Daniel Castro and his band play the blues tonight at 7:30pm at .
Lauded by the likes of Elvin Bishop and Willie Brown, Daniel Castro plays passionate blues and is at the heart of the blues scene in the Bay Area. He's released two CDs and hopes to release a third this year. Castro spoke with me earlier this week about the blues and his musical career.
Will the new CD be a mix of originals and covers?
The plan right now is all originals but if a nice cover tune falls in there somewhere that would fit in nicely with what we’re trying to do, I wouldn’t be opposed to that.
This Saturday’s show will be picking and choosing from all of them or…?
We plan on playing a lot of material that will be on the new CD.
Have you played in Pacifica prior to this week?
I think this is our fourth time [at Mildred Owen Concert Hall]. Every time we’ve played there so far, it’s been just beautiful. The organizers are just really sweet people. And they’re music lovers. A lot of people come for the dancing, but I was really surprised that a lot of people really came just to listen.
You live in the San Jose area, correct? How long have you lived in the Bay Area?
Yes, I'm in San Jose. I first moved up here in 1989 and stayed for a couple of years. Then I moved back to Orange County and eventually decided to return to the Bay Area in 1995. I lived in Alameda for quite a long time. I love it there. I miss it terribly.
You’re from L.A.?
I’m from Orange County. There is a difference! I grew up about a half mile from Knott’s Berry Farm. I did play a lot of gigs in the L.A. area, about a good 36 miles from where I grew up.
What brought you to the Bay Area?
I had been to the Bay Area several times and really liked it, but at the time when I moved up here, it was actually the furthest thought from my mind. But a lot of people told me there was a good music scene happening here, and the company I was working for at the time offered me a gig here so I checked it out and really liked it. I actually moved here the same week as the big earthquake [Loma Prieta, 1989]. I secured a place to live; briefly went back to Orange County; the earthquake hit; and then I moved in that weekend…The Bay Area’s been great. I do miss my people in Orange County but I just fell in love with the music scene that was going on around here at the time.
What’s the Bay Area music scene like now as opposed to what it was like when you moved here?
At the time when I came out here, it was just thriving. The North Beach scene was really happening. Johnny Nitro, Tommy Castro, and others were really churning it. There were a lot of great places to play, a lot of really great musicians to play with. And I was well received and able to get work. Johnny Nitro was nice enough to offer me his stage to get me known to people. And he was very, very good for me. Do you know who Johnny Nitro is?
Yeah, well Johnny Nitro had the band out here at the time. When I first came out here…I said, well, who are the bands that I should see. And everyone said, Johnny Nitro, number one. And the Tommy Castro Band and a couple other guys. I went to see these acts and I was just completely blown away. I really liked what they were doing and the intensity of how they were doing it. Johnny was at the top of it and he was just a really great blues guy. Sadly, he passed away last February….He was a good man, a very good man. We miss him terribly.
It’s great that you had that connection with him.
Yeah. As a matter of fact, I wrote a song for him and I will be playing it in Pacifica. It’s a tune that I feel very, very strongly about. Johnny died on a Saturday in February. My band and I were playing at the Torch Club in Sacramento and a friend of ours was there, listening to us. We were feeling really good and the gig came off really good. We were all smiles and we felt great about the audience. And then our friend told us that she had gotten a message that Johnny had died earlier that evening. It was just heartbreaking. I remember driving home from the Torch Club, from Sacramento all the way to San Jose, and I just couldn’t believe it. And when I woke up the next morning I had the song in my head.
It must be very powerful to write a song like that when you’re just starting to mourn, I would think.
That’s the way it felt. I was driving home and the whole time I couldn’t get my mind off of him. He was a very good friend to me. I hadn’t seen him in a while and I was putting everything together: great experiences we had and a couple not so good experiences [laughs]. It was just hard to take. The next morning, I immediately went down to the recorder and laid it down. I’ve played it at a couple of gigs and it’s been a very, very strong and emotional song to play. People have received it really, really well.
That’s a great way to honor him and also to mourn him.
Yeah, that’s the way I feel about it. It’s almost like a gift.
It sounds like he was a major influence on you then, and with the blues in general?
Yeah, in a lot of ways he was. He was sort of a mentor to us all. He couldn’t help but influence you. We called him “The King of North Beach” because he had the band, he had a rockin’ band and at his height, he was really something. He played great, great blues. Just all out blues. He never got out of playing locally around here. And I don’t think he ever wanted to. I was talking with Tommy [Castro] and Tommy said that he asked Nitro why he didn’t tour. And Johnny goes, 'Why should I leave San Francisco? Eventually everybody comes to North Beach.' [Laughs.] That was so Johnny, you know, ‘Why do I need to go? Everybody’ll show up here sooner or later.’ That really gives you a glimpse into his mind and his heart. He was always playing his heart out.
What do you think is different about the blues scene today?
I’ve been playing blues for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of things come and go…people have this idea that the blues all of a sudden shows up and it’s good for a certain amount of time and then it kinda sneaks over to a cubby hole [laughs]. But you know, the blues is always there. Blues music has always been there. People tend to go in cycles in what they listen to. New types of music come around and there are always new listeners popping up, but I think after a while, you know, people always turn to the blues. And it’s okay that blues evolves to a different level all the time. I see a lot of blues music, or what you would call blues music, with a lot of roots, American roots, put into it, and I dig it. Because it’s all music. If somebody has put something different to it and it sounds great and people are digging it…all the better.
Doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. Arrive early for tickets and best seating! More information available here.