Showing posts sorted by relevance for query mike zito. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query mike zito. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, August 12, 2018

#347 : Czech Village Blues - Aug 11, 2018 featuring Ruf Record's Blues Caravan

Czech Village
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

All photos by Phillip Smith; Aug. 11, 2018

I am so thrilled and amazed to see how Czech Village Blues festival in Cedar Rapids has expanded and grown in just its second year.  Again, the Linn County Blues Society has joined together with the Friends of Czech Village to keep this wonderful blues event going.   It was incredible to see the musical talent and dedication to the blues presented on the Youth Stage by Kristopher Bries, Anderson Coates, Miles Damaso, and Matthew Burger.  Accompanied by Iowa Blues Hall of Fame inductees, Tom 'T-Bone' Giblin on keys, and Dan 'DJ' Johnson on bass guitar, they were quite impressive, and did a fantastic job to kick start this years festival which featured Tim@theTrutones , Shane Johnson's Blue Train, and Ruf Records' Blues Caravan presenting Bernard Allison, Mike Zito, and Ally Venable.

Youth Stage 


Corey Clark & Tim Wagoner

Paul Ferguson

Corey Clark

Tim Wagoner

Scott Sanborn

Scott Sanborn

Bob Deforest

Bob Deforest

Shane Johnson's Blue Train

Shane Johnson's Blue Train

Shane Johnson / John Resch

John Resch

Shane Johnson
Christopher Ryan
John Resch

Ruf Records' Blues Caravan 

Ally Venable

Bobby Wallace

Ally Venable

Elijah Owings

Ally Venable Band

Ally Venable

Ally Venable / Elijah Owings

Mike Zito

Bernard Allison

Bernard Allison / Mike Zito 

Bernard Allison / Mike Zito

Bernard Allison

Mike Zito

Mike Zito

Mike Zito

Mike Zito

Bernard Allison / Mike Zito

Mario Dawson

Bernard Allison

Bernard , Ally, and Mike

Bernard, Ally and Mike

Bernard, Ally and Mike

* all photos by Phillip Smith (2018)

Check out the PhillyCheeze review for Bernard Allison's Let It Go :

Check out the PhillyCheeze review for Mike Zito's Greyhound 
(originally published for Blues Review Magazine on :

Check out the PhillyCheeze review for Mike Zito and the Wheel's Songs From the Road 

Check out the PhillyCheeze review for Mike Zito and the Wheel's Keep Coming Back

Friday, February 9, 2024

#660 : Mike Zito - Life is Hard (


2024 – Gulf Coast Records

By Phillip Smith; Feb. 9, 2024


Release Date : February 23, 2024

Original source :

I’ve been writing about the music of Mike Zito since my earliest days of reviewing albums.  His literal finesse and musical mastery propel his songs into a realm of their own.  Zito’s latest album Life is Hard stands apart from the rest.  Drenched with passion, love, and grief, this record is a heart-felt dedication to his wife Laura who succumbed to cancer last summer.  Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith team up again to produce as well as lend their talents as guitarists, with Reese Wynans on keys, Calvin Turner on bass, and Lemar Carter on drums.

“Lonely Man” hits first with a cooking rhythm, searing guitar, and rolling keys.  It is then topped with a healthy serving of sax from Paulie Cerra.  This Little Milton cover absolutely swings and it sounds great.  The blues gets serious and real as Zito tears it up on title track “Life is Hard”, originally by Fred James.  I’m left speechless as his guitar openly wails from emotion.  I dig how he injects a Chuck Berry vibe into the classic Lefty Frizzell song “No One to Talk to (But the Blues)”.  Wymans gives the song a Little Richard-treatment on keys for an energetic accompaniment.  I love the cover of Tinsley Ellis’ “Dying to do Wrong”.  This cowboy-blues track runs along an ominous set of rails and I am instantly drawn in.  I can’t help but tear up when I hear him take on the Guess Who song “These Eyes”.  The production on this track is superb, featuring Jennifer Kumma and Anna Spina on French horn, and Jade Macrae and Dannielle Deandrea on background vocals.  “Without Loving You”, a Zito-original, has an intriguing, progressive element which captivates me as it pulls me into its crawling hypnotic rhythm.  Life is Hard concludes with a solemn rendition of Gary Davis’ 1960 gospel blues spiritual “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”.  As the song approaches its finish, it wonderfully swells with the sound of spirits and the ethers until total silence suddenly crashes.

Life is Hard is a blues album to be listened to in its entirely.  This is one everyone needs to hear.  



Track list

1 - Lonely Man

2 - Life Is Hard

3 - Have a Talk with God

4 - Forever My Love

5 - No One to Talk to (But the Blues)

6 - Dying to Do Wrong

7 - These Eyes

8 - Darkness

9 - Without Loving You

10 - Nobody Moves Me Like You Do

11 - Death Don’t Have No Mercy

12 - Forever My Love (radio edit)


 For more information about the artist, visit this website :

 For past reviews mentioning Mike Zito on PhillyCheezeBlues :


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mike Zito and the Wheel - Songs From the Road

2014 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov 8, 2014

Mike Zito and the Wheel played a live gig at the Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX to a sold-out crowd on January 10, 2014, and fortunately recorded this exciting event for our enjoyment.  Songs From the Road captures the essence of Zito, with an extraordinary set list of past favorites, some older and some newer, boasting five tracks off his most recent studio album, Gone to Texas.

The funky “Don’t Break a Leg” opens the set.  Rob Lee stands out as the fantastic drummer he is, and Jimmy Carter tears it up on sax.  Of course, it probably goes without saying; Zito’s guitar playing is amazing. I love the bands performance on “Hell on Me”. This one has an ominously groovy rhythm which is very pleasing to the ears.  Again, Zito, simply put, cooks when it comes to playing guitar.  Other tracks from Gone to Texas include “Rainbow Bridge”, “Subtraction Blues” and title track, “Gone to Texas”.

I’m so glad “Greyhound” made the cut for this album.  It’s classic rock in the same style as Jackson Brown and Bruce Springsteen. The band sounds big, with Jimmy Carpenter belting out blasts from his sax, and Lewis Stephens pounding the keys.  I’m also glad Zito’s cover of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” made the cut.  Although, the song sounds totally different than the original, this cool little song still maintains an Eighties vibe to it, in a “St Elmo’s Fire” kind of way.  It’s definitely a treat to hear.

Mike Zito and the Wheel score big with Songs From the Road.  He really is an amazing artist, and it shows on this album.        

Friday, November 22, 2019

#418 : Mike Zito and Friends - Rock ‘n’ Roll : A Tribute to Chuck Berry

2019 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Nov. 22, 2019

This latest release from bluesman Mike Zito is a mighty stellar tribute to the legendary ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ Chuck Berry.  Being that both Zito and Berry are from St. Louis, Missouri, makes this a very personal project.  Zito, backed by his band, bassist Terry Dry, drummer Matthew Johnson, and pianist/organist Lewis Stephens incorporates a smashing guest list on this twenty track album, which includes some of my favorites: Joanna Conner, Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, Luther Dickenson, Sonny Landreth, Tinsley Ellis,Tommy Castro, Albert Castiglia, and Kid Anderson.

The album begins with one of the first songs I learned to play on organ, William C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”.  This song which I hold close to my heart features Chuck Berry Jr.  It’s such a rocking version of the song, and ushers the album in quite nicely.  I love the cover of “Rock & Roll Music” with Joanna Connor.  She’s such a powerhouse of a guitarist, and brings a lot to the table on this one.  Walter Trout shines as he always does on “Johnny B Goode”.  Damn, this one rocks!  Robben Ford steps in to record a fantastic remake of  “You Never Can Tell”.  This one will always remind me of my favorite film, Pulp Fiction.  The legendary Eric Gales punches up another favorite “Back in the USA” with a huge dose of his ripping guitar-work.  I always appreciate what Luther Dickinson is involved in, and “Too Much Monkey Business” is no exception.  I love “No Particular Place to Go” with Jerimiah Johnson.  This one really resonates.  Sonny Landreth brings a certain smoothness to “Havana Moon”.  I could listen to this one all day long.  

Being a huge fan of Chuck Berry and Mike Zito, this album has such a hold on me.  It’s downright spectacular.


For more information about the artist, visit this website..  

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. St - Louis Blues Charlie Berry III

  2. Rock N Roll Music - Joanna Connor

  3. Johnny B - Goode - Walter Trout

  4. Wee Wee Hours - Joe Bonamassa

  5. Memphis - Anders Osborne

  6. I Want to Be Your Driver Ryan Perry

  7. You Never Can Tell - Robben Ford

  8. Back in the USA - Eric Gales

  9. No Particular Place to Go - Jeremiah Johnson

  10. Too Much Monkey Business - Luther Dickinson

  11. Havana Moon - Sonny Landreth

  12. Promised Land - Tinsley Ellis

  13. Downbound Train - Alex Skolnick

  14. Maybelline - Richard Fortus

  15. School Days - Ally Venable

  16. Brown Eyed Handsome Man - Josh Smith/Kirk Fletcher

  17. Reeling and Rocking - Tommy Castro

  18. Let It Rock - Jimmy Vivino

  19. Thirty Days - Albert Castiglia

  20. My Ding a Ling - Kid Andersen

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mike Zito & the Wheel - Keep Coming Back

2015 – Ruf Records
By Phillip Smith; Dec 26, 2015


Mike Zito is quickly becoming one of my favorite songwriters.  His lyrics have a way of connecting with the working class, and the music to which they are delivered is a splendid dose of rock, blues, and Americana. The Wheel consists of a stellar group of musicians: bassist Scot Sutherland, pianist Lewis Stephens, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, and drummer Rob LeeKeep Coming Back contains ten magnificently written and performed originals along with a ripping cover of Bob Seger’s “Out of Denver” and a funky take on CCR’s “Bootleg”.   

Stephens and Carpenter dole out tasty barrelhouse piano and rocking sax on title track “Keep Coming Back” as Zito kicks out the jams on guitar.  This one is one big ball of bluesy fun. 
I love easing into the day, listening to “Early in the Morning” on my way to work.  Zito’s raspy vocals remind me a lot of Rod Stewart's.

A true master at telling stories through this music, Zito delivers the goods with “Girl From Liberty”, which takes a closer look at the grim underbelly of dysfunctional family life.  This song sits atop my list of favorites.  Zito then digs deep inside his soul to share the destruction and aftermath resulting from his battles with addiction, in the heart wrenching “I Was Drunk”.  There’s an anxious energy surrounding “Cross the Border”, a chaotic tale of reckless abandon.  It surely leaves me hanging on the edge of my seat as the story unfolds.    

Whether he’s performing his own songs, or one of the covers, Zito keeps it real and keeps it interesting.  That’s what I love about his music.    


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cyril Neville - Magic Honey

Ruf Records,  2013

By Phillip Smith; December 28, 2013

We all know moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone, and at Sixty-Five years of age, one will not find one gram of moss on Cyril Neville.  Constantly recording and touring with either his own band, or as part of the super-group, Royal Southern Brotherhood with Devon Allman and Mike Zito, the man keeps on rolling.  That being said, one can plan on settling down for a nice groovy listen when one reaches for the new Cyril Neville album, Magic Honey, and taps the play button.  I love the way Neville adds his funky spin to the Blues to make his own fresh sound.  Band members consist of guitarist Cranston Clements, drummer “Mean” Willie Green, bassist Carl Dufrene, and keyboardist Norman Caesar.  Neville also enlists help from friends, Dr. John, Walter Trout, Mike Zito, Allen Toussaint, and David Z, Neville.  With all of that going on, this album can’t help being anything but fun.

I was drawn in by the catchy melody and Clements swampy licks on the bluesy title track, “Magic Honey”. But by the time I got to “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”, I was totally captivated.  With guest guitarist, David Z on board, this one emanates the sound and energy of Led Zeppelin. Crank up the volume on this one and enjoy.  

It’s cool to hear Dr. John sitting in on and applying his trademark sound to “Swamp Funk”, a song he wrote himself.  I find myself nodding my head and hitching a ride on this tasty groove every time I hear it, as it leans a little more to the side of team ‘funk’, as opposed to the side of team ‘swamp’.  It’s also neat to hear Mike Zito playing on “Money and Oil”, a track co-written by Zito and Neville. Neville addresses the reality of the politics of today, as he rightfully sings ‘when it all comes down, it’s all about money and oil’.         

The must-hear song on this album though, is “Working Man”.  If it sounds like the title of a Rush song, that’s because it is.  Instigating a proverbial double take at first, I realized this was an outstandingly cool cover after my neck snapped back to its rightful place.  This one is surely more bouncy and playful than the original, but that’s what makes it memorable.  I really like Neville’s smooth and vibrant vocals coupled with Clements killer guitar performance.

Really good from start to finish, one can’t go wrong picking this album up.    

The Official Video – Cyril Neville covers the RUSH classic – “Working Man”

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mike Zito - Greyhound : From the Archives #18

2011 – Eclecto Groove Records
By Phillip Smith; Aug. 20, 2011 * 

Mike Zito’s newest release, Greyhound, spinning in the CD player, along with a large cup of hot coffee and the morning newspaper, makes for a near perfect Saturday morning.  Greyhound is quite the impressive collection of songs.  Zito is a master at telling a story within a song.   With a similar writing technique to John Hiatt, he seamlessly uses a blend of an assorted Americana musical styles to ward off monotony. 

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Zito boasts a plethora of musical influences.  You can definitely tell from just listening to his songs.  As the opening track on the album, “Roll On”  plays, it fulfills its obligation to pull the listener immediately in, and promises more good music to come.  It’s not hard to imagine Bob Dylan performing this song.  From the intro of “Judgment Day“, through the end, the song is laced with Jimi Hendrix-like licks.  The guitar solo is phenomenal, reminding us Zito is as much a guitarist as he is a singer/song-writer.   As “Judgment Day” seems to be a Hendrix tribute, “Show me the Way” has that classic early ZZ Top sound.   It’s a bit funky, but gritty, but with a Seventies blues rock vibe. 

It‘s something special when an artist can make you feel emotion through their music.  Feeling his pain, one can almost imagine tears welling up in Zito‘s eyes as he begs his woman not to leave him in “Please, Please, Please”, a wonderful slow tempo track dripping with heart-felt emotion.     

Favorite cuts also include,  “Until the Day I Die” a ditty about commitment, has a contagious rhythm that’s quite enjoyable.. My feet can’t help but tap the floor when it starts playing.   There’s also “Motel Blues”,  an acoustic ballad expressing the drudgery of motel life, wearing shoes to bed, and seedy neighbors.  Not quite the toe-tapper, but an interestingly good song anyway.

Some albums are a hodgepodge of music making no sense as to the order and arrangement of songs.  Greyhound is well constructed, and has a great flow from one song to the next.  It really is an impressive album.   I can’t wait until next Saturday.

* Originally published for Blues Revue Magazine on 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

#344 : Vanja Sky - Bad Penny

2018 – Ruf Records
Release Date: Aug. 17, 2018

By Phillip Smith; July 28, 2018

Vanja Sky, one of the newest blues artists to join the Ruf Records family, takes no prisoners with her brand new album Bad Penny.  It was just five years ago, this former pastry chef from Croatia picked up a guitar, and in the moment, she knew that being a musician was her destiny.  Within two years, she was in a band touring Croatia, Slovenia, and Germany.

Recorded at Bessie Blue Studios in Statonville, Tennessee, and Studio Erde in Berlin, Germany, Bad Penny features Mike Zito on rhythm guitar, Terry Dry and Dave Smith on bass guitar, Matthew Johnson and Yonrico Scott on drums, and Lewis Stephens on piano/organ.  She also enlists the legendary Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Steve Miller, Miles Davis) to take on the tasks of engineering in Tennessee, along with Tobias Noethen who engineered the tracks recorded in Germany. 

Vanja rocks out on a killer cover of Rory Gallagher’s “Bad Penny” for the title track.  Her voice is strong and fearless.  Her guitar licks are terrific.  I get totally swept up in Zito’s outrageously infectious riffs.  The blues are smokin’ with lots of great slide on “Low Down and Dirty”, which includes Bernard Allison alongside Vanja and Zito.  It’s downright bodacious.  

Shining brightly as a songwriter as well, Vanja penned ten of the dozen tracks on the record.  Tender and poignant “Inside Pain” seems to float in mid-air in a beautiful performance.  She totally rips it up on “Give Me Back My Soul”, a Texas style blues rocker with a theme most familiar to blues enthusiasts. It’s a favorite indeed.  Like a Lucinda Williams tune, “Crossroads of Life” digs its fingernails in deep and packs a wallop of that great swampy sound of country blues. It’s brilliant.

Searing guitar licks along with Vanja’s amazing vocal stylings make Bad Penny one hot album, enjoyed start to finish with every listen.  Vanja is currently touring with Mike Zito and Bernard Allison on the Ruf Records Blues Caravan.  This is one show I don’t want to miss.      


Friday, July 12, 2019

#400 : Ruf Records - 25 Years Anniversary

2019 - Ruf Records  
by Phillip Smith; July 12, 2019

To commemorate the 400th PhillyCheeze’s Rock & Blues Review, I want to shine some light on the special 25 Years Anniversary disc from Ruf Records.  This is one hell of a collection.  This edition contains both a 14 track CD, and a 12 video, 62-minute DVD .  The CD features a ton of music from Ruf’s most recent releases, while the DVD delightfully spans their entire era, going back to the Luther Allison days.  

After seeing Ruf’s Blues Caravan last year in 2018, I was happy to see the disc containing songs by Ally Venerable, Mike Zito, and Bernard Allison who all shared the stage at the 2nd annual Czech Village Blues festival, here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa last August.  Ally rips it up on guitar and belts out the title track to her latest album, “Texas Honey”.  Zito’s song is also the title track for his latest, “First Class Life”.  I love the slide guitar on this one.  The swampy, funky goodness of Bernard’s “Backdoor Man” is so enjoyable.  Vanja Sky, who played on the European legs of the caravan, gives us the smokin’ blues in “Hard Working Woman”.   

Ruf also includes the sultry “Chills and Fever” from the wonderful Samantha Fish, and  Ina Forsman’s exquisitely danceable ’ “Get Mine”.  For the classic blues-head, there is “Low Down“ from The B.B. King Blues Band, and hardcore soul music fans will surely dig “Deep in my Soul” from Big Daddy Wilson.  Also nice to hear, is my favorite Savoy Brown song from the past few years, “Why Did You Hoodoo Me”.  It definitely cuts to the bone.    

The DVD begins with a spectacular performance of Denmark’s Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado fabulously performing “If You Wanna Leave”.  It’s so cool to see Mike Zito, Devon Allman and Cyril Neville jam together on “Moonlight Over the Mississippi”.  Oli Brown’s driving blues-rock anthem “Here I Am” is captivating.  From the 2019 Blues Caravan, there’s a terrific video of Katarina Pejak, Ina Forsman and Ally Venable covering the classic Stevie Ray Vaughan song “If the House is Rocking”, and they sound great.  For a wonderful song to close with, Luther Allison soulfully sings “Living in The House of Blues”.

Ruf Records 25 Years Anniversary should be in the collection of every blues fan.  It is a powerhouse of a retrospective.      

Associated PhillyCheeze Reviews include: