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Tommy Castro brings the blues to Blues, Brews & BBQ

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Tommy Castro and The Painkillers brings their high energy blues to Blues, Brews & BBQs Friday at the University of Charleston.
WANT TO GO?Brews, Blues & BBQ WHERE: University of Charleston riverfront lawnWHEN: 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. FridayTICKETS: Advance $18, at the gate $20INFO: 304-345-0775 or www.fundfortheartswv.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Put a guitar in his hands, and Tommy Castro turns into the blues rocker everybody wants him to be. On stage, the 57-year-old Blues Music Award winner is the life of the party, singing songs about fast times and love gone wrong.Get him home, and the blues man disappears behind the handlebars of a mountain bike. He turns into a father of two and a guy more likely to reach for the salad dressing than another helping of barbecued ribs.Castro, who performs with his band, The Painkillers, at Friday's Blues, Brews & BBQ, laughed about it."Oh, I had my years of debauchery -- and there were a lot of them -- but we've got a demanding job. We do a high energy show, and you better be ready for it, or it will kick your ass."The life of a professional blues musician may be a bit easier than it used to be, but it's still a lot of weeks living on a bus, a lot of late nights and a lot of greasy take-out meals."We'll play three weeks in a row without a night off," Castro said. "It happens. So when you're out you try to eat right, try to get some rest." And when you get home, you get on your bike and ride.Castro has been at the blues for a long time, and he knows what works for him. Like a lot of musicians, he grew up listening to the radio and trying to figure out notes on a guitar. Eventually, he found a couple of friends and joined a band or two."I started out being a guitar player and wound up being a singer," he said. "The bands I was in, hometown bands, they didn't have anybody to sing."He wanted to play, so he had to sing. And like he did with the guitar, Castro taught himself, sometimes practicing while he drove a delivery truck during the day.
"Friends of mine would give me tapes of singers," he said. "These were people whose songs we were going to do. But I was listening to everybody: Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Little Richard, Elmore James."He copied everybody, then mixed them all together and came up with his own take on how the blues was supposed to sound.
"I'd say I'm a pretty good singer and a pretty good guitar player," Castro said. "I'm not great at either, but I'm also a good songwriter -- not a great songwriter, but a good songwriter."It all adds up.Over the years, Castro's sound has changed. For much of his career, Castro has relied on a big "wall of sound" kind of band with a horn section. Lately, he's pulled back from that and gone to a more stripped down kind of show."I just got tired of the big band. I got tired of the wall of sound."
He explained, "I loved that band. I enjoyed it, but the stuff I'm more interested in right now is hornless. It's stripped down and kind of gritty."The music scene has changed a lot, too. It's not all bars, clubs and festivals any more. Blues cruises have become kind of a big deal, Castro said. For fans, the cruises are great. They pack 25 artists or so onto a four-star cruise ship."There's Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Taj Mahal, Jimmy Thackeray and us," he said. "It's just a real good representation from top to bottom of what's going on in the blues community."Fans and artists can mingle. Every night, he said, there are late night jams, which everybody loves. Plus the food is good, and somebody else takes care of the driving. Friday's Blues, Brews & BBQ performers are Miss Freddye and Blue Faze, 5:30 p.m.; the Lockdown Blues Band, 6:50 p.m.; Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, 8:10 p.m. and Gina Sicilia, 10 p.m.Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.***The River Queen will make trips between Haddad Riverfront Park and the University of Charleston during Blues, Brews & BBQ on Friday and Wine & All That Jazz on Saturday. Admission is $3 for adults and free for children. You must have purchased or be willing to buy event tickets to exit at UC. FridayLeave Haddad: 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m.Leave UC: 7:45, 9:15 and 11 p.m.SaturdayLeave Haddad: 4, 5:30, 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m. Leave UC: 4:45, 6:15, 7:45, 9:15 and 10:30 p.m. 
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