Bluesman Tommy Castro isn’t feeling so horny | AspenTimes.com

Bluesman Tommy Castro isn’t feeling so horny

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Tommy Castro

CARBONDALE – Being a blues player, Tommy Castro has developed a keen sense of trusting his instinct, bending a guitar string or phrasing a line to match the emotions of that particular moment. “One of the things I’ve learned about business, music, life is, the more I go with my instincts, the better off it turns out,” Castro said while overseeing some tour bus mishaps, and trying to get to the next gig, in Lincoln, Neb. “That’s something you learn after you’ve been around a while.”At 57, Castro is hardly old by old-blues-guy standards. And since he got off to something of a late start, not releasing his first album under his own name till he was 40, he hasn’t been around the music scene all that long. Still, when Castro’s internal dialogue started whispering that it was time to take a fairly major artistic turn, he was wise enough to listen.Earlier this year, Castro reconfigured his band. The horn section that had become a central, even defining aspect of the Tommy Castro Band was replaced by no horns at all. A new keyboardist, James Pace, was added. Bassist Randy McDonald, who had been a member of the original band before taking a five-year hiatus, was brought back in. Drummer Byron Cage, who had been playing with Castro for a year, was the only member of the previous band who was retained.”It’s a new plan, a new direction, a fresh approach, a reboot,” said Castro, who appears with his new group, Tommy Castro & the Painkillers, on Saturday at 8 p.m. at PAC3 in Carbondale. “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. And I have no desire to keep doing the same thing over and over. I’m an artist. I can’t do the same thing with the same instrumentation and sound.”Consider: Castro has released approximately a dozen albums, and kept a steady schedule of some 150 gigs a year, and all of it was structured to accommodate the presence of horns in the mix. (Saxophonist Keith Crosson was the regular saxophonist from the beginning; four years ago, the horn section expanded with the addition of trumpeter Tom Poole. “Everything we played live, everything we recorded, had two horns in it,” Castro said. “And that was a beautiful thing; I loved that sound. There were a lot of things you could do with that. I made three good record with that full horn sound. But I thought it would be time for me to do something different. There’s a lot of music I love that doesn’t have horns, and I thought I’d explore that.”A big part of that exploration is Castro giving himself more room to stretch out as a guitarist. Castro, a native of San Jose who began playing in cover bands in San Francisco in the 1970s, hasn’t considered himself a first-rate guitarist. “I don’t play a lot of guitar. I play songs and I sing and I’m a bandleader. The song itself is the thing that sticks out. If I existed on how well I play guitar, I’d be out of business long ago,” Castro, whose honors include the Blues Foundation’s Entertainer of the Year award, told The Aspen Times in 2007. In the more recent interview, he added, “I never felt like I quite arrived as a guitar player. Never felt happy with my guitar playing, no matter how many people tell me how great I am. I know great guitar players, and I have a way to go.”Over the last few years, Castro decided to see if he could step it up as an instrumentalist, to join the ranks of his favorites, a list that includes several younger acts (Derek Trucks, Robert Randolph, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark Jr. and the Black Keys) as well as Joe Louis Walker and the late Michael Burks, who died in May. “In my band before, with so many great soloists, I could be just the bandleader, and get a little lazy like that,” Castro said. Reducing the size of the band “would put a little more pressure on me as a guitarist.”Having spent nearly a year leading the new, smaller band, Castro judges the experiment a success; his instincts were right. “I’m playing more and I’m playing better,” he said. “I have a little something more to say on guitar. It was scary, a little scary to make these drastic changes. But I had a vision, a concept. It’s worked out real well, just how I had hoped. I’m having the most fun I’ve had in years. But I wasn’t sure that would be the case.”Castro & the Painkillers have been putting the new sound to the test in the studio. They have released a two-song vinyl recording that highlights the tune “Greedy, which is more notable for its pointed sociopolitical message than for Castro’s guitar solo. The band is at work on an album for the Chicago-based Alligator label. At the moment, Castro has no plans to use any horns on the album, but he allows that he will let his instincts, rather than his preset plans, guide him.”Who knows? Maybe there will be a track where we want to do something like that again,” he said. “But I don’t think so. I want to explore this new territory, this new sound.”stewart@aspentimes.com

Go back to article