Bay Area bluesman Tommy Castro has had a pretty solid run these last two decades, having released a string of critically acclaimed albums, taken home the prestigious Blues Music Award in 2008 and jammed with some of the biggest names in the genre. But the 58-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter feels he's just now hitting his stride with his new backing band, the Painkillers, and his latest collection from Alligator Records, “The Devil You Know.”
“I feel like I get better at making records the more I do it,” said Castro, who will headline Tacoma's Jazzbones on April 4. “I really set out to make a certain kind of an album. I had a certain kind of attitude and a certain kind of a sound I was trying to create, and really worked hard at it.”
After years of playing guitar-driven blues, soul and R&B, backed by a tight horn section, Castro decided to strip his supporting cast down to a lean trio in 2012. The Painkillers are drummer David Tucker, keyboard player James Pace and bassist Randy McDonald, an original member of the Tommy Castro Band.
“This is the closest thing to just jamming with my friends, just for the sheer joy of playing when we were kids,” Castro said. “It’s back to playing with a little more focus on guitar than in recent years. It’s got a little bit more of a rock edge to things. It’s slightly more contemporary. There’s more interesting drum things happening, rhythms. That was all part of the plan. It’s all kind of working out.”
When it came time to record “Devil You Know,” Castro could also call on an all-star cast of friends to make cameos. “Being sort of a regular on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, I get a chance to network and hang out and jam with a lot of musicians,” he said. “Twice a year, I do this cruise. You get a chance to really spend a little time with some of the other players on the scene rather than just hearing them on the occasional set on a festival.”
On the new album, guitarist Joe Bonamassa shreds on an updated version of Savoy Brown's outsider anthem, “I'm Tired.” J. Geils Band's Magic Dick blows harp on the gritty, rockin' “Two Steps Forward,” and Tab Benoit adds a bit of Bayou soul to “When I Cross the Mississippi.” Also making appearances are vocalists Samantha Fish and Tasha Taylor and Alligator label mates Marcia Ball and The Holmes Brothers.
“Everybody had a place on this album that made sense,” Castro said. “Like Bonamassa playing on 'I’m Tired.' His style on guitar really reminds you of one of those great British, blues-rock players. It’s in that bag, and we were gonna do this song anyway. To put him together with that track, it was the perfect fit.
“I had some really talented people involved with me: producer Bonnie Hayes and some of the songwriting partners of mine. Everybody collaborated and helped me to pull together the kind of album I was trying to make; and I think it might be the best thing that we’ve done.”
Tommy Castro and the Painkillers will make two stops locally. On April 2, they will headline the Triple Door, 216 Union St., in Seattle. That show will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and is open to all ages. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 the day of the show; (206) 838-4333 or http://www.thetripledoor.net for further details.
On April 4, Castro and company will headline Jazzbones, 2803 Sixth Ave., in Tacoma. That show will start at 8 p.m., and you have to be 21 or older to enter. Tickets are $15 general admission, $17.50 for reserved balcony seating. For more info, call (253) 396-9169 or visit http://www.jazzbones.com.