Amongst the urban sprawl along the I-95 corridor from New York City to New Haven is the charming town of Fairfield, Connecticut. In a downtown area nestled between the rail lines and the old Post Road is a maze of eateries, shops, and two great theaters: The Warehouse and StageOne. The Blood Brothers featuring Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia, who are both stars of the contemporary roadhouse blues, appeared at StageOne on April 7th. I was invited to the soundcheck and had a chance to chat with them before the show.
In my previous review of their debut album, I noted that my two favorite songs were one by Albert entitled A Thousand Heartaches and one by Mike Zito called In My Soul. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear them play parts of both as their sound check. The sound check was low key with a lot of chatter between the band members: Mike, Albert, one of my favorite roadhouse blues drummers Ephraim Lowell (he is a laid back badass), equally impressive drummer Matthew Johnson and a stellar bass guitar player by the name of Douglas Brykit. They worked together with the StageOne sound engineer for 20 minutes to get the sound just right in the theater which seats 250 or so people. It is an intimate and great sounding place to listen to the blues.
Albert acted as my host and brought me backstage. Mike had some things to take care of but I did get to talk to him for just a moment.
Ben: Mike, on behalf of the staff of Blues Music Fan Radio and our listeners I’d like to congratulate you all on having both the #1 album on Billboard’s Blues chart and on the I Tunes blues list.
Mike: Thanks! Albert and I have known each other a long time and the chance to record with him has been something I have wanted to do for a good while. The fan reaction has been incredible both in terms of record sales and the tour audiences.
Ben: The record label that you co-own, Gulf Coast Records, is doing really well by all accounts. When you started it, did you do so as a way to help other blues artists that aren’t as well known as yourself? Was it similar to what Joe Bonamassa has done with the KTBA (Keep the Blues Alive) label?
Mike: Yeah, a bit when we first got rolling. But it has taken on a life of its own and with the signing of Albert, it has exploded. Albert is big time! We have a lot of really great artists and we have several on the way including Popa Chubby! And I think the interest by these major blues artists is a direct result of Albert joining the label. I have also had a long conversation with Ronnie Earl recently that might lead to something. We certainly haven’t reached the heights of Alligator Records yet but we are well on our way.
Ben: During my internet radio shows, more that half the audience are often Europeans. Does Gulf Coast Records have a way of reaching them?
Mike: Great question. We now have a distribution deal with Universal which can help us to reach people and markets that an emerging label would struggle to reach without them. And, yes, Europeans love the blues and we are excited about sharing our music with them.
Ben: One final question that comes from a BMFR listener. You wrote the song In My Soul that is on the album last year when you found out your wife has cancer. How is she doing?
Mike: As well as could be expected under the circumstances. It isn’t easy on her but we are optimistic.
I then got invited to sit in a cozy little room with Albert relaxing on a couch. We talked for about 15 minutes and I was impressed with how forthright he was.
Ben: For the song you wrote for the album, A Thousand Heartaches, it appears to me that you are channeling a bit of Bob Seger.
Albert: (laughing lightly) You know you are only the second person to catch that. Yes I was. I have always been a big Seger fan. But the truth is I was actually channeling three artists when I wrote the song. Mike had asked me to contribute a ballad and for me that was a bit of a challenge. So, as I was putting it together, I was thinking of Bob Seger, Derek & the Dominos, and Bob Dylan.
Ben: Well, it worked. It’s a badass tune! And just as a personal opinion, I think you could ace a couple of other Seger tunes with your funky rockin’ blues style and that incredible voice: Come To Poppa and Night Moves!
Albert: (grins) I will keep that in mind.
Ben: I am from the generation before you and my musical influences for the blues were artists like Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, B.B. King, Albert King, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and the songwriter Willie Dixon. Who were yours?
Albert: Surprisingly similar to yours. I have an uncle that is 15 years or so older than me and he had a huge record collection. I used to “borrow” his albums and then he would come take them back. (Albert laughs.) So I was exposed to alot of great blues and blues rock that way. Another artist you didn’t mention was Grand Funk. They were a great blues rock band. The song Heartbreaker was one of my favorites.
Ben: That is cool. Grank Funk was also one of the first three artists I ever saw live in concert as a teenager.
Albert and I talked some more about music in general for a bit and somehow got on the subject of critics and internet trolls.
Ben: I just read an article where Walter Trout may withdraw from active participation in social media after receiving some really nasty chat comments. Joe Bonamassa has already withdrawn recently after receiving similar vile social media chats. How do you handle music critics and interacting on social media?
Albert: Yeah, I read that article also. It is ashame. Walter is one of the greats and he has certainly paid his blues dues. I have a lot of critics also. In the blues, you essentially have two camps. You have the blues purists who want you to only play blues the way it was done back in the forties and fifties and you have the more progressive blues artists and fans who like the style of the blues Walter plays and Mike & I play. You know I didn’t grow up as a sharecropper like Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf. I never experienced segregation in the Deep South like they did. I have a profound respect for them and that style of blues and I have included some of it in my recordings but I didn’t grow up that way. I have to express the blues from the experiences in my life. And that is what I am going to continue to do.
Ben: I have experienced the same thing as both a blues writer and DJ. My roadhouse blues shows are a blend of contemporary blues and blues rock. It is not everybody’s cup of tea. The “purists” can be pretty loud at times in protest. I have been told I don’t spin the blues because I spin Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Samantha Fish, Walter, Gov’t Mule, you, and Mike’s solo albums a lot.
Albert: Well I am just gonna keep moving on. But some of the criticism I have read is pretty harsh and personal.
Ben: In my case Albert, I receive and review a lot of new albums and artists every year and have for over a decade now. My rule is that I simply don’t write about albums that I don’t particularly care for.
Albert: Exactly!! Martine Ehrenclou with Rock & Blues Muse does the same and I think it is great that both of you feel that way. But the bottom line is that I am able to make a living playing my blues. And people seem to like it enough to buy it and come to the shows. So I will just keep rollin’ along regardless of what the critics say good or bad. Recording the Blood Brothers album and now touring has been great. Being on stage with Mike and those three guys behind us is somethin’ special.
Ben: How much longer will the tour last?
Albert: It will last until the end of April and then I can’t wait to fly back to Miami and have my wife Michelle pick me up! I miss her!
Albert was cordial, open, and honest during our talk. I can’t thank him enough for sharing his time with me before he ate dinner.
One last highlight of being backstage was the chance to take a photograph with Ephraim Lowell, one of the two drummers in the Blood Brothers band. He has worked with Albert for a number of years and is a great all round musician who also plays the guitar and bass. He is a producer and has also written several songs with Albert that have been featured on the band’s albums. I have always loved his laid back style!
Sadly, I didn’t have time to chat with Matthew Johnson, the other band drummer, or bassist Douglas Brykit because they had already sat down to eat. But during the show itself, there was a five to seven minute jam with just the two drummers and Douglas on stage during the middle of the song, Hill Country Jam. Doug is a world class bassist. His solo was incredible and then he exited the stage and just the two drummers, Ephraim and Matthew pounded out the beat. Reminiscent of Jamoe and Butch Trucks back in the day with the Allman Brothers, the two of them put on a display of dueling and then merging drum beats. It alone was worth the price of admission.
Overall, the show lasted two hours. They opened the concert with Hey Sweet Mama and as best as I can recall performed every song on the album as well as some individual tunes that both have recorded in the past. Albert’s Let the Big Dog Eat was a rousing audience favorite and Mike’s Gone To Texas which closed the show was fantastic. Rarely do you see two world class guitar players on stage together that both sing and play. The contrasts in styles was fascinating. Albert attacks the guitar. He is a bundle of restrained energy on stage that releases itself during the songs in a flurry of incredible riffs. Mike’s style is more laid back but just as intense; I call it Texas Blues Cool. And then they would come together… side to side and back to back…and just let the music flow between them like the Blood Brothers that they are!!!
Blood Brothers – Blood Brothers (Gulf Coast Records 2023)
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Ben Vee started out spinning songs on terrestrial radio and at nightclubs back in the 1970’s in his home state of Louisiana. After a career in the construction business, he returned to DJing in 2011. He now hosts two shows each week on http://www.bluesmusicfan.com and writes about the blues at http://www.benveeblues.com from his home in Connecticut. He also has a personal 24 hour stream devoted to the Roadhouse Blues… WRHB as well as a Youtube channel.