Today on Beale Street Caravan, we hop onboard the 2013 Rhythm and Blues Cruise and stick around for two shows this week. First up is the incomparable Elvin Bishop; then, we hear from Tommy Castro and his new band, The Painkillers.
In addition, guest host Poppy Tooker tells us about the link between Food and The Blues.
About the artists:
However, it was not until he won a National Merit Scholarship to the University of Chicago in 1959 that Bishop found the real answers to his questions. He found himself in the middle of the Chicago blues scene and immersed himself in the genre. After two years of college, Bishop dropped out and pursued music full time, eventually meeting Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist Smokey Smothers and learning the basics of blues guitar from him. In the early ’60s, Bishop teamed up with Paul Butterfield helped form the core of the Butterfield Blues Band. Although he had only played guitar for a few years, he practiced frequently and played with Butterfield in just about every place possible, including campuses, houses, parks, and — in the venue that helped launch the band — Big John’s on Chicago’s North Side. Bishop also helped shape the sound of several Butterfield albums, including The Pigboy Crabshaw, whose title refers to Bishop’s countrified persona.
In 1968, Elvin Bishop left Butterfield’s band following the release of In My Own Dream. He launched a solo career and relocated to the San Francisco area, where he made frequent appearances at the Filmore with artists like Eric Clapton, B. B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and the Allman Brothers Band. Bishop recorded for four albums for Epic Records and later signed with Capricorn in 1974. His recording of “Traveling Shoes” (from the album Let It Flow) made a dent on the charts, but the single “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (from Struttin’ My Stuff) made a bigger splash in 1976 when it peaked at number 3 on the Billboard charts. Over the next few years, the Elvin Bishop Group dissolved. He released his album Best Of in 1979 and lay low for several years, eventually resurfacing when he signed with the Alligator label in 1988.
Bishop then released Big Fun in 1988 and Don’t Let the Bossman Get You Down in 1991, both of which were well received. He also participated in Alligator’s 1992 20th Anniversary cross-country tour; three years later, he toured with veteran bluesman B.B. King and released an album entitled Ace in the Hole. The Skin I’m In followed in 1998, and 2000’s That’s My Partner saw him teaming up with Smokey Smothers, the same musician who had originally taught him guitar. After a five-year hiatus, Bishop released Gettin’ My Groove Back in 2005 via Blind Pig Records; he then jumped to the Delta Groove Music label for 2008’s The Blues Rolls On, which featured guest spots by B.B. King, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and others.
According to all the press and hype and hoopla, Tommy Castro is pegged as the next big star of the blues. Long a favorite among Bay Area music fans, Castro — in the space of two album releases — has taken his music around the world and back again with a sheaf of praise from critics and old-time blues musicians alike. His music is a combination of soul-inflected rockers with the occasional slow blues or shuffle thrown into the mix to keep it honest. His vocals are laid-back and always a hair behind the beat, while his scorching guitar tone is Stevie Ray Stratocaster-approved. Crossover success does not seem out of the question.
Born and raised in San Jose, CA, Castro started playing guitar at the tender age of ten. Initially inspired by Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, and Elvin Bishop, he started the inevitable journey into the roots of his heroes and discovered and quickly became enamored of B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Freddie King. His vocal styling came from constant listening to Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Otis Redding. After playing with numerous Bay Area groups honing his chops, he landed a gig playing guitar for the San Francisco band the Dynatones, who were then signed to Warner Brothers. The two-year stint augured well for Castro, playing to the biggest crowds he had seen up to that point and backing artists as diverse as Carla Thomas and Albert King.
Returning to San Francisco, Castro formed his own group and in 1993 released his first self-produced album, No Foolin’, on the dime-sized Saloon label. That same year also saw him winning the Bay Area Music Award for Best Club Band, an honor he duplicated the following year. Working as the house band on NBC’s Comedy Showcase, airing after Saturday Night Live, only boosted his visibility and name value. In 1997, he won Bammies for Outstanding Blues Musician and for Outstanding Blues Album for his debut release on Blind Pig Records, Exception to the Rule. Also in 1997 Castro and his band began a three-year stint working as the house band on NBC’s Comedy Showcase, which aired after Saturday Night Live.
Live at the Fillmore was released in early 2000, and with everyone from industry insiders to B.B. King singing his praises, Castro appeared to be headed for bigger and better things. It was not to be, however, as in 2001 he left Blind Pig Records and recorded Guilty of Love for the small 33rd Street label. Blind Pig closed the books on their association with Castro in 2002 by releasing the career retrospective The Essential Tommy Castro. Gratitude appeared from Heart and Soul in 2003, followed by Triple Trouble (with Jimmy Hall and Lloyd Jones) later that same year from Telarc. 2005 saw Castro return to the Blind Pig label for the release of Soul Shaker, followed by Painkiller in 2007.