by Brenda Lorenz, photos by Jayne Drooger
With the threat of rain looming, no one seemed to care once Eddie 9V, a 25-year-old blues powerhouse singer/songwriter and guitar genius from Atlanta, took Skipper’s Smokehouse stage by storm along with Chad Mason (keys), Lane Kelly (bass/vocals), and Aaron Hambrick (drums). Bringing a retro bluesy/soul vibe for his first time to Skipper’s, the crowd was immediately enthralled with this young and impressive blues musician! His flair and style flirts with the older blues image – reflections of on old soul. His latest album, “Little Black Flies” was released in May 2021 and he performed several songs from that including the title track. Some others were “Don’t Come Around This House”, “3 AM In Chicago”, and “Dog Me Around”. He left the crowd ready for more as he would later join TOMMY CASTRO on stage which was awesome to witness!
The rain knew it wasn’t wanted so it left, making for an incredible evening! After a few minutes to get some equipment swapped out, everyone was ready! The announcement was made, and the time had arrived! The moment he walked out, the crowd flooded the dance floor but mainly just to be closer to one of the most talented, notable and respected blues artists of our time, Tommy Castro!
He came out talking to the crowd like we were friends he hadn’t seen in a long time. “Long time, no see!” It had been about four years since he had been to Skippers and was very glad to be back with a live audience! He talked about his brand new album, A Bluesman Came to Town”, that was just released in September 2021. This was a different kind of record from his previous ones in that this was similar to a “rock opera” only with blues music but he said no one wanted to call it that so they called it a “blues odyssey”. Since it’s a different arrangement style for him, it was fitting that it had its own unique look. The record itself is “coke bottle green”!
TOMMY CASTRO and the Painkillers, consisting of, of course Mr. Castro himself (vocals/lead guitar), Michael Emerson on keys, Bowen Brown on drums, and Randy McDonald on bass (and side note – tour manager), did many songs from this album including the title track. Not surprising that many people already knew the words and were singing with him! One of a handful of covers he did was one by John Lee Hooker, “Serves Me Right to Suffer”. As he went into this, what he called, “an old funky blues tune” he said very emphatically, “I need to do this”. Then that intro with Tommy’s guitar and Michael’s tantalizing Jerry Lee Lewis – like flutter on the keyboard just gave me chills!
As he finished up one of his many originals, “Make it Back to Memphis” (from his 2009 album “Hard Believer”), it was followed by couple of shouts from the crowd of, “WE LOVE YOU TOMMY!” He takes that seriously, as I found out in my interview with him. He appreciates his fans like you can’t imagine! So he, of course, responded in kind.
Before he ended the night, he brought Eddie 9V back to the stage and they had a jam session for several songs. There is something refreshing about seeing those two on stage together; it’s where we’ve been, how we got here, and where we’re going all at the same time!
Before the show, I was honored to be able to have a conversation with Tommy on his tour bus, which, to be quite honest, blew my mind just a little bit! It was surreal! We talked about how “weird” 2020 was with the lock-down that covid created, not to mention the havoc it wrecked on peoples’ lives. They were in the middle of a tour from Canada headed back towards California when things came to a stumble, then a screeching halt. A final show planned for Sacramento on March 12 that barely made it in before things stopped. It did give him more time to work on his latest album, “A Bluesman Came to Town”. He had been working on writing some of the songs with Tom Hambridge in Nashville and had planned to finish it in May of 2020. Of course, that didn’t happen. It was October 2020 before they finally got into the studio to complete it. To keep busy, he figured he’d do a few livestreams since everyone else was doing that. “I tried a couple of solo acoustic things which I don’t do – ever”, he said laughing. He and his band did a couple of recorded shows in a theater, and a couple shows in the back yard at old Rancho Nicasio, which is a restaurant/bar/live music venue in Nicasio, CA, to use in doing livestreams.
Now things are back to “almost normal”, and people are overjoyed to come out and see live music again. He talked about being so appreciative of being able to give his fans live shows now. You tend to take things for granted then “you don’t miss your water till the well runs dry!”
I asked him about the concept behind the format of this record, “A Bluesman Came to Town” and he said it was about a hero’s journey, something Joseph Campbell talks about a lot in literature. A bluesman comes to town and it changes this regular, every-day, hard-working guy forever as he goes out on this journey to learn to play guitar.
When it comes to what you’re going to do next after having 15 or so albums, it gets tricky to keep things new and different but still present songs that are genuinely Tommy Castro. He is determined to not let his fans down because he appreciates the massive support he has received over the years. If not for that, he humbly stated, “I really don’t know what I would have done. I hate to think about it.”
This was an outstanding show, an incredible conversation, and a night I won’t’ soon forget.