Rick Castaldo claims he changed his name because, upon moving from Connecticut to the Roaring Fork Valley, Coloradans couldn’t quite handle the Italian surname properly. “My mother always said, `They’re not your people out there,’ ” said the former Rick Castaldo.The local musician, a constant presence in the clubs since the early ’80s, hardly seems unhappy with the name he settled on. His chosen name is simple to pronounce, alliterative and full of meaning. In fact, it almost seems that Rick Castaldo should have had the name since birth: Rick Rock.”I’ve earned that name,” said Rock, preparing for his bartending shift at the Woody Creek Tavern. “People get a kick out of that name. I love rock ‘n’ roll, and I’ve been playing rock ‘n’ roll in bars for 34 years. I’m 50, and I played my first gig at a bar in Connecticut when I was 13.”Rock recalls that 1963 gig in detail, and those details give an indication where Castaldo’s rock ‘n’ roll attitude came from: Castaldo’s first gig was at a Connecticut country club; his bandmates were all blue-blood country-club brats. Castaldo wasn’t exactly from the slums; his father was a doctor. But Castaldo was no blue blood either; his father had grown up poor. And in a world of Anglo-Saxon Protestants, Castaldo was from Italian stock. His bandmates called him “the wop.” But in that first band, the Truckin’ Mamas, the music was what counted most.”I was a good drummer, and we got along right away,” said Rock.Despite the taunts from his mates, Castaldo’s rock ‘n’ roll attitude never encompassed outright anger. Growing up first on Elvis and Little Richard, and then the British Invasion bands, especially the Beatles and Rolling Stones and their respective drummers, Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts, Castaldo developed an intensity that was mainly expressed in passion for playing music.”It wasn’t rebellious,” said Rock of his early attitude. “It was more of that happy-go-lucky, Beatles times. Your parents thought it was kind of cute. You played these parties, and it was fun.”As his teen years wound down, Castaldo set his sights on something other than music, and attended Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. But he quickly realized where his passions lie, and he moved back to Connecticut, where he could attend Fairfield University and play music with his old high school buddies. It was then that Castaldo had the realization that, while playing music might be a passing fancy for his friends, he was destined to be Rick Rock for a good long time.”That’s when things started to get weird for me in music. That’s when I began to realize that all my friends weren’t going to be playing music forever,” said Rock. “That’s when I realized I had to keep playing. I couldn’t stop. It felt really lonely, because you realize all these people aren’t going to be with you forever.”I knew I wasn’t going to be famous unless something strange happened. But I knew I was going to probably play bars all my life.”Castaldo dropped his high school pals in favor of playing with his brother Louis in the Bro Band, and he added guitar-playing and singing to his resume. The band toured through the States for eight months before coming to a halt. Castaldo went on to travel Europe alone for a year, playing bars and street corners from Paris to Tel Aviv. Back in the States, Castaldo spent several years substitute teaching by day and doing a solo club act at night.Around this time, Castaldo was also playing in a trio with Tommy Hoeflick and Brian Kelly. In 1981, Hoeflick moved to the Roaring Fork Valley and persuaded both Castaldo and Kelly to join him a few months later. The three continued playing as the Basalt-based band Rainbow, which eventually turned into Tommy & the Sharks.Castaldo found it tough to break into the Aspen music scene, and Basalt wasn’t exactly hopping with music at the time. So Castaldo, now starting to be known as Rick Rock, created his own music scene. He bought the Midland Bar in downtown Basalt, and turned the old bar into a rocking juke joint.”I bought the bar so I could play,” said Rock. “It was like the father who coached his son’s baseball team so his son could play.”By the time Rock established the Midland as a live-music venue, his name could as easily have been Ricky Blue. Hoeflick had introduced Rock to the blues as played by Stevie Ray Vaughn, and after Rock saw Vaughn at a Red Rocks gig, he was hooked. Soon, the Midland became a hot spot not only for Rock’s own bands, but for such national blues acts as A.C. Reed, Big Daddy Kinsey, Duke Robillard and Marcia Ball.It was the blues that led Rock into perhaps his best-known band, the 12Bar Flies, which played up and down the valley through the mid-’90s. With singer-guitarist Josh Phillips and late bassist Chris Richards joining Rock, the 12Bar Flies were united by a love of the electric, Stevie Ray-style blues. The three started with a common repertoire of blues tunes, including a large helping of Vaughn songs.The narrow focus on Vaughn and the blues, said Rock, would turn out to be the band’s downfall. With a substantial amount of initial material to draw from, the Bar Flies rarely practiced or came up with their own arrangements of songs. Moreover, Rock loved the blues, but was still a rocker at heart. Phillips, still in his teens when the band was formed, had grown up on hard rock, and was somewhat hemmed in by the blues style.”The problem with the Bar Flies that I saw was we never practiced,” said Rock. “We had the same song list for three years. And new songs we did learn weren’t suited for us. We stayed in that blues mode, and we should have busted out of it. We just didn’t make the effort to do it, and we just got sick of what we were doing.”Rock is not a huge fan of jazz, and he thinks he went “a little overboard” in his embrace of the blues some years ago. At 50, Rick remains a rocker. At his weekly Thursday-night solo gig at the Ship of Fools in Carbondale, he does what he calls “folkier stuff and heart-felt rock ‘n’ roll” – lots of Dylan, Stones and more. His three-piece rock-band Cardboard Soul performs occasionally, and he jams at home with his son James, a budding drummer and guitarist.Rick may still rock, but he is dismayed by what he sees happening with rock ‘n’ roll. He still finds plenty of younger bands he likes – Ben Harper, North Mississippi All Stars – but he finds that rock ‘n’ roll has been co-opted by the record company suits. In throwback rock ‘n’ roll style, Rock can work up a good rant about the current state of the music.”Real rock ‘n’ roll means as much to me as it always has,” said Rock, who sold the Midland several years ago and now works bartending shifts at the Woody Creek Tavern and other valley bars between his gigs. “To me, though, there’s so little real rock ‘n’ roll coming out. I can’t believe what they’re feeding youth. The garbage that MTV is spewing, forcing down people’s throats, it’s awful. I haven’t seen a chick singer that doesn’t look like a model since Janis Joplin. It’s like you have to be a model. Everything’s a package. The artist is a commodity. And the people who are selling the music are the producers and the recording engineers, and they’re selling the package.”Rock’s diatribe doesn’t end with music by and for the youth market. Some of his favorite players, he believes, have sold their souls – and not for rock ‘n’ roll, but for the money and glory.”Take Clapton, from his days in Cream, when he really busted out,” said Rock. “You take his solo `Crossroads,’ from the `Wheels on Fire’ album, and it just blows away anything that he’s done since. Everything he does now, it’s commercial. He must feel that himself.”To play rock ‘n’ roll, you have to stay hungry. And people like Clapton and Phil Collins, I don’t think they can feel that anymore. Dylan seems to hold his hunger. But these guys have lost their edge. Real rock ‘n’ roll is not about what you’re supposed to sound like, but what you feel like.”One thing Rock says rock ‘n’ roll was not about, for him and his generation, was hate. There was rage and anger in the music, but it was directed, he said, to a more positive end than much of today’s angst-laden rock.”The music’s too full of hate,” said Rock, as the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” an anthem of rock-led rebellion if ever there was one, comes over the stereo at the tavern. “Rock `n’ roll was not about hate. It was about revolution and freedom. It wasn’t about slitting your wrists because life is awful. That takes the fun out of it.”Rock continues to have fun with his rock. “I still have rock ‘n’ roll energy,” he said. “It’s amazing what your body can do if you keep that rock ‘n’ roll energy. Rock can keep you young.”
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