Tommy Castro Born in San Jose, California in 1955, Tommy Castro first picked up a guitar at age 10. He fell under the spell of Eric Clapton, Elvin Bishop, Taj Mahal, Mike Bloomfield and other blues-rockers.Almost every major rock and soul act, from Ike and Tina Turner to JanisJoplin to Elvin Bishop to Taj Mahal, toured through the area, and Castrowas at every show. He saw John Lee Hooker, Albert King and Buddy Guy andJunior Wells at the same local blues bar, JJ’s, where he often jammed, dreaming of one day busting out. Mixing the blues-rock he loved and thesoul music he heard blasting out from his Mexican friends’ lowriders,Tommy started to create his own personal sound and style. He honed his guitar skills and intense vocals, learning how to capture an audience as heperformed on San Jose’s highly competitive bar scene. As his reputationspread, Tommy played in a variety of Bay Area blues and soul bands, soonmaking a name for himself as a hotter-than-hot live artist bursting at the seams with talent. In 1985, he was recruited to become lead singer andguitarist for the regionally popular blues band NiteCry, gigging regularly throughout Northern California. Castro joined Warner Brothers’ artistsThe Dynatones in the late 1980s, performing all over the country. He formed the first Tommy Castro Band in 1991, releasing his debut album in 1996 on the Blind Pig label. In the mid-1990s The Tommy Castro Band served asthe house band for three seasons on NBC Television’s Comedy Showcase (airing right after Saturday Night Live), bringing him in front of millionsof viewers every week. During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Castro recorded a series of critically acclaimed CDs for Blind Pig, Telarc and 33rd Street Records, as well as one on his own Heart And Soul label. Castro joined Alligator Records in 2009, releasing Hard Believer to massive acclaim. He won four of his six career Blues Music Awards, including the covetedB.B. King Entertainer Of The Year Award (the very highest award a blues performer can receive). His next release, 2011’s Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue–Live!, was a boisterous and searing collection of highlights from a series of live performances anchored byCastro and an all-star collection of blues giants, including Rick Estrin, Michael “Iron Man” Burks and Joe Louis Walker. His relentless road-dog approach—gig after gig, night after night—has won him loyal, lifelong fans everywhere he plays. The Washington Post says Castro is “phenomenal and funky” with “soulful vocals and inspired blues-rock guitar.” Castro formed the first incarnation of The Painkillers in 2012, andby 2014 (with Brown and Emerson taking over drums and keys respectively)they had become a lean, mean four-piece lineup, delivering soul-shaking, muscular music. The current band released Method To My Madness in 2015 and Stompin’ Ground in 2017, with critics shouting praise and admirers cheering the group’s every move. Castro had stripped his music down to its raw essence with the new, smaller band, creating a larger than life sound. Blues Revue said simply, “Tommy Castro can do no wrong.” Live onstage, Tommy Castro & The Painkillers’ road-hardened musicianshipbrings an unmatched passion to Castro’s blue-eyed California soul and hard-rocking, good-time songs. The San Francisco Chronicle describes Castro’s music as, “funky Southern soul, big city blues and classic rock…silvery guitar licks that simultaneously sound familiar and fresh.” No Depression says “Castro plays gritty, string-bending blues like a runaway soul train…a glorious blend that rocks the soul and lifts the spirits.” With the group seemingly hitting new heights with every performance, Castro knew the time was right to answer his fans’ demands for a livealbum. Killin’ It–Live captures the band at the peak of their creative and improvisational powers, and features one unforgettable, unpredictable performance after another. “This is the best band we’ve ever had,” says Castro. We really got something going on beyond just being goodmusicians. Every song we play live now has that right feel—all the dynamics. It allows us to jam out more on stage. Killin’ It–Live is what you hear when you see us live.” Tinsley Ellis Since his Alligatordebut 30 years ago, Southern blues-rock guitar wizard, vocalist and songwriter Tinsley Ellis has become a bona fide worldwide guitar hero. The Chicago Sun-Times says, “It’s hard to overstate the raw power of his music.” Now, he makes his triumphant return to Alligator Records with apowerful new album, Winning Hand. Armed with his signature molten licks,melodic riffs and rousing, intense solos, Ellis, as his legions of fans will attest, is among the blues world’s best-loved, hardest workingand most well-travelled statesmen. He has performed in all 50 United States as well as in Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, Australia and SouthAmerica, earning legions of fans with his guitar virtuosity, passionatevocals and memorable original songs. Ellis is also revered as a guitarist’s guitarist, with famous friends including Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Oliver Wood, Jonny Lang and members of Widespread Panic calling on him to sit in and jam. “A musician never got famous staying home,” hesays. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Ellis and keyboardist Kevin McKendree, the ten brilliantly performed, fervently sung tracks on WinningHand include nine originals, ranging from blistering blues to heart-pounding rock to soulful ballads. As his only cover song, Ellis pays tributeto his greatest guitar-playing and songwriting influences with a Freddie King-inspired version of rock legend Leon Russell’s Dixie Lullaby. “Guitar, guitar, guitar is what this album is all about,” says Ellis, who recorded primarily with his 1959 Fender Stratocaster, his 1967 Gibson ES 345 and his 1973 Les Paul Deluxe. Guitar World says, “Ellis’ playing sparkles with depth and subtlety. Whether playing deep, slow blues or uptempo rockers, Ellis rides a gorgeously fat, pure tone.” Born in Atlanta in 1957, Ellis was raised in southern Florida. He discovered the blues through the back door of British Invasion bands like The Yardbirds, TheAnimals, Cream and The Rolling Stones as well as Southern rockers like The Allman Brothers. One night he and a friend were listening to records when his friend’s older brother told them if they liked blues, they should really be listening to B.B. King. As luck would have it, King was in town for a week, and the upcoming Saturday afternoon show was just for teenagers. Tinsley and his friend went, sitting transfixed in the front row.When B.B. broke a string on Lucille, he changed it without missing a beat, and handed the broken string to Ellis. After the show, B.B. came out and talked with fans, mesmerizing Tinsley with his warmth and kindness. Tinsley’s fate was now sealed; he had to become a blues guitarist. He sawHowlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and every other blues artist who came through town, always sitting up front, always waiting to meet the artists, take photos, get autographs. And yes, he still has B.B.’s string. Already an accomplished teenaged musician, Ellis left Florida and returned to Atlanta in 1975. He soon joined a gritty local blues band, the Alley Cats.In 1981, along with veteran blues singer and harpist Chicago Bob Nelson, Tinsley formed The Heartfixers, a group that would become Atlanta’s top-drawing blues band. After cutting a few Heartfixers albums for the Landslide label, Ellis was ready to head out on his own. Georgia Blue, Tinsley’s first Alligator release, hit the unprepared public by surprise in1988. Critics and fans quickly agreed that a new and original guitar herohad emerged. The Chicago Tribune said, “Tinsley Ellis torches with molten fretwork. Ellis takes classic, Southern blues-rock workouts and joltsthem to new life with a torrid ax barrage.” Tinsley’s next four releases—1989’s Fanning The Flames, 1992’s Trouble Time, 1994’s Storm Warning, and 1997’s Fire It Up—further grew his fan base and his fame. Features and reviews ran in Rolling Stone, The Chicago Tribune, TheWashington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and in many other national and regional publications. Guests including Peter Buck (R.E.M.), guitarist Derek Trucks (who made his recording debut with Tinsley atage 14) and keyboardist Chuck Leavell (The Rolling Stones) have joined him in the studio. Ellis’ song A Quitter Never Wins was recorded by JonnyLang, selling over a million copies. He in turn has made guest appearances on albums by The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Colonel Bruce Hamptonand others. Producers Eddy Offord (John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Yes) and eventhe legendary Tom Dowd (The Allman Brothers, Ray Charles) helped Ellis hone his studio sound. A move to Capricorn Records in 2000 saw Ellis revisiting his Southern roots. In 2002, he joined the Telarc label, producing two well-received albums of soul-drenched blues-rock. He returned to Alligator in 2005, releasing Live-Highwayman, which captured the crowd-pleasing energy of his live shows. He followed it with two more incendiary studioreleases, 2007’s Moment Of Truth and 2009’s Speak No Evil. He has since self-released four successful albums on his own Heartfixer label. Overthe course of his career, Ellis has shared stages with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, The Allman Brothers, Leon Russell, Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins and many others. Whether he’s on stage with his own band or jamming with artists like Buddy Guy, the TedeschiTrucks Band, Gov’t Mule or Widespread Panic, he always plays with grit, soul and unbridled passion.
This event first appeared on EssexCountyCreates.org