The Daniel Castro Band: Everything Old is New Again: Part 2
Daniel Castro was fifteen years old when his brother Mario died. His passion remained the blues even though by the time he entered high school anybody interested in being in a band was into rock. On Tom Mazzolini’s Blues by the Bay radio show yesterday he featured an old interview with Bobby “Blue” Bland who passed away the prior week. Bobby Blue Bland was talking about the difference between blues and rock music. “Rock is all about the beat. Blues music is about the story. And white audiences haven’t lived the stories so they can’t relate as much to my music as Black audiences.” He went on to site his influences at Tony Bennett, Perry Como and Andy Williams , ironically all white ballad singers. Bland also talked about the nuances involved with singing a blues song, for example how a word like “baby” can be a plea or an admonishment depending on the inflection. Last week I saw Robert Plant with his band the Sensational Space Shifters at the Greek Theater doing new world music twists on old Led Zeppelin blues based songs. Plant opened with “Babe I’m Gonna leave You” (an early Joan Baez folk song I recently learned) and made the word “baby” sound like a sexual plea. Two days later I heard Carla Thomas singing B-A-B-Y on my car radio and you can hear the different intonations from the backup singers in that particular song. Daniel Castro was drawn to this music and stuck with his passion. He appreciated at a young age, as did his bandmates, David Perper and Johnny Yu, the way vocals and instruments tell a story in the blues.
Daniel describes those early years in LA as his boot camp.”I had a friend, Paul Reed, a drummer who had a low budget recording project and he invited me to play on the session. Paul said it was a blues band which was in my wheelhouse and I didn’t care how much we were being paid.” Paul and Daniel went on to start a band called The Inner City Blues Band. They worked clubs in South Central LA and ended up as the quasi house band the Tropicana. Daniel would go to high school during the week and Reed would pick him up on Friday afternoon to play gigs Friday and Saturday nights and a matinee on Sunday for $20.00 a gig. “The band started to attract a following,” explained Daniel, ” and a lot of the big name LA blues scene was checking us out…people like Delmar “Mighty Mouth” Evans from the Johnny Otis Show along with Pee Wee Crayton and Little Ester Phillips.”
Like a lot of blues clubs in the late sixties, the Tropicana was not a Beverly Hills trendy nightclub. “It was a real rough place” Daniel explained. By 1974, the Inner City Blues Band ran into disco and glam rock and Daniel was forced to play anything to pay the bills: country and western, top 40 R&B, rock, doing tours of Arizona, Nevada and Washington. In 1985 Daniel was invited to see Ronnie Lane of the Small Faces at the famous Palomino Club in LA by a friend who was playing bass in Ronnie’s band. “We hit it off and in 1990 I was invited to do a tour of Japan with his band. Ronnie was living in Austin Texas at the time so we did a warm up gig at the Continental Club prior to taking off to Japan.” The great session player, Ian McLagen ( who played with the Rolling Stones, The Faces, Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Brown among others) was the keyboard player for that tour.
After that tour Daniel came back to earth and found himself involved in the blues scene organically growing in North Beach in San Francisco. Little is written about the Grant and Green blues scene which really took off in the 80’s and 90’s, a scene which was home turf for blues bands like Johnny Nitro, Mark Hummel, Ben “King” Perkoff, Terry Hanck and Tommy Castro. On any given night you could walk into The Saloon, the Grant and Green or the Savoy Tivoli and see sweat pouring down the walls and a packed house digging the blues. Daniel stared to get a reputation in this tight knit community as an exciting blues guitar player. He released his first CD, No Surrender, in 1995 which opened doors to larger venues like Slims, the Great American Music Hall and the Filmore. The Daniel Castro band starting getting gigs opening for Tommy Castro at the Mystic Theater and for Dave Mason at the State Theater in Modesto. One thing lead to another before they knew it the band was playing blues festivals throughout the Western US.
This brings us up to the present day. Daniel has found a bass player in Johnny Yu and a drummer in David Perper who know how to interpret his songs and to give them a distinct sound. I heard an interview the other day on the radio with Shel Talmy, the producer of the first Who, Kinks and David Bowie albums. He was talking about how “you can take a bad band with a great song and have a hit…but you can’t take a good band with a bad song and make that song appealing”. When I think about the musicians whom I admire from Dave Alvin to Guy Clark to Joe Ely, Graham Parker or Iris Dement..these singer songwriters often don’t have the best voices but their voices are perfect for the great songs that they write and perform. Amos Garrett has a new album, JazzBlues, where he plays classic Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis songs. I can tell a mile away that this is an Amos Garrett record because of the distinctive tone that comes from the tuning and finger picking style of his guitar.
Daniel and his talented bandmates have recorded an excellent CD, filled with original material, and they have the credentials and the smarts to have an impact in a genre that continually goes in and out of style but is always the basis for the real thing. If given a break I believe that an audience will find this band. As B.B. King was once quoted “I’ve said that playing the blues is like having to be Black twice. Stevie Ray Vaughn missed on both counts, but I never noticed”. The same can be said about the Daniel Castro Band.