VALLEJO — For about a dozen years, Tommy Castro has helped ring in the New Year with his gritty, high-energy rhythm and blues band at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre.
This year the San Jose native brings the party to Vallejo’s Empress Theatre.
“As much as I loved the Mystic, there just weren’t enough places to sit down and people ended up standing the whole night and I felt sorry for them. The Empress is just a more comfortable place for people to see a show,” Castro said. “We did a gig there this year and you can pack the dance floor and still have plenty of room for people to relax in-between partying and dancing. I think people should be able to sit down and get up and dance when they want to.”
Castro has been entertaining audiences around the globe with his authentic blues and R&B sound since the 1980s. He has won numerous awards including the 2008 Blues Music Award for Entertainer of the Year. Castro reinvented his band in 2012 and now tours and records with his new group, Tommy Castro and The Painkillers. The band consists of Castro’s original bassist Randy McDonald, James Pace on keyboards and David Tucker on drums.
“It’s not just stripped down. There is a different approach to rhythms and a different, more modern approach to sounds. It was just time for me to try something new creatively. I think the best way to describe The Painkillers is that we now have a leaner, more guitar-driven sound,” Castro said.
The group recorded a well-received single last year called “Greedy,” which, in addition to more modern formats, was released as a 45 rpm record on translucent green vinyl. The group’s new album, “The Devil You Know,” will be released Jan. 21 in digital as well as on red vinyl. On the day his new disc drops, Castro and his band will be floating in the Caribbean somewhere on the sold-out Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise with 25 other legendary acts.
“I made a serious effort to dig deep and come up with fresh material that is still true to my sound – the real me. I want to embrace the new yet stay true to who I am as an artist,” Castro said. “I’ve been doing this 20 to 25 years now and I’ve made a lot of records, so it becomes harder and harder to keep it fresh. My new record is a result of me keeping my mind open and listening to what’s happening now. I am learning from new artists (who) are out there and I am well-steeped in what I have learned from the past. I tried to put all that stuff together and come up with new songs and just see what comes out naturally from all of that input.”
On Castro’s last album, 2009’s “Hard Believer,” he made a conscious decision to have no special guests appear, but on “The Devil You Know” he is joined by many friends including Joe Bonamassa, Marcia Ball, Tab Benoit and the J. Geils Band’s Magic Dick. Castro also plans to have a friend join his band live at the Empress on New Year’s Eve.
“Leah Tysse is our special guest and she is a powerhouse vocalist who sings and raises the roof at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, and also has her own group,” Castro said. “We just thought she would be a nice addition to the party, so she is going to come and sing about half a dozen songs with us that night.”
Castro said he is hoping the New Year’s Eve show at the Empress is a magical night that becomes a tradition. The payoff is all about that connection that happens between the performer and the audience.
“The best part for me is when I feel that the audience is just having a great time. I love the feeling that what we are doing is lifting people up and putting smiles on their faces,” Castro said. “When they are not worrying about their problems or daily routines and all the difficulties that come in everyone’s life and are happy and moving to the music, that is what I enjoy the most.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Year’s Eve with Tommy Castro and The Painkillers
9 p.m. Tuesday
Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia St., Vallejo