I’d interviewed Tommy Castro and his band when they played at the Cabooze last spring, and had a chance to catch up after they opened for Delbert McClinton at the Medina. Again, they were generous with their time for fans. The big news is that they have a new CD and DVD out in January, which consists of their live performance at Fillmore for the Right As Rain CD release. Anyone who has seen this band live knows that live performance is their forte. You’ll never see anyone so happy to be playing music. As drummer Billy Lee Lewis puts it, "We’re all thrilled to be onstage every single night because we know how lucky we are. If it wasn’t for this, we’d be supersizin’ it somewhere."
Carlos Santana says of Tommy Castro, " The blues are in good hands." It's hard to disagree with anything Santana says, and here's more proof. This is another case of blues pros who have been paying their dues for years and becoming another overnight sensation. This is another band that has spent so much time on the road both here and abroad, that it's brought their music to a higher level. Bands that tour constantly seem to reach a crossroads that either makes or breaks them. They either get road-weary or energized.
Castro's dedication of Right as Rain "to the woman who bought him his first guitar - his mother" echoes sax player Keith Crossan's belief that it all starts with a real love of your instrument from the minute you pick it up. His face lit up as he remembered starting to play the sax in elementary school. This passion for music is evident from the minute the band hits the stage. This band puts on a head-on performance, yet individual band members are not too detached to serenade pretty women near the stage.
After autographing CD's post-performance, band members were generous with their time and talkative. I asked if it was difficult to make the transition from the traditionally longer blues pieces to more radio-friendly cuts. For example, what I miss about Johnny Lang's performances and recordings is the longer pieces, like the unforgettable rendition of Cold Shot he played at his last appearance at Cedarfest. Castro replied, lots of guys can play guitar - that's no big deal ! What he expressed admiration for was Johnny Lang's singing style. I mentioned that the first few years of Lang's career he didn't sing at all while his voice changed and that what first got recognition was his guitarwork. Castro said anything you need to say in a song you can get done in four minutes. Perhaps that's the core of this band's sound. Each song is performed all-out and focused, like it's the last song they're ever going to play. There are no wasted notes, and none left out. And yet there's plenty of time in their songs for excellent solo work.
Castro was more elusive about the process of songwriting. In describing how he wrote Lucky in Love, I was reminded of Springsteen's realization that he had to write what was true for him, as in "came home in the morning." Castro's songs are more life affirming material than standard blues material as clued by songtitles: Lucky in love, Like an angel - whose lyrics came from a band member's Parisian wedding vows, and I Got to Change. There are no broken hearted love songs here.
Of the Comedy Showcase gig, Castro said, "it was just a thing that happened. All we did was send in a tape and our was picked. No audition. A season's shows are taped in one week - it's an easy gig. We just have to be on cue for short blasts." He was tickled by the fact that on Saturday nights, the band will be live onstage and appearing on tv simultaneously.
Sometimes great live acts don't translate to great CD's. Anyone who hears Right as Rain will find something to love: great guitarwork, swingin sax and keyboards, kickin drumwork, right-on vocals. The band is backed by briefly by Delbert McClinton and Dr. John who are recognizable but not intrusive. This CD demonstrates the diversity of blues, from swingin blues reminiscent of Roomful Of Blues to heavier ZZTop echoes to Memphis keys and vocals. Each song is memorable. There isn't a stinker in the bunch.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Rebecca West, 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.