The Daniel Castro Band: Everything Old is New Again: Part 1
I had been working on a story about the Warren Hellman Museum and the music from the Great Recession when I was approached a few weeks ago by my friend David Perper to come see his new band, The Daniel Castro Band. I’m not in the habit of writing about new bands or bands that I know little about. I told David that I couldn’t write a decent review for a Pink or a Fun concert if my life depended on it. I’m not interested in that music nor do I know much about the influences or the history. I usually approach artists for interviews who I follow or where I know something about where they’re coming from.
David gave me an EP of the new Daniel Castro Band CD “Desperate Rain”. I was surprised when I tossed it in the CD player that this big, bluesy polished sound came out. The recording sounded like a Kenny Wayne Sheppard or a Johnny Lang production. My first love in music is probably the blues. I’ve been captivated by the blues and writing about the East Bay blues and rhythm and blues scene for the past thirty five years. My tastes in blues music to be fair to this band currently run towards the retro analog sounding Texas blues favored by Jimmie Vaughn and Anson Funderberg and Rick Holmstrom. I have been kicking around East Bay clubs like Ester’s Orbit Room, Eli’s Mile High Club, Slim Jenkins Place and the New Orleans House since I was in high school.
The Daniel Castro Band sound is difficult to fit into any one category. The drums are recorded big and I hear traces of Sonny Landreth, Albert Collins and even some Stevie Ray Vaughn. And while Daniel is reluctant to say he plays strictly blues music when talking about his sound when he is on stage he clearly refers to his music as the blues and even calls out his influences from time to time. He agreed with me that the worst thing a musician can do is try and be something that they are not, to sound like some other group. My wife whose tastes run more towards the adult contemporary mainstream said that she thought the title song “Desperate Rain” or “Shelter Me” could be radio hits. The capacity crowd at Biscuits and Blues last Sunday night in San Francisco seemed to feel the same way.
I met Daniel, David and Johnny Yu, the bass player, at Yoshi’s nightclub in Oakland the Thursday before I went to their concert. We met for dinner prior to attending a Jimmie Vaughn Tilt-a-Whirl concert featuring Lou Ann Barton. Members of the Vaughn band came up to our table throughout the evening to pay their respects. While I want to say that the Daniel Castro Band is “new”, Daniel Castro has been around for quite some time. And the other interesting thing to note about this iteration of the Castro band, is that all the members have paid their dues, played with legends are not your typical twenty something start up band. David has been playing drums in bands around the Bay Area since the sixties in groups including Kingfish (a Grateful Dead spinoff), New Riders of the Purple Sage, Pablo Cruise, Jesse Colin Young, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils, Lowell Fulson (said Lowell didn’t like white musicians in his band), Peter Rowan and the Free Mexican Airforce and the Rowan Brothers. Johnny and David had played together off and on since the 70’s. Johnny had a brush with fame playing bass in a 90’s blues band called Nitecry after he moved from his native Hawaii to San Francisco. Johnny also backed up Jimmy Witherspoon, Eric Burdon and Mary Wells on their swings through California.
The first thing that strikes you about Daniel (not to mention the rest of the band) is that he is a down to earth, and a naturally nice guy: No airs, no false intimidation, or blues cool nonsense. And all the band members have a sense of commitment and a seriousness about “making it” in what Daniel admits after forty years of playing seedy blues clubs is a tough business to break out into the larger venues.
Daniel Castro’s story is what really caught my attention. Daniel was born in Ensenada, Baja California. He lived with his Mom who supported Daniel, his grandmother, two sisters Aida and Carmen (Jypsy) named after her favorite two operas, and his older brother Mario. Like a lot of border town families the Castro family was dirt poor and when Daniel was five they moved to Tijuana. “My brother, sister and I came up with the idea that if we could find somebody to marry my mother we could come live in the promised land across the border. We met a truck driver that was hauling asphalt to pave the dirt roads in our neighborhood and we thought he was a good prospect.” The truck driver came to their house for dinner and through Daniels mother’s cooking “man she was a GREAT COOK”, they fell in love and were married. Next came green cards in 1962, a move to Buena Park, California (Daniel was eight) and two more sisters added to the family: Patrica and Julie.
Daniel’s mother and father had to both work long hours. Daniel and his brother Mario had always wanted to play guitar. “In Tijuana we found an old piece of ply wood in a field. We took it home and cut two guitars out of it, painted the knobs and pickguard on them, strung some fishing line with nails on them.” After bugging their mother and father for years they finally got their first real guitar from Sears – a St. George electric guitar with no amplifier. The brothers shared the right-handed guitar which was no problem for Mario who was right-handed but a huge problem for Daniel who was left-handed. Daniel’s brother would laugh at him while he tried to play it upside down so he finally taught himself to play right-handed. His mother and sister Aida sang Mexican songs around the house. Jypsy in particular had a remarkably powerful voice. By the time she was fifteen she was singing in a band called Jypsy and the Soul Brothers. Daniel describes her as ” James Brown, Tina Turner and Janis Joplin all in one.” She introduced Daniel to all the big soul stars on tour at the time and taught him to play Jimmy Reed riffs in the key of E. Jypsy also gave Daniel two BB King records and “when I heard that Lucille vibrato, that was it…it made me cry.”
In 1969 Daniel’s brother Mario was killed in a car accident and it changed the family’s lives. Daniel was fifteen at the time. “I was sitting on the curb in front of our house after my brother’s funeral and a friend came up and said ‘Daniel you take that guitar and play your heart out for Mario wherever you go.” (End of Part One).