If you’re looking for a Rock ‘n’ Roll star, Mike Zito is not your man. It seems even that whenever he accidentally strikes a Rock guitar hero pose onstage a big grin slides over the Texans amiable face and he settles back down to doing what he does best – delivering chunky soul blues riffs with no frills and the minimum of what BB King used to call ‘lemon faces’. Monday saw Mike and his excellent band at Bonn Harmonie promoting his new (and very fine) CD ‘Keep Coming Back’.
The audience has kept coming back too, Mike Zito has a solid base of fans in the area following previous visits with Royal Southern Brotherhood and Sam Fish, and even though It’s a Monday night the many combined voices present raise a loud cheer when the man straps on his Delaney guitar and plugs in. Someone’s forgotten to spread the set-lists around onstage and as they’re right in front of me I hold them out. “Thank you, John” says Mike as if I’d just passed him the sugar bowl. Ten seconds later and the man with a voice like the local padre at afternoon tea is hammering out the Devil’s music – The Wheel are, so to speak, rolling!
I love this band. Scot Sutherland needs no introduction of course. He has the hat and sublime face of an Indian Chief but instead of a lance his meaty hands are holding a Fender Precision bass and making that deep and satisfying rumbling sound that only a Precision can deliver. It rumbles and rattles along perfectly to the music, and despite Sutherland’s eyes being seemingly shut tight for 90% of the show he seems to know every move Zito is making even before he makes it. Rob Lee too keeps a steady beat at the back. No frills, just rock steady. Over on stage right is my favourite ‘spoke’ of The Wheel. If you haven’t bought Jimmy Carpenter’s solo CD ‘Walk Away’ you really are missing a treat. Hopefully the distribution problems in Europe can be sorted out because the title track, one of tonight’s highlights, is just an indication of the delights in store.
It’s not hard to understand why Zito told me in last years interview that he wanted to get back on the road with his own band after the Royal Southern Brotherhood thing spiralled ever upwards. He has a good thing going with his own combo, which isn’t to say that he doesn’t feel a sense of pride in what RSB achieved or the talent in that band. He is obviously proud to announce that the song ‘Pearl River’ written together with RSB’s Cyril Neville won awards and deservedly so. It’s just as noticeable that the songs around it – many from Zito himself, are just as good. In particular those from the new CD. I love the title track, although on the road it becomes something of a warm-up to start the set. In fact, looking at the tracks on the new disc it’s very telling how positive they seem for a Blues disc: ‘Keep coming back’, ‘Chin Up’, Get Busy Living’. Just the first three numbers seem less like song titles and more like life life philosophies.
I mention that, because I think a great part of Mike Zito’s live success is down to (apart from the superb slide guitar) a charisma of serenity and warmth that just seems to radiate. Long after the show is ended I see him stop as he passes by an elderly gent at the bar. He politely asks the gents name, and personally thanks him for taking the trouble to come out to the show. When Mike Zito refers to Harmonie as ‘One of the most beautiful venues in the World’ I know what he means – it’s not about architecture or acoustics, it’s about an atmosphere and the people that create it. Anyone else, I’d laugh and say they were joking – but Zito, he’s actually right on the mark.
Back to the music though and the second half seemed a tick better than the first. Just a little looser. Tracks like ‘Subtraction Blues’, allow Zito to find the groove and run with as he will. Similarly with Luther Allison’s ‘Bad News is coming’ and naturally he does run with it, wonderfully.
It’s not all slow blues though. ‘Judgement Day’ has a gloriously funky groove to it and Bob Seger’s ‘Get out of Denver’ rocks and rolls in a way that reminded me of a version by Dave Edmunds and Rockpile many years ago.
Freddie King’s ‘Texas Flyer’ get’s the treatment that only a true Texan could give it and we’re onto the final track of the CD and of the evening to0. ‘Bootleg’ kicks off with a riff that momentarily makes me think we’re about to hear ‘Smoke on the Water’. As soon as Jimmy Carpenter’s sax kicks in it’s a winner right to the end.
Actually, we are all winners this evening. Smiles all round at the merchandise table and Mike beams into my camera for a shot in front of a very tasty looking cake (this was a CD release show after all!). There’s a kind word from Mike Zito for everyone who stops by to say hello, and finally I’m heading home feeling like I’ve spent the evening not just hearing great music but meeting great people.
It’s too late to chat to Mike after the show so I’m afraid that if you want an inkling of what Mike Zito is all about you will have to ‘make do’ dear reader with buying the new CD. You’ll be at the next show for sure if you do.