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.
On the title track of his new album, Can't Even Do Wrong Right, legendary blues guitarist, songwriter and singer Elvin Bishop spins a tale of a not-too-smart criminal getting caught by his own foolish missteps. The shaggy dog story, fueled by Bishop's down-home delivery and deep blues slide guitar, is an affirmation of the Chicago Sun-Times' ebullient praise: "It's impossible not to like Bishop. He's always singing something lowbrow and uplifting." With his buoyant and deceptively loose-sounding ensemble behind him, he's also playing some of the most spirited and distinctive blues slide guitar today.
Can't Even Do Wrong Right, with hilariously spot-on cover art by musician/artist Paul Thorn, finds Bishop firing on all cylinders and having fun while doing it. Fueled by his stellar road band, Bishop has created another highlight in a career chock full of them. Five of the songs are Bishop originals, including "Let Your Woman Have Her Way", on which Bishop's friend Mickey Thomas sings the lead (This is the first time Thomas, the ex-Jefferson Starship singer, has recorded with Bishop since he provided vocals on Bishop's classic hit "Fooled Around And Fell In Love"). An outstanding instrumental version of Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" harkens back to Elvin's childhood: this was the very first blues song he heard coming from Nashville's WLAC, the late night R&B 50,000 watt powerhouse radio station, beaming all the way to his Oklahoma home. In the 1950s in Oklahoma, everything was racially separated except the radio ("They couldn't segregate the airwaves," Bishop recalls). With the addition of his Grammy Award-winning pal Charlie Musselwhite on "Old School" and "No More Doggin'", Can't Even Do Wrong Right hits its target at every turn. The album is sure to find a place in the hearts and ears of his many longtime fans, and will open the door to scores of those just joining Elvin's never-ending party.
Although Bishop has been performing his rollicking brand of electrified front porch blues for over 50 years (his first professional gig was as guitarist for Junior Wells' band in 1962), he is as vital and creative an artist today as he was when he first hit the national scene in 1965 with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He is still as slyly good-humored and instantly crowd-pleasing as he was when he was effortlessly creating solo hits during the 1970s. His reemergence on Alligator Records in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, along with his more recent releases on Blind Pig and Delta Groove, insure his place on the short list of bona fide blues guitar heroes. Elvin's music mixes thick blues grooves with timeless rock flavors spiced with a touch of country, a dab of Moms Mabley's and Pigmeat Markham's ribald black comedy, and the laid back feel of his Northern California home. His guitar playing seems to improve with every performance, and his songwriting is filled with clever revelations and homespun wisdom. Living Blues says Elvin's guitar playing is "as full of fresh licks and unbounded energy as the day he and Mike Bloomfield set the blues/rock world on its ear."
Born in Glendale, CA on October 21, 1942, Elvin grew up on a farm in Iowa before relocating to Oklahoma when he was ten. He first got hooked on the blues listening to late night R&B radio as a teenager, and began collecting, listening to and absorbing blues music. Once Bishop realized that many of his favorite records were recorded in Chicago, he used his 1959 National Merit Scholarship as a way to get closer to his blues heroes by enrolling in the University of Chicago—its campus surrounded on three sides by the South Side black community. "The first thing I did when I got there," Elvin recalls, "was make friends with the guys working in the cafeteria. Within fifteen minutes I was into the blues scene." Leaving his physics studies behind, Bishop turned to blues music full time. He befriended bluesman Little Smokey Smothers and would hang out with him for hours on end. Smothers liked young Bishop and took the willing student under his wing, teaching Elvin how to really play—and live—the blues. In short order, Elvin became an accomplished and innovative player. Many years later, in 2000, Elvin and Smothers recorded their only album together, the appropriately titled That's My Partner!, for Alligator.
Marcia Ball is a woman with a reputation. The Texas-born, Louisiana-raised pianist/vocalist/songwriter is famed worldwide for igniting a full-scale roadhouse rhythm and blues party every time she strolls on stage. Ball's groove-laden New Orleans boogie and rollicking Gulf Coast blues have made her a one-of-a-kind favorite with music fans all over the world. But she's also a master at transfixing her audience with an emotionally rich, passionately sung ballad. The Boston Herald says, "Ball plays masterful, red hot tracks from the Texas-Louisiana border. Her voice can break your heart with a ballad or break your back with a rocker." On her new CD, Roadside Attractions (her 15th solo recording), Ball's songwriting is at the forefront, ranging from tales of wild parties to stories of twisted motel affairs to declarations of the enduring power of love and family. It is inspired by her years on the road and from insights gained from everyday life, making it her most autobiographical album. Roadside Attractions is certainly more than capable of starting a no-holds-barred bash. But more than that, it's a tour-de-force of Marcia's seemingly endless talent, and among the most emotionally moving recordings she has ever made.
At just 29 years old, Jarekus Singleton is a musical trailblazer with a bold vision for the future of the blues. Springing from the same Mississippi soil as Charley Patton, Muddy Waters and B.B. King, Singleton's cutting-edge sound—equally rooted in rap, rock and blues traditions—is all his own. He melds hip-hop wordplay, rock energy and R&B grooves with contemporary and traditional blues, turning audiences of all ages into devoted fans. With his untamed guitar licks and strong, soulful voice effortlessly moving from ferocious and funky to slow and steamy to smoking hot, Singleton is a fresh, electrifying bluesman bursting at the seams with talent.
Singleton's Alligator debut, Refuse To Lose, features a scintillating guitar attack and lyrically startling original songs all sung with a natural storyteller's voice. Produced by Singleton along with Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer and recorded at PM Music in Memphis, the album is an impossible-to-ignore first step onto the world stage. With songs telling real life, streetwise (sometimes funny) stories brimming with surprising images, pop culture references, infectious rhythms and unexpected musical twists, Refuse To Lose unleashes a new wave of blues for a new generation of fans.
Jarekus Singleton has been tearing up clubs and festivals across the South, and has performed twice at the world-renowned Chicago Blues Festival. He has been featured at South Carolina's Lowcountry Blues Festival and Festival of Discovery as well as many other festivals in the South and clubs throughout Mississippi. With the addition of high-visibility performances including Springing The Blues Festival, Biscuits & Blues in San Francisco, The North Atlantic Blues Festival, The PA Blues Festival, The Cincinnati Blues Festival, and The Festival International du Blues de Mont-Tremblant, Singleton is on the cusp of international stardom.
Selwyn Birchwood, Florida's rising young blues fireball, is a guitar and lap-steel-playing bundle of pure energy. He delivers his original songs with a revival tent preacher's fervor and a natural storyteller's charisma made all the more impactful by his raw, unvarnished vocals. Birchwood plays high-octane blues -- at once deeply rooted, funky and up-to-the-minute -- with true passion and honest emotion. With his band feeding off his drive and exuberance, the striking 6'3" 29-year-old with his trademark Afro roams the stage (often barefoot), ripping out memorable guitar licks with ease. His ability to win over an audience -- any audience -- is proven night after night on the bandstand. With his warm, magnetic personality, Birchwood is as down-to-earth as his music is fun, thought-provoking and vital. His mission is to spread his music far and wide, to share his joy, to play his heart out, and to push the blues into the future. "There's nothing I'd rather be doing than playing the blues," he says. "And I try to convey that with every song and with every performance."
In 2013, Birchwood catapulted from local hero to shooting star. He won the world-renowned International Blues Challenge, beating out 125 other bands from the U.S. and abroad. He also took home the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award. It wasn't long before Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer offered Birchwood a contract. His debut album, Don't Call No Ambulance, is a fully realized vision of contemporary blues. Birchwood's original songs range from raucous romps to hill country stomps, from searing, serious slow blues to modern blues rock. Between his uninhibited sense of fun and adventure and his serious-as-a-heart-attack musicianship, Don't Call No Ambulance is a window into the future of the blues. "All originals and no filler," he says of the album. "It's that genuineness of emotion in the songs that people can hear."
The Tampa Tribune says Birchwood plays with "power and precision reminiscent of blues guitar hero Buddy Guy. He is a gritty vocalist [who is] commanding with his axe." According to Iglauer, Birchwood is the real deal. "Selwyn Birchwood is a terrific young blues talent with a huge future. He writes smart, infectious, fresh songs and delivers them with a warm, conversational vocal style and a fun-loving attitude. He's a killer guitarist, switching between a regular six-string and lap steel. Live, he's a ball of energy, interacting with the audience like they were in his living room. Selwyn is destined to be one of the next stars in the blues world."
Rick Estrin ranks among the very best harp players, singers and songwriters in the blues world today. His work on the reeds is deep in the tradition of harmonica masters Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter Jacobs, while at the same time pushing that tradition forward. The Associated Press called his harp playing "endlessly impressive." The great guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. (who was schooled by Robert Johnson and who played on most of Little Walter's Chess recordings) told Estrin, "Little Walter would be very proud of you." His award-winning original songs have been favorably compared with those of Willie Dixon and the team of Leiber and Stoller. And his hipster, street-smart vocals are the perfect vehicle for driving those songs home.
For more than 30 years and nine albums, Rick fronted the jumping, swinging Little Charlie & The Nightcats, featuring guitarist Little Charlie Baty.