Mike Zito – Blue Room
Recorded live in a basement in St. Louis, this is Mike Zito at age 27 and his trio in 1998. Mike and his band played until 6 AM at all all-night club in St. Louis and then hit the studio at 9 AM as they had $1,000 and a day or two to make an album. Beer, rum, bravado and no sleep helped produce this album.
Playing two nights every weekend in the back room at the topless club Lucious Boomers, these guys were in demand for their original cuts which supplanted the covers they were weaned on. Playing 7 nights a week, Mike on guitar and vocals, Doug on bass and Brian on drums were working their craft. Playing every genre anyone wanted to hear, these guys learned fast. Zito wrote all the songs here except for the last one. Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie were college boys and Zito was uneducated but supplied the moxie and bravado.
“Hollywood” opens the album and it’s a stinging, funky blues rocker. The groove is slick, the sound is fresh and the vocals have grit and attitude. The 28 year old Zito shows his stuff with originality and moxie. Over blown guitar riffs and a deep bass groove get the blood moving. Next is “Pull The Trigger” where the guitar is a little distorted and the vocals are even grittier than before. Zito talks his woman down from the gun pointed at him as he tries to apologize to her. Another big guitar solo that’s a bit over the top, it shows promise and drive. With “It’s All Good” we get more of the edgy, driving, rock sound of the opener.
“Gravy Jam” gives us more of than funk in an instrumental. Major guitar riffs, a big bass solo, and then Zito lets it all out with distortion and effects blowing things away. Things take a different tact with “Lovering” where Zito mixes slow blues in a Hendrix sort of style with a West Coast psychedelic guitar sound and traditional blues in A-A-B format. Things blow up quickly as Zito shreds mid cut; obviously for effect but it’s a bit too much for me yet I can see how folks loved it.
The second half of the album begins with “Shoes Blues” where things get off a bit mundane in comparison to the prior cuts. Zito sticks with the old A-A-B format. The solo shreds less but the cut is forthright and drives along smartly. As things progress, the shredding increases as does the wildness. Up next is “Ways About You” where more restraint is shown. The song is sort of a ballad but you can feel Zito wanting to break out. Mike manages to keep things moderately restrained until the end where things bust out a bit again right at the end. “Soundcheck” returns to the big driving rock instrumental sound.
The start of “Lightning Bug” sounds as if Zito is going into “Foxy Lady” but then gets a full frontal funk groove going where he growls and groans the vocal lead. Things stay moderately in control but the last third of the cut (which is almost 8 minutes long in total) goes off the deep end again with a little bit of wild vocals and a lot of shredding. Things draw to a close with “Rocket Man,” but not the way Elton John did it. Zito takes the tempo way down and makes it into a somber blues. The last third of the song builds a bit and runs along into a short but major guitar solo that shreds us into the close.
There is a lot of shredding going on. Not exactly what I look for, but one can see that Zito has talent and that he and his band were tight. Hell, they even lived together. The CD garnered lots of local airplay and love and it made its’ way to larger audiences. Walter Trout heard it, fell in love and had Mike and the boys open for him. Here we are 20 years later after battling alcoholism, leaning on his wife Laura who reintroduced him to life, his great solo work and his run in the first version of Royal Southern Brotherhood and we have the star we have today.
Zito says he would not change a thing despite the problems he faced. His first album stands the test of time and this newly remastered Ruf re-release shows us where this young man was and gives us an idea where he came from. It’s rough and tumble, it shreds and pounds and drives hard, but it’s full of emotion and grit. Perhaps not for the faint of heart, but it’s not fun living like that. Give it a spin on your CD player and see what the young Mike Zito and friends were doing in their heady days back in St, Louis. I think you’ll enjoy it.