A FEW MINUTES WITH: Mike Zito

October 25th, 2017, 2:00 pm by Greg

UPDATE: Originally scheduled for Saturday (October 28) at the Upper Room in Albany, this show has now been cancelled…

By Don Wilcock

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“By the time we hit Albany, the show was pretty good,” blues singer and guitarslinger Mike Zito says about his set at the Upper Room back in April with Tommy Castro and Castro’s band.

What an understatement…

“We did one rehearsal. His band is fantastic. I give a lot of it to the band. They seemed like they were up for the task.”

Both Castro and Zito are naturals at creating their music from somewhere deep inside. They both wear their lives on their sleeves. Like contemporary John Lee Hookers, they create a mantra that transcends genre and takes you away in a catharsis with wings. This Saturday night (October 28) Zito returns to the Upper Room – this time without Castro but with his own band.

Zito is not a traditional blues artist like the above-mentioned Hooker. He’s more like Kenny Wayne Shepherd without the glitz. “For a while there wasn’t a lotta great songwriting in the blues,” he says. “Just a lot of rehashed old shit. Since I’ve gotten in this game the last 10 years, there are a lot more and better songs and newer art, and the genre’s stretching out some.

“I feel like now is the time to do this. I’m doing it, and I’m gonna keep doing it. I wanna make more records that are fun, that are fun for the genre, that are fun for me to go play and hopefully fun for the people. You know, I always liked blues when it’s sad and awful, but like B.B. King said, ‘It really should make you feel better.’ It should be enjoyable. You should put the music on! End your troubles.”

Mike Zito found the balance between energy and real emotion in the work of Johnny Winter, Walter Trout and Luther Allison, all of whom released their primal scream in their music. They each struggled with substance abuse. They each discovered that their music was stronger than their addictions. And they each threw themselves into communicating that revelation to their fans.

“The goal is to just continue to try not to think so much about what I wanna play, and play whatever is gonna come out,” says Zito. “Apparently, that’s what I’m supposed to do – that thing of being very comfortable with yourself. Some people are just not made for that, and the more I do this, and the longer I’ve been sober – 14 years now – I’m very comfortable. If I go on stage, and I play a bad note, I don’t care. It’s OK. I’m trying to get to the good – trying to do something. I’m not just playin’. I’m trying to get to whatever it is I got going on, and I’m comfortable with that. I’m realizing now that’s exactly how all my heroes (do it).”

Zito spent a decade working in a St. Louis guitar shop while playing in local clubs seven nights a week. He was a founding member of the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville, guitarist Devon Allman (son of Gregg Allman), bassist Charlie Wooton (of Zydefunk) and Yonrico Scott (former drummer for the Derek Trucks Band). The group released its self-titled debut album on the Ruf label in 2012. He left that group in 2014. He’s released 12 solo albums for Electro Groove and Ruf Records and won several Blues Music Awards, working with five great producers: David Z, Tony Braunegal, Jim Gaines, Anders Osborne and Tom Hambridge.

Earlier this year, Zito took the 2017 Blues Blast Rock Blues Album of the Year Award for Make Music Not War. Well deserved, the album represents all that’s good about today’s blues scene.

Zito and Castro are like peas in a pod. If you’ve seen Castro – who has played often in the area – but haven’t caught Zito, do yourself a favor and come out Saturday night. The two had played together on the Delbert McClinton Cruise and the Legendary Rhythm ‘n Blues Blues Cruise before their joint spring tour. Of Zito, Tommy Castro says, “I know Mike well enough to know on a personal level that he’s a guy I like and who I respect, and I can get along with just fine. He doesn’t have a big ego. Two guitar players on stage together you gotta find the right people. There’s only a handful of guys I could get up there with and really have a good time because their heads are in the right place.”

“I’m building a studio right now,” Zito notes. “Someone said, ‘Just ’cause you got a studio now, don’t over produce it.’ Hell, no. We’re gonna go in there in three days. I could probably go in there and spend three weeks, but if you’re doing this kind of music, you can’t record it in three weeks, or three months, and you can’t spend all the time finding the perfect notes and then it’s not just music. It needs to be live. That’s what people want. They want to take home the live show. It’s really not about being the best. Johnny Winter was really, really comfortable with what he was and what he did, and he knew it was all about – you know – if you’re really doing it right, you’re capturing a moment in time. It’s not necessarily your best performance.”

WHO: The Mike Zito Band
WHERE: The Upper Room, Albany
WHEN: Saturday (October 28); 6pm doors; 7pm show
HOW MUCH: $20 & $35

ALSO READ:
LIVE: Tommy Castro & Mike Zito @ the Upper Room, 4/26/17