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Arts & Music

Tampa Bay Blues Fest steeped in music tradition

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: April 11, 2013 at 10:59 AM

Dickey Betts doesn't get enough credit for being an integral force in the history of rock. Sure, Duane Allman is near the top of just about every greatest guitarist list but Betts had an even bigger impact as an Allman Brother guitarist.

Duane Allman's life was cut way short. He was a brilliant player but Betts is an unsung hero.

Betts wrote the classic instrumental “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed,” which is arguably the greatest Allman Brother track of all time and “Revival.”

After Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, Betts and Gregg Allman led the Allman Brothers. Betts wrote and sang the band's biggest hit, “Ramblin' Man.”

“I have so many great memories of the Allman Brothers early days,” Betts said. “It was an incredible time. A lot of people look back and think Duane and I were very different players. But we had the same idea about playing. We just went at it a little differently. I had the greatest time with him. I'm proud of my work with the Allmans.”

Betts, who is one of the headliners slated for the Tampa Bay Blues Festival, which is set for Friday through Sunday at Vinoy Waterfront Park, was fired from the band in 2000. That's when he put all of his energy into his solo career.

“Everything comes to an end,” Betts said. “I had a good run with them (the Allman Brothers) but there comes a time when you move on and I've been very happy since then. I do what I want. There isn't that friction. I may not be playing places as big as I played back when (Betts was with the Allmans) but I'm fine playing smaller places. And then I get to play festivals. There you get to see some of these younger, great players.”

One of those bands with younger exceptional players has the surname Allman. Devon Allman's Royal Southern Brotherhood also will play the Blues Festival.

The band is comprised of guitarists Devon Allman and Mike Zito and singer songwriter Cyril Neville.

“It was completely natural,” Zito said. “We're good friends. I've known Devon for 20 years and Cyril for five years.”

It's not just a casual friendship. Zito and Allman worked together at a St. Louis guitar store a dozen years ago and he and Neville wrote the song “Pearl River” in 2009.

“We really click together,” Zito says. “So it made perfect sense for us to form this band.”

The Royal Southern Brotherhood has their own sound thanks to the sensibilities of the three principals. “We each bring something to the table,” Zito said. “Devon is more rock. Cyril is steeped in that New Orleans jazz sound.”

Zito is a pure bluesman, which when matched with the funky, swampy sound Neville, of Neville Brothers fame, makes and Allman's jams, well, it's a terrific sonic potpourri.

“It's a couple different flavors mixed in and just makes for a really good finished product,” Zito said. “It's eclectic.”

The band's eponymous album, which dropped in May, goes in a number of different directions. There is the groove-laden (“Moonlight Over the Mississippi”), Latin-pop (“Fired Up!”) and a poignant ballad “Ways About You,” which was penned by Zito. There's even a cover of the Grateful Dead's reggae-tinged “Fire On The Mountain.”

“I think things formed the way they did because we went into the studio with no intentions,” Zito said. “We just went in and jammed and had fun.”

Zito, Neville and Allman slice the lead vocal detail in thirds. Zito and Allman share guitar leads, which recalls the aforementioned Allman Brother tandem of Allman and Betts.

The band, which also includes bassist Charlie Wooten and drummer Yonrico Scott, wrote a number of stellar songs. The tunes came quickly. After three months, the band had an album's worth of material.

“We played some shows and had that spark,” Zito said. “We knew we had something special here.”

When the band hits the stage, they jam on occasion but they are respectful to the songs they crafted. “Like any good jazz band, we go off on some tangents,” Zito said. “But we do lean on the songs.”

This isn't a one-off project for the Royal Southern Brotherhood. “This is something special and more albums will follow,” Zito said. “We definitely see this as long term.”

Blues guitar hero Jonny Lang, jazzy R&B artist Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, stylish blues act Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, veteran blues vocalist Curtis Salgado and singer-songwriter Tab Benoit, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones and soulful blues singer Janiva Magness are some of the other artists, who will perform at the festival.

The Palladium in downtown St. Petersburg also is hosting After Shows with Dave Fields, Magness and Lucky Peterson playing Friday.

Marquise Knox, Salgado and Sugar Ray & The Bluenotes will play Saturday.

Both shows start at 10:15 p.m. and cost $20 each at The Palladium, 253 Fifth Ave., N., St. Petersburg. For tickets or more information go to www.tampabaybluesfest.com and www.mypalladium.org

'TAMPA BAY BLUES FEST'

Who/When: 12:30 p.m. Friday – Dickey Betts & Great Southern, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, Janiva Magness, Lucky Peterson and Dave Fields

12:30 p.m. Saturday – Jonny Lang, Curtis Salgado, Sugar Ray And the Bluetones, Eddy 'The Chief' Clearwater and Marquise Knox

1 p.m. Sunday – Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Tab Benoit, Royal Southern Brotherhood: Cyril Neville, Devon Allman & Mike Zito, Walter 'Wolfman' Washington and Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Players

Where: Vinoy Waterfront Park, 1535 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., St. Petersburg

Tickets: $40 for single day; $150 single day VIP Tent and front row seating $150; $350 three-day VIP Tent and front row seating (cash only at festival); (727) 895-6153 and www.tampabaybluesfest.com

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