Everyone knows that water and electricity don’t get along, so when the high voltage Eddie 9V hit the stage at Skippers Smokehouse in Tampa, Florida the predicted rain took a rain check. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, this young blues sensation possessed a talent beyond his years! Performing songs from his latest album, “Little Black Flies”, he and his band immediately won the crowd over! Let’s talk about Eddie 9V’s guitar skills a second – on par with the best I’ve seen or heard! The future of blues is in good hands! Smoking hot talent!
(photos by Jayne Drooger)
Eddie 9V – (lead guitar/vocals)
Chad Mason – (Keys)
Lane Kelly – (bass/vocals)
Aaron Hambrick – (drums)
After he got the crowd riled up, Tommy Castro took the stage. If there was any doubt as to how loved this man is, that doubt was removed when he came out and the crowd filled the dance floor just to be closer to this blues icon. An interesting fraction in time for me was as he approached the entrance to the stage, I could see behind the curtain. I could see him approaching the stage while witnessing the crowd’s anticipation of his appearance. I was seeing both worlds at once. Then the two combined in a crescendo moment! Ladies and Gentlemen – TOMMY CASTRO!!!!!
The crowd held nothing back as he walked to the front of the stage and saying, as one might to an old friend, “Long time no see!” You could almost feel the virtual hugs circling the venue! Yes it was good to have Tommy back on Skippers’ stage!
His latest album, A Bluesman Came to Town chronicles a “hero’s journey” to learn to play guitar. The journey he took us on at Skippers consisted of the title track to that album and many others from his repertoire of records over his career. One of my favorites was “She Wanted to Give it to Me,” from his 2014 album, The Devil You Know. Such a fun, flirty song with a bit of bluesy rap that makes you want to groove!
His demeanor was one of deep appreciation for being able to back on stage at Skippers. His fans have missed him and he, them. Hopefully it won’t be another four years before he returns to Skippers!
I caught up with Tommy before the show for what felt like a conversation between old friends. That’s one of the beautiful things about blues musicians – they are never too busy to have a chat; never too busy to share what they love. Here’s how that unfolded:
AMM: Take me back to March of 2020 when Covid started shutting things down. What went through your mind and how did that affect you and your band?
TC: We realized it was bad but thought it would come and go quicker than it did. We were in the middle of a tour coming down from Canada headed to California when it started to be a real problem. We had a show planned in Sacramento on March 12 to end that string of shows and it was “iffy” whether those shows were going to happen, figuring whatever happens, happens. If they wanted us to play, we’d play, but if not, we wouldn’t. It pretty much ended right there. Then just started waiting it out.
AMM: You figured a few weeks to a couple months it should be over, right?
TC: Yeah, never imagined it would be over a year.
AMM: What did you do with the time that would have been spent doing shows and touring? Writing “Bluesman Came to Town”?
TC: Ha! Basically – Yeah (laughing)! I had already started on it before the pandemic hit. I had already started with the idea and had gone to Nashville to write with Tom Hambridge and had started on a handful of songs. We were going to finish it up and go into the studio in May of 2020 but that didn’t happen. We pushed it back and finally went into the studio in October 2020 to finish cutting the record. I came home and did some guitar work and finished up a couple things so that kept me busy. We did a few livestreams since everyone else was doing that, people were reaching out to us to try different things, tried a couple of solo acoustic things which I don’t do – ever! I’m used to being in a band – figured I’d try it to see try to push myself to learn some new stuff – so I worked up a couple things acoustically and did a couple of livestreams like that, you know, then realized that really isn’t what I do (laughing). It’s easier to do with a full band and a crew. We did a couple recorded shows in a theater, and a couple shows in the back yard at old Rancho Nicasio, which is one of the places we play in the summer time when they have the outdoor backyard venue. They let us use the place to shoot one of our recorded livestream shows. We kept busy doing those kinds of things and kept busy working on the album. And now here we are back on the road and doing live shows!
AMM What was your first show after the lock down of covid ended?
TC: With an audience?
AMM: Yes with a live audience.
TC (thinking… ) Might have been the Rancho Nicasio Backyard Series – no there was something before that.. no we went to the Handy Blues festival somewhere in Kentucky – Henderson, Kentucky on a weekend and we also did a small festival in Michigan, and a private event in May 2021 in Pennsylvania, then did a public event in Pennsylvania which was outdoors.. I can’t remember which one of those happened first but it was in May of 2021 that we started having shows with a live audience. Then we did the Handy Blues festival in Kentucky. We went down to southern California and played the Belly Up Tavern which was great – it was a sold out show and when we did the Rancho Nicasio show, that was also a sold-out show. Interesting, depending on where you go, there’s restrictions and requirements for people to get in but some places there’s not. The most successful ones were the ones where there were restrictions – people I guess felt safer to come out but that was before the Delta variant kicked in and took everything on a longer journey than we expected. We expected that on this tour, by this tour, all that would be gone and it would be a little bit less, uh, weird (laughing) and strange, and be a bit more normal – but all that said, we’ve had a good time! We’d just take ‘em one gig at a time, we deal with whatever we have to deal with on that night, and do the best we can to give a good show. The audiences just seemed to be very happy to be able to come out and see live music, we were all very happy to be able to perform.
AMM: You don’t realize how much you appreciate something like that till it’s taken away.
TC: You don’t miss your water till the well runs dry!
AMM: Kinda like, this is my new moto, “you don’t want to be zaggin’ when you should be ziggin’”!
TC: Oh man! You heard my new record? (laughing)
AMM: Yes I have! Many times! I love it!
TC: (laughing) don’t want to be zaggin’ when you should be ziggin’”! And if you wind up in a hole, just stop digging” (laughing)
AMM: Do you have any songs that you have written over the years that you have never released or recorded?
TC: No, not really. I usually write with a purpose of making a record so I almost record everything I write. The smart thing to do is to write like 20 songs and pick your best 12 of those songs and record those but I always wind up just recording everything that I wrote (laughing) just getting enough together to make the record seems the way it goes – a couple of them didn’t make it, if I go back in time there were some things I started on that I just didn’t fly.
AMM: This album goes from the beginning where there’s a guy that’s working and living his day-to-day life, then a bluesman comes to town and the whole album tells a story.
TC: Yeah a bluesman comes to town and it changes him forever. He goes out on this journey to learn to play guitar at first from an old guy in his town that teaches him some stuff, like a mentor type. This is based on something we call the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell talks about that in mythology and literature. There’s been thousands of stories written around that idea and I just thought well that would be the way to go, to start with that and we wanted to do a blues opera and nobody wanted to call it that but I wanted that idea, like a rock opera, only blues music or my music which is a combination of blues and soul and rock and funk and whatever (laughing). So we started writing the story, I did an outline of the story and sent it to Tom Hambridge and he started coming up with song titles and ideas and we got together and finished them up. It’s something I’ve never done and that is the hard part. After 18 or 20 albums to figure out what you’re going to do next, but that’s different, but still me. You don’t want people to go, “whoa he’s gone too far this time” (laughing) “what the hell was he thinking!” We want them to be happy and I want to give my fans and people that have been following us something that sounds like me and IS me, trying to stay true to myself as much as possible but at the same time do something different. It’s really tricky. But we did it!
AMM: Yes you did! I’m sure you’ll do it more times. I’m sure your fans that follow you and your music won’t be disappointed with anything you do.
TC: I’m so determined not to let people down because I appreciate that they have even supported me all these years, literally. My fans have given me a way to make a living, the blues scene, blues music scene, all the people involved in blues foundation and blues societies all over the world in clubs and venues. My friend, Roger Naber on the legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise helps everybody who gets on that gig. It elevates their career right off the bat just from being on there once and I’ve been lucky enough to have been on that over 30 times. So all of these people have helped support me over the years – I really don’t know what I would have done. I hate to think about it.
AMM: Last question – what would you tell your 20-year old self as you were getting into this blues music scene?
TC: Stop drinking sooner. (laughing) Yeah from the time I was in my 20s till the time I quit once and for all at 48, I could have uh, done some better things.. but then you never know. Things kinda happen the way they’re supposed to. My life went the way it went and I’m really happy with the way things are right now and I think all of that journey was meant to be to get me to where I’m at. But I would tell myself that, I’d save myself a lot of grief and money (laughing). It’s not for everyone, there’s probably about ten percent of the population that shouldn’t drink and I’m one of them. I’ve sure had a good time though – a lot of fun over the years, enjoyed it but there was also a lot of pain and suffering that didn’t need to happen to me and a few other people around me. So if I were to go back in time, I think I would tell my younger self you better quit drinking now because this is what the future looks like (laughing).
AMM: Tommy, thank you so much for your time and in allowing this interview. I look forward to seeing you again soon!
(photos by Jayne Drooger)
Tommy Castro – (vocals/lead guitar)
Michael Emerson – (Keys)
Randy McDonald – (bass)
Bowen Brown – (drums)
Partial Set List:
1.) Nasty Habits
2.) Make it Back to Memphis
3.) She Wanted to Give it To Me
4.) Serves Me Right to Suffer (John Lee Hooker cover)
5.) A Bluesman Came to Town
6.) Shaking the Hard Times Loose
7.) Gimme Some Lovin’ (Spencer Davis Group cover)
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Music and writing are two things that drive me, so the best of both worlds is to write about music; especially local bands and artists! They give me something I can’t live without and supporting their love and drive of bringing that to us gives me something to be excited about and to write about! To bring a concert, an album, or an interview to life for someone else through my written visual is my goal.