Fifteen years ago, while visiting Chicago, my wife Patricia Smith and I wanted to take in some live music at one of the city’s remaining blues clubs. We checked the listings and learned that The Tommy Castro Band was appearing at Buddy Guy’s club, Legends.
“Tommy Castro?” I said. “Never heard of him.”
“Neither have I,” Patricia said, “but to play at Legends, you have to audition for Buddy, so how bad could he be?” When we pushed through the door that night, the place was packed, and by the time the band finished their first number, “If I had a Nickel,” Tommy owned us.
Sine then we’ve been buying all of his CDs and catching him live every chance we can. We admire his fine guitar playing, his soulful voice, his charismatic stage presence, his covers of classic blues songs, and most of all of his own compositions — songs like “Lucky in Love,” “Just a Man,” “Right as Rain,” and many more.
So it came as no surprise to us that Liam Mulligan, the fictional hero of my hardboiled crime novels, turned out to be a big Tommy Castro fan, too. In the very first book, Mulligan took to playing Tommy’s CDs as he cruised around Rhode Island looking for trouble.
Tommy took notice, reading the first novel, Rogue Island, and commenting on it on his website, which you can visit here.
We caught up with Tommy and his latest band, The Painkillers, on a blues cruise last fall. The first thing he did was ask after our girl Mikaila, now almost 21, who we started bringing to his shows when she was just five years old. We chatted about our families, his music, and my writing, and that’s when I snapped these photos.
“Why the blues?” Mulligan asks himself in the next novel, The Dread Line, which will be published next fall. “Why was I always drawn to music about hard times at the bottom of a shot glass? The music of the scorned and shattered. At the end of most every day—even the ones that didn’t involve shaking a tail, tracking down thieves, or staring at a broken body—I’d lean back with a glass of something bitter and drown in Koko Taylor’s growl, Buddy Guy’s soulful riffs, or the vibing wire of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar. Just like my dad did before the cancer took him. He’d come through the door, exhausted from another day of delivering milk, put a scratchy Son Seals album on the turntable, pull out his Comet harmonica, and play along. Like him, I belonged to the downtrodden tribe that turns misery into music—the kind of music that warns us what the world is like and steels us against it. My old job as an investigative reporter, like my new one as a detective, was to probe the dark hearts we pray against. I’d locked eyes with murderers. Wondered, more than once, if something rotten was eating away at me, turning me into the very thing that I fear. Then the twang of a blues guitar would fill the room, preaching that even in the darkest of times, the idea of light exists—and that the purpose of life is just to live it.”
A Scourge of Vipers by Bruce DeSilva is the fourth in my Edgar Award-winning series of hardboiled crime novels featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying newspaper in Providence, R.I. The novel has received rave reviews in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and a host of other publications. You can order any of the books in the series from independent or chain online bookstores by following this link.