•Castro’s album “The Devil You Know” was inspired by Tab Benoit, Gary Clark Jr. and The Black Keys.
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•Castro is known on the Bay Area blues scene.
The way Tommy Castro sees it, writing songs doesn’t get easier with age or experience and it’s not something you can command to happen.
“You have to keep getting better at it,” says Castro, the Bay Area singer and guitarist who was the Blues Foundation’s B.B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2010.
He has taken to watching YouTube videos, gleaning what he can about the craft from interviews with masters like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. While each artist might talk differently about writing songs, “everybody seems to go about it the same way,” he says.
Castro is in the middle of writing songs for a new album, even as he tours with his band The Painkillers. They play Saturday, March 7, at Fulton 55.
The last few years have been transitional for Castro.
His last album, “The Devil You Know,” was a departure from the brassy big-band blues signature sound he’s had since the 1990s. It featured guest spots from contemporary blues artists like Joe Bonamassa, Tab Benoit and harmonica player Magic Dick, and it was a quick success. It earned the Blues Blast Music Award for blues rock album of the year.
“I wanted to see what it would be like to do a record without the horns and the brass,” Castro says.
He was inspired by artists like Benoit, Gary Clark Jr. and The Black Keys, who were making music that was stripped-down, bare-boned and gritty.
“It was raw and it was guitar-driven and it was exciting,” Castro says.
He pared his own band down to just three players — bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist James Pace and drummer Bowen Brown — and shifted the focus to his vocals and guitar work. Tapping into his own rawness was rejuvenating, Castro says. It’s the reason he’s almost obsessed with writing new songs these days.
“I’m exited to see what I come up with next,” he says.
There was pushback from some fans, and Castro knows catering to those fans means keeping hold of the things he’s done before, even as he works toward something new. But Castro is also an artist and will continue to evolve.
“Balance is key,” he says. “You can’t just stay where you are. You’ll fizzle and die.”