Guitar player channels blues legends

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers headline Waterville festival

By Roger LaPointe -

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers.

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers.

supplied photo

WATERVILLE — The 5th annual Blues, Brews and Brats Festival in Waterville will feature award-winning blues guitarist Tommy Castro and the Painkillers as headliners.

Castro is known for his Chicago-inspired blues guitar playing, with inspirations like Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal and Mike Bloomfield. His favorite is Elvin Bishop. They have played many shows together and on each other’s albums.

Castro comes from the San Francisco Bay area, where he started playing in the late 1960s.

“It’s not straight ahead Chicago blues. We don’t own the Chicago blues, Louisiana blues or the Memphis soul sound,” Castro said. “The Bay area has it all.

“Of course being a guitar player, it puts you in a certain category. I am a guitar player, but that’s not the first thing that comes to my mind. … People like to put musicians in boxes.”

Castro likes to think of himself more as a songwriter, but he recognizes that many will come out to his live shows for his blistering improvisational live music, which is also featured on the new album.

“I play some guitar solos all right,” he said. “We present good songs, original material, as well as a few choice cover songs.”

Castro can seem cerebral and self-deprecating when talking about his songwriting.

“I found I had a knack for writing decent lyrics,” Castro said. “I really do make sure the lyrics are of a certain quality … but I just go with what comes natural … what comes to mind.”

Castro is well liked by the greats of the guitar world. For almost two straight tours, in 2001 and 2002, Castro opened on the road for B.B. King. His open invitation to the stage had him playing the closing songs with King almost every show.

“B.B. was a friend of mine, and the undisputed king of the blues,” Castro said. “I’ve won the B.B. King entertainer of the year award from the Blues Foundation, won it twice in my career, and it’s something I’ve very proud of. … It’s the highest honor.”

The band is currently on the road promoting its second live album, “Killin’ it — Live.” The album is a collection of some of Castro’s music spanning his entire career, but features his signature style of rock ‘n’ roll and soul, tinged with hard and fast blue collar blues.

Castro has a local link to Toledo and Detroit, having played with the Dynatones before forming his own band. He fondly remembers playing with the Griswolds, Big Jack Reynolds and John Rockford.

“I look back on those times with a great deal of appreciation,” Castro said. “These other artists that inspire me, come out.”

Castro has been with the Painkillers, including bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Michael Emerson, for more than four years.

“I just really enjoy playing with this current line of musicians. The unit, the four of us, it’s a pretty big sound,” Castro said.

Third Street Cigar Records Recording Artist The Good, the Bad & the Blues will also be playing. Their first full-length self-titled album has hit the blues charts nationally and internationally. The Toledo soul blues band has been on the road since the beginning of the year.

Also playing will be 2018 Grammy Award nominee Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers, from Lafayette, Louisiana. Pat Lewandowski will open the show.

The Blues, Brews and Brats Festival takes place Saturday in downtown Waterville, starting at 6:30 p.m. Proceeds for the event go to Waterville Rotary. Tickets are $10, available the day of the show.

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers. Castro & the Painkillers. supplied photo
Tommy Castro & the Painkillers headline Waterville festival

By Roger LaPointe