The Blues: an American art form
March 6, 2012
Guitarist Tommy Castro, a two-time Winner of the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award, who has also been named the Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year, said he can’t picture himself playing anything but the blues.
"That style has always felt most comfortable to me, but when I first heard it, I didn’t know what it was, but everything I liked was based in the blues," Castro said during a phone call from his home in Tiburon, Calif. "I imagine some people can and will play anything, which includes different types of music and gigs, but for a guy like me, I have to do what’s right for me."
In keeping with that attitude, Castro will play his music at the Egyptian Theatre on Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10.
"I’m looking forward to coming to Park City, because we’ve never played with this band in there before," he said. "We’ll be spending a couple of days there and might even get some skiing in. I’m not a big skier, but I’ll do it."
Taking the blues on tour is Castro’s way of fulfilling his mission of exposing people to the blues.
"Blues isn’t mainstream and it’s not on the radio, and unfortunately, some people have never even heard it," he said. "Some people hear it and don’t know what it is and others think it’s something else.
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"That’s sad because blues is an original American art form, but once they hear and understand it, more often than not, they like it," he said. "My girlfriend, for example, was never a big blues fan before, but now she likes everything. Although she likes some more than others, just being exposed to the music was the key."
Now, Castro takes his girlfriend everywhere, even the annual Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruises that he does each year.
"I play a regular gig on a blues cruise with a bunch of other people and she comes with me and gets to see and hear these wonderful musicians and soulful vocalists," he said.
Castro’s most recent project, the "The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue Live" CD, was a direct result of a cruise a couple of years ago.
The disc features singers Sista Monica Parker and Janiva Magness, harmonica master Rick Estrin, guitarists Michael "Iron Man" Burks, Debbie Davies and Joe Louis Walker and the group Trampled Under Foot.
"What happens during the Blues Cruise, is a lot of late nights where everyone gets together and joins in a pro-jam outside on the main stage," Castro said. "It’s like an outdoor blues festival set up on the back deck of the cruise ship, that can accommodate 1,000 people."
During one of these jams, Castro noticed many people would stay up until 4 a.m. for the jams, just so they could hear some improvised songs.
"It’s one thing to see a band do its show with a lot of rehearsed material, but there is whole different element to see people get together and play unrehearsed material," he said with a laugh. "There’s that feeling that anything can happen, and I think that’s the same reason people like to watch cliff diving, because there is a thrill there."
So, after the cruise, Castro figured out how he could capture the energy that happens twice a year and give it to people who don’t go on the cruises.
"I asked a few artists to go on the road in the states and, at the end of each show, we experimented and got together and jammed for like three hours," he said. "The audiences went crazy."
Castro is proud of "The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue Live" CD, which was recorded in various parts of the country and on the blues cruise itself.
"There is a balance between having things rehearsed and working out as good as possible and having some spontaneity in the show," he said. "A good show has those two things and you have to walk a line.
Sometimes you fall off, he said with another laugh.
"We’ll come out of a show and realize we played it tight, but we played it safe," he said. "Other times after a show, we’ll know we took too many chances and things went wrong."
Castro said blue audiences try to follow what the band is doing regardless of the occasional musical mishap.
"Blues audiences are very forgiving and it’s really hard to draw a bad reaction from them," he said. "I mean it’s the blues. There is a lot of improvisation going on, and I’m playing what I feel, and that’s what I love about it.
Guitarist Tommy Castro and his band The Painkillers will play the Egyptian Theatre, Friday, March 9, and Saturday, March 10, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $30 and available at http://www.parkcityshows.com .