Mike Zito | Rolling Like a Wheel

prof MikeZito 75St. Louis has always been my home, but sometimes you run away and you find yourself.


Mike Zito, a founding member of Royal Southern Brotherhood, is charged with magnetism and drive for his passion for music. He exudes a Zen, knowing calm about his passion and shares his lessons along his road of life. Zito is also getting ready to release his first solo album. I had a chance to chat with him about—what else?—music.

prof MikeZito 500

First, can you give us just a little bit of information about your new album? What’s the name of it, how did it come about, and how long have you been working on it?

It’s called Gone to Texas. I started writing it about a year and a half ago, and it came out on June 11. I grew up in St Louis, and ended up in Texas about 10 years ago. I kind of really got settled, got my life together; I grew up and things really started picking up for me, musically, on the Gulf Coast. It’s kind of an album about that, of finding a place to call home. St. Louis has always been my home, but sometimes you run away and you find yourself. It’s also a celebration of this music I fell in love with on the Gulf Coast: some pop, blues, country-style music.

What would you consider your musical genre?

Well, it’s probably blues, which I love and have a lot of respect for. I’m a songwriter and so I write to a lot of different styles of music. Blues tends to be incorporated into everything I do, but there’s soul, country, and I guess you could consider it Americana.

Awesome. When did you first realize that you wanted to get into music? What age were you?

I was really young. I saw Michael Jackson sing on TV when I was probably five years old. I immediately started singing at talent shows and things like that at my school. I really got into it. I got a guitar when I was around eight years old. No one in my family played music, but I learned how to make some kind of music out of it, until later at high school where they taught me how to tune it. So I was pretty young when I got into it. When I was in high school, I worked at a music store in South St. Louis called Tower Grove Music. That’s where I really learned. Cut my teeth, and learned everything. You know, it’s kind of like going to school.

Right, sure. Well, you are one of the founding members of The Royal Southern Brotherhood. Would you like to tell me how you founded it and how it all came about?

Sure. I wrote…ah…I want to go back further. In 1999, I opened up The Guitar Center in Crestwood. I worked there with Devin Allman and we put this band together. We became friends, and over the years after we quit the music store, we would see each other out on the road. When I moved down South, I really hit it off with the musicians in New Orleans. I wrote a song with Cyril Neville, one of the other founding members of Royal Southern Brotherhood. We won the blues music award for song of the year for “Pearl River” in 2010. So we began writing more songs and we became more creative. Devin kind of appeared again and we all talked about doing something. We got together and wrote some songs—this was kind of a test, and that was about two years ago. We just kind of started spending time and it seemed to be working, so we decided to try to put something together. We were on our own and it is really taking off. It’s been quite successful and very enjoyable. We really put a lot of heart and soul into it.

It sounds like it. Now what made you branch off to record solo?

I’ve never really branched off; I’ve been doing my solo career for 15 years. The Royal Southern Brotherhood started out as a side project that just really took off. We are still working with our own careers individually, as well.

Well, that’s great!

Yeah, that was kind of all part of the deal. So, this year Devin put a solo out and I just released mine; Cyril Neville has a solo out by the end of the summer, and the Royal Southern Brotherhood has an album coming out next summer.

You said you were a songwriter. What is your inspiration for writing a song? Do you start with the music or lyrics, or sometimes a little bit of both?

It could be either one. It just depends when I pick the guitar up and start messing with something, just some simple chords, then I start singing with it. It just depends. It can start anywhere. It can come from any direction. Some of the songs are autobiographical or about my own experiences. I find a song sometimes in situations that spark an idea.

Do you usually have a message with your songs?

Well, sometimes. A lot of times it’s just— It could be a story or an idea. I have been in recovery for the past 10 years, and that plays a big role into my songwriting. I’ve written a lot of songs based on my drug use and being in recovery. There’s a lot to write about. There’s some spirituality in some of the songs; some songs about the horror of addiction. That always makes for a good song.

I think that there is a message in that and a lot of people can relate to that. That’s what makes a good song and makes songs popular.

Yes, I think so, and even if they are not… I mean, I’m not so specific. Some of them are about just being happy and satisfied inside and being thankful.

Right. And that’s what we all strive for.

I hope so. I mean, I do, you know? Absolutely.

So, tell me about any rituals that you do or perform before going on stage.

Not that I’m— Well, if I think about it, I do. I usually have a guitar in my hands for a little bit and try to warm up and get things going. And I’m thinking that I’m going to have a good show. I try to get some spirituality in my performance, you know, something to put into it; it’s a brotherhood. It’s pretty involved. We usually always have a prayer before the show. I don’t normally light candles or do anything like that, but I always try to be mindful, get focused, just think about music and stuff like that and straighten it out in my head a little bit.

Is there a favorite performance that you had that was memorable to you?

Well, if I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing 100%, which I always try to do, they should all be somewhat memorable. I will say that when The Brotherhood played at the Big Muddy Blues Festival last September, that was a really memorable show for me. Devin and I had played in St. Louis for a long time—trying to make it, trying to do something, trying to get some respect—and when you get up on that stage and you’re playing for big money, it’s really awesome. The band was on fire.

What do you think about the sharing of your music?

Well, obviously if I had a choice, I’d love for everybody to buy a CD. I know they cost money, but it costs money to make a CD. The merchandise really is what funds the ability to get out there and perform. At the same time, I’m not famous, and in the big scheme of things people don’t know who I am, and the more people share my music and play it for each other—

Well, it just brings awareness to the existence of your music.

Absolutely. It just brings more people. That’s ultimately what I need—I need more people coming out to the shows, and once more people are getting interested, it brings more people to the show, then they wind up buying CDs and merchandise. I think it all comes around. | Marsha Buehler

Mike Zito & The Wheel plays Old Rock House June 26; doors 6 p.m., show 7; $12 adv/15 dos; all ages. You can find more information on Zito at www.mikezito.com and www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com.

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