Biography Albert Castiglia

Born August 12, 1969, in New York, he was a product of that city’s great melting-pot community, the son of a Cuban mother and Italian father. At five, the family moved to Miami, Florida, and when the twelve-year-old Albert took his first guitar lesson, a spark was lit that couldn’t be snuffed out.
Even so, bills needed paying, and although he made his professional debut in 1990 with Miami Blues Authority (and was later named ‘Best Blues Guitarist’ by that city’s alt-music magazine, New Times), Albert juggled early gigging with his day job as a social services investigator. Regardless, word spread, and Albert truly arrived on the international radar after Buddy Guy’s iconic harp-blower, Junior Wells, heard the young bluesman sing and invited him into the solo band for several world tours. The gig was a shop-window, and though Wells sadly died in 1998, Albert stayed busy, joining the great Atlanta vocalist Sandra Hall for national tours in the late-’90s, and holding his own in onstage jams with everyone from Pinetop Perkins to John Primer.
For a lesser talent with lesser momentum, that role as sideman and gun-for-hire might have been enough. Right from the start, though, Albert had a creative itch that only a solo career and a songwriting carte blanche could scratch. So it began, with 2002’s Burn opening his account, followed by 2006’s A Stone’s Throw, 2010’s Keepin On and 2012’s Living The Dream.
Each new release was a step up, hammering home Albert’s reputation and ensuring there was plenty of classy material to fuel his increasingly well-attended live shows. In 2014, came Solid Ground. Surfing on the buzz from press and public, supported by a major touring campaign and bolstered by Ruf’s marketing muscle, this album is a giant leap. Now, in 2016, Big Dog ups the ante. "I think this album is a major game-changer for me," Albert says. "No matter what happens after Big Dog's release, I'll always be proud of it. When we tour this album, you can expect a balls to the wall, rockin' blues show. Except what I've always given you - my 100%..." You can keep your bright young things and your overnight success stories. Albert Castiglia is a talent built to last.    

Biography Cyril Neville

Singer. Poet. Percussionist. Neville Brother, Meters legend, solo star and talisman of the South’s all-conquering new supergroup, Royal Southern Brotherhood.

Music legends don’t keep CVs, but if they did, Cyril’s would land with a thump. Born in late-’40s New Orleans, Louisiana, as the youngest of the four siblings who would soon define that city’s R&B sound as The Neville Brothers, Cyril absorbed his parents’ vinyl collection and found his own voice when he turned professional at 19. His first gig was with Art Neville and the Neville Sounds (alongside elder brothers Art and Aaron), and though his subsequent splinter-group Soul Machine never quite achieved the heights it was due, Cyril was on fire, pricking up ears with 1970’s debut solo single, Gossip, then arriving in the lineup of Art’s funk outfit, The Meters.
By that point, The Meters were already flying off the back of 1969’s smash-hit Cissy Strut. Now, Cyril brought congas and vocals to timeless albums including 1972’s Cabbage Alley and 1975’s Fire On The Bayou, and when unabashed über-fan Mick Jagger invited The Meters to open up the Rolling Stones’ US stadium tour of 1974, Art’s suggestion that Cyril take lead vocals was vindicated by a series of roof-raising performances.
The Meters were too special to last, but the lineup’s dissolution in 1976 cleared the path for the bloodline to regroup as The Neville Brothers and start a four-decade hot-streak – from 1976’s Wild Tchoupitoulas, via 1989’s Grammy-winning Yellow Moon, to 2004’s Walkin’ In The Shadows Of Life – that continues to this day. Suffice to say, when punters refer to this band as New Orleans’ first family of funk, it’s not hot air or hyperbole, but a statement of fact.
Lesser artists might be content to sit back and watch the royalties roll in. Cyril, by contrast, remains creatively insatiable. He not only maintains a thrilling solo career that’s given us classics like 1994’s The Fire This Time and 2000’s New Orleans Cookin’, but has also collaborated with icons including Bob Dylan, Bono and Willie Nelson, toured the world with funk act Galactic, led his offshoot band Tribe 13, founded his own record label Endangered Species and made TV appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and HBO’s Treme.
An artist with a conscience, Cyril has also spread good karma, both through the New Orleans Musicians Organized (NOMO) project that helps fledgling bands navigate the shark-infested waters of the rock industry, and alongside Tab Benoit on the 2005 Voice of the Wetlands Allstars tour that raised the profile of the Louisiana Gulf Coast’s environmental plight.
“Oh, Cyril is quite the character,” says Mike Zito of his bandmate’s sprawling backstory. “I mean, he’s the guy. He’s got all the stories. He’s been around the world a million times, played with everybody and their brother. He’s toured with the Rolling Stones, he’s friends with Keith Richards, he’s written songs with Bono. He’s done everything anybody could ever do…”
Not quite. In August 2013, with no sign of his stride slowing down in his sixties, Cyril Neville puts yet another cherry on top of his astonishing career with Magic Honey.

Biography Mike Zito

Blues-rock is a tightrope – and Mike Zito has never lost his footing. At times in his storied two-decade career, the Texas bandleader has rolled up the amps and rocked as hard as anyone. Yet his lifelong fascination with the blues has always reeled him back in. And now, having shaken the rafters with 2016’s acclaimed Make Blues Not War, First Class Life finds Mike diving deep into the only genre that can do justice to his hard-won true stories of hardship and redemption. “Make Blues was pretty extreme and rocking,” he reflects. “This time, I was definitely thinking more blues.”

          Released in 2018 on Ruf Records, First Class Life is a fitting album title from a man who remembers the hard times. “The title track is a nod to where I’ve come from and where I’m at,” explains the songwriter whose promising early career was almost destroyed by addiction. “It’s a rags-to-riches story, and it’s certainly true. I grew up poor in St. Louis, and now I'm travelling the world to sing my songs. In the world of excess America, I may not look ‘rich’, but in my world, I most certainly am. I have a beautiful family, I’m clean and sober, and I get to play music.”

          And what music. Since Mike’s debut album, Blue Room (1997), there have been countless creative peaks, from 2011’s confessional Greyhound, through his world-conquering contributions to US supergroup the Royal Southern Brotherhood, right up to recent solo triumphs like Gone To Texas (2013), Keep Coming Back (2015) and Make Blues Not War (2016).

Last November, as the band tracked live at Mike’s new backyard recording facility – dubbed Marz Studios – there was an unspoken mission to raise the bar. “We planned three days for the session,” he reflects, “but had all the tracks finished the first day. The band was really on fire and it just had this really fun vibe that we were in my backyard making a first class record.”

On his 14th album release, Mike’s socially charged observations and candid soul-searching have never been sharper. There’s the punchy call-to-arms of Time For A Change and the exquisite ‘one-note’ slow-blues, The World We Live In. The electrified blues bounce of Dying Day swears lifelong allegiance to his wife, while the sinister Old Black Graveyard growls with Hendrix-esque flourishes as it salutes the fallen. “That’s about a forgotten cemetery of poor black Americans that has not been kept up near my home in Beaumont, Texas,” he says. “Blind Willie Johnson is buried there. It’s a sure sign of racism in America and how the poor aren’t treated with dignity. That song is a ghost story that those buried there wreak havoc in the night.”

Yet the record’s darker moments are offset by cuts like Mama Don't Like No Wah Wah, the crash-bang-wallop gem written with Bernard Allison. “Bernard told me about his first gig as guitarist for Koko Taylor,” laughs Mike. “Koko didn’t like any effects on the guitar, she wanted it to sound natural. She also didn't know what effects were, she just called them ‘wah wah’. So when Bernard made an attempt to use an effect on his guitar after playing with her for months, he got caught. ‘Mama don't like no wah wah’ is what he was told. That’s a song to me!”

          Of course, the most captivating story of all is the dazzling upward curve of Mike Zito’s unfolding career. In 2018, First Class Life doesn’t just capture the past glories and setbacks – it points a signpost at the peaks to come. “With this album,” he concludes, “I had this idea of ‘stepping up’. I want the world to know I can play this music with conviction and style. I think it’s really the next step…”

 

Biography Spin Doctors

You think you know the Spin Doctors. Think again. When the legendary New York quartet release If The River Was Whiskey on May 06th through Ruf Records, casual fans will discover the secret past the hardcore have never forgotten. To the wider world, the Doctors might be the multi-million-selling icons behind hits like Two Princes and Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong, not to mention the classic Pocket Full Of Kryptonite. But in 2013, Chris Barron (vocals), Aaron Comess (drums), Eric Schenkman (guitar) and Mark White (bass) are reconnecting with the flat-broke twenty-somethings who scraped for dollars at the sharp end of the Big Apple blues circuit. The Spin Doctors have come full-circle.

“We were four guys in our twenties,” remembers Aaron of early days in the late-’80s, “and our goal was to write our own songs and make a living doing it. The blues is such a big part of our roots, but one of the reasons we came up with such a big catalogue of blues songs back then is that we’d play these downtown blues bars in New York. You were supposed to play blues covers… but we were actually playing our own songs!”

We all know what happened next: the hits, the hysteria, the fame and the money (“When were selling 50,000 records a week,” remembers Chris of the band’s explosion circa 1992, “I’d walk into a mall to buy underwear and 300 kids would surround me!”). If The River Was Whiskey hits rewind. It’s the deep-blues album the Spin Doctors almost made before megastardom came knocking. It finally bottles those near-mythical songs from that sweatbox circuit. It’s simultaneously a tipped hat to the band’s lost past and the freshest record you’ll hear all year. “Every note feels dangerous,” smiles Chris. “It’s just like this ramshackle, broken carriage running down a cobblestone hill, with pots and pans, and a screaming baby…”

The concept to revisit these songs struck as the Spin Doctors toured Europe to toast the 20th anniversary of Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, and polled über-fans David Landsburger and Daniel Heinze on what they’d like to hear as the encore that night. Their answer – So Bad – was a song so old that Chris had almost forgotten the verses, but when the venue exploded, a lightbulb lit over the band’s heads. “We had such a good time playing these tunes,” the singer explains, “that we thought, ‘We should go make a record of this stuff’. It’s really brought us back as a band, musically and interpersonally.”

The songs on If The River Was Whiskey are different vintages. “
Some Other Man Instead and the title track, I wrote those lyrics in the last year or two,” explains Chris. “But Sweetest Portion, I wrote that song when I was 19. I’d run away from home, and when I got back, my friends were really upset and there was a rumour going around that I had died. So I wrote that song – and I’m not sure if I’ve ever written a better one since.”

The material might be a quarter-century in the making, but If The River Was Whiskey took just three days to record when the four members convened last summer in New York. The original plan was to get together at Aaron’s His House Studios in Manhattan and work up some demos – no pressure – before heading upstate to a boutique analogue facility and start tracking in earnest. “We didn’t expect to make a record,” smiles Eric. “We were just going to make a demo and play at the Rockwood. And then, lo and behold…"

Instead, without the pressure of the red light, the sessions began to unfold with an effortless magic. “We just kinda winged it, man,”says Mark.  “This album sounds exactly the same as it does onstage, because we recorded it live, which is the way it should be done. There’s no overdubs. Anybody that tried to do an overdub was gonna get whacked!"

“We really kinda fooled ourselves and tricked ourselves, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it sounds so fresh,” picks up Aaron. “Because there was absolutely no pressure on us of any kind. We just hit a moment. Everything came together and we got this great record. Usually, the best things happen when you’re not trying… and that’s what happened here.” The band quickly realised the supposed rough-cuts captured by engineering ace Roman Klun couldn’t be topped. “By the third day,” reflects Chris, “we’d recorded all ten of the demos. We went out to dinner that night, we were all having a cocktail, and someone was like, ‘Gentlemen, I believe our demo is a record’. And we all just laughed.”

Take a spin of If The River Was Whiskey and you’d have to agree: they aced it. The Spin Doctors might have given you the soundtrack to the best nights of the ’90s, but with this new album, they’ve rediscovered a strand of their musical DNA that melds perfectly with the hits you know and love.
“It’s been so refreshing to go back to this material,” says Aaron. “It’s just brought everything that’s good about the band out again. I can honestly say that we’re playing better than ever right now, and I think a lot of that is because of the material on this record: it’s just really opened things up. Some bands, you go and see them 25 years later and they’re up there going through the motions. But to me, we sound better than ever. We sound world-class now, I think.”

“We play about four or five tunes a night from this new album and they all work,” says Eric. “It just feels seamless, like any of the new tunes can sit with any one of the Kryptonite songs. And the band is just playing amazing now. It’s a pleasure to play with people that you’ve been playing with so long… and everybody’s still breathing!”

Likewise, when If The River Was Whiskey arrives on May 06th it’ll be a pleasure to toast the return of the Spin Doctors, and a new album set to score new fans while making the hardcore love them more than ever. “I don’t care about sales, man,” states Chris, honestly. “I mean, it’d be awesome if it sold millions of copies, but honest to God, I just want to keep making a living playing music. We get up onstage and we turn it on, and sing and play our hearts out. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do: just make real music, give people something from my heart.”           

Henry Yates

Biography Bart Walker

Walker isn't yet a household name, but he's not a newcomer, either. A guitar player since the age of four, he’s already logged plenty of road miles as the right-hand man to country-rocker Bo Bice and collaborated in the studio with such heavyweights as Steve Gorman (Black Crowes), Audley Freed (Cry Of Love, Black Crowes) and Robert Kearns (Cry of Love, Lynyrd Skynyrd). He's played with Stevie Ray Vaughan's original back-up band Double Trouble and until recently had Double Trouble keyboarder Reese Wynans as a regular member of his own touring outfit.
With that kind of resume, expectations were high when Walker journeyed across the state to Jim Gaines' studio in Stantonville, Tennessee in the fall of 2012. There, he hooked up with the first-call Memphis rhythm section of Steve Potts on drums and Dave Smith on bass – a duo that has already graced albums by Luther Allison, Jonny Lang, Michael Burks and countless others. The eleven songs Walker cooked up with this pair of studio veterans (as well as keyboarders Rick Steff and Dave Cohen on selected cuts) manage to exceed those lofty expectations.

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