Castro and The Painkillers return with ‘The Devil You Know’
Guitarist Tommy Castro has been playing the blues since his 20s and has made a mark on the scene with an array of awards including being named the 2010 Blues Music B.B. King Entertainer of the Year.
He’s played with the Dynatones and has shared the stage with Carla Thomas, Albert King and has opened for B.B. King.
A little more than 11 months ago, Castro and his band The Painkillers released their new album, "The Devil You Know," and garnered more awards including Blues Blast magazine’s 2014 Rock Blues Album of the Year and the Cascade Blues Association’s Muddy Award for National Recording.
"The album hasn’t been out for a whole year, yet, so it was cool to get these mentions," Castro told The Park Record during a telephone interview from his home in San Rafael, California. "Blues Blast is one of the more prominent blues magazines in the country right now and the Muddy Award was named after one of the greats, Muddy Waters. You gotta love that, right?"
Park City will get the opportunity to see Castro and The Painkillers in action when they play three nights at the Egyptian Theatre, starting on Sunday, Dec. 21.
"That’s going to be nice to be able to stay put for a few days," Castro said. "I’m not a really good skier, but I have done it. So I may get a day in.
"I know Randy (McDonald), our bassist, will be out there on the slopes," he said. "And I’m bringing my girlfriend out to spend a couple of days with me."
It was actually McDonald that helped Castro get The Painkillers together a couple of years ago.
"I’ve been playing music for a long time and made a lot of records and for a while I had a bigger band with some horns," Castro said. "We did a lot of nice work and I really enjoyed that, but no matter what song I wrote it would always have that big sound.
"So, I wanted to see what I could do next and at that time Randy, who is a very creative force, was coming back into the band," he said. "Once he came back, we put our heads together and thought about our direction and future of the music."
The two came up with The Painkillers idea, which involved a leaner, more-rocking sound, and eventually recruited drummer David Tucker and keyboardist James Pace.
One of the band’s first times out as the Painkillers was at the Egyptian Theatre nearly two years ago, according to Castro.
"The only thing we could play on the road at that time, however, was my old songs," he said. "We couldn’t play new material because it would all wind up on YouTube.
"That was kind of a drag because we used to road test new songs and adjust them before we recorded them," Castro said. "Now you have to have a plan and really rehearse the songs and cut the songs in the studio before playing them live."
That meant there was a lot of time between forming the band and recording "The Devil You Know," but that only helped Castro’s creativity blossom.
"We don’t want to bore people and I think it’s better as an artist to bring new sounds and material to the audience," he said. "I still like the fact that things are changing in the band and we are continuing to write better. When you really think about it, I’m still learning how to play the guitar."
Once the band got the songs together, it went into the studio with producer Bonnie Hayes.
That’s when things really began to take shape, because Castro’s friends — including Marcia Ball, Tab Benoit, Joe Bonamassa, The Holmes Brothers, Samantha Fish, Mark Karan, Magic Dick and Tasha Taylor — all dropped in to lay some tracks.
"I had talked with Joe earlier and he told me he would be happy to be on the album and I wasn’t going to let him off the hook," Castro said with another laugh. "He just riffed and burned and set this whole track on fire."
Like he did with Bonamassa, Castro reached out to his friend Benoit.
"Tab’s a really busy man and lives down in Louisiana and when I was in the middle of recording, he just got off the road and was doing some producing," Castro said. "It didn’t look like he was going to be able to be on the album, so I called and left a message to let him off the hook. He called me back a half-hour later and said he was in Sacramento and on his way to San Francisco."
Since Castro lives between those cities, Benoit swung by the studio for an hour to cut his part.
"Afterwards we went to lunch and I went to jam at his show that night," Castro said.
A few days later, Castro heard his old friend Ball was in town staying at another friend’s home.
"I knew she had a couple of days off, so it was great timing," Castro said. "I called her up and she came over to play."
Collaborating with friends who are great musicians is one of the highlights of Castro’s career, but that doesn’t mean things usually run smoothly.
"After you’ve been playing this music for a long time and made a lot of records or tried different approaches to songs, it becomes harder to find fresh things to do," he said. "However, it doesn’t have to be hard, because people, these days, expect you to be different. So, it’s normal to hear new and innovative things going on. It’s an exciting time for blues music and I want to be a part of it."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. will present blues guitarist Tommy Castro from Sunday, Dec. 21, through Tuesday, Dec. 23. The concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Castro will be joined by his band The Painkillers. Tickets range from $23 to $40 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
“Park City Follies” ticket sales will help buy a new expansion to the Egyptian Theatre that will house YouTheatre and serve as a black box.