and The Meters) and Devon Allman (son of Gregg). He knows his music history, and it’s no accident that he’s assembled a veritable army of present-day guitar slingers – one of whom is Chuck’s grandson, Charlie Berry III – to pay homage to the “Father of Rock and Roll,” who, like Zito, was also a proud product of St. Louis, Missouri, and once, long ago, thought of himself as a bluesman. Now, get prepared to hear Zito and Bonamassa, ah, wizz through this one, and know that if you do become momentarily overwhelmed by the deluge of fever-driven playing try not to get, um, pissed, you can always hit pause to, well, relieve yourself. Me, I’m planning to listen to it again in a minute, but first I’ve got to go see a man about a horse.
The Chuck Berry original