Source: Big City Rhythm & Blues
Writer: Kelly Davis
With his second release on Eclecto Groove Records, Mike Zito proves that he’s certainly not just any other slow blues and shuffle guitarist, but instead, emerging as a true blues guitar hero who is here to stay!
While his freshman release on Eclecto Groove, Today, earned him extensive acclaim for his Americana songwriting, his latest release, Pearl River, is more of a testament to his live blues firepower. Eclecto Groove label owner, Randy Chortkoff, wanted this release to expose people to his guitar playing and the live show aspect of his music, and it does just that!
“I love Zito,” says Chortkoff, “He’s one of the best rock blues guitarists I’ve ever heard. He tears it up live! He’s right up there with Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, Walter Trout, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Coco Montoya. I’m really glad to have the opportunity to work with Zito.”
The album, which hit the street September 22, is already doing incredibly well, receiving fantastic reviews and extensive radio play. Zito is touring heavily behind it and show sales have been impressive.
When asked his thoughts on the album, Robert Fitzpatrick, president of Eclecto Groove Records, replied, “What can I say, it’s incredible! And it’s getting such a great response, just look at the reviews and radio play.” Radio shows, like Snapshot on WHYS Radio in Menomonie, Wisconsin, have been known to play the entire album in one show. And Blues in Britain touts Pearl River as being “another winner that will appeal across a wide range of genres,” comparing Zito to Eric Clapton, the Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers. Dave Rubin of Guitar Edge Magazine says, “Pearl River shows his true nature as a bona fide blues guitar hero who plays like his very life depends on every note being wrenched from his Strat.”
Pearl River emerged from an idea Zito had years ago, wanting to record a bluesy southern album that was fun, yet representative of his live show. Along with his manager, Rueben Williams, he decided to go to New Orleans and just bring a story together. Zito related the concept to Chortkoff, who was into it right away. A studio was booked and planning for the New Orleans session took off quickly, still not having a definite plan for what the story would be.
When Cyril Neville gave Zito the words to the song, Pearl River, a story of slavery in the deep south, everything started to come together. Zito wrote the music for Pearl River and gave it back to Neville, who not only loved it but also agreed to sing a duet with Zito on the song. Suddenly there was an amazing story that tied the album concept to the city of New Orleans. Zito also wanted to have a male/female duet reminiscent of the 60’s Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash collaborations, but in a blues format. The remarkable chanteuse, Susan Cowsill, stepping up to the mic on Shoes Blues, was at the top of his list, and thus the guest appearances began stacking up.
Another guest, Anders Osborne, is a close friend of Zito’s and a hero to him in many ways. “I begged him to write me a song for us to sing,” says Zito. “We both have similar stories in life and shared experiences in getting back on track, and this song (One Step at a Time) tells the story of lost and found to perfection.”
It was important to Zito to include some old blues tunes that would really make an impact. So together with Chortkoff and Richard “Lynwood Slim” Duran, they chose Sonny Boy Williamson’s Eyesight to the Blind, featuring Chortkoff on harp, a funky, soulful version of Sugar Sweet, and George Smith’s All Last Night, featuring Lynwood Slim on chromatic harmonica, adding a touch of West Coast blues to the album.
The team, which in addition to Zito and his guest artists, included Lonnie “Popcorn” Trevino Jr. on bass and background vocals, Eric Bolivar on drums and percussion, Reese Wynans on keys, Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone on accordion and legendary producer David Z, locked down for three days at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans. They played everything live and more often than not, went with the first or second take, which Zito believes to be the best way to make a record or any art, in general.
David Z, who is known for working with artists like Price, Etta James, Billy Idol and Johnny Lang, said about Pearl River, “This one just fell together New Orleans style. Ninety percent of it was recorded in one day.” Zito had an idea in mind, a goal, a beginning and an end, not sure how it would all work out, but confident that it would. He claims half the fun and artistic inspiration is being open to all the possibilities along the way.
“I just trusted the process, and let everyone involved do their part,” said Zito. “I hope everyone enjoys this music as much as I do.” And it seems that they do. Modern Guitar Magazine writes, “Zito’s voice is so incredibly soulful that it can be placed into that diminutive group of elite male blue-eyed soul/blues singers like Steve Winwood, Michael McDonald and Rod Stewart.”
According to Metronome, “Zito boasts a road-hardened voice that spews the fiery tales of life’s ups and downs with a serious conviction that’s impossible to ignore.”
In fact, Zito’s star is rising so quickly that Category 5 Amplifiers has recently issued a Mike Zito signature series amp.
John Vermilyea of Blues Underground Network says, “Pearl River leaves you with the feeling that although Mike may not yet be the King of his style, he is certainly in line for the crown, and will no doubt be wearing it one day.”
So if you have yet to hear the latest release from Mike Zito, go snag yourself a copy and be a part of the coronation of the inevitable King!