(Photo courtesy of Mike Zito's Official Website)
There must be something special about blues and blues-rock. Something that helps spiritually and emotionally music artists going through rough patches in their lives to give them the necessary strength to live through those difficult times and come back stronger, both as artists and human being.
Mike Zito knows that very well. A hugely talented guitarist and singer/songwriter, the Missouri-born artist has lived in his own skin through the tough times, luckily rising victorious from the heavy problems related to alcoholism. Zito is now happily at the top of his game again, even more so than when he was working with that incredible music project that was Royal Southern Brotherhood. With a new, splendid solo album with his band The Wheel out now called Keep Coming back, this extraordinary artist seems to have found the perfect personal and artistic balance to express his great talent as a musician and a songwriter. Bluebird Reviews is deeply honoured to meet one of the most loved blues artist worldwide and discuss his new album and this moment of his life and career.
BBR - Mike, thank you for talking to Bluebird Reviews, such a honour for us. Keep Coming Back is your first solo album after leaving the Royal Southern Brotherhood. For how long had you in mind to go solo again?
MZ - Well, I'll be honest, I never thought that I wouldn't go solo again. Part of the idea with the Royal Southern Brotherhood was we could do both, touring as a band and have our separate career at the same time. But the Brotherhood became so popular that we kept holding on the idea of doing both things, because we were doing so great and for a couple of years we kept going. Somewhere in there, I guess, after working with the band for so long, I thought I was starting losing touch with my solo career. I thought that, if I was not going back there soon, being a solo artist, maybe I might have lost all that I have been doing for such long time. I wanted to go back to do what I love to do best, which is playing blues and doing my own things.
BBR - Bluebird Reviews has been a great admirer of your music and your talent for a very long time. This is the first album though, where we can actually feel that you are at peace with yourself. Did you feel any different when you wrote and recorded this splendid album?
MZ - I did. You really hit it on the head, in your question. I am very much at peace with myself in these days. I think that the album really captures this feeling. As a songwriter, I feel that this is one record where really I stepped more away from the blues that I have ever done before. I just wanted to share that inner peace I am in right now, kind of let everybody know where I was at. Yeah, you really hit it on the head, this album to me is really where I am, at this moment in time in my life. I am really grateful and very lucky to have the life I have and I hope that I expressed this special moment of my existence through this record.
BBR - Keep Coming Back is a real tribute to American Music. You are able to dazzle into genres like rock, country, blues with great grace, intensity and passion. Through the eyes of a consumate artist like yourself, are there still many musicians out there able to carry the baton with the same determination and craftmanship you show on each passing record?
MZ - Oh, yes, certainly there are many, I definitely think so. There are so many wonderful artists out there right now. Thank you for the kind words about the record. It is indeed an Americana type of album, with some rock'n'roll or country songs, just as you said. The truth is, when I made this album, I decided I would not hold myself back this time. If I wrote a song, I just wanted to deliver it in the way it was originally conceived in my mind, whatever genre it might be. There are so many brilliant artists nowadays, people like Gary Clark Jr. or Tedeschi Trucks Band, for example, able to bring together so well in their music formula many different genres still maintaining their identity as artists. I guess this evolution in music is what kept the Blues alive. In the States, for example, Blues artists have pretty much evolved their ways to play and incorporated in their sound elements belonging to different styles of American music. This is one of the reasons why the Blues continues to survive. In America, genres like Country music are still very popular but that particular genre, in the past years, has changed a lot. To the point that many Country music fans are now saying that they are not able to recognise that genre as such anymore, because it's changed too much. It's evolved in a way where it has been completely turned upside down, altering completely the origin of this music genre and becoming something else. The Blues, instead, still maintains its origins. The sound has just evolved but the foundations are there, still very solid.
BBR - You are and have always been a very prolific songwriter. We have heard that now you are enjoying also being a columnist for a very important Blues magazine in the United Kingdom. Does this represent something you always wanted to fulfil in your life or did you discover that you had a great talent as a music writer purely by accident?
MZ - I guess I discovered it purely by accident, although despite the fact didn't play music at all, my mother was a writer. She was a real poet, she wrote all her life. It must be something deep inside our family's DNA. I have been writing for a long time myself but never considered writing for a magazine. I started to write a blog about five years ago and I did it purely to help myself, while I was on the road, to get my feelings out and share them with the fans. It became, after a while, really well received. People liked what I was writing, saying that they enjoyed the fact I was expressing my feelings straight from the heart and it was so overwhelming to discover how many people was following and liking my writing. Suddenly, Ed Mitchell from The Blues Magazine in UK contacted me, saying: "We have been reading your blog and we have really enjoyed it. Your writing is very good, would you be interested in writing a column for our magazine?". I was almost shocked, I couldn't believe these guys in UK were asking me this. Of course I said "Yes" and I have got to say I take great pride in doing it. I really enjoy writing and it's one of those things I like to do purely for myself. I don't consider myself really the greatest writer on the planet but I feel confident to talk about what I do or about music, in general. The column is such a pleasure to do, so enjoyable, because I get the opportunity to share the topics of the magazine or to talk about the state of the Blues genre to many fans in the world. I have also been writing a book, about my story of getting clean and sober. It is still in the making but, when it is finished and it come together well, I might try to release it. I am in no rush though to write my autobiography, because I consider myself still a young man! But surely, one day, that book will be out there.
BBR - Mike Zito keeps coming back to his music roots and also to work again with The Wheel. The record really underlines a perfect chemistry between you and the band. When you went to the studio to record the album, did it feel like you and The Wheel never stopped playing together?
MZ - It certainly did. The band is totally in tune with me, my songs and my songwriting style. We certainly try always to record albums with a live dynamic, where we get into the studio, set up and just play and record as we play. I think this album, among all the albums we have done together, it has been the easiest. The thing is we all know where we are coming from, musically speaking, I know what everyone's capable of and they know what I am bringing to them. Everyone is also very comfortable, I haven't got to ask any questions, I don't need to tell to anyone to do anything, we all just know each other so well. It was so easy to dive into the music, into this record, there is a real comfort there, in working with one another. It's like being married to someone for a year or two initially, then, if all is well, the marriage keeps ongoing for 10 years or even longer. The comfort level, the chemistry, keeps increasing and get deeper, the respect for each other grows as the years go by. We were at that high level of comfort I just described when we entered the studio and started working on Keep Coming Back. As a consequence, the recording process felt really good on this record.
BBR - Mike, I like to think that in your title track, when you sing about "This Old Man He Took My Hand And Brought Me To The Light" that you are not just referring to God but also to the moral support that somebody like Walter Trout gave you in a tough moment of your career (although Walter might not appreciate too much to be called "Old"). How important has the friendship and cameraderie of many blues/rock fellow artists been, to help you battle your inner demons?
MZ - Walter Trout is such a great friend and he has been a hero of mine for so long. To have him as a friend, absolutely helped me along the way, encouraged me, inspired me and just the fact he has always been there for me, feels really wonderful to me. And you are absolutely correct when I refer to God, metaphorically, as the Old Man. When I sing in that song "He Pulled Me Out A Seat", it's like when you get to the recovering meetings and they always ask "have a seat" and talk about you and how to get sober and cleaned... You feel that the Old Man is there with you and will stick with you forever. And you are quite right about all the people that helped me along the way and I am talking about everyone, not just fellow musicians. Surely many great artists have been through the same issues I have been through and of course, Walter is the most significant and again, you were quite right also about the fact that Walter surely wouldn't appreciate to be called an Old Man! (chuckles). He certainly is not and he doesn't play either like an old man, that's for sure.
BBR - We understand you are due to release a new acoustic album called Troubadour Volume 1. Can you tell us more about the making of this new record?
MZ - It is just something I recorded for my fans. I just have it with me at my shows. I do several acoustic shows, I do some acoustic guitar sometimes while I am touring and people always tell me how much they enjoy the different acoustic interpretations of some of my tracks I play at shows. I have my own home recording studio and I decided to set up a couple of microphones, get out my nice acoustic guitar and I went through my first three albums I did on the Electro Groove Records label. Through the help of some people, they ticked what they thought were their favourite tunes, out of those albums and I interpretated them acoustically and record them acoustically and put them on a disc. In this way, every time I play live at shows, they cannot keep asking me anymore about making acoustic albums, I would just say to them "Hey man, you asked for it, here you go, you got it". Maybe one day it will get officially released by a label but for the time being, it is just something I did purely for the fans and to keep them happy. On top of that, I like to think that this acoustic album also gives the opportunity to people to discover my early songs under a different dress and quite frankly, it was a lot of fun for me too to record it, as an artist.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Zito's Official Website)
BBR - Mike, you are currently touring the United States in support of the Keep Coming Back album. Will your European fans be able to see you live anytime soon?
MZ - We are working on that. There have been a couple of shows in Europe this month, one in Norway and one in Germany but it was not a whole tour, unfortunately. There are some dates coming for the summer but I do know that in the fall we have a full tour of all of Europe, I believe it is a 5-week one and it is currently in the making. I hope the European fans will be patient enough and wait for me and the band to perform live later this year.
BBR - It's great to see the healthy way you are living your life in Texas, the place you have been calling home for quite some time now. Has the young boy from Missouri finally found the perfect design for life to live happily ever after?
MZ - I sure hope so. I believe in my heart I have. I am very happy and peaceful with myself. It's a nice acceptance for me about where I am at and what I am doing at this stage of my life and I don't feel I need any more of what I already have right now. I feel blessed to have so much in my personal life that it's sometimes overwhelming. I just need to keep plugging away with my recovery, you know, make sure I don't go crazy anymore but thankfully, I've got a lot of support at home. I have got a wonderful family to support me and the music to keep me going. I just want to make sure that I don't rest on my laurels and don't get too comfortable. I want to make sure I continue to make great music and challenge myself, without going crazy. That's the plan!
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Keep Coming Back is out now and available on Ruf Records