Tommy Castro opens up about Great Eldorado Blues fest

Tahoe Onstage
Tommy Castro and The Painkillers play Saturday, June 16, at the Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews & Blues Festival in Reno. The rhythm section is Bowen Brown on drums and Randy McDonald on bass.

We could hear angry shouting in the background when Tommy Castro answered his cell phone. Traveling across Michigan on tour with his band The Painkillers, Castro explained that a highway motorist had just pulled in front of the 45-foot tour bus.

“It takes time to slow down a big vehicle like this,” the bluesman said. “That’s what all the screaming was about.”

Tommy Castro and The Painkillers are the headlining blues band at the June 15-16 Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews & Blues Festival in downtown Reno. The group is touring the nation in support of the album “Stompin’ Ground.” The four-piece lineup played about 400 shows before the recording sessions, so it is exceptionally tight. Guest artists on the record include David Hilgado, Charlie Musselwhite, Danielle Nicole and Mike Zito. Recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose, the album is the first Castro has made in the town where he grew up.

In addition to playing shows on the tour, Castro, bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Michael Emerson golfed, skied and took in a Detroit Tigers baseball game. When the screams subsided in the bus, Castro fielded questions from Tahoe Onstage.

In Reno, did you know you will be playing at one stage while Vanilla Ice will be on the other?

“That’s a really interesting. Randy’s daughter’s (Blimes Brixton) is an up-and coming hip-hop artist. Maybe we should bring her up. She’s a young rapper. She’s very talented and just made a video that went viral with seven or eight million views. She sits in with us sometimes. Who else is playing?

Shane Dwight, Maxx Cabello Jr., A.C. Myles, Buddy Emmer and our mutual friend Jason King.

“It sounds like a helluva good lineup with a lot of favorites. Shane Dwight’s been a favorite there, I’ve known him for years, and Jason’s a local guy who is very popular there. Maxx is another Bay Area guy and he’s a monster guitar player. He’s amazing, really. That should make for a helluva good show.”

Tahoe OnstageWhat can we expect from your band?

We have a new record out, a fairly new release, and we have a bunch of the cool new tunes that we’ll be performing but we also will be performing a chunk of our catalog there in Reno.

“Stompin’ Ground” is fantastic. You continue to put out fresh music.

Thank you. It’s a little bit of a challenge to continue to come up with music that is good enough to record. We like to put a record out every couple of years and I’m always not really sure I’m going to be able to pull it off next time, you know. (Laughs). I know I have a sort of a feeling like, ‘I’ve done this before and I’m sure I’ll do it again,’ and then the other part of me is going, ‘Man, maybe you’ve just thought of everything you could think of.’

What songs from the album are you playing live?

We do “My Old Neighborhood,” “Them Changes,” “Enough is Enough.” Sometimes we do “Nonchalant” and we sometimes do “Rock Bottom.”

Did you write “My Old Neighborhood” and then build the album from there? There is definitely a theme.

Yeah, the story took shape totally organically. I was writing songs and there’s all of this stuff going on in politics lately. I feel strongly about a number of things and a couple of the songs had messages.

For example?

There’s a very subtle message in “My Old Neighborhood.” A couple of things, one being sort of like the local record store, the local hardware store, the local grocery store — all of that stuff is not happening anymore. And then the other thing was outsourcing of jobs gets addressed in there in a very subtle way, and immigration also is addressed.

I grew up in a largely Hispanic neighborhood. Old Man Martinez from the hardware store came up because he was an American and he’s proud that. Everything he sold in the store was made in America. But he’s a Mexican-American. And so, the way things are nowadays, I just wanted to point that out. So in a subtle way, I address those things in that song and everybody gets it, doesn’t matter what side of the aisle they’re on. Especially if they are at a certain age, and most of our audience is.

I’m of that certain age and grew up listening and seeing the guys you covered on “Stompin’ Ground,” Elvin Bishop, Taj Mahal, Buddy Miles. Picking them was part of the nostalgia, too, right?

I had a short list of cover songs I wanted to get to because I realized I’ve been I’ve been covering Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Ray Charles and a lot of my favorite blues guys In the past but I kind of skipped over the guys that really turned me on to this music in the first place. Two main guys would be Taj Mahal and Elvin Bishop

Do you know how many miles you’ve covered in your career?

No but it’s in the millions. In the first configuration of the band, we figured out when we’d gone at least a million miles and after that I kind of stop keeping track of it.

Is it still fun?

I still enjoy being out on the road. Sometimes it gets hard. And some days are just fun. There’s never a dull moment. It’s never boring. And we’re not the party animals that we all once were. It’s pretty tame out here these days. But we do enjoy the people. We enjoy getting up and playing and we have a lot of songs now so we can switch it up and keep it fresh.

You’ve probably learned the best places to go all across the country, haven’t you?

We know the good places to eat in most of the towns we go and the cool places to stay. A new thing that we discovered that is working really well for us is Airbnb. Sometimes we can find a central location between two or three or four gigs instead of us all getting separate hotel rooms and from town to town. Last night, we were we had a house on a lake. Mike made Easter dinner for everybody.

Where’s home?

I live in San Rafael, California, a pretty nice place to live and I love being with my family. When the time to hit the road comes, at first I’m kind of nervous about it, like damn, five weeks that’s a long trip. That’s going to be hard on the old man. But then we just we get out here and jump in and it’s like a fish to water.

 – Tim Parsons

  • 2018 Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews & Blues Festival
    Downtown Reno
    Friday, June 15
    Third Street Stage
    4 p.m. – AC Myles
    6 p.m. – Shane Dwight
    Fourth Street Stage
    3:30 p.m. — Jason King Band
    5:30 p.m. – USA Mobility
    7:45 p.m. – Vanilla Ice
  • Saturday, June 16
    Third Street Stage
    11:30 a.m. – Jason King Band
    1:30 p.m. – AC Myles
    3:30 p.m. – Buddy Emmer
    5:30 p.m. – Tommy Castro and the Painkillers
    Fourth Street Stage
    Noon – Maxx Cabello Jr.
    2 p.m. — Shane Dwight
    4 p.m. — USAF Mobility
    6:30 p.m. – Spin Doctors

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.


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