Tommy Castro Works Hard At Having Fun

San Francisco-based guitar slinger includes such favorites as "Can't Keep a Good Man Down" on live CD.

Tommy Castro has seen it, heard it and felt it. For two decades of stage shows, the sensation of a fired-up audience has been all he's needed.

"You look out and see the people and they're having a good time," the blues singer-guitarist said. "You know you got something going on and you know you've got to deliver for them as much as for you."

That's what propels this man's blue-collar blues and Memphis R&B. His work ethic — he puts his passion and soul into each performance — makes Castro's new Live at the Fillmore enhanced CD a cut above his previous three Blind Pig recordings, including last year's highly successful Right as Rain.

With such favorites as "Can't Keep a Good Man Down" and "Lucky in Love," the new CD features video clips and a brief interview with Castro. The San Francisco musician is quick to cite the fans who have supported him for the past two decades.

"It would be no fun to play without those people," he said. "The reason we have a career is because of those people."

Like many other musicians who grew up during the '60s, the 44-year-old Castro first connected with the blues through rock musicians. Guitarists Eric Clapton, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop led him straight to the blues of Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters and Elmore James.

He took to the blues with passion, infusing it with his rock 'n' roll influences and taking a stylistic approach from Memphis-style R&B. All this came together to support his gritty vocals.

"We're not doing anything that's really heavy or deep," he said. "We're just playing music because we have fun doing it.

"I know what my job is. I don't think I should take my job too damn seriously. My job is to have a good time," he continued. "You look at the people who come out for a show, they want to have a good time. They'd have stayed home if they didn't want to have a good time. Nobody goes out to have a bad time."

That's one of the reasons Castro's new live disc packs a punch that his studio recordings did not. The response of the crowd is part of Castro's show and inspiration, and that connection is captured for the first time.

Not surprisingly, Castro dips back into the works of Little Richard and James Brown, two of his primary musical inspirations. He passes off a credible version of Brown's "Sex Machine" (RealAudio excerpt) and taps his rock 'n' roll roots for a spirited version of Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It."

"I think when you hear our band play you realize that these are guys who are sincere," Castro said of his four-piece band — longtime partners Randy McDonald (bass), Keith Crossen (sax) and Billy Lee Lewis (drums). "You either feel the music or you don't. But when you do, you know it. That can't be faked."

Castro sees that enthusiasm as a natural extension of the music that inspired him to choose this career, and the reason he insists on playing as many as 200 live shows each year.

"Sure you've got to get from one place to another, do sound checks and all that other stuff that comes with the job," he said. "But when you sift through all that, the payoff is going to the show. That's why they call it playing."

Live at the Fillmore is also available in VHS and DVD formats.