Singer, songwriter and guitarist Tommy Castro may not be a household name, but amongst denizens of the blues' scene Castro is a living legend. In 2008, the California-based musician cemented his reputation as a searing 12-bar axe man when he took home the Blues Music Award for the Entertainer of the Year. Followers of contemporary blues consider Castro the second coming of John Lee Hooker. Add given the fact that musical nonprofit group, the Blues Foundation, handed Castro the coveted B. B. King Entertainer of the Year prize in 2010, you'll be scratching your head as to why you've never heard of this soulful maestro.
The good news is you can catch up in a big way this Sunday, by jumping aboard the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, which features Castro and his new band the Painkillers.
Earlier this week, New Times had the good fortune to speak to Castro at his Marin County, California home. The gifted six-string player was in good spirits, anxiously awaiting his tour of the East Coast, and looking forward to stepping aboard Holland America's MS Nieuw Amsterdam for the R&B musical high seas adventure.
Castro is the bi-annual voyage's honorary captain. "It's one of the best gigs you can ask for as a blues musician," says Castro of the fully-charted, sold out musical expedition which sets sail from Fort Lauderdale on January 20. Castro has been a part of the cruise for the past ten years, and his powerful guitar parts play a vital role in the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise revue band.
Tommy Castro and The Painkiller's played a warm up performance this Thursday at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton and tonight have a show in New Smyrna Beach. Castro says audiences in Florida are very receptive to his brand of blues but mentions he hasn't found too many places to perform. "After all these years of gigging in Florida, we have yet to find a venue in Miami to play a show." Thank the blues gods for spots like the Funky Biscuit.
After leaving Port Everglades, the Blues Cruise has planned spots in such destinations as St. Kitts, Tortola , and Half Moon. Joining Castro onboard are blues giants Taj Mahal, Elvis Bishop and Mavis Staple, and many others.
Castro lays out the typical day for him on the ship. "We get up in the morning and head straight to the buffet. We try not to eat too much, because it is easy to do. There is lots of food all the time." Tickets start at $1,400 for a double room. Castro says although it seems pricey, "you will get your money's worth on food alone, so it's a pretty good deal."
In his new band, the Painkillers, Castro was hoping to capture a leaner, grittier sound, in the vein of Gary Clark Jr. and the Black Keys. Castro set aside the horns section that created a "wall of sound," to back his funky frets, and sought a stripped-down vibe with the Painkillers -- a back-to-basics four-piece.
"It's not me reinventing myself," says Castro about the new band, "in actuality this lineup brings me closer to the roots of the group."
He certainly is getting in touch with his roots, joining forces with the original bass, Randy McDonald, who he first started gigging with years ago.
Since reuniting with McDonald, Castro says the Painkillers have "hit the ground running," releasing a seven-inch double single with Chicago's Alligator Records, "Greedy"/"That's All I Got," almost immediately after forming. Castro, noticing the vinyl record craze across the nation, choose to release the debut in a "sweet looking" limited
edition mint green
vinyl. Which you can pick up on the ship, or if dry land's your thing, on alligator.com.
Tommy Castro & The Painkillers perform at the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise #20. Departs at 5 p.m. from Port Everglades, 1850 Eller Drive, Fort Lauderdale. The Cruise is officially sold out, but the booking office does have a waiting list. Call the office