The Tommy Castro Band has been making waves both here and abroad. After listening to his groundbreaking debut album with Blind Pig Records: 1996, "Exception To The Rule," I knew that this cat was going to become a major gun in the business. Tommy's a guy that takes chances and isn't afraid of change. He can crossover rock barriers and re-define blues into his own personal voice. Believe me, he has paid his dues in the clubs long before the blues renaissance took hold after the 70s. Most of us escaped to Europe or faded into obscurity. Tommy was young and kept a candle burning in the San Francisco scene and remained immensely popular. Since the first record, four more have followed and with each new release his popularity grows. He has been written-up in blues magazines and the mainstream periodicals as well. When a blues artist attracts the attention of devote rockers' everyone benefits. It's truly a beautiful thing to see and hear that young kids are exploring the blues, and asking questions about the genre. The Castro Band is busy and of course, the tours are relentless. I would like to personally, applaud Tommy for partaking in this interview, and thank Blind Pig Records for making it happen-let's get to the interview!
D.H. Tommy, I've been in your corner since day one. Tell me about your earliest influences.
T.C. It came about through the British invasion. Listening to the Stones, Yardbirds, and all the cool tunes. Checking the credits, names like Muddy Waters would pop-up in the credits. Eventually, I started checking out those guys and found Chess Records. The "Fathers and Sons" album led to the discovery of people like Mike Bloomfield.
D.H. I think that's how most kids discovered the blues back then. In speaking for myself, I had discovered the bluesmen like Elmore James, Muddy, and Walter through late night radio waves out of the South. We didn't know that white people were singing and playing blues until I found a John Hammond record, and one by Koerner, Ray, & Glover at a local record shop in 1964.
T.C. Living in California, we couldn't pick-up the blues stations out of the South. It was hit or miss at the record shops-you had to do some searching. Friends would turn me onto great records, too.
D.H. Jesus, do you remember Bloomfield's fret work on the East/West (Paul Butterfield Blues Band) album?
T.C. Man, Bloomfield was great; I don't really think he realized how good he was until it was to late.
D.H. I agree.
D.H. When I plug in it's with a Tele for rhythm and slide work. Have you always played Fender Strats?
T.C. No. I started out with a Gibson Les Paul, but it didn't have that nice fat sound that Strats have. They also have a fast thin neck.
D.H. After all these years of playing, I've just now discovered the Strat action through my son's guitar.
T.C. You better go buy one (laughing)!
D.H. I'm planning on it, but I'm a little low on the cash flow 'bro-you want to donate (laughing)!
T.C. Hell no-I've got to make a living (laughing)!
D.H. I love your style and choice of material. You've got a unique cross-blend going. I'd love to hear you cover the Classics IV, "Spooky" (hell, I'd love to sing it with you!). Another song that comes to mind is the Lenny Welch monster hit "Since I Fell For You" Man, you have the heart and necessary soul to pull it off. What do you think?
T.C. There are so many cool songs out there. Just thinking of the Stax/Volt ballads, Wilson Pickett comes to mind along with a host of endless talent. That's one place to dip into when I want to do a cover.
D.H. I think you're a damn fine songwriter. With each release, there's a new and exciting energy flow. Do you prefer your own material?
T.C. Absolutely. I want to make my own thing happen with the band and keep it fresh. I can feel the improvement in my writing abilities from the 1rst and 3rd album. But hell, I'm just a beginner in that department.
D.H. Well, if you're a beginner; I must be an idiot! (laughing)
D.H. Let's talk about blues and rock crossovers. I've always felt there's room to grow and expand without losing respect for the past masters-it's one of my biggest arguments. How do you feel on the subject?
T.C. I'm with you. Even the masters learned from the pop tunes in their time. Jimmy Reed was for dancing, and look at all the cool stuff Taj has done throughout his career.
D.H. Man, you can find the roots of rap through field hollers and songs like "Hambone," you can invent your own lyrics each time you sing it. I've rapped it out on stage beating 2/4 time with a pair of cow bones I found. Slim Harpo's biggest hit was a C&W hit, "Raining In My Heart." There are endless examples.
T.C. You got that right. And look at the club warriors that play mixes 7 days a week in towns across America-doing the songs that the fans want to hear. Johnny Nitro is a 'Frisco legend in the clubs. He plays all the time and never records. I learned a lot from him.
D.H. In Twin Town, we've got the Inside Straight Blues Band that play their asses off and haven't recorded. We've got a wealth of other about-town bands that also play just to be playing. There out there in the rural areas doing the same thing as well. It's all to cool, man.
D.H. Have you ever considered doing an acoustic solo project?
T.C. Not really. I dig working with the band. I have thought about doing a traditional blues album someday-but not without the band.
D.H. I think that your "Live At The Fillmore" record deserves a best live recording award at the Handy's, and it's countdown. Have you heard any rumors floating?
T.C. No. I haven't heard anything on that score, but that would be very cool! Man, I'm glad you dug the CD.
D.H. What an honor-to play at the Fillmore! And Blind Pig filmed it on DVD/VHS format; I can hardly wait to see it! were you pumped?
T.C. Oh man, you better believe it! (laughing). It was a dream come true, and the Fillmore is an excellent place to play right down to the seating. When I was a kid, I caught a lot of shows at the Fillmore-beautiful!
D.H. How's about picks and slides. Do you ever play with a thumb/index combo or flat?
T.C. I use a Dunlop 1mm flat. They have a little bend to them, and I use my fingers to get a slide effect like B.B. King.
D.H. I like to use the heaviest Dunlops or Clayton flat picks. Luther Allison taught me how to use a flat pick and slide technique, and for picking; I'd tuck the pick into my palm and finger the strings.
T.C. Man, I tuck my pick and use my fingers to for fast runs.
D.H. We've got a lot in common-except for guitar-you'd bury me! (laughing)
D.H. Here's a question that has nothing to do with music: Do you like to go fishing?
T.C. (laughing) No. I like to eat them.
D.H. I told Theresa at the Chicago office that I'd like to kidnap you and go fishing (laughing). But you can come over to the house and eat all the fish you want when you get the time.
T.C. Okay (laughing).
*Note: Talking with Tommy was pure joy and believe me, this interview could've gone on forever. We touched on so many areas from politics to dogs and you name it! He's a true gentleman and a brother to the people.
This interview is copyright © 2000 by Dick Houff, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.
Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.