Show Review – Mike Zito Big Band

Show Review – Mike Zito Big Band

Show Review – Mike Zito Big Band

Show Review – Mike Zito Big Band

Event Center, Port Charlotte – May 13, 2020


Lou Phoenix put together a special evening of music at Port Charlotte’s Event Center. Mike Zito, Alex Lopez, Albert Castiglia, and Johnny Jensen were the featured talent at what proved to be a memorable event. A show that attendees continued to discuss on social media days after the event.

Alex Lopez and The Xpress opened the show and set the tone for the evening with a high energy set. Alex with the XPress (Kenny Hoye on keyboards, Kana Leimbach on drums, and Steve Roberts on bass) featured tracks from the new release “Rising Up”. Young gun Johnny Jensen, himself “rising up” in notoriety, joined the band on stage.

Mike Zito’s Big Band (Matthew Johnson on drums, Doug Byrkit bass, Lewis Stephens on keyboards, Fernando Castillo on trumpet, and Eric Demmer on sax) brought a different sound and style to the stage for Mike. And a most enjoyable sound it is. Mike wears the role of a “big” band leader well.

The band was tight and performed many of the favorites that Mike brings to the stage in his shows. The set began with a song from the forthcoming release Resurrection called “I’ll Make Love To You”, which featured an extended solo from ex-Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown sax player Eric Demmer. The band quickly moved to “Don’t Let the World Get You Down” from Quarantine Blues.

After the award winning “Pearl River”, “I Never Knew a Hurricane”, and a few more from the new release – highlighted by “Don’t Bring me Down” – the band cranked out “Judgement Day” – a version so intense that Matt Johnson’s cymbal fell off the drum riser. And the intensity was just beginning!

Albert Castiglia joined the fun and Mike passed the lead over to Albert who rocked out with “Let The Big Dog Eat”. Mike reclaimed the lead as the band broke into a unique version of “Hey Joe”, which featured a tight solo by Lewis Stevens. Albert introduced Lewis as being a former member of Freddie King’s band and the band played for many what was the highlight of the night: an extended jam of Freddie’s “Boogie Funk” – where Albert torched the stage with his solo. After a keyboard solo by Lewis, Mike jumped in with a solo of his own, and the heat continued until the conclusion of this almost 9-minute version. Wow!

Slowing it down. Mike brought “Gone To Texas” into the set. Always a poignant song, the timing was just right after the intensity of “Boogie Funk”, as it let the crowd recharge before the final jam was to start.

Calling Alex Lopez and Johnny Jensen to the stage, Mike gave up the guitar and led the band through “Dying Day” This version featured solos by Johnny Jensen and Fernando Castillo, whose trumpet solo took the mind directly to New Orleans. Alex Lopez and Lewis added the final solos to this rollicking version that had the crowd up and moving.

Following up with “Wee Wee Hours of the Morning”, this version on this night had special meaning to many in attendance. Mike sang to Renee Bennett, well known to many as the owner of the late-great Bradenton club “Aces”.  Albert joined in honoring Renee with a solo from his knees aimed directly at Renee who was sitting in the front row. Johnny added a marvelous solo while Albert left the stage and Frank Bang took his place.

The collected ensemble concluded the show with “Johnny B Goode”. After 3:30 minutes of music the band and the crowd left with smiles on their faces. What a night of music in Port Charlotte!

Thanks to Jim Hartzell for documenting the event with his wonderful photos.

-Scott Morris

Blues Family Reunites

Blues Family Reunites

Blues Family Reunites

Blues Family Reunites

The 2021 Blues Bash at the Ranch was a true celebration. It was hard to tell who was more excited to be there, the bands for having a stage or the blues fans for finally hearing some live music. Here are the highlights.

The Dottie Kelly Band started the weekend off with a BANG!  Her all-star band included legendary lead guitarist Daryll Rains, Robert Carter on bass, and Maurice Dukes on drums. Dottie’s energy was contagious, and we were off to a great start.

Everyone agreed that Doug Deming & The Jewel Tones have never sounded better. Zac Pomerleau on drums is really reaching “the zone” with his harmonica skills.  And who can put words to what Andrew Gohman is doing to his upright bass. Screaming!!

Next came RB Stone, with Steve Arvey on bass.  RB showed his best “Trans Genre” form.  RB has a very engaging stage presence and tells some great stories.

The best part of Friday night might have been the jam when Dottie Kelly and Steve Arvey went toe to toe and Zac came out from behind the drum kit and just wailed on his harp. We also got a preview of Gabe Stillman.

We would like to thank Spike Stephens for organizing a fireside jam featuring Tas Cru and RB Stone around a glowing fire pit on a chilly evening.  It’s the kind of thing that makes this event truly memorable. Thank you Tas and RB for your warmth also.

On Saturday Brad Vickers and his Vestapolitans entertained us with some great tunes from Elmore James, several from Tampa Red and even Fats Domino! Brad’s great band included Jim Davis on saxophone and clarinet, Bill Rankin on drums, and Marsha Peters on bass and vocals.

Tas Cru and his band deserved to be headliners. His band included Tom Craig working as a sideman, Chris Alexander on keyboard, Sonny Rock on drums, and our very own Bill Hubbard with a stellar bass line.  Local phenom Trey Wanvig even got a brief cameo on guitar.  Stay tuned for more news from your Suncoast Blues Society about Trey.

Dustin Arbuckle and The Damnations put on an energetic crowd pleasing set that had the front stage dance floor packed. This Wichita, Kansas-based band plays a “cross-genre eclectic” mix of music, and they are exceptionally good within this format. Led by Dustin’s voice and skilled harmonica play the band fit very well at this event. Brandon Hudspeth’s guitar playing was among the best heard at this festival.  The crowd surely enjoyed the performance as the band left the stage to a rousing ovation. Having enjoyed Dustin’s music since his days in Moreland & Arbuckle it was a pleasure once again to hear Dustin’s voice and harmonica playing, and now a fan of Brandon’s guitar work.

Tom Craig Band’s set confirmed he wasn’t just a sideman.  His great original tunes included one entitled “Captain Funk” that local photographer Jim Hartzell immediately claimed for his new theme song!  Once again there was Bill Hubbard looking hip holding down that low end, Sonny Rock on drums, and “Detroit” Mike Hepner adding sweet riffs from the keyboards.  Great blues by Tom Craig Band!

Joel DaSilva Band came over from the east coast of Florida and put on a smoking hot set of music. This intense set included creative sounds from blues, rock, and international sounds traced from Joel’s Brazilian roots. A bit of blues, a bit of rockabilly, and some heavy metal smashed together to create an interesting mix of music.

Gabe Stillman Band hit the stage at 8pm and did not disappoint. The noticeably slimmer version of Gabe pitched nothing but love to the audience.  Some of his vocals and lyrics remind one of an early Johnny Lang.  Scorching guitar riffs from this Gibson Guitar Award winner at the International Blues Challenge prevailed. However, this writer would like to thank Gabe for that one slow song.

Eliza Neals performance was electrifying.  Having “Detroit” Mike Hepner on B3 freed Eliza up to do her thing on stage, and she did her thing.  Love that smile. No one was more excited to be back on a stage with a live audience and it showed. Eliza worked it.  Probably one of her best performances ever.

On Sunday Deb Ryder came all the way from California to showcase her blues style. It was great to hear Deb again inserting a little humor into the blues. The crowd favorite was “New Mechanic (Patrick’s Blues)”.  Local keyboard wizard “Professor” Michael Hensley contributed keyboard to this set. Love your groove Deb.

Harper and Midwest Kind added their unique sound to the festivities. Harper is famous for his didgeridoo, but many don’t realize how talented he is on the harmonica.

The James Armstrong Band was a perfect final act with some “True Blues.”  Here came the smooth guitar licks sounding like they were coming from some smoke-filled backroom down the alley. Great finish for a very memorable weekend.

Many thanks to Paul and Jean Benjamin and Greg and Roseanne Herndon.  Also Red the maintenance man.  Thanks also to our local photographers “Captain” Jim Hartzell and Rick Lewis for documenting the event with their high-quality photos. We love y’all!


(Pictures courtesy of Jim Hartzell and Rick Lewis)


Bryan Lee – Dunedin Mardi Gras 2020

Bryan Lee – Dunedin Mardi Gras 2020

Bryan Lee – Dunedin Mardi Gras 2020

Bryan Lee’s Six String Therapy

Our colleague Mike Shivvers over at Blues & Roots Digital Archive completed the editing of the February 2020 Dunedin Mardi Gras Festival performance by blues legend Bryan Lee and his band Six String Therapy.

Sadly, the blues world lost Bryan shortly after this performance and this represents one of his final performances. Thankfully Mike has preserved Bryan’s legend on digital film and he gladly shares it with you on his website.

Bryan Lee – Dunedin Mardi Gras 2020

Playing with Bryan this day as Six String Therapy were Bob Menzies on drums, Ted Fordney on bass, and “Professor” Michael Hensley on keyboards.

Visit Mike’s website and continue to celebrate the legacy of Bryan Lee. He meant so much to the blues world and to this community.

Second Harvest Food Bank is the beneficiary of a recent CD that celebrates Bryan and his music. Follow this link if you would like to obtain of copy of “Bryan Lee Old School Blues“, and help out a worthy cause.


Pasco Blues Fest Review

Pasco Blues Fest Review

Pasco Blues Fest Review

Pasco Blues Fest Review

On a cloudy February 6th the 5th Annual Pasco County Blues Fest was welcomed by a good-sized crowd that was clearly starved to hear their blues music. Kevin and his team at Penguin Productions did a great job pulling it off – a beautiful day spent with friends and live music!

The day started with a blistering set of music by new-to-the-area Memphis Lightning. This trio brings it to the stage! The band is led by showman, “Lightnin’” Thiboutot, who is also superbly talented with guitar. And it showed, clearly, why no one less than Jimmy Vaughn called him “one of the greatest players around today”. High and well-earned praise indeed.

Backed by “Big Red” Thiboutot on bass, and Ephraim Lowell (Roomful of Blues, Albert Castiglia, and Johnny Winter) on drums, the band played tracks from their 2017 release Trouble and the new release Borrowed Time. Featured during the performance were “Great Day” from the 2017 release, and the title track for the current recording. “Borrowed Time” is a song about when “Lightnin’” was diagnosed with cancer, a subject that along with the recovery was weaved into the performance. The band left the stage to a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd.

Next up was the always entertaining Sean Chambers Band. No stranger to the fans in attendance, Sean none-the-less delivered a fine set, highlighted by tracks from his release Whiskey and Trouble, along with songs from the recent Welcome to My Blues recording.

A few raindrops fell as Sean started his set, but they were soon gone for good. The set included the “Red Hot Mama” and the always appreciated “Bullfrog Blues”. Sean brought to the stage guest bassist Pat DeSalvo, who previously performed with Savoy Brown and Kim Simmonds. The band mixed in a nice version of Bob Seger’s “Come to Papa” and “You Don’t Love Me”, popularized by The Allman Brothers on the legendary Fillmore East recording. 

The show’s final act was Damon Fowler Band.  Damon, along with his regular band mates Chuck Riley and Justin Headley never disappoint and this time was no exception. Calling on his wide range of material, Damon played something from just about every part of his large catalog and also included many songs from this forthcoming release Alafia Moon. A good story teller as well as a musician, Damon gave context to a new song that came together while on tour with George Thorogood. Much of Damon’s set was recently reviewed by Suncoast Blues Society at a show in Sarasota, and that review was sent to our Suncoast Blues News subscribers.

The show ended with a jam that included Damon, Sean, Lightnin’ and surprise guest RB Stone that left the crowd wanting more.

The Pasco fest is not as large as some of the more well-known fests in the area but it was highly enjoyable and easily reachable by most within the Suncoast Blues Society geographic area. This reviewer came up from Manatee County and will be back for the next edition. Put this fest on your watch list for 2022!

Roy Book Binder will be performing at Hideaway Café

Roy Book Binder will be performing at Hideaway Café

Roy Book Binder will be performing at Hideaway Café

Musically, Roy Book Binder is difficult to fence in or categorize. His eclectic repertoire includes blues, country tunes, bluegrass, folk, and popular songs that originated on Tin Pan Alley. He fantasizes that if he had been born 50 years earlier, he would have become a minstrel man. One of his musical heroes, Dave Van Ronk, once described himself as a songster. That title might suit Roy as well, his music, a reflection of his long musical journey through the rich American cultural landscape of the last half of the 20th Century.


Roy will be performing at Hideaway Café in St. Petersburg.

The show is on January 30th 2021


Visit the Hideaway Café website for ticket information.

Jose Ramirez & Anson Funderburgh On Tour

Jose Ramirez & Anson Funderburgh On Tour

Jose Ramirez & Anson Funderburgh On Tour

(The following appeared in a recent edition of Suncoast Blues News. If you are not a subscriber and wish to keep up-to-date on blues happenings on the Suncoast, click this link and join the fun!)

Back by popular demand, Jose Ramirez and Anson Funderburgh are on tour and have a few dates in our area.

1/23: Blue Rooster, Sarasota

1/27: Englewood’s On Dearborn, Englewood

1/30: The Palladium, St Petersburgh

About Jose Ramirez

30 years old, At Jose Ramirez is Costa Rica’s premier Blues artist and has played with some of the biggest names in the Blues industry. These artists include Anson Funderburgh, Mark Hummel, Bryan Lee, Shawn Holt and Albert Castiglia. Jose experienced the American Blues scene for a couple of years and played some of the best Blues clubs in the country including Buddy Guy’s Legends and Rosa’s in Chicago, and The Bradfordville Blues Club in Florida. He also played some of the biggest Blues festivals in the U.S. such as the Washington D.C. Blues Festival and the Bonita Springs Blues Festival in Florida. The Jose Ramirez Band finished second at the 2020 International Blues Challenge.

About Anson Funderburgh

There’s a yin and a yang to Anson Funderburgh. His electric guitar burns with Texas fire that Guitar Player Magazine compared to Otis Rush and Magic Sam. But his guitar can also soothe as the subtle support for Delta blues vocalists who have included Sam Myers, Nick Nixon, and Alabama Mike. Anson has that Austin strut, but his Delta creds are highlighted by being the only artist to have played all 31 of Arkansas’ King Biscuit Blues Festivals.