I first heard about Royal Southern Brotherhood (RSB) from the band’s drummer, Yonrico Scott. He was in town last Dec. for a South By Southeast show and during an interview, I put the standard query to him, “So what’s ahead for you?”
The enthusiasm and intensity of his answer caught me by surprise. “I’ve just joined this band,” he told me, “Get on Facebook, check it out! This is big! Devon Allman, Cyril Neville, Miko Zito, Charlie Wooten … and me! We’re already working on a CD. We’ve got bookings lined up! This is big!”
Okay, this sounds big.
Guitarist Devon Allman is, after all, the son of legendary Southern rocker Gregg Allman and successful leader of his own Honey Tribe band. Percussionist Cyril Neville is from the first family of funk, the Neville Brothers (and the groundbreaking Meters) – and of course, some of the best vocalists around. Guitarist Mike Zito took home a Blues Foundation award last year for his tune Pearl River, which he co-wrote with Cyril Neville, and his newest recording, Greyhound is up for best blues album this year. Charlie Wooten, the group’s Louisiana-grown bass player, founder of Zydefunk and the Charlie Wooten Project, is into everything from R&B to funked up jazz and reggae. Drummer Yonrico Scott has his own band, is a 2011 Grammy winner (with the Derek Trucks Band) and has played with Col. Bruce Hampton and Ike Stubblefield.
So I started following their progress on Facebook. With Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines they were recording at Dockside Studio near Lafayette, La.
Pretty soon they were posting snippets of tracks … harmonies for “New Horizons,” then guitar dubs … vocals for “Left My Heart In Memphis.”
They had me at the harmonies. I had to interview this band. And after talking to them, I’m more excited than ever about the music that’s in store for all of us.
Devon was my first phone call. We talked a little about his famous dad, but mostly focused on the new group and their debut 11-track self-titled CD, which will hit the streets on May 8.
“There’s a real blend of styles,” he tells me. “But it all comes from old school blues and rock.”
Devon is the founder and bandleader of Honey Tribe, a St. Louis, Mo. based blues-rock band known for their musicianship and jam band leanings.
“RSB is definitely more laid back than Honey Tribe,” he says. “But we’re stylistically similar. I’m really stoked that we came together.”
Are there any highlights of recording that you can share, I asked him.
“Any time Cyril stepped up to the mic,” he answered. “He really inspired me. There’s a tune that he sings,
“Moonlight Over Mississippi. It’s a standout. I honestly like the whole album, but this might be my favorite.”
Every one of the band members is excited about the new group. “We all came ready to work, said Cyril. “We wound up doing 12 tracks in two days, finished in five. We’re all putting 150% in.
“We needed a solid rhythm section and that’s what we have.
“What you hear on the recording, that’s performance on there, not all studio trickery and overdubs. It’s performance.
“Devon and Zito, they’re amazing guitarists. I like the blend between them. They never stepped on each other.
“And I’m very excited about the singing. Devon’s vocals are topnotch. Each song is different, but they all come together.
“All the elements of what I’ve been exposed to in my life are mixed up in this beautiful musical gumbo. Every member of this band has been involved in some of the seminal Southern musical ensembles.
“I’ve known Gregg Allman for over 35 years, so I don’t believe this is a coincidence or accident that I’m in a band now with his son.
“The music, to me, feels a lot like what Gregg’s brother – and Devon’s uncle– did and what I did with my brothers and my uncle.”
I really had considered Mike Zito a guitarist, but in reading about him, I found reference after reference to songwriting.
“I’ve been writing my own songs since high school, 20 something years,” he explained.
“I don’t ever write with intention for style. Usually just sit down and pick the guitar up and start singing. Or I’m driving.”
So how would you describe yourself, I asked, guitarist, vocalist or songwriter?
“Six years ago – would have been guitar, love guitar. I didn’t get it that singing and songwriting was where it’s at. These days, guitar isn’t my strength. Now I pay more attention to my voice.
“Used to be I wrote songs to play guitar. I found some songs off my old independent releases. I think they’re stronger than my guitar. Over the past five or six years, it’s come together.”
I knew Mike had some addiction problems in his past, which we spoke about briefly.
“I started playing in bars, six nights a week in bars … drinking a lot … drugs … too much partying,” he said. “I got in trouble with it, quit playing music. I was out on the streets.
“But I got into recovery. I had people helping me and eight years ago I started playing music again, different this time. Nothing came between me and the music. My newest album is Greyhound, produced by Anders Osborn.”
“Pearl River, the album before, was my first experience with Cyril, and my first ever collaboration.”
Cyril talked about it, too. “We had never met. I sent him lyrics. He asked what I felt about music. I had Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I’ve Got a Spell On You’ in my head and we went from there.”
The respect these guys have for each other is evident with every sentence.
“Charlie Wooten and Yonrico? First time playing with them, we hit it off instantly,” Zito said.
“The first night before anyone else got there, we recorded guitar, vocal, bass. They’re the backbone.”
Until Royal Southern Brotherhood rolls into your town, they’re as close as your computer. They have released their official video of “New Horizons.” It was uploaded to YouTube on Feb. 20. Check it out.The band’s website is: http://www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com. And if you’re on Facebook, find them and “like” them. You’ll enjoy the exchange.