Washington Post-CD Review
(1/28/05) >>
February 1, 2005 from BLIND PIG RECORDS
available at TommyCastro.com >>

Tommy Castro is back and better than ever. The title of his latest Blind Pig CD, Soul Shaker, also serves as an apt description of Tommy himself as well as the effect he and his explosive band have had on captivated crowds around the world for more than fourteen years. Reunited with Blind Pig Records, the label that brought him to international prominence with the stunning success of his 1996 debut and the string of spectacular releases that followed, Castro delivers his first album of original music in four years.

One of the most popular and creative blues artists to emerge in recent years, Tommy co-produced Soul Shaker with the multitalented producer and songwriter Kevin Bowe. The Tommy Castro Band, featuring rhythm mainstay Randy McDonald on bass, saxophonist extraordinaire Keith Crossan, and recently added drummer Chris Sandoval, was joined on the sessions by Robert Cray-keyboardist Jimmy Pugh, and special guests - slide guitar master Roy Rogers, and vocalist and labelmate Reneé Austin.

Tommy’s career has been marked by one triumph after another. Considering his innate charisma and his skills as a supremely talented guitarist, gifted vocalist, and engaging songwriter, it is easy to see why Castro has enjoyed so much success so quickly. In a remarkably short time, he went from performing at a tiny San Francisco saloon to opening act on B.B. King’s national tours and international acclaim as one of the most compelling artists on the scene.

Born and raised in San Jose, California, Tommy expressed interest in learning to play the guitar at age ten. Young Castro was initially inspired by the likes of Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. Later, wanting to know who their influences were, Tommy became enthralled with the guitar playing of B.B., Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Freddie King, as well as the vocal stylings of Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. Castro went on to play with many Bay Area bands. "When I was a kid, music was something I did for fun. Later, it became obvious to me that playing music was the thing I was meant to do, so I made a decision to pursue it as a career." For two years he toured the U.S. extensively with Warner Brothers recording artists The Dynatones.

In 1991 he formed the Tommy Castro Band, and they quickly became one of the hardest-working and most popular groups in the Bay Area. In 1993 they were named "Club Band of the Year" at the Bay Area Music Awards, an especially prestigious honor since it is a write-in category that includes all musical genres. They won that distinguished award, regarded as an indicator of future success, again in 1994. Previous recipients of the award include Chris Isaak and Huey Lewis and The News.

In 1996 Tommy's first major release, Exception to the Rule on Blind Pig, garnered near unanimous raves from blues and mainstream publications around the world as the press took notice of a great new artist on the scene. Industry trades took notice as well. Calling him "an up-and-coming blues phenom," Billboard said, "Castro combines the earthy soulfulness of Albert Collins and B.B. King with the polish of Robert Cray." And importantly, radio’s insider "bible," The Gavin Report, said of the album: "Castro has etched one of those rare blues records that rises above the usual clichés of the genre. Castro is the awesome exception to the blues rule...the next blues rock hero."

Blues Revue noted, "Castro’s energy and charisma leap right out of each and every one of the cuts on the album. Castro’s clearly got the goods and knows how to use them." Living Blues offered, "Castro’s stinging, clean guitar tone shines. A talented guitarist who shows much promise, Tommy Castro can play with both scorching power and restraint." Even mainstream music magazines were lavish in their praise, with Musician magazine exclaiming, "Castro could be a star," while Guitar magazine noted, "It’s straightforward, grooving blues that’ll get your feet moving."

Castro released his second album for Blind Pig Records in 1997, Can’t Keep A Good Man Down. Grammy award winner Jim Gaines (known for his production with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, and Huey Lewis, among many others) helmed its production and offered listeners a heady mix of Tommy's trademark slashing guitar work and his commanding vocal skills. The radio trade Album Network said, "This recording burns through a mixture of blues, rhythm & blues and a splash of rock ‘n’ roll. Castro is the real deal." The CD soon received continuous airplay and regular fan requests on well over 400 radio stations nationwide. Castro was featured on the cover of Blues Revue with a highly laudatory feature article. Another national publication, Blues Access, highlighted Castro's burgeoning appeal: "If you’re looking for driving blues-rock with soulful vocals and a Southern accent, your search is over. This is party music, good-time music and music with the potential to appeal to an audience outside of the blues crowd."

One recognition of this mainstream appeal came with the selection of the Castro group by HBO Productions as the house band for NBC-TV's "Comedy Showcase," airing after that network’s legendary "Saturday Night Live." The band appeared on national television for three consecutive seasons. Castro’s music has also been featured in network television programs such as "Nash Bridges" and "The Young and the Restless."

Castro’s next recording---produced by the talented Jim Gaines---was 1999's Right as Rain. The CD showcased Castro’s electrifying blue-collar rock ‘n’ soul music in an engaging program that features guest appearances by roots rock legends Dr. John and Delbert McClinton. Guitar magazine said, "With soulful, no-nonsense vocals and a prevalent horn sound, Castro creates an accessible, Stax/Volt vibe. The guitar soars any time he decides to cut loose, but the songs also benefit from his ability to play with tasteful restraint." Playboy added, "Worshipped for his guitar virtuosity, Castro throws a bit more rock and two bits of soul into his basic blues mix on ‘Right As Rain.’ He has the voice, the band, and the guitar to pull it off." And perhaps most impressive of all, the readers of Blues Revue magazine voted the disc one of the best 40 albums of all time!

Tommy has wowed and won fans on every stage he’s performed on, with his riveting presence growing stronger by the tour. In 2000, to demonstrate Castro’s remarkable charisma and ability to command a stage, Blind Pig released Live At the Fillmore, both as a long form video (on DVD and VHS) and an enhanced CD. The San Francisco Chronicle said, "Castro’s loose-jointed blues-rock sound is captured in all its onstage glory. He has distilled the essence of great bands everywhere and put his personal stamp on it at the same time." Blues Revue said the live disc "demonstrates Castro’s strengths as a singer, guitarist, and bandleader. His rapport with the audience---and his sheer joy in performing---highlight this tight set."

In 2001 Blind Pig released a retrospective of Castro’s recording career entitled The Essential Tommy Castro. It contains twelve of Tommy’s time-tested fan favorites, including two tracks not previously available on CD, and video footage viewable on CD-ROM. This CD tellingly documents why Tommy Castro and his brilliant band have captured a hold on a legion of worldwide fans and critics alike.

Other additions to his discography include the 2001 album Guilty of Love from the fledging 33rd Street Records label, and the 2003 release Gratitude on his own Heart and Soul label, on which he paid tribute to his influences. He also appeared on the 2003 title from Telarc entitled Triple Trouble, which also features guitarist Lloyd Jones and harmonica/sax player Jimmy Hall.

Prominent observers of the blues have extolled Tommy's dynamic musicianship and pointed to him as being among a small few that represent the future of the blues. B.B. King was so enamored of the Tommy Castro Band that he invited them to be openers on his 2001 concert tour, and again in 2002. When teenaged Castro bought his very first blues album (B.B. King’s Live at the Cook County Jail) and listened to it incessantly, trying to copy the guitar licks, he never dreamed that one day he’d be sitting side by side on a concert stage actually playing those licks with B.B. himself. In all, the band played over eighty concert dates with "the King of the blues."

And Carlos Santana, who’s also invited Castro to share the stage with him, said of Tommy, "The blues is in good hands. This is the person who has the voice, the sound, and the right intentions to touch everybody’s heart."

Anxious to give his ever-growing fan base another album of new "Tommy Castro Band music," Castro and company set out to create Soul Shaker by focusing first and foremost on the songs. Said Tommy, who for the first time had a hand in writing all the songs on an album, "I’ve been working on songs for this record for a couple of years, writing with some of the best songwriters in the business, members of the band and on my own. Producer Kevin Bowe and I, with help of all the musicians involved, let the songs dictate the approach. The result is that, while for the most part the material was done in a familiar way, we were also led into some new territory. So, our long-time fans will hear more of what they know and love about us, and there’ll also be some pleasant surprises."

On Soul Shaker, with a spark and vitality as fresh as day one, without conforming and without compromise, Tommy and the band continue to explore the boundaries of American roots music. And their mesmerizing blend of rock, blues and Memphis soul provides all the soul shakin’ you need.