'Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry'

Mike Zito & His Big Blues Band bring ‘Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry’ to Punta Gorda on May 13.

Mike Zito may be one of the most lauded artists in the contemporary blues arena today, and rightfully so, but for Zito, the thing that counts the most is maintaining his honesty, authenticity and integrity. Those are the qualities that have steered Zito’s career since the beginning and continue to define every effort he’s offered since.

Zito’s album descriptively titled “Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry,” found him broadening his boundaries still further even as it marks a return to his roots. The album consists of Berry classics performed by Zito and an impressive array of 21 guest guitarists, among them Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Eric Gales, Robben Ford, Sonny Landreth, Luther Dickinson, Albert Castiglia, Anders Osborne and Berry’s grandson, Charles Berry III.

“This was a very special project for me,” Zito says. “I lived in Chuck’s hometown of St. Louis for 32 years, and I worked at a small musical instrument store where his drummer also happened to be employed. Chuck’s son would drop by on occasion as well. He was an icon and rightfully so. I’ve been playing his songs since I was a kid. Needless to say, he was a tremendous influence on my career, and, of course, on many other musicians’ as well.”

He began playing guitar at the age of 5, and by the time he reached his late teens, he was already a fixture on the St. Louis music scene.

He initially released his music independently and then signed with Eclecto Groove Records in 2008. “Pearl River,” the title track of his 2009 album for the label, won Song of the Year at the Blues Music Awards and marked his first collaboration with Cyril Nevill, with whom he’d later work in the Royal Southern Brotherhood. A steady succession of critically acclaimed albums followed, culminating in 2011’s “Greyhound,” which was nominated for Best Rock Blues Album at that year’s Blue Music Awards ceremony in Memphis. Two years later, he signed with Ruf Records and released “Gone to Texas,” the story of how he gained his sobriety, offered an emotional homage to the state that left an indelible imprint on his entire life. It also marked the debut of his band, The Wheel.

From 2010 to 2014, Zito also played an integral role in the super group of sorts, Royal Southern Brotherhood. The group released two albums and a DVD, “Songs from the Road — Live in Germany,” winner of the year’s Blues Music Award for Best DVD. He also made his mark behind the boards by producing albums for Samantha Fish, Albert Castiglia, Ally Venable, Jeremiah Johnson, Jimmy Carpenter and many others.

His album “Make Blues Not War” debuted on the Billboard Blues Album Chart at number one and garnered him recognition as the 2018 Rock Blues Artist of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. “First Class Life” followed suit, also entering the charts at number one.

In 2018, Zito and Guy Hale founded the new record label, Gulf Coast Records. A label dedicated to focusing on regional roots, blues and Americana genres.

With “Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry,” Zito again does what he does best, making an album that’s humble, heartfelt, skilled and sublime … and, to paraphrase Berry himself, letting it rock all at the same time.

Zito and his album “Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry” have both been nominated for Blues Music Awards in the categories of Blues Rock Artist of the Year and Blues Rock Album 2021.


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