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Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, StageOne, Fairfield, CT – 3/22

Photo by Michel Verlinden

Unusually warm March weather must have reminded Tommy Castro of his home in California and his show recalled another Californian with a knack for channeling Southern soul and Delta blues – John Fogerty. Foregoing the horn section this time around, he led a crackling, stripped down band that added plenty of grit and the boss keeps this version of the Painkillers on their toes by regularly switching around the set list.

Castro is a good singer and a top notch musician, but what sets him apart from the pack is the ability to lift any number of styles from his kit bag and let fly. A veteran of the blues boom of the 1980s, he has developed a supple style that roams the blues-rock spectrum and on songs like “Love Don’t Care” and “Shakin’ The Hard Times Loose”, a voice that brings to mind Delbert McClinton and the late Willy DeVille. Elsewhere the blue-collar groove of “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”, the title track from his 1997 release, came across much coarser in the club setting. Castro talked of his youth learning songs by listening to records, so we got a trawl through his collection – Howlin’ Wolf’s “44 Blues”, Buddy Guy’s “Let Me Love You Baby” and a loose take on Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Another highlight came in one of the newer tunes, “Monkey’s Paradise” where the guitar work comes to the fore, with speedy chord changes and a rambunctious rhythm. It’s from Hard Believer, his most recent studio record on Alligator, a label that should be a good fit for him; while the rocking soul of “Old Habits Die Hard” dates from his long ago stint with The Dynatones. Later, ten minutes of John Lee Hooker’s “Serves Me Right To Suffer” at full gallop closed the first set and Byron Cage’s jackhammer drumming saw his sticks splintering, a version that would’ve met with the approval of the Boogie Man himself.

While Holland-Dozier’s “Chairman of the Board” came out four decades ago, Castro’s take on it is a breath of fresh air, but with a familiar scent. Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” had Mark Zaretsky from The Cobalt Rhythm Kings join the stage to play harp, a nice accent. Many in the capacity crowd viewed Castro as an old pal, after a jaw-dropping solo one guy walked up onto the stage to give a high-five, which he got. After thirty-odd years on the road, it’s more than deserved.


There are 3 comments associated with this post

guitarist johnson April 5, 2012, 03:00:08

Tommy Castro is an American blues, R&B and rock and blues guitar and singer. In 2008 he won the Blues Music Award for Entertainer Of The Year. He began playing guitar at the 10 and was influenced and inspired by electric blues, Chicago blues, west coast blues, soul music…an so on..

Grimaldo April 24, 2012, 02:09:25

No matter what style of music you are paynilg I guess the main thing is to play it with feeling and passion. Go back and and listen to some of the early blues like Robert Johnson , Muddy Waters , Howlin’ Wolf and guys like that. Then check out some Clapton , SRV , Robert Cray, then some Kenny Wayne Shepard , Johnny Lang , Indiginous (probably not spelled right , lol) Gary Moore, Keb Mo etc ..etc .You will find that each of these artists cook up the blues in their own way but at the same time the 12 bar blues is their main ingredient and they aren’t just going through the motions they are feeling the music. Just because a guy can play the blues scale and bend a few notes doesn’t make him a blues player , the passion has to be there!

angela_k April 7, 2013, 18:25:13

Grimaldo – Exactly. Tommy Castro is all of that and more. He also lets his exceptional band SHINE and has such a good time doing it. Great guys, incredible artists individually and together.

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