Concert: Tommy Castro
Venue: Biscuits and Blues, San Francisco
Date: 8 December, 2004
Reviewed by Eric Steiner
Tommy Castro and his band mates hail from the San Francisco Bay area, and it's a treat to catch them in their own backyard at San Francisco's Biscuits and Blues on their rare appearances there. Biscuits and Blues is a 1999 winner of a Keep the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation, and world-class touring artists like Tommy Castro make it their business to play this intimate basement venue when they can.
While the cable cars on nearby California street were decked out in garland, lights, and Christmas finery, the City was drenched in a downpour, and I think that contributed to just a few open tables at the club. Otherwise, we'd be three deep at the bar, which is right across from the small stage, a perfect vantage point at one of America's finest spots for blues.
The few empty tables didn't dampen the evening, though. Tommy and company played their hearts out, as they do over 270 nights a year playing the blues around the world. When this review hits the screens of Cosmik Debris in early 2005, Tommy, bassist Randy McDonald, saxman Keith Crossan and new TCB drummer Chris Sandoval will be playing Delbert McClinton's 11th Sandy Beaches Cruise, along with Teresa James, John Hiatt, Marcia Ball, and Jimmy Hall. SBC 11 will sail out of Fort Lauderdale on Holland America's MS Zuiderdam, and ports of call include stops on St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and Grand Turk Island in the Caribbean. Former Wet Willie vocalist Jimmy Hall joined Tommy Castro and Lloyd Jones on Triple Trouble (Telarc), a memorable blues CD that should have sold more than it did. There's no doubt they'll recreate some of that magic on the high seas with Delbert and friends this year on SBC 11.
While Tommy's show sampled his catalogue back to 1995's Exception to the Rule (Blind Pig), Tommy introduced us to some new stuff on his new CD, Soul Shaker (also on Blind Pig). Soul Shaker marks Tommy's return to his original record label, and Randy's out-front and funky lead in to the new "Give Love a Try" is just a taste of what will likely be one of the better blues releases of 2005. "Wake Up Call," also on Soul Shaker, will be one of my favorite new songs of 2005 if it's anything like the blistering version Tommy ripped through.
The show featured two local guests and Tommy played the proud mentor to local harpman Blues Junior as they powered through Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" and Tommy's "Chairman of the Board," from his 1999 Blind Pig CD, Right as Rain. His version of "Like an Angel" from that same CD was the most funkified version I've heard live, and I was glad to hear that five-year old song again.
Another surprise guest was the flamboyant Bay-Area bluesman Johnny Ace. Tommy noticed Johnny when he entered the room, and invited Johnny right up to the stage. Johnny, a ringer for the late, great Gene Wilder, picked up a candle from a nearby table and it looked like this candle was leading him to Tommy. Johnny overtook the stage, to the delight of Tommy and Randy, and he belted out a soulful and funky "Funky Broadway" directing the band through Wilson Pickett's peaks and valleys. When not helping friends like Tommy Castro out, he plays bass for Cathy Lemons, a local blueswoman who has the regular Sunday night slot at Biscuits and Blues. I've heard good things about her CD, Dark Road, and hope to discover her work this year. With special guests Tommy Castro, David Maxwell, and Rusty Zinn sitting in, I don't think I'll be disappointed.
Bassist Randy McDonald played a Texas rumba, "Texas Flower," from his solo CD that I shouted about in late 2003, On the Wild Side (Heart and Soul). His musical apprenticeship included 25+ years with Bay Area musical institution the Dynatones, and his newest career with Tommy Castro gives him ample opportunity to showcase his considerable and instinctive bass chops.
With fewer than 25 shopping days before Christmas, Tommy and the guys were in a holiday mood. They pumped up "Merry Christmas, Baby," Ray Charles-style, and talked about the upcoming Soul Shaker release party slated for March 5th at Boz Scaggs' club, Slim's. Even though they'll be showcasing a new CD, I hope Tommy will bring back his always-welcomed funky "Sex Machine" just like he did tonight. Whether you catch this version live, on CD or DVD, Tommy more than honors the Godfather of Soul on this song.
The second set ended close to two in the morning and meetings with my day job were scheduled to begin in less than six hours. Despite the sleep I wouldn't get, I was one of the last to leave Biscuits and Blues. For one simple reason - tonight's show reminded me why I love electric blues. I love electric blues for the way Tommy channeled Buddy Guy's "When My Left Eye Jumps," his extended and passionate guitar solos, and Randy's bass lines, the likes of which I haven't experienced since I first saw Stanley Clarke build a bass foundation for Keith Richards in their New Barbarians Tour of the late 70's in Chicago.
The blues is in very good hands with the Tommy Castro Band and their new Blind Pig release, Soul Shaker.
© 2005 - Eric Steiner