Q&A with guitarist/singer Daniel Castro, one of the most dynamic blues guitarists performing in the West Coast

"Blues started through the hardships of black people in this country, and it spread to the wider audience of a multicultural nation and world. Blues speaks to the human experience because it comes from a place of deep feeling. Most people when they hear the blues, they recognize something in it because they feel the power of it."

Daniel Castro: Deep Strong Blues Love 

Daniel Castro was born in Ensenada, Baja California and also lived in Tijuana. The family later moved to Buena Park, California when Daniel was eight. Even as young kids, Daniel and his older brother Mario wanted to play guitar. After bugging their mother and father for years they finally got their first real guitar from Sears - a St. George electric guitar with no amplifier. The brothers shared the right-handed guitar, which was no problem for Mario who was right-handed but a huge problem for Daniel who was a lefty. Daniel’s brother would laugh at him while he tried to play it upside down, so he finally taught himself to play right-handed. Daniel’s older sister, Jypsy, who was singing in a band, introduced Daniel to all the big soul stars also gave Daniel two BB King records. As he grew up in the L.A. area, Daniel was heavily influenced by the blues greats Albert King, B.B. King, and Albert Collins. As a kid, Daniel would hang outside clubs like the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach to hear these blues legends perform and wait for a glimpse of them through the curtains. After cutting his teeth in South Central L.A. blues clubs with “Mighty Mouth” Delmar Evans, who worked with the Johnny Otis Show, Castro backed other great artists from Otis’ band, including Pee Wee Crayton and Little Esther Phillips. He also recorded and toured with many other artists including legendary Small Faces singer-bassist Ronnie Lane.                                         (Daniel Castro / Photo by Julie Jahns)

Moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1995, Daniel formed The Daniel Castro Band and quickly became a hot draw in the burgeoning local blues scene. In 1999, Daniel recorded his first release, No Surrender, followed in 2003 with Live at The Saloon, a double CD recorded at San Francisco’s oldest bar and mecca for the blues faithful. In 2011, Daniel began looking to form a new band. He had always been surrounded by great players but wanted to focus on his original material, which required working with musicians that shared his passion, would commit to strenuous rehearsals, and had the natural chemistry needed to help him realize the music’s potential. Desperate Rain (2013) is a tough, gritty and brilliant representation of Daniel Castro's ongoing legacy as one of the finest artist on the West Coast. Desperate Rain contains thirteen original songs and features, bassist Johnny Yu, and drummer David Perper, and the songwriting of Daniel and his partner Julie Friend.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The Blues is a journey. Through playing blues, I have been fortunate enough to travel and experience other cultures. Their languages and lifestyles are different, but the music hits them the same. Blues counterculture speaks to other cultures because all people groups want change and all people groups want to feel something. The Blues does that.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

It's tough for me to describe my sound. I would like to think my sound is full and strong. It emphasizes rhythm and groove. It can make you want to dance or make you cry. I try to write from the heart experiences that I've had or from those I have seen in other people's lives. My drive comes from a deep love and appreciation of the Blues. I try to express it and play as honestly as I can.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

There are way too many to describe, but one of the most important meetings to me was meeting and talking with BB King. Meeting my Musical Godfather after many years of playing, and having him take extra time to ask me about my music, was so beautiful to me. The best advice anyone ever gave me was from my father who said, "learn to drive a truck." Obviously, I didn't take that advice.

"The California Blues Scene is actually a big musical gumbo of all the Blues around the country. Southern California seems to have more Blues with a Rock influence, and Northern California has a lot of Blues Rock but also a lot of West Coast Swing Blues and Chicago Blues." (Daniel Castro / Photo by Bob Hakins)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Again, I have so many memories, but one that stands out was at a festival we did in 2019 in Katowice, Poland. The band was playing so well, and the audience was so receptive. We really felt a connection. When we started playing my version of the Albert King song “I'll Play the Blues for You," the crowd broke out in applause. When the band cut out during my solo, the entire arena began clapping in time. The feeling of having all of those people recognize and be a part of the music was incredible.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

When I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, there was a Blues Scene happening everywhere and there were so many venues to play. We used to play up and down North Beach five or six days a week with such fire and fearlessness. You could go to any club and hear some great bands. Now many of those clubs have closed down. I really miss those times. My hopes are that more young people would get into the Blues and learn from the past and make it their own. Also, artists have really taken a big hit off of their income thru all the digital downloads services on the internet. I would like to see artists get paid fairly for their works.

What would you say characterizes Californian's blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

The California Blues Scene is actually a big musical gumbo of all the Blues around the country. Southern California seems to have more Blues with a Rock influence, and Northern California has a lot of Blues Rock but also a lot of West Coast Swing Blues and Chicago Blues.

"The Blues is a journey. Through playing blues, I have been fortunate enough to travel and experience other cultures. Their languages and lifestyles are different, but the music hits them the same. Blues counterculture speaks to other cultures because all people groups want change and all people groups want to feel something. The Blues does that." (Daniel Castro / Photo by Bob Hakins)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Be humble, speak the truth, and play from your heart.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Blues started through the hardships of black people in this country, and it spread to the wider audience of a multicultural nation and world. Blues speaks to the human experience because it comes from a place of deep feeling. Most people when they hear the blues, they recognize something in it because they feel the power of it. I want The Blues to touch people deep in their hearts to help us all realize that we are all connected and that we live on this planet to look after one another.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to go back to November of 1936 and see Robert Johnson record 16 of his 29 original songs in San Antonio Texas. To see how he played those songs and to hear him sing live with that much pain and emotion. That would do it for me.

The Daniel Castro Band - Home

Daniel Castro / Photo by Jacek Mól

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