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Published: Thursday, 7/11/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Tommy Castro brings scaled-back approach to blues festival

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tommy Castro, second from left, leads his band, the Painkillers. Tommy Castro, second from left, leads his band, the Painkillers.
DANA CURLEY AND BRETT COLVIN Enlarge

If you’re a serious guitar wonk who likes to analyze a musician’s technique and ponder how he incorporates hammer-ons and pull-offs into a solo in the middle of a smoking hot blues concert, Tommy Castro has some advice for you.

“If you focus on watching my fingers, you’re missing the point,” he said in a phone interview from his San Francisco-area home.

As anyone who saw Castro’s performance at the explosive Blues Revue show he put on in Toledo in 2008 can attest, for him a concert is about the cathartic fun inherent in well-played blues, rhythm and blues, soul and rock.

“I’m trying to get a party going on. I’m not hip, slick, and cool. There’s nothing I hate worse than guitar players who are just saying, ‘Sit and listen and watch me play.’ It’s not that interesting.”

Lest he sell his talent short, Castro, 58, is on the short list of younger blues players who are both entertaining and virtuosic. Over the course of his 12 releases and countless live shows, he’s carved out a niche as a must-see musician whose fiery sets are energizing and fun.

As the headliner of the Northwest Ohio Rhythm, Blues & Jazz Festival Saturday at Promenade Park, Castro will unveil a relatively new lineup. Last year he ditched his horn section and keyboard player for a leaner four-piece band that signals an evolution of his approach.

“I was kind of getting tired of the sound,” he said of the larger group. “Once you have a band with horns in it you have to have horns on every song, every arrangement. You can’t have those guys standing around.”

Influenced by what he was hearing from Jack White, the Black Keys, R.L. Burnside, Gary Clark, Jr., Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Robert Randolph, and a few others, he said he’s playing a more raw form of blues and rock with the addition of his own slide guitar playing.

The result will be rearranged versions of of his older songs while working in some new cover songs and material that he plans to put on an album that is in the works.

“I listen to some of that [older] stuff and the way I chose to play it and record it 20 years ago is not the way I would have done it now,” he said, noting that he also felt like re-energizing his live shows. “I felt like I was getting lazy hiding behind this big band. I really didn’t have to play much. I didn’t have to play at all,” he said, laughing.

Castro recently released a single called “Greedy” on a vinyl 45, which is a reflection of his interest in more low fidelity recording techniques, a grittier sound, and a return to rootsy, stripped-down playing.

“I can really sink my teeth into it,” he said. “Lucky for me that’s going on in music right now. That kind of stuff is popular even, not just acceptable.”

On the bill of Saturday’s festival along with Tommy Castro & the Painkillers are Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, Tinsley Ellis, and local performer Morgan Stiegler. The show is a benefit for the Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door and are available at www.toledofoodbank.org. Promenade Park is in downtown Toledo on the west side of the Maumee River and the show will be held rain or shine. Admission begins at 3 p.m. and music starts at 4.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.



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