Monday, January 16, 2012
Genres: Blues / RockLabel: Alligator Records
Born in San Jose, California in 1955, Castro first picked up a guitar at age 10. He came under the spell of Eric Clapton, Elvin Bishop, Mike Bloomfield and other blues rock players early on. As he got older, Castro moved forward by investigating the past, falling in love with the blues guitar work of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Elmore James and singers like Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. By his late 20s he was playing in a variety of San Francisco-area blues and soul bands.
Ever since he first picked up a guitar and started making music, Tommy Castro believed. He believed he would not only be able to make a living playing music, but could develop his own signature sound and style. From his start playing in local Bay Area cover bands to joining the much-loved Dynatones to touring the world with his own band, Castro’s belief in himself has been rewarded. Today he is famed not only for his hard-hitting, impassioned vocals and his blues-infused, rocking R&B sound, but also for his striking, original songwriting and exhilarating stage show.
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, “Castro navigates seriously funky Southern soul, gritty big city blues and scorching rock…his silvery guitar licks simultaneously sound familiar and fresh.” Castro (winner of the 2008 Blues Music Award as Entertainer Of The Year) is recognized as one of the absolute best blues and R&B players, singers and live performers in the world. With his Alligator Records debut, Hard Believer, Castro takes another major step forward in a career that never looks back.
Genres: Rock / Instrumental Rock
Since the 1980's, Eric Johnson has been one of the most critically acclaimed rock guitarists, as evidenced by the success of such releases as 'Ah Via Musicom,' 'Venus Isle,' and his latest offering, 'Up Close.' And soon, Johnson will be launching his summer tour to continue support of his latest album, fresh off of appearances on the West Coast Experience Hendrix Tour, as well as teaming up with Anton Fig and Will Lee of Late Night fame for a rousing rare performance at New York City's P.C. Richards and Sons Theatre.
From July 7th through August 20th, Johnson will be touring the USA from coast to coast as a headliner, as well as joining forces with fellow guitar great Steve Miller for shows at the Sleep Country Amphitheater in Clark County, Washington on July 17th and the DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan, on August 7th. He will also join the legendary Buddy Guy on July 21 in Omaha, Nebraska at the Red Sky Music Festival. The band members on the Summer Tour will be long time favorite Chris Maresh on bass guitar and Wayne Salzmann on drums, playing his first tour with Eric.
Also recently released was a vinyl version of 'Up Close,' issued on 180 gram vinyl, and housed in a beautiful special double LP gatefold package with printed sleeves. Additionally, 'Up Close' was remastered specially for this vinyl release by Jim Wilson.
A long time in the making , 'Up Close' has received rave reviews. All Music Guide pointed out that "[Johnson] continues to find interesting ways to hone his specific craft on 'Up Close'," while Premier Guitar Magazine raved "Johnson has created another worthy addition to his already legendary catalog." Also, it shouldn't be overlooked that 'Up Close' features an impressive list of special guests (Sonny Landreth, Steve Miller, Jimmie Vaughan, and Jonny Lang).
Speaking to M Music Magazine, Eric had the following to say about what his goals were for 'Up Close.' "To ﬁnd new ways of doing things. We’re all the sum of our history. After a while, we start to create certain patterns in what we do. I wanted to break some of that repetition. If you keep to the same format, the vibe stays the same, even though the music might change. If you want to grow, you have to break down walls and ﬁnd ways to work that are different from the past."
Additionally, Johnson graced the cover of this year's March issue of Guitar Player Magazine, was recently named Guitar International's "Guitarist of the Year," and has won an unprecedented 33 awards at the Austin Music Awards since 1982, including taking home "Best Electric Guitar," "Best Acoustic Guitar," and "Best Instrumental Band" awards at this year's ceremony.
Johnson has long been considered one of rock's most talented six-string players, as evidenced by his aforementioned platinum-certified 1990 release, 'Ah Via Musicom," its hit single "Cliffs of Dover," as well as a Grammy Award win for "Best Rock Instrumental Performance" in 1991. The song also recently was introduced to a whole new generation of rock fans, when it was featured in the hit videogame, 'Guitar Hero.'
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Salvation, Revolution, and Understanding
Living in Austin renewed Carolyn Wonderland's focus on her multiple talents, underlining luxurious vocals with fine guitar work, trumpet, and piano, as well as that remarkable ability to whistle on key. A series of each-better-than-the-next discs began with Alcohol & Salvation in 2003 ("songs about booze and God; records are a time capsule of what happened that year"). Her music played in television series such as Time of Your Life and Homicide.
Her circle of musician friends and admirers broadened to include not only Benson but the late Eddy Shaver, Shelley King, and yes, Bob Dylan, who likened her composition "Bloodless Revolution" to "a mystery movie theme." She began co-writing with locals Sarah Brown, Ruthie Foster, Cindy Cashdollar, and Guy Forsyth; sat in with Los Lobos, Robert Earl Keen, and Ray Wylie Hubbard; recorded with Jerry Lightfoot; and toured with Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter. She also claims membership in the all-girl Sis Deville, the gospel-infused Imperial Crown Golden Harmonizers, and takes aw-shucks credit for inspiring Amsterdam's annual WonderJam.
"The evolution of life shocks me all the time," Wonderland confesses. "When I think back on the crazy and beautiful things that have happened, it blows my mind, because I don't think I've done anything to deserve all these things. I'm still learning how to be appreciative and not be a jerk."
Jerks don't involve themselves with or support the wide range of socially conscious acronym organizations she does. SIMS, HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians), MPP (Marijuana Policy Project), NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), WAMM (Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana), and ARCH (Austin Resource Center for the Homeless), as well as Farm Aid, Seattle Hempfest, Million Musicians March, Cindy Sheehan, SafePlace, Front Steps, Star of Hope, Casa Marianella, and food banks are all beneficiaries of Wonderland's talents. She's a traditional folkie, and her socially conscious politics are on view in her music: Houston NORML uses her biographical "Annie's Scarlet Letter" as its featured soundtrack for public-service announcements.
Many of those second-chance and helping-hand efforts support women, families, and the homeless. That latter substrata of society is one that strikes close to her activist heart.
"I don't consider that I was 'home-less'; I consider that I was 'van-full,'" chuckles Wonderland with black humor about her nearly two years without a street address. "In that situation, I never went hungry in this town. And we were on tour so much it wasn't that radical of a change. I booked us a whole lot on the road."
She also bartered with friends, taking care not to spend too long at any one place by trading out household chores, cooking, and tasks in exchange for laundry and shower privileges.
"It felt useful that way," she explains, her slender brows furrowing in emphasis. "I've realized a lot of material things aren't quite as necessary as I thought they were when I was a kid. I once had goals of playing music and working other jobs for money so I could do that, but there's no time. If you set out to do that, then you're no good to anyone else as an employee. Any straight job was always back-burnered, and that made me feel bad. Anywhere I worked, it was like, 'Sorry, you're second choice.'"
Benson admires Wonderland's frankness in not making music her second choice.
"Musicians need two things: They need time for their craft – to practice, write, play – and they have to be out there hustling. Nothing had happened with Dylan. He doesn't like people talking about his stuff, but you know what? Too bad, Bob. I told Carolyn: 'Don't worry about budget. If you need to go in, go in. If we find a great tune, we go in and do it.'
"My luxury is owning [Bismeaux Studios]. It's not a great way to make money, but it's a great way to make music.
"And Carolyn's got that unbelievable, incredible voice, one of the great voices of our time, and that's not an overstatement. You can talk of K.T. Tunstall and other new chick singers of the last couple of years, but she's got the range, the emotion. Comparisons to Janis [Joplin] are always there since she's rooted in blues and R&B, but it's still rock & roll, and like Janis, Carolyn can take it into country. She's also an incredible guitar player and a great person, so humble. The combination is disarming and totally real. That's magic."
It was magic in the studio, too, as Miss Understood came to life, a canny mix of Benson's production, Wonderland's compositions, and select covers of Terri Hendrix, J.J. Cale, and Rick Derringer that punched her sound up a notch. As soon as the album roared to life, it was clear the singer-songwriter-guitarist-whistler had delivered on her long-awaited promise.
"What a thrill it was to have the Miss Understood CD release at [Antone's]," Susan Antone effuses of that night. "She stood there with her long, red curled hair and still played the hell out of the guitar, tearing it up as fabulous as always. I felt compelled to go on stage and say how honored we were to have her there, because I know what Cliffy would say, 'Let's hear it for Carolyn Wonderland.'"