Tommy Castro And The Painkillers Bring The Perfect Panacea

Tommy Castro; photo Jayson Carpenter

Tommy Castro; photo Jayson Carpenter

There is no doubt the Covid-19 epidemic has drastically altered and affected all of our lives. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the music community, with so many essentially getting their entire way of life halted in an instant. Despite this, musicians have been charging forward even harder than before.

Tommy Castro and The Painkillers are such a band; having been around for over two decades, they have seen their ups and downs. Our current pandemic situation has postponed all future events, including The Painkillers night at The Coach House.

“It will continue to be rescheduled until we can play it,” remarks Castro. “I don’t know what the next date is but the one in June I don’t think is going to hold. Even if the state decided to open things back up by then, it won’t give us enough time to promote it. So, we are probably looking to have our show there in the fall.”

The Coach House is a favorite venue for many blues and rock bands, with Castro and his band included in the mix.

Tommy Castro; photo Bob By Request

Tommy Castro; photo Bob By Request

“The Coach House is great, and I even remember the first time we played there,” reminisces the bluesman. “We were coming up in popularity and our current record was doing well. That was not an easy gig to get, you had to earn it! When we finally got booked in there, we were really excited about it and haven’t missed a year since then. It’s got to be about twenty straight years that we have been playing there. It’s a good-sized room, not too big and not too small. It suits our audience very well. Blues audiences tend to be an older crowd and they like to sit down and enjoy the show.”

Speaking of Covid-19, everyone has that moment when they first heard about the shutdown.

“We were on tour, being in the middle of the northwest and Canada,” he reveals. “We came down from the mountains in Canada into Montana and worked our way back towards Sacramento, with that and Paradise being the last shows we played. It was very up in the air whether those were even going to happen. After those ones, we all went home and have been on lockdown ever since. I would have never imagined a thing like that happening.”

Life has been very different and difficult since the stay at home orders were first issued, but not even that can get the guitarist down.

“I’ve been keeping myself really busy with a couple of live stream shows,” divulges Castro. “I have a lot of work to do – working on songs, practicing my guitar, working on my house, the weather is warmer so getting some exercise, and just making the best of it. I’m not going around and visiting people in their homes or anything of that sort. I had my birthday on the fifteenth of April, and all of my adult kids and I got on zoom and had a little birthday party for me which was a lot of fun.”

Tommy Castro; photo Jayson Carpenter

Tommy Castro; photo Jayson Carpenter

Recently, he performed live over the internet for John Lee Hooker’s live stream show. “I’m a big fan of John Lee,” he affirms. “We knew each other and were friends, he recorded on one of my albums back in the early 2000’s. We had the same booking agency in those days so were playing on a lot of the same shows. It was a real honor and great way to pay tribute, with me playing a couple songs of his.

“It was cool because I had the time to learn to play one of his songs I didn’t know before,” relates the guitarist. “This one is in a very particular tuning and really went into the John Lee Hooker style. I’ve done his songs my own way so this time I did one that way but on the other one, I just really tried to imitate his style in Open G on an old Harmony guitar that I have. It was fun preparing for it and also playing my own songs. His Facebook page has a couple hundred thousand subscribers from around the world, so it was great exposure for me and a lot of fun.”

Moving from live shows to live streams over the internet has been a sudden and intense change for any musician out there.

“Anytime I have to learn something new it’s good for me,” explains Castro. “It always reminds me of a quote, ‘If you’re green, you’re still growing.’ Those things I don’t know that much about and I need to learn about and am put in a position where I have to learn it, it’s good for me…good for my brain. It expands my abilities. You tend to get stuck in what you know so I know how to play live and make a record, I’ve learned over the years how to be involved in online promotions, and most importantly how to keep in touch with my fans through social media and the internet.

“All of that has been a constant learning situation for me but this was a crash course in live streaming,” he points out. “Especially because it was completely solo. I never play, never in my career have I done a solo show. There have been times on the radio or something where I would play a song or two, but it was never me having a fully worked out acoustic set for a show. What I do is electric blues that requires a band and is what I really know how to do. So, learning how to step up and play a solo show like this was really good for me.”

From their humble beginnings to their current status as blues stalwarts, their journey and outlook on life is a fascinating one.

“When I was about eight years old, my brother got a guitar and started playing it,” explains Castro of his musical origins. “I had always been interested, and being six years younger, thought it was the coolest thing. Eventually I got my own guitar and started playing with friends my own age. For most of my life it was something I did for fun. I enjoyed it and didn’t get any schooling or lessons on it. I just listened to lessons and had a basic chord book and figured it out. Growing up in a lower middle-class neighborhood, nobody I knew was taking lessons or getting any proper musical schooling so my friends and I would just listen to the records and figure things out.”

That was the start of it all and it just kept rolling from there.

“I just kept playing, blues was the thing I liked best,” he elaborates. “I listened to rock and roll but was always most inspired by the blues-based stuff i.e. The Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin, etc. A lot of the blues in the sixties was being played on FM radio when it was still relatively new. FM stations were super progressive and could play anything they wanted since there wasn’t much corporate involvement yet. The DJ’s played everything: from psychedelic blues to psychedelic music, bluegrass, folk music, and a good bunch of blues music. That’s how I could hear Albert King, B.B. King, and Bobby Bland on the radio.

“That’s how I was exposed to it. Most of my friends were into rock so I was always the guy in the band who wanted to play blues. And that’s what I did for some time. I would play in various bands, we would get bar gigs and play on the weekends; until one day, I decided that this is what I was meant to do. I gave up on any other plans I was working on and decided to take a shot at making a living as a professional musician.”

One of the biggest leaps one can ever make in life, the future was tentative, but it was also a great time for this move.

“At the time, this was the eighties, and there was starting to be a market for blues bands and especially guitar players,” details Castro. “On a professional level, I played with a number of local San Francisco bay area bands until I decided it was time for me to start my own band. I’ve been doing that ever since – we have eighteen albums out there and have toured around the world for 25 years.”

This is an unprecedented time in history; but with musicians such as Tommy Castro and The Painkillers pushing forward, they give us a glimpse of the path forward and provide hope for the future. Through their commitment to make music regardless of the circumstances, it demonstrates how we can overcome anything. This is a band you want to keep up with, as they keep heartfelt live streams and stellar shows heading our way.

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