Texas-based blues-rock singer-guitarist Mike Zito was busy building his solo career when the chance to form a regional supergroup presented itself.
Zito had already written an award-winning song with a future Royal Southern Brotherhood bandmate, Cyril Neville. In 2010, the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tennessee, named their dark and swampy collaboration, “Pearl River,” song of the year.
“That was huge,” Zito said this week from a Royal Southern Brotherhood tour in Germany. “Cyril is, obviously, Cyril, but people didn’t know me at that time. To have written the song with Cyril Neville, that really helped spur my career.”
In the summer of 2011, Zito joined Neville, singer-guitarist Devon Allman, bassist Charlie Wooton (from Zydefunk) and Yonrico Scott (Derek Trucks Band) in Royal Southern Brotherhood. But following frequent touring and three albums with the Brotherhood, Zito is leaving the group.
“When we started Royal Southern Brotherhood it was, ‘Hey, let’s put our other things aside for a second and go do this,’ ” he explained. “ ‘We can build it to a certain level and then we can do our own things and this, too. It’ll be great.’ Well, it’s been over three years now and there’s no end in sight.”
Because Royal Southern Brotherhood occupied much of his time, Zito had little time for his own band, the Wheel. He played only a few weekends with his group and didn’t tour with it at all. Zito did find time to record a solo studio album, “Gone to Texas,” and make in-concert album and DVD, “Songs from the Road.”
The success of “Gone to Texas” got Zito thinking again about how much he missed his solo project. With Royal Southern Brotherhood, he said, “I didn’t think that I was signing up to be in something that would keep me away from what I’d been doing for 15 years. So now looked like a good time to take a bow and be thankful and move on. ”
Zito and his band recorded and filmed “Songs from the Road” in January at the Dosey Doe Big Barn concert venue in Houston. Germany’s Ruf Records released the CD-DVD set Sept. 9.
The Big Barn at Dosey Doe is a space Zito knows well. “It’s a venue that I’ve grown to love,” he said. “I have a big fan base in Houston and they love seeing our shows at the Dosey Doe. It’s a really wonderful music room.”
The fact that the venue really is a barn adds to the DVD’s appeal.
“We needed something that looked great visually,” Zito said. “I knew we were going to sell copies in Europe, because they don’t get to see my band often. They would be especially interested in this very Texas-looking, old wooden barn.”
Zito, a St. Louis native who has Sicilian roots in New Orleans, lives in Nederland, Texas. Situated between Port Arthur and Beaumont, it feels musically right to him.
“Where I live, it’s really the mecca for music that I like,” he said. “You’ve got Louisiana swamp pop and Cajun music and Southeast Texas country music. Living there for the past 12 years, it’s definitely rubbed off on me.”
Nederland is also convenient to Louisiana gigs along I-10 from Lafayette to Baton Rouge to New Orleans.
“There are a lot of Zitos in New Orleans and Louisiana,” he said. “I fit in well and get along with everybody. And I really enjoy the music.”