The debut album of Royal Southern Brotherhood (Ruf Records), which hit the street on May 8, is one of the most exciting releases of the year, and that’s only slightly due to the hype that preceded it. The lion’s share of the credit flat out goes to the band, Royal Southern Brotherhood: Cyril Neville, Devon Allman , Mike Zito, Charlie Wooten and Yonrico Scott.
The Royal moniker and lineage are both a lot to live up to for a group formed barely six months ago, but RSB is a musical gestalt of sorts and their self-titled,12-track recording delivers in a big way.
Cyril Neville is a master of funk and soul, bringing with him his considerable contributions to the Meters, Soul Machine and others, including of course the iconic Neville Brothers, of which he is the youngest.
If that’s not enough royalty for you, add Devon Allmanto the mix, son of Gregg Allman, nephew of
Duane Allman and leader of his own sweetly fierce Honey Tribe. Devon brings some rockin’ guitar licks to the show, which bring to mind his legendary uncle even more so than his daddy.
Also on guitar is hard rockin’ bluesman Mike Zito, whose “Pearl River,” co-written with Cryil Neville, earned a 2009 Blues Music Award for Song of the Year.
Lest you think the rhythm section is just there to add fill, Charlie Wooten on bass and Yonrico Scott on drums are at once badass and in the pocket. Wooten is known for jamming with the Woods Brothers and his own Zydefunk, which has been called a gumbo of Louisiana grooves. Yonrico Scott earned a Grammy with the Derek Trucks Band, has played with the Allman Brothers, Col. Bruce Hampton and has his own band.
Royal Southern Brotherhood is a powerful blend of personalities and sound. The synergy between players is evidenced in every tune.
Opening track, “New Horizon,” is also the first single, released on video and all over Facebook back in March.
The in-your-face harmonies are spot on, and set the tone for the CD. The combination of Cyril’s soulful vocals, Devon’s power and the gritty appeal of Mike Zito is as good as it gets. Devon’s wailing on his Gibson. Charlie and Yonrico are laying down a groove. Great way to begin.
“Fired Up” is a Wooten/Neville composition and this band is fired up. This tune brings it on. Hard to sit still. The sweet and soulful “Left My Heart In Memphis,” penned by Devon Allman is the album’s third track, followed by “Moonlight Over the Mississippi,” written by Cyril Neville and Mike Zito. Neville’s soul-dripped vocals are a stand-out.
On “Ways About You,” written by Mike Zito and Cyril Neville, you have to appreciate the combined talent of the band – Zito’s raw bluesy vocal, the harmonies, Yonrico in the pocket, the plaintive guitar of Devon Allman all emphasize the utter sadness of the song.
The musical chemistry is so strong among this band, it’s interesting to note how they came together. It was all Reuben Williams’ idea. Reuben is the owner of Thunderbird Management Co. out of Larose, La. He had originally formed his company to manage Tab Benoit. Then came Monk Boudreaux and Anders Osborne.
In a telephone interview, Reuben told me, “I like to put people together on projects. It keeps things interesting.”
So he gets Boudreaux and Osborne to record together for Shanachie Records. Then he created the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars (his clients Benoit, Osborne and Boudreaux plus Cyril Neville and Johnny Sansone).
Mike Zito joins Reuben’s client roster, and suggests that Devon and Reuben might be a good fit. Next thing you know, Reuben is looking at this group of artists, all of whom have other groups and projects underway, and the wheels start turning. Royal Southern Brotherhood is born.
Other tracks include the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On the Mountain,” a great surprise, by the way; “Gotta Keep Rockin’,” an anthem-type Allman/Neville piece featuring Devon on lead vocal; Zito’s “Hurts My Heart,” which is a favorite of mine; “Sweet Jelly Donut” by Cyril Neville (I bet this is a great live performance); Allman’s vocal and guitar showcase “Nowhere to Hide;” “All Around the World,” written by Mike Zito; and the instrumental closer, “Brotherhood.”
Royal Southern Brotherhood is a supergroup in the making. You may not know it yet, but you want to see them live, and you want this CD. Visit their website: http://www.royalsouthernbrotherhood.com and go to my blog for a recent interview with them: darielb.wordpress.com.
Tracks: New Horizon(Neville/Zito), Fired Up (Wooten/Neville), Left My Heart In Memphis (Allman), Moonlight Over the Mississippi (Zito/Neville), Fire On the Mountain (Hart/Hunter), Ways About You (Zito/Neville), Gotta Keep Rockin (Allman/Neville), Nowhere to Hide (Allman), Hurts My Heart (Zito), Sweet Jelly Donut (Neville), All Around the World (Zito), Brotherhood (Allman/Neville /Zito/ Wooton/Scott)
Album credits: Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion); Devon allman (vocals, guitar), Mike Zito (vocals, guitar), Charlie Wooten (bass guitar), Yonrico Scott (drums), Jim Gaines (producer), David Farrell (engineer), Brad Blackwood at Euphonic Masters (mastering), Thomas Ruff (executive producer), Reuben M. Williams (associate producer), Dockside Studio (recording), Jerry Moran at NativeOrleanian.com (photography).
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.
On Jan. 31, 2010 drummer Yonrico Scott was onstage at the L.A. Convention Center for the pre-telecast award ceremony of the GRAMMYs accepting the award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for the Derek Trucks Band. On Dec. 3, he and his own Yonrico Scott Band will hit the stage right here at the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot for the final South By Southeast Music Feast of the year.
This is why I “Trust the Frog.” The folks at SxSE spend their time scouring the road not taken by the mainstream bandwagon to bring us some of the country’s most respected singer/songwriters and musicians, most of whom aren’t household names to the public, but are well-known to other musicians.
Yonrico Scott is one of this talented community of musicians. He played with the Derek Trucks Band from about 1993, he guesses, until the band went on hiatus late last year so Derek could form a new band with wife Susan Tedeschi. He has toured with Peabo Bryson and Earl Klugh and played with greats like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Hubbard and the Allman Brothers Band.
In a telephone interview earlier this week, we talked about his GRAMMY experience, his career and his passion for art.
As a child, Scott was greatly influenced and encouraged by his mother Ruth Naomi Scott, a gospel singer who grew up in Detroit. She was a member of the Detroit Harmonettes and it sounds like she cherished her son’s budding talent.
“She was truly an angel,” says Scott, “always encouraging me. I started playing drums at about five years old.”
By age 14, he was studying with Motown drummer George Hamilton. At 15, he recorded “Message From the Ghetto” with The Sons of Truth for the Stax gospel subsidiary.
He went to college in Kentucky, studying drums and percussion with Chicago Symphony classical percussionist Patrick Arnold and classical timpanist Dave Davenport. Scott says his classical study is the reason that he is the drummer he is today.
Upon moving to Atlanta, Ga. in the late seventies, he immediately met guitarist George Greer, who turned him on to the neighborhood arts center. Connections made there helped get his foot in the door of the jingle business, and he started doing work for Atlanta mogul Ted Turner.
Sometime in 1992 or 1993, he had a call from Col. Bruce Hampton (Gov’t Mule) with the news that then 14-year-old Derek Truck was looking for a drummer.
“The first time I heard him play, I knew this was big,” Scott tells me. “The first year we played 320 dates. We did all the small cities.
“A lot of people don’t know, but when I started with DTB, we were doing bebop … all sorts of stuff.”
Because DTB took a regular hiatus, Scott was able to play with his own Yonrico Scott Band, which includes Kofi Burbridge, keys/flute; Todd Smallie, bass; Mace Hibbard, sax; Nick Johnson, guitar; Laura Reed, special guest vocalist; and many other players on different occasion. YSB’s debut release, Turning the Corner, a 12-track disc of mainly jazz instrumentals, was released in January, 2004.
His first touring job was with Peabo Bryson and Patti LaBelle. Through Bryson, he connected with Broadway and spent several years working in productions such as The Wiz, Dream Girls, Les Misérables and Five Guys Named Mo, which featured the music of Louis Jordan.
What was it like getting a GRAMMY, I wanted to know.
“I loved it. I walked the red carpet with Ringo Starr on my right and Mick Fleetwood on my left.”
He continues, “Derek had been really cool with it, said he wasn’t going to go, so I said that I was thinking of going and Derek asked me to represent the band, so then it was official. I was going!”
Scott kept a GRAMMY journal about the experience that’s posted on the Derek Trucks Band site. It’s a great read. I love how much fun he’s having with it. Here’s just a snippet:
“I get the award and I’m trying to stay composed on stage but in my mind, I’m freaking out! A lot of the other winners seemed so relaxed when we won, but for me it was just such a huge deal. I had this Grammy in my hand and I was just blown over! Right now I still think it’s a dream and I just wonder when the dream will be over.”
Throughout all Scott’s stories (and he has many), I was impressed by just how jaded he is not. He is embracing every experience that comes along.
“After I got the Grammy, I decided I wanted to do another album. I started in March of 2010, and I finished about three months ago.”
Scott is very excited about the new recording, Be In My World, which he expects will be released in early 2012. Players include his sister Ronda Scott (they sing a duet); vocalist Laura Reed from South Africa; Derek Trucks; DTB bass player Todd Smallie; DTB vocalist Mike Matteson, jazz guitarist Grant Green Jr.; virtuoso bassist Joseph Patrick Moore; singer/songwriter Diane Durrett and more. Three of the tracks are written by funk keyboardist Reverend Oliver Wells. Scott himself wrote several tracks.
“There are 15 original songs and a cover of Buddy Miles’ “‘dem Changes,’” Scott says, “and this is the first recording with me as a lead vocal. So that’s me on vibes, percussion, singing and drums. The album, titled Be In My World is a tribute to Buddy Miles.”
Art is another passion for Yonrico Scott. “I was always drawing and making stuff, as a kid.”
Once again, his mother was at his side, encouraging him.
“‘You can have the upstairs. Do whatever you want,’ my mother told me,’ Scott laughs.
“Then, when I started with Derek, we were making up set lists and I started drawing on them. We would make color copies for the band, and then for some of the fans. And now they’re collected all over the place.”
Scott is a prolific artist, painting drum heads for his many gigs along with paintings.
“I’m not a trained artist,” he continues. “I’m making a statement . . . One of my biggest idols was Howard Finster [legendary Atlanta folk artist known for his 1980s album designs for groups like R.E.M. and Talking Heads]. He told me to keep doing my own stuff. Don’t take lessons. So that’s what I do.”
This past October, when visionary artists Alex and Allison Gray, known for their psychodelic album covers, came to Atlanta’s inaugural Visionary Arts Fair, Yonrico was part of it.
“I was playing drums, wearing a crazy suit. I loved it.”
So much is happening for Yonrico Scott these days, it’s hard to keep up.
“The biggest thing for me right now is a new band. I’ve been invited to join the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and MIke Zito with Charlie Wooton on bass. The band will debut at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, and we have bookings through Dec. 2012.”
Joining Scott at the SxSE gig will be jazz keyboardist Buzz Amatto, guitarist Randy Honea, and Ted Peccio on bass. Something tells me this is going to be a genre-jumping adventure, and I can’t wait.
Music Feasts are $25 per person ($20 for SxSE annual concert series members). Reservations are suggested. Send an email to email@example.com, with the number of tickets and your zip code. They’ll put you on their A list.
The Myrtle Beach Train Depot is located at 851 Broadway in Myrtle Beach. For more information about the SxSE event,log onto http://www.southbysoutheast.org.
Note: I loved talking with Yonrico Scott, and there’s a lot more to the interview, so I plan to organize my notes and add some of them to this blog post soon.