The Painkillers, Tommy Castro’s backing band, seems like both an ironic and apt name: The blues are usually tales of people feeling bad, but listening to it also makes you feel oh, so good.
“I decided to name the band ‘Painkillers,’” Castro said during a pre-soundcheck phone interview from Phoenix, Arizona, “and I have a T-shirt that says, ‘May be habit-forming.’”
“We like to think that the music makes the people feel better; the blues has always been the kind of music that you listen to when things are going wrong. You listen to the music and it lifts you up and helps you to feel better about your situation not to make you feel worse. So the ‘Painkillers’ idea, that’s what it is: It’s meant to make you feel good.”
Castro is a heck of a cool dude, and he looks and comes across as much younger and energetic than his age (62). He laughs often and listens intently. He’s the guy that says the right things to blow people’s minds at a party, knows all the best tunes and has the best booze.
But as avuncular and laid-back as he is, when it comes to the guitar, he's all business. That Bay Area breeziness turns into blues guitar-god fire. Expect a lot of singed hair at his show this Saturday at World Records.
“We’re gonna be doing a few songs off of the new release ‘Stompin' Ground’ and then we’re going to do a handful of songs from our past,” Castro said. “We have 14 to 15 records out over the years, so we try to grab a song from different times, songs from different periods of the band throughout the years — especially the ones that people seem to ask about all the time.”
"Stompin' Ground" is a solid blues record for the veteran axe-man and his able band. In the middle of all the shuffles, boogie (the song "Enough is Enough" is a killer), and Motown and Ray Charles-style upbeat soul ("Soul Shake" and "Sticks And Stones") is the midtempo "My Old Neighborhood" which is a nice gently spirited change of pace. With its horns, Wurlitzer organ and Fender Rhodes piano supporting the picture-painting lyrics, the song is practically plaintive if it wasn't so sentimental. When Castro sings, "I go back in my mind, to a simpler time, I always I knew just where I stood, my old neighborhood," he's there and, brother, he knows those times are gone.
No word if that song will be played at their show on Saturday, but the album is worth picking up. Considering Castro hasn’t performed in Bakersfield for years — by his own account it must be just a few years shy of a decade — it might be a while before he passes through again. Check it out: Tommy Castro and the Painkillers bring the party with mojo to spare.
“I think I have the best band that I’ve ever had right now,” Castro said. “We have a group of guys that play really well together … We are in really good form and are really looking forward to playing to the Bakersfield audience after all these years.”