Q&A with Royal Southern Brotherhood’s Mike Zito

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The history of American music can be traced back through the bloodlines of the Royal Southern Brotherhood.  They are like heirs to the classic rock kingdom, their destiny bestowed upon them by their forefathers and their skills perfected under masterful tutelage and a lifetime of practice (sorry for the lofty language, I’ve been catching up on too many episodes of Vikings and Game of Thrones lately).  Today, comprised of such talents as Devon Allman, Cyril Neville, Mike Zito, Charlie Wooton and Yonrico Scott, the RSB represent one of rock’s only true super groups.  Guitarist Mike Zito caught up with Matt Ellis to talk about the upcoming Royal Southern Brotherhood album, and tour, which will travel through Annapolis on March 11th. 

What have you and the rest of the band been doing in preparation for this tour? 

We’re all traveling in an RV.  Everyone just flew into the city [Millville, New Jersey] and met each other.  Our tour just started today.  We did a big New Year’s Eve run before this and then everyone took a break and did their individual bands for a while.  We did another run out west in February and then took a 2-3 week break.  Just getting spring started on the East Coast for another two week run.

You guys played a tribute to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street album on New Year’s Eve – how often does the band play cover shows and what’s it like playing the classics with such a great group of musicians? 

It was a lot of fun.  It’s a lot of work to learn a lot of material and spend our time on it.  We weren’t going to play it note for note, but it was a good departure after two years of doing our own shows and own songs, to do something really different and challenging, and play such famous songs.  That’s the one for now.  We might play Exile again in New Orleans for the Jazz Fest; one of the nights in New Orleans at Tipitina’s we’re doing the Exile show.

You all come from other musical ventures originally.  Is it difficult to tour and/or record with so many different musical personalities in the band? 

It’s taken a lot of work.  We’ve been doing it for 3 years.  Working on developing a sound and style and letting everyone be a part of it takes time no matter how good you are.  To bring that many people in from that many different angles is hard.  Originally the idea was to get together and see what happened.  It’s an odd group, but it really took off.

How did you all come together and what’s been your greatest experience playing with the band so far?

Devon Allman and I know each other. I’m from St. Louis and [Allman] lived there and we worked in a music store together back in 1999.  Me and Neville won an award for Pearl River and had been friends and that was kind of the precursor for this group.  Devon was brought into the picture.  Everyone is close friends at this point, and just trying to make it work.

It’s a pretty big accomplishment getting this band together in the first place.  What else do you want to achieve as a band? 

The band always has accomplishments we’re looking forward to.  We want to gather new fans and play better as a group, as corny and standard as that may sound, we’re trying to do all those things.  We have a new album coming out.  We’ll try to perfect that album live and write new songs.  With a band like this there are a lot of different styles and different ways to go and the fun part is allowing that to happen.  We’ll play some blues play some funk.  One of the best things we have is our diversity.  We just need to let it become what it is, and not put restraints on it.  The first record is more rock, and the second album [Heart, Soul and Blood due out in June 2014] is more R&B.

I heard you came out with a solo album last year also?

“Gone in Texas” came out last June.  It was nominated for Blues Music Award – Album of the Year for 2013.

How’d you get interested in this type of music? 

I was born in 1975 and was turned onto the blues through rock and roll.  Rock and roll was what I fell In love with first, and bluesy rock.  There’s a lot of blues in St. Louis, but classic rock brought me to the blues.  People like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy. Those are a lot of blues and guitar heroes but I also like songwriters and singers.  There’s such a big musical landscape out there today.  Just the music from the time period I was born in, and the rock I really loved like Led Zeppelin and others, was music that was coming from blues.

Who are your favorite contemporary musicians or groups?

I like John Mayer. I like his earlier stuff but this newer record, I do like that too, it’s more country rock. I like the Texas country acts, which are really not blues, but they have a really raw sound.  Reckless Kelly, Cody Canada.  I like some contemporary music but not pop.  I’m always trying to find old stock music. 

How have you guys been received by fans?  Has it been difficult touring around all of your various side projects?

Brotherhood fans really enjoy the collaboration, so that has really worked out well.  There are definitely different age groups but everyone kind of brings their own audience.

This band takes precedent right now.  All of our other bands work around this one, and we all work under this umbrella management company so that works out well.  It’s pretty organized which makes it a lot easier. 

Are you guys playing any big summer festivals?

I don’t know all of them offhand, but a lot of festivals in Europe and America.  We’re playing the Wannee Festival with the Allman Brothers, and Jazz Fest.  

– Matt Ellis

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