Both coming from Kansas, Samantha Fish and Mike Zito have a common love for the Kansas City Chiefs results, a common appreciation of Haribo Gummibears (I arrived well prepared for an interview) oh, and love for a common musical genre – The Blues. At the Harmonie on Tuesday, I supplied the fruit bears and they supplied the music. Believe me, you wouldn’t want it round the other way!
If you’re in any way a blues fan you will know that Mike Zito recently quit the ‘Supergroup’ Royal Southern Brotherhood’ to go on the more pure Blues Road with his Band ‘The Wheel’ (Scot Sutherland – bass, Jimmy Carpenter – sax, and Rob Lee on drums). The show with Samantha Fish comes straight after a short tour of the UK and it shows as soon as Fish kicks off the evening. Zito’s band follow her playing like they’ve been HER band for years. These guys are tight as a ducks you know what.
Sam’s always been a great guitarist, but her singing has taken huge steps forward too, and whilst her musical style broadened a lot on the latest ‘Black Wind Howling’ disc I’m pleased that she’s firmly in Rock Blues mode this evening. I’m particularly pleased when she picks up her ‘Stogie’ model – a cigarbox guitar picked up during a Festival in Sonny Boy Williamson country – Helena Arkansas. It’s got all the sass, rough edges, and yes, natural beauty, of its player. I could listen and look at both all evening very happily.
That’s not possible of course because the second set belongs largely to Mike Zito. I say largely, because there are appearances by Samantha Fish penciled in to it too, and a surprise that made a great evening even better. I’ll come to that later.
Zito is here to play the Blues. It’s partly why he left Royal Southern Brotherhood (see my interview coming soon). Play them he does too, with a perfect mix of technique and emotion and in fact it’s that emotional style that makes both Fish and Zito stand out from much of the Blues pack in my humble opinion. If there was a dull moment (which there certainly isn’t all evening!) you could pass an interesting evening reading Zitos tattoos. The word ‘Blues’ covering the back of his right hand is clear enough. But what about the ‘210’ on his neck? And what do those three sentences in a smart script on his right arm say?.
While I’m making mental notes to ask him later, Mike is making other notes on his dirty blonde. NO, that’s not some act to have him arrested for in public, ‘Dirty Blonde’ is the name of Zito’s signature guitar from Texas Guitar Maker Delaney. In case anyone is wondering, that delightful piece of swamp ash wood with the fish cutaway in it is also a Delaney model. Curious that while Walter Trout got so fed up with fish jokes he called a disc ‘No more fish jokes’ Sam just embraces her name.
There are many highlights coming from the Dirty Blonde’s owner tonight. One has to be the duet on ‘Never knew a Hurricane’ that slides down like a smooth whiskey after a hard day. It’s a chance for Sam Fish to shine without a guitar in hand, and she does shine. This may not be Johnny Cash and June Carter but Mike and Sam’s tone and accents blend together perfectly. Another highlight has to be ‘Bad News is Coming’ with a rumbling saxophone courtesy of that surprise that made a great evening even better – Mr Jimmy Carpenter. Carpenter is far from an ‘undiscovered talent’. He is the sax player with Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington and was a nomination for best horn player in the prestigious U.S. Blues Foundation polls. It only took a single verse of his own composition ‘Walk Away’ to have me checking my wallet for enough money to pick up his solo CD. I recommend you do the same – you won’t regret it.
It’s Carpenter who kicks off the last number on the setlist too – the funky ‘Texas Flyer’. Like the proverbial jetplane tme has flown by. The music has never been anything short of grade A, double plus, great, and I’m left walking out into the drizzling night air clutching a CD by Jimmy Carpenter, a T-shirt designed by Samantha Fish and a copy of the evenings concert poster with a picture I took from last years RSB show on it (signed of course!).
Oh, and I asked Mike about those three lines of text on his right arm. “It’s a phrase I learned from Luther Allison” he explained: “Leave your ego. Play the music. Love the people”. Meeting, talking to, and above all hearing Mike Zito he covered all three golden ‘rules’ of Allisons creed perfectly.
Samantha Fish was chewing gum when she came on for the encore and even though she never took off her shoes this time, she obviously felt right at home in Bonn. Hopefully Sam and Mike loved us as much as we loved them –and will be back for a return gig before too long. Even next week wouldn’t be too soon.