It's okay to make money in today's world. Even necessary to survive and raise a family. But when somebody becomes greedy in the process where they cheat, pollute and hurt others, well that's not cool. That's the message in the song "Greedy," which is on Tommy Castro's new CD The Devil You Know.
"Greed is the root of all the problems in our country and other countries. The video spells that out," he said. "I'm not big on political statements like Bob Dylan, but that song came out of me because I'm concerned about the huge economic divide in our country. Like John Lee Hooker said: 'That song was in me and it had to come out.' Castro, one of the hottest guitarists on the national blues scene, will bring his rock and roll blues to the Rhythm Room May 23, backed by his band, The Painkillers.
"I've played the Rhythm Room several times over the years. I love the place because the crowd knows what it's all about," he said. "Castro fans will be there and blues fans will be there. The room sounds great. It doesn't look like it would have great acoustics, but it does."
Castro predicts that the Painkillers' performance at the Rhythm Room will rock the house, as they will play new and old songs to keep the audience happy.
"We're a high energy band. I'm hard on the band, but they know what I want," he said.
Drummer Byron Cage left the band to go back to New York to donate a kidney to his brother, so David Tucker, of the Maria Muldaur band, has replaced him. James Pace remains the star on keyboards, and Randy McDonald supplies the bass. All of the Painkillers provide vocals.
Castro has been touring for more than 20 years, and this tour began a couple weeks ago in Memphis during the Beale Street Music Festival. Prior to that, Castro was performing on the Legendary Blues Cruise to the Virgin Islands.
"But it wasn't about where we were going. It was about 25 of the best blues bands performing," he said.
Castro and the Painkillers perform more than 150 shows each year.
Castro has performed at the annual Arizona blues festival several times, which used to be held in Mesa, but is now held at Margaret T. Hance Park in downtown Phoenix. He also performed at the Celebrity Theater with John Lee Hooker.
"Hooker was a sweet old guy. He was an icon in the blues world. His presence was heavy," he said. "Even though he was a blues icon, he was nice to everybody."
Hooker sang on an album with Castro. The song was "Guilty of Love," and it was the last recording of Hooker's career.
"One week later he passed. I said, 'When I grow up I want to be like John Lee Hooker,'" he recalled. Just like Hooker, Castro wants to keep performing to the end and die peacefully in his bed at home.
Castro's The Devil You Know CD has received great acclaim from the industry and fans.
"It's edgy, but different," he said. "It's guitar driven, inspired by the new wave of blues-based music that has found its way into the mainstream," referring to guitarists like Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Jack White.
For The Devil You Know, on Alligator Records, Castro wanted to reshape his band's sound. He started with the drums.
"Traditional blues and soul uses a handful of beats," he said. "We wanted something different so we came up with some good songs and reworked the arrangements into a fresh, modern sound."
Castro, like many greats, as no problem enlisting the help of other great musicians. Special guests on the CD include Joe Bonamassa, Marcia Ball, Tab Benoit, Samantha Fish, Magic Dick, The Holmes Brothers, and Tasha Taylor.
Aside from "Greedy," there are at least three other songs that stand out on the CD.
"The Devil You Know" is also the album's opening track. This guitar riff is about a gal going with somebody she knows rather than somebody she doesn't. "When I Cross the Mississippi" is about Castro's feelings for when he crosses the Mississippi so he can bring the music to the people. Tab Benoit joins Castro on guitar on this tune.
"Benoit plays a fiery guitar, has an amazing voice and does a lot of good work for the planet," he said.
"Two Steps Forward" is about having a goal, but knowing you're going to face setbacks along the way.
"It's a good inspirational tune to keep moving forward, and that is what our band is doing," Castro said.
The Holmes Brothers provide the vocals and Magic Dick "nailed the harmonica part," Castro said.
If you love Chicago blues, this CD is for you. Little Mike took 11 years off from music to raise his family, but he's clearly back in the groove.
From the first note of the first song, "Hard Hard Way," listeners know this is fun blues. The second song, "So Many Problems," will make anyone who can keep a beat want to get up and dance.
"All the Right Moves" is also a song on the CD, about everyone needing to make the right choices in life. The contradiction comes with the party tune "Little on the Side."
Between Little Mike's harmonica and Jim McKaba's piano, "All the Right Moves" comes alive.
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