STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
It’s a blues lover’s match made in heaven, especially if you’re a guitar fan. Renowned blues guitarists/vocalists Tommy Castro and Mike Zito will perform together for the first time on their “Six Strings Down” tour. They’ll be backed by Castro’s band The Painkillers. The show will feature Castro and Zito co-fronting the band.
In a telephone interview while taking a break from recording his next album, Castro discussed this upcoming tour.
“I don’t want to brag or anything but it was my idea,” said Castro, who laughed at his own remark. “I heard (Mike) was in between bands basically, starting up a new group. And I thought it might be a good time to see if he would come out and join me and my band for a tour.”
Castro and Zito first met in 1999, when Zito was establishing himself in St. Louis, Zito’s hometown. Zito and his band opened for Castro when Castro was on tour there.
“I reconnected with him some years later when he put out a record [“Greyhound,” 2011] on Delta Grooves and then we crossed paths on occasion at different festivals and stuff like that,” said Castro.
Castro explained that although they won’t have a lot of rehearsal time before hitting the road, a lot of thought has gone into the show. The set will include both Castro and Zito performing together on each other’s songs as well as some covers.
“Mike basically picked his songs, I basically picked my songs and then we collaborated on ideas for the cover tunes. We picked songs that we thought would be good for us to sing together,” explained Castro.
Castro is looking forward to a different feel than what is typical for his shows. He, Zito and the band will only have one day to rehearse before they hit the road.
“So it’s gonna be pretty loose and pretty jammy for the most part,” said Castro, “and I think that’s cool because we both have real strong rehearsed shows of our own and people have seen that a bunch of times from both of us, because we’re a couple of acts that are on the road constantly.”
By the time the band gets to Sellersville they should have enough performances under their belt for the show to be in a groove but still have freshness and spontaneity.
In order for something like this to work, both bandleaders have to be willing to not be ‘the man’ and share the stage. Both Castro and Zito are ready to check their egos at the door and look forward to this as a great opportunity for both of them.
“I would only consider doing a thing like this with somebody of the right personality,” explained Castro. “The right guy. A guy with the right attitude. And somebody who I admire and like personally. I wouldn’t want to try to do a thing like this with just anybody.”
Zito, who responded to me by email while on tour in Europe, concurred.
“I am used to playing with my group, but luckily I know most of the guys in the band and we have shared the stage a time or two over the years. Playing blues music is always about sharing the stage and jamming and listening. Since we all come from a blues background, it will be great.”
Zito added: “The hardest part for me (about collaborating) has always been working with other guitarists. A lot of guitarists have a tendency to not play well with others, so to speak. They muscle their way in with volume and playing too much to be the one most heard.
“It’s also very common that most guitarists don’t know how to play rhythm very well, and not just keeping time, but playing good parts that support the other guitarist. It is a pet peeve of mine for sure, but with Tommy you have none of these issues. (He) is an excellent guitarist, lead and rhythm. He’s got chops and feel and soul and great tone. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than playing rhythm behind such a world-class guitarist.”
Another benefit to both artists is having the opportunity to play for each other’s fans.
“A lot of my fans are Zito fans and a lot of Zito fans are my fans,” said Castro. “And then there’s a bunch of people that don’t know about him on my side. And some people who don’t know about me on his side.”
So whether you’re a fan of Castro or Zito, or if you’ve never heard either of them, don’t miss what will surely be a spirited show. It could be your one and only opportunity to see them perform together.