Written and first recorded by Chuck Berry (B-side 1956).
Hit album version by Santana (1983).
Berry’s story of a Cuban woman missing an American woman came from playing Nat King Cole’s “Calypso Blues” when Berry was still slugging it out at St. Louis’ Cosmopolitan Club at a time when Latin rhythms were popular. He decided to write his own song after a gigging in New York City, where he met Cubans for the first time. “It is the differences in people that I think gives me a tremendous imagination to create a story for developing a lyric,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I had read, seen or heard in some respect all the situations in the Havana story. Certainly, missing the boat and surely missing the girl had been experienced many times by me.” The Rolling Stones recently paid tribute to the song by naming a concert film, shot in Cuba, after the song.
“Berry has described Nat ‘King’ Cole as his favorite ballad singer — he admired his perfect diction and elegant delivery. Berry’s recording included Willie Dixon (guitar), Otis Span (piano), and Eddy Hardy (drums).
“Carlos Santana covered ‘Havana Moon’ for his 1983 solo album of the same name. The track features a Booker T. Jones vocal and backing from The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
“Richard Berry (no relation), whose 1957 hit ‘Louie, Louie‘ would later become a garage-band staple, said it was ‘Havana Moon’ that inspired him to to sing the song in a faux West-Indian patois, according to the liner notes from Rhino Records’s Best of Louie Louie.
Nat “King” Cole, “Calypso Blues” (1951):
Santana & The Fabulous Thunderbirds & Booker T. Jones, “Havana Moon” (1983):