Tommy Castro is known as a hard-working musician with a penchant for the blues. The rep is well-deserved. “One year we had 350 gigs,” Castro notes. But his attitude took awhile to develop.
“I’ve been playing since I was 10, but it never dawned on me I could make a living doing this.” With a laugh he adds, “But music kept getting in the way of my day job.”
The trip that led from casual player to the his new Blind Pig release, Soul Shaker, has taken several roads. While growing up in San Jose, California, Castro was influenced by a sibling.
“My older brother showed me a few things because I kept sneakin’ his guitar when he wasn’t around. He’d say, ‘Let me show you this, then you go wash my car.'” It wasn’t long before Castro’s ear was drawn to the music his brother listened to and played, like Mike Bloomfield and Johnny Winter, and early British players like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.
“But the thing that changed my life was when I got turned on to B.B. King,” he noted, and it then became natural to dip further into the blues – Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, and a lot of others. “It was just one of those things you get into or you don’t. Other kids were into folk or psychedelic, and the heavy metal thing was starting to happen. But I gravitated to the soulful stuff.”
Castro’s break came when he decided to make music his job. He moved to San Francisco and met guitarist Johnny Nitro. “I was always welcomed at Johnny’s blues parties. He’s a great mentor, and as far as vintage guitars go, he had so many great ones.”
Castro spent a couple years in the soul band the Dynatones, then formed his own band.
“I thought I’d have to know how to starve,” he said of the move. “So, I had a plan. I got a battery-powered amp, so I could sing and play on the street in case I couldn’t get enough gigs!
“I was absolutely no good at it,” he adds, chuckling. “I made very little money and got chased off a lot of corners”
Luckily for Castro and his band, there was a healthy blues scene in the Bay Area, and they were good, so work wasn’t hard to find. And after putting in the aforementioned 350 gigs, they signed with Blind Pig, hit the road, and haven’t looked back.
Castro uses the word “soul” as much as he does “blues.” His influences include a lot of soul singers – Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding, to name just a few.
“I get a lot of flack about trying to sound like a black guy, but I don’t let it enter my consciousness. I was probably na