Tommy Castro

Tommy Castro, front and center, with his Painkillers, are back at the Castle Theatre Thursday night.

VICTORIA SMITH, For The Pantagraph

We can always use some Painkillers.

Now more than ever.

As one of the Castle Theatre's near-annual visitors, Dr. Tommy Castro will see us now.


The Thursday night show is the fifth pass through for Tommy Castro & The Painkillers since its formation as many years ago.

The Painkillers was Castro's segue from the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, an ever-changing caravan "meant to be a revolving door," he says.

That busy door saw a steady stream of blues vets and newcomers coming and going over the course of its run: Deanna Bogart, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Janvia Magness, Joe Louis Walkers and others.

Come 2012, Castro decided it was time for a change-up.

"I remember seeing Tab Benoit playing with his trio and I thought, 'You know, there's NOTHING missing in this show. Tab doesn't need one more thing ... he's killing it with just a bass player, drummer and him.'"

Out went the signature horns that helped define the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue sound.

In their stead: a tight, frills-free quartet, initially comprised of Castro, his longtime bassist crony Randy McDonald and fresh accomplices James Pace and David Tucker.

The goal: "New energy and ideas."

Mission accomplished over the course of three albums in five years: "The Devil You Know," "Method to My Madness" and, just released this past week, "Stompin' Ground."

"It's been pretty exciting getting ready for this one to come out," says Castro. "I think it's a good record, and I have some of my friends in there, too, which made it a lot of fun."

Those pals includes Charlie Musselwhite, Mike Zito, Danielle Nicole and Los Lobos' David Hildago.

"I heard each one of my friends' contributions on these songs in my head as I was working on them. Happily, when I reached out and actually asked, everyone said yes."

On the Painkillers front, Pace and Tucker have been succeeded in recent years by Bowen Brown on drums and Michael Emerson on keyboards.

"Stompin Grounds," Castro says, "is a little based on the story of my coming-up years when I started becoming interested in music and playing guitar." 

That would have been in San Jose, Calif., where he first took ax in hand at age 10, all the better to emulate guitar god-heroes like Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Elvin Bishop and Mike Bloomfield, most of whom he's collaborated with in the decades since.

"I never planned on being a singer," Castro admits of his plans that, happily, went astray somewhere along the path.

"I was just listening to FM radio and hanging out in San Jose, where there were lots of musical influences, from hanging out with hippie kids to listening rock-blues to the these low-riders in the area who drove by all day long blasting out soul music by Junior Walker & The All-Stars, Wilson Pickett and James Brown."

As a result, "I was exposed to all these different sounds, and I grew up to be a musician with those influences always a part of my music."

Castro first made waves with the Dynatones in the late 1980s, then sealed his fate with the formation of the first Tommy Castro Band in 1991. Within a few years, the group had become the house band for NBC's "Comedy Showcase," which aired following "Saturday Night Live" for three seasons.

In 2001 and 2002, he was asked by B.B. King to open his summer concert tours, each show of which was capped by a nightly finale in which King and Castro traded licks together on stage.

In 2009, Castro joined the celebrated Alligator Records family, and promptly produced 2009's acclaimed "Hard Believer," which scooped up four 2010 Blues Music Awards, including for the second time this career, a B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award, billed as "the very highest award a blues performer can receive.

With his past King-ly history, who should know better?

As the Painkillers continue administering their music, Castro has come to realize, he says, that "this isn't so much a stripping down as the creation of a whole new sound. It makes me feel like a kid all over again. There's some real joy in the playing."


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