New Orleans, Louisiana is often called the birthplace of the blues. It’s a claim disputed by a few music historians. But if nothing else, the Big Easy deserves a kind word for giving birth to The Royal Southern Brotherhood.
The project began in 2011 as a germ in the mind of Reuben Williams, manager to well-travelled blues singer and guitar man Mike Zito and Cyril Neville of New Orleans’ legendary Neville Brothers. When the two men collaborated a few years earlier, the result was Pearl River, the memorable title track of Zito’s 2009 album. The song won a Blues Music Award for ‘song of the year.’ Could lightening strike a second time if the two men joined forces again?
Zito and Neville thought so, but when efforts were made to expand the project to a supergroup, involving many powerful blues performers, a third man contacted – Devon Allman – had some doubts. Allman, also a supremely gifted member of a legendary music family reportedly asked, “Dude are you crazy?” when first asked to join the outfit. To Allman the idea seemed like “putting five quarterbacks in a room and saying ‘go play football.’” But in time he warmed to the idea of teaming up with Zito, once his friendly rival on the St. Louis music scene.
From there Allman and others went from ‘talking about the idea’ to him and Cyril co-writing a song over shared emails. With those three involved, the idea then blossomed into a full-fledged band with the addition of bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott.
Then came their coming out party. For a grouping this ambitious and loaded with universally admired talent, no ordinary debut would suffice. So their first public performance was made at New Orleans’ Rock ‘n’ Bowl in September of 2011.
Near the end of the year, they recorded songs for their first album, knocking out every song in only five days. The result was a debut album that somehow sounds both breathtakingly new and seeped in decades of blues/rock tradition. Most fitting is the band’s chosen moniker. Not only does every note drip with chicken-fried confederate charm, but this rag-tag collection of rockin’ blues all-stars sound very much like brothers. The instant chemistry is on bold display. The act of a band sounding like they’ve spent years playing together when, in fact, they haven’t is no easy task. But the key is not faking the funk. According to the band’s junior member, Devon Allman, it really just came down to a matter of fate.”It’s like it was meant to be. We’re not really reinventing the wheel here. We’re just making sure it keeps rolling. I think certain fans out there really have an affinity for music based in soul and blues and rock, classic rock, so you really get that with this band.”
Don’t Look Back is the latest release from the Royal Southern Brotherhood. What’s most amazing about this strong offering is its fresh sound. It would make perfect sense that a group of time-tested blues and rock veterans would be tempted to disregard the album’s titled advice, these fellows are determined to keep their eye – and ears – on the future. Don’t panic, the albums is very strongly rooted in blues history, but there’s much happening here than empty nostalgia. These southern masters of sound are most excited about the days ahead. And with the legacy they’re working hard to keep alive, they’re providing good reason for that excitement to be shared.
Don’t Look Back: The Muscle Shoals Sessions
2014 was a year of changes for the supergroup. Guitar man Mike Zito left the band in October and Bart Walker stepped into his role without missing a lick. Allman also left in the same year to be replaced by yet another gifted member of a family with strong blues credentials, Tyrone Vaughan – son of Jimmie
, nephew of Stevie Ray
. As expected, the band kept rolling along, and keeps rolling to this day. Their latest release is called Don’t Look Back, a curious title for a band with a strong connection to the music world’s celebrated past. Perhaps it is a hint to the bands approach to staying young. Keep looking ahead, they seem to be advising us, keep delighting fans, keep creating and recreating the music that made the past to relentlessly soulful. On further reflection, Don’t Look Back sounds more like a mission statement than an album title.