Liam Mulligan, the main character in my crime novel, Rogue Island, loves the blues. He spends a lot of time grooving to it while prowling around Providence in his beat-up Ford Bronco.
Mulligan is a big fan of Buddy Guy, Jimmy Thackery, and a host of others, but he especially loves the soulful vocals, scorching guitar licks, and funky sax of The Tommy Castro Band. It’s the soundtrack of his life. He cues the music to fit the moment, lighting up his cigar to the sound of “Nasty Habits,” or heading to a showdown while listening to “You Knew the Job Was Dangerous.”
Today, Tommy Castro got in touch to say he thought this was “so cool!” He plans to download the novel to his Nook so he can read it on the road.
Ten years ago, on a visit to Chicago, my wife Patricia and I decided to go on a blues crawl. We flipped through the Chicago Reader to see who was headlining at Legends, the club Buddy Guy owns. It was some group called The Tommy Castro Band. We’d never heard of them. Would they be worth listening to?
“Well,” Patricia said, “you can’t play at Legends without auditioning for Buddy, so how bad could they be?”
The place was packed, and we got the feeling that the crowd knew something we didn’t. Tommy strutted onto the stage in tight black leather pants, opened with “Lucky In Love,” and had us for life by the second verse.
Since then, we’ve become groupies, catching the band whenever we could – celebrating Patricia’s 50th birthday at the Monterey Blues Festival in California, picking at the overpriced eats at the BB King Blues Club on 42nd Street in Manhattan, jamming to Tommy and Buddy and BB at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut.
Most times, our little girl Mikaila came along. She was usually the only child in the audience, so the band couldn’t help but notice her. During intermissions, they’d make a point of coming over to chat with her. Once, when she was six, she told Tommy that her favorite song was his soulful ballad, “Just a Man.” Tommy grinned and gave her an autographed photo of himself. So Mikaila drew a self-portrait on a sheet of paper, autographed it, and presented it to him.
As it happened, “Just a Man” wasn’t on the band’s playlist that night. But after intermission, Tommy came out, told the audience that it was Mikaila’s favorite song, stood on the edge of the stage, and sang it to her.
“Where do you think you’re going?” the bouncer said.
“Tell Tommy,” she said, “that Mikaila is here.”
He raised an eyebrow.
She put her hands on her hips and glared.
The bouncer turned, shoved the door open, and shouted, “Tell Tommy some girl named Mikaila is asking for him.”
Tommy bounded out and swept her up in a hug. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here. I couldn’t see past the stage lights.” And he gave her a guitar pick as a souvenir.
Mikaila is 15 years old now. The last time we saw Tommy, he told us he still had that picture she’d drawn for him.
So when I was writing the novel, it seemed natural to make the Tommy Castro Band Mulligan’s favorite. After all, he’s mine, too.
If you haven’t heard the Tommy Castro Band live, do yourself a favor and check the tour schedule.
Meanwhile, here’s a taste.