Backstage: Albert Castiglia Counts Down His Blues Influences

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: Native son and bluesman extraordinaire shares his top five all-time classics... 

Simply stated, Albert Castiglia sums up the spirit of the blues. After serving an apprenticeship with the likes of Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins, Ronnie Earl, and Jerry Portnoy, he's become a popular fixture on the local scene, a standout showman and exceptional guitarist in an environment where cover bands remain the norm. His live performances are events always worth witnessing, thanks to Castiglia's penchant for tossing off searing solos, even while strolling off the stage and wandering out on the door, oblivious to all but the music at hand. A consummate showman, this Coral Gables homeboy achieved national notoriety when he and his band were dubbed "Best Unsigned Band" after competing in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Castiglia's set lists reflect his reverence for revered masters like Hendrix, Clapton, the Allman Brothers, and others for whom the blues became the ultimate musical mantra. It's no surprise, then, that his latest album, Keeping On, found him comfortably nestled in both traditional terrain and contemporary reinvention. Like each of his four albums, it reflects a no-frills approach that has him fully inhabiting his songs, as if drawn to them by the spirits of the musicians that first fostered the blues in the backwash of the Mississippi Delta or the smoky late-night haunts of downtown Chicago. 

Given those musical influences, we thought it might be insightful to find out which albums in particular have had a lingering effect on Castiglia's career. Here's what he told us: 

1) Hard Again by Muddy Waters - "This was the album that made me want to become a blues musician. It starts with Muddy's haunting voice in an a cappella intro; then the band comes in and you're hooked. The raw power and sound was like nothing I'd ever heard. It's a masterpiece." 

2) Live in Montreaux by Buddy Guy & Junior Wells - "These two blues legends were incredible solo performers, but when they worked together on the same stage, they were magic. Live in Montreaux captures them at their best. There isn't an album they've done together that I don't enjoy, but this one is my favorite." 

3) Soul to Soul by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - "What made this album so special wasn't just Stevie and his tight rhythm section. It was also the addition and debut of keyboardist Reese Wynans to the band. He complemented Stevie perfectly and added a new dimension to an already powerful ensemble. It was a genius move." 

4) Blue Streak by Luther Allison - "This album kicked me in the ass from the first note. Luther was an incredible blues singer and guitarist who was on the verge of being as big as Buddy Guy and B.B. King before his untimely death in 1997. He left us a catalog of wonderful material, but as far as I'm concerned, Blue Streak was his greatest work ever. I got the chance to see Luther perform, and it was one of the most electrifying things I'd ever seen and heard in my life. He put everything out on that stage until he had nothing left. In my opinion, he was the Bruce Springsteen of the blues world. This album was the closest thing a studio recording could get to a Luther Allison show, and it's simply amazing." 

5) Just One Night by Eric Clapton - "This album opened my eyes to the blues. Aside from it being a great live album, about a third of the material was made up of impeccably done blues covers. It was because of this album that I discovered the music that would become a huge part of my life. Thank you, 'Slowhand'." 

Thanks, indeed. Castiglia does Clapton proud.

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Lee Zimmerman