Albert Castiglia Talks Big Dog and Fighting to Make Original Blues

The spell of sleep is still obvious in Albert Castigilia’s voice. It’s 11 a.m. — not uncommonly early for a hardworking musician — but mine is his wake-up call. I'm eager to discuss Big Dog, his upcoming album out May 20.

His voice is slightly hoarse, either from grogginess or wear after a recent string of local performances. Regardless, he's enthusiastic as we plunge into a conversation about the album and other recent goings-on.

Castiglia's gravelly tone is actually part of the reason he's so adept at blurring the lines between rock and the blues. “My sound is really raw,” he says. “It’s a rocking kind of feel. My producer, Mike Zito, and my record label, Ruff Records, had the same vision for the record that I had. I knew the record would rock out, and that’s pretty much what happened." 

Big Dog is the closest Castiglia has come to achieving his live sound on a recording, he says. "I think all my previous records came close to capturing my essence, but I think we really nailed it this time. Mike really pushed my vocals, and I think they’re better than they’ve ever been. It was the closest thing to a live recording I’ve ever made.”

Having staked his reputation as one of South Florida’s foremost exponents of roots music in all its forms, Castiglia has lately concentrated on playing locally, prior to a tour that will take him to the West Coast, then the East Coast, and eventually to Europe later in the year. While we've enjoyed his local stint, Castiglia admits he’s eager to get back on the road. “I’ve been home a lot lately, and now I’m starting to get cranky."

As if Castiglia’s performances weren't already fully amped, Big Dog offers an ideal excuse to ratchet things up even further. “We just cranked up the amplifiers and played,” Castiglia says of the recording process. “I had a studio-savvy band that also happens to be a great live band. It was a great vibe, and very conducive for a live sound. Everybody was in one room and we just rocked out.”

Of course, Castiglia knows all too well what it takes to assert his sound. Mentored by the legendary blues musician Junior Wells, he toured with the iconic harp player for several years, up until Wells’ passing in 1998. He subsequently performed with Atlanta blues singer Sandra Hall in an effort to further pursue his pedigree. But he's never been content simply recycling the obvious, and his penchant for pushing the parameters and rocking relentlessly has given him a well-deserved reputation as a driven, dynamic instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter. It’s little wonder New Times once named Castiglia the area’s Best Blues Guitarist, both audiences and critics holding him in high esteem.

“I think blues is a wide-open tent,” Castiglia suggests of his craft when asked whether he’s encountered any constrictions. “There are lots of different ways to do it. There’s the traditional Chicago Blues, there’s the Delta Blues, the West Coast Blues. I just happen to be on the edge of Chicago Blues and blues rock. That’s where I fit on the spectrum, but I think it’s a real wide spectrum all the same. Blues is promoted poorly by the powers that be, and I think that’s why there’s this view that it's very narrow. I think it’s a lot wider than we in the blues community even give it credit for.”

Castiglia himself has often faced backlash from purists who accuse him of straying too far beyond blues' borders. “I’ve taken a lot of heat for what I do,” he concedes. “Some people think I’m too edgy to be considered a blues artist. A lot of them don’t like what I do. There are some DJs who don’t consider what I do to be the blues. But then again, most of the musicians I know believe that it is. It’s really weird.”

As far as Castiglia’s concerned, his role is to help move the music forward. “It all evolves,” he says. “I don’t think that people like Muddy Wolf and Howlin’ Wolf would have wanted me to be copying them and redoing their stuff. There’s no point in doing that. It’s perfect to begin with. They would want me to do my own stuff. People might not like what I do, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that at least I’m trying to be original.”

And trying to entertain his audiences as well, which has always been his main priority. “People want to interact with the performer,” he says. “You can’t just blow people off. You have to make your audience feel like they’re part of the show. That’s part of the whole entertainment process. Without that, you’re just playing. And there’s always more to a show than just playing.”

Albert Castiglia
8:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, at the Funky Biscuit, 303 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton. Tickets cost $15 to $25. Call 561-395-2929