Taking the stage Friday night at Stella Blues in Kihei, Rick Vito will front a trio featuring bassist Lenny Castellanos and drummer Kris Thomas. Focusing on the rock and blues roots music he loves, the acclaimed guitarist/singer brings a collective history to the gig that includes playing with an astonishing array of leading artists.
That extensive list includes Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Stevie Nicks, John Mayall, John Fogerty, Roy Orbison, the Byrds' Roger McGuinn, Little Richard, Delany and Bonnie and most recently, jamming with Carlos Santana.
Vito was part of a little rock history- making on New Year's Eve at Mala Wailea when Santana sat in with Mick Fleetwood and his band playing "Black Magic Woman" together for the first time.
BILL PIÉ photo
Rick Vito and Carlos Santana showed their mutual admiration New Year’s Eve at Mala Wailea.
TriStar Pictures photo
Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters in “Cadillac Records,” showing Wednesday at the MACC.
A huge hit for Santana and a staple in his concerts, the song was originally composed and recorded by Peter Green with Fleetwood Mac.
"Santana's early roots are in the blues and it was no trouble for him to step on stage with us," Vito reports. "It was a lot of fun trading guitar solos with somebody of that stature. We played our own version and Carlos joined in, and he did a fine job."
Now making his home on Maui, besides playing the occasional date with Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band, Vito has been touring as the lead guitarist and singer with the new Mick Fleetwood Blues Band.
Paying homage to the blues-rock roots of Fleetwood Mac, the Maui-based quartet toured Europe in October, drawing rave reviews.
"The European tour was a total joy; we did 21 dates in 30 days," notes Vito. "It was a great turnout. People really missed hearing the early version of Fleetwood Mac, the blues years. They were very appreciative. It was a great experience. I think Mick was touched by the reaction. I expected it because I've been going over there for years. I know how people revere that music."
While on tour in Germany, the legendary drummer and guitarist appeared on the popular TV music show "Rockpalast" playing a snippet of "Oh Well" unplugged. With Vito on National Resonator and Fleetwood tapping away on some metal stairs, the duo launched into the classic Mac tune. The video clip is posted at: www.rockpalast.de/konzerte/2008/the_mick_fleetwood_blues_band/backstage/the_mick_fleetwood_blues_band.phtml.
"That was impromptu," says Vito chuckling. "They said, 'Play something,' and that was the first thing that came to mind."
With Fleetwood gearing up for a massive new tour with Fleetwood Mac, Vito reports he's fronting a spin-off band called Blue Again, without the drummer. "It's still a celebration of early Fleetwood Mac," he says. "And we actually have quite a few gigs for the Island Rumours Band without Mick. We intend to keep the flame going and carry on in his absences and welcome him back at every opportunity."
While he's now enjoying living in the islands, as a child in Philadelphia, Vito first tried playing his mother's Hawaiian steel guitar. "My mother used to play Hawaiian lap steep guitar in the 1930s," he explains. "She used to play with a bunch of girls that played Hawaiian music on the radio."
Initially playing the music of pop musicians like Duane Eddy and the Ventures, he gravitated to the Rolling Stones and then to the blues greats.
"When the Stones came along and were doing all that blues stuff on their early records, that was a real education for me," he recalls. "I started taking notice of the original artists, just like so many other people."
Vito got his first major break when he sat in with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, whose band would at times feature such stellar musicians as Eric Clapton, Duane Allman and Leon Russell.
"It all changed overnight for me," he recalls. "I was listening to records by Delaney and Bonnie with Eric Clapton and they were doing a mixture of blues and gospel and all this really cool roots music that I totally related to. I realized that if these guys could do that, it was something I could see myself doing. When they came to town, I introduced myself, and they invited me to sit in. They played a blues number and I was playing pretty good at that point - it brought the house down. About six months later, I moved to Los Angeles and they hired me and took me on the road. I first met Mick through their keyboard player in 1972.
It's a reflection of Vito's formidable talent that over the years, he's been invited to play with so many great musicians.
Doors kept opening for him, beginning in 1974, when he joined a new version of the Bluesbreakers fronted by John Mayall, recording four albums with the British blues legend. Over time Mayall's band had been a launching pad for a host of influential players including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor and Mick Fleetwood.
"John was looking for a new guitar player," he recalls. "We played two numbers and he said, 'OK, that's it, you're in.' I said, 'Really?' He said, 'I heard what I needed to hear.' We went in the studio two weeks later, and toured all around the world."
Next up he was hired by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds to join a new group, the Thunderbyrds, recording an album and briefly touring Europe.
As the 1980s dawned, Vito was then hired by Bonnie Raitt. First playing on the album "Green Light," their enduring association included a world tour in 1999.
Jackson Browne was also impressed by Vito's guitar skills, and he became a member of Browne's band between 1982 and 1985, playing lead and singing on the "Lawyers In Love" album.
When legendary rocker Bob Seger was looking for a rootsy guitar sound for the middle section of a song he was working on called "Like A Rock," he contacted Vito.
"It was an overdub, the first take, and he loved it," Vito recalls.
Writing in the liner notes of his "Greatest Hits" collection, Seger enthused: "It was the single most spectacular overdub I'd ever heard."
Vito initially had to convince the rocker that a slide solo would work best. "I said I'd like to try a slide guitar and he said, 'No, I don't think that's it.' He was really reluctant."
A massive hit, later immortalized in a long-running Chevy truck commercial, Vito received no royalty credit for his memorable contribution.
"When you're hired as a session player, anything you create becomes the property of the artist," he notes. "In that case here's something that I created that took up a good two minutes on the record. I would have made millions if I could have claimed a writer's credit."
After touring and recording with Seger, Vito next got a phone call in late 1987 from an English drummer looking to hire a replacement for Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac.
"I had come off the Seger tour with the feeling that something really good was going to happen," he says. "I had played with Mick on a session with Billy Burnette about a year earlier, and we had talked about the early Fleetwood Mac days, and he appreciated my affinity for that era. About three weeks before Lindsey left, Mick came and sat in with my band at a club I was playing. Then I got the phone call."
As an actual member of Fleetwood Mac, Vito spent five years with the band embarking on two major world tours and playing on two albums including "Behind The Mask," which featured several of his own songs.
"I am still proud that I was asked to join the band rather than be hired as a guitarist," he says.
It was Vito who suggested the band dig back into its early catalogue for concert material.
"They asked if I wanted to sing something and I thought about the real cool songs from the Peter Green era that they had all but abandoned. So I pulled out things like 'I Loved Another Woman' and 'Rattlesnake Shake.' Mick and John (McVie) were all over it. It turned out to be a nice highlight of the shows with just the guys playing. Audiences really appreciated it."
Vito's deep affection for Fleetwood Mac's early blues-rock roots led him to play with one of the biggest bands in the world and to deepen a connection with one of the group's founders into the 21st century on Maui.
"Our relationship is stronger now then even when I was a member of the band," he concludes. "We realize that after all these years that music, and that kind of music, which includes the stuff I write, is what we enjoy playing the most. And we have a commitment to keep playing it as long as we're around."
* The Rick Vito Band play Stella Blues at 9 p.m. Friday. Special guests are expected. Admission is $15. Call 874-3779.
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With a sterling cast including Beyonce as Etta James, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf and Mos Def as Chuck Berry, "Cadillac Records" chronicles the rise of an astonishingly talented and influential group of African-American musicians who recorded on the Chess Records label.
Playing as the Maui Film Festival screening in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater Wednesday, although it may not be historically accurate, "Cadillac Records" is highly recommended for music fans.
Making some best-of-the-year lists, The New York Times praised: " 'Cadillac Records' would be worth seeing for the music alone. Mr. Wright's renditions of Muddy Waters's signature songs are more than respectable, while Ms. Knowles's interpretations of Ms. James's hits are downright revelatory."
The Chicago Tribune noted: "the film finds its feet during the exhilarating, sweaty Chess studio sessions, where the film' s cast covers songs from rock 'n' roll to electric blues to soul, from Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied" to James' "At Last."