If I were Tommy Castro, I’d probably want a word with my booking agent. Castro and his band, the Painkillers, were on the road throughout February—mostly in the Northeast and upper Midwest where the snow was high and the temperatures were low—so Tommy Castro and the band had a right to sing the blues on that tour, for sure. On February 19, they were in Galesburg, Illinois, the next night they were in Bloomington, and the night after that they were in Milwaukee. From there they went to Minneapolis for a gig, then to Lincoln, Nebraska, and on to Littleton, Colorado, Regina, Saskatchewan, and Calgary, Alberta, all in just eleven days.
When I asked the San Jose blues guitarist (and Alligator Records recording artist) about all that touring through sub-zero temperatures and heavy snows, he was surprisingly upbeat.
“Before we started this tour, we’d been on a blues cruise,” he said in a phone interview from his bus somewhere in Nebraska. “It was a boatload of blues lovers, and those cruise audiences are hard to beat. And we had a little rest in December and early January before we hit the road.”
He didn’t, however, minimize the challenges of touring in a winter as bad as this one was back east. “Our tour bus isn’t a luxury vehicle. It’s fairly funky—a blues bus—and there were sub-zero mornings when it needed lots of attention before we could get it going. But we only lost one gig, and that was in Atlanta where there was 2” of snow. They aren’t used to it. We had great turnouts at all the northern shows, in much rougher weather.”
Tommy Castro is a good interview. He appreciates writers who help promote what he does—and he loves what he does. He was keenly excited about The Devil You Know, his new album, and equally stoked about his relatively new band—the Painkillers.
“This album is a part of a new sound I was going for,” he told me. “It’s a little more rockin’, hard driven, contemporary, grittier. Leaner than my past band sound. I was starting to feel like I was in rut, so I had to reinvent
the enthusiasm. I liked that stripped down instrumentation I was hearing from groups like the White Stripes, a little along the lines of ‘less is more.’ So now I’ve got a really tight quartet, and I love our sound.”
For those who know his guitar work, he’s surprisingly modest about his chops.
“I was never a guitar hero, I’m a good guitar player, but I’m first and foremost a songwriter and singer. It’s all about the songs.”
Tommy Castro is no stranger to these parts, and that local community of blues fans always turns out when he swings by.
“What we have are people who’ve been following the music all these years,” Castro said, “but we have an influx of younger people. I’m more energized than I’ve been in a long time.”
That energy will be bringing heat to the Big Room beginning at 7:30 this coming Thursday.