The world has gone through a lot of transformations, in the last half a century. Economic, political and social changes that, day after day, impact our lives and often create those many twists and turns happening on some stage of our existences, sooner or later.
With that in mind, the last 12 months of one of the most respected and talented American Blues-Rock guitarists and singer/songwriters, Albert Castiglia, have certainly been a real emotional roller coaster, with the artist discovering to have a daughter he never knew existed and even two grandchildren. To an event like this, which would change the dynamic of anybody’s life, the Florida-based artist could just respond to such enormous joy using the only imaginable vehicle for a musician like him, speaking with his soul through music and songs.
Castiglia’s brand new album called Masterpiece, recently releases, goes through the massive array of personal emotions for the guitarist and singer/songwriter happening in the last 12 months of his life, from the uncontainable feeling of becoming a parent and a grandparent in one shot, to the fears that the world out there may bring to his now extended family in every aspect of modern life. The outcome of this overwhelming moment in Castiglia's life is an album of outstanding lyrical and musical depth that our website has amply reviewed in the recent past. A highly soulful body of work that the guitarist has recorded together with one of Castiglia’s closest fellow musician friends, guitarist, singer/songwriter, producer and now also co-owner of Castiglia’s new record label, Gulf Coast Records, Mike Zito.
When our website had the opportunity to meet again with this formidable artist and human being, the most obvious ice-breaker question to the Florida-based artist , it had to be to try to describe the huge ensemble of big things happening in the personal life and music career in the last year of his life. “It's certainly, for me, the most amazing year that I have ever encountered. A year of discovery and transformation on many levels. Discovering a new family and discovering new sides of my personality too, at the same time. I keep learning new things every day, about my new family, as they learn new things about me too and this mutual learning more about each other, it has been so far incredibly wonderful for me. It was more of a learning curve, in the beginning stage, for my daughter and I, about getting to know each other and I treasured every moment of that process, just as I enjoy every step of our new life all together, as a family. Plus, as a wonderful added bonus, discovering to have as well two grandchildren, it was an huge extra gift to me and to get to know them and, for them, to get to know me too, it has been, again, an incredible blessing. You see, deep inside, I feel that I have now the opportunity of doing something that I missed with my daughter, throughout her childhood, about teaching values and everyday's life lessons. I have now that unexpectedly fabulous and unique opportunity to teach those things to my grandchildren instead. And I feel really cool and happy about that.".
Castiglia's last two albums, the highly acclaimed Big Dog and the following Up All Night (the latter coincidentally happened to be the guitarist's last album with his previous label Ruf Records) were very well received by both music press and fans. Our website was though intrigued to know whether all the songs of the Masterpiece album were written after the personal changes happening in Castiglia's life or some of the songs were written or demoed soon after the release of Castiglia's previous studio album Up All Night. " All the songs included in the Masterpiece album came after I met my daughter. After the initial meeting with Rayne, my daughter and after a couple of months spent to get to know each other a little bit better, I was trying to wrap my head around the whole sequence of emotions I went through at that time. To me, it certainly felt like the writing process of the new album, at that point, it had to wait. Prior to this sequence of events involving me meeting my daughter, my wife, who is also my manager, was trying to push me to go into the pre-production stage of my next record and starting to write new songs. I guess it must have been around May 2018, when I came back from the Tour and found out about my daughter, which, as you can imagine, pushed the writing stage of the new record a bit further, given these new, huge and exciting changes happening into my personal life. My wife supported me fully on that and understood perfectly that I needed to take the time I needed to be able to absorb this incredible chain of amazing events happening in my life. Time that my wife certainly needed for herself too, as everyone involved in the Castiglia's Clan, in many respects, to be able to adjust to our new reality, as a family. By the end of summer, when I felt that we got to know all of us a bit better, I realized that it was the right time for me to start writing new material for my next album. I couldn't believe how fast the writing process went, when I actually started writing new songs. Perhaps, unconsciously, I felt that I had so much to say that I never found myself so much at ease, when writing songs for a new record".
Whoever has followed Albert Castiglia's career for some time knows very well about the strong friendship between Castiglia and Mike Zito, who has produced the last few albums of the guitarist and singer/songwriter and who he calls, affectionately, "Zito", several times during the course of our interview. Having worked together for quite some time, we ask Castiglia whether he had in mind, at the time that he and Zito got to the studio to start working on what then became Masterpiece, how the album should have sounded like or whether he and Mike Zito just came out with ideas on the spot, in the studio. "No, the concept for the album was planned way in advance. It's funny, you know, Zito has been with me through the whole process of myself and my daughter finding each other. Mike was one of the first people I shared the news with, when I found that out. Aside from my family, there were very few people from the music business I shared the news with. Together with Mike, I believe I shared also the news with Samantha Fish but Mike Zito was certainly among the very first to know. I never forget what Zito said, one day, to me: "You know, Albert, I love you like a brother but I always felt we were different, because you didn't have children and I did". I guess he was right, in a way and I know that he didn't mean what he said in a bad way,. He said what he said because what he simply meant was that the lives of those who have children are different from those who don't have children and I totally agree with him on that. With this in mind, when the time came for me and Mike to enter the studio to work on the making of what then became Masterpiece, Mike asked: "Ok, so what we are going to do, do you have any material for me, any new stuff?" I said "Yes, I've got some really heavy lyrics, what have you got in mind yourself?". Bearing in mind that, for the album, I was working on a very small budget, I was concerned about expenses related to recording, like, bringing the band in the studio and all the other costs involved. At that point, Mike told me not to worry about it. He had in mind a way to make this work, because he had a vision in mind about how the new album should sound like and that was not related to a financial aspect at all. When I asked him what he was thinking of doing, he told me that he and I would have been the only two people in the studio involved in the making and recording of the album, apart of the engineer. He told me that we were going to play all the instruments ourselves. I guessed that Zito was just going to do most of the bass and drum tracks and, I got to admit, I was a little sceptical, in the beginning, when I heard that and thought "How the hell this is gonna work?". My concerns just lasted for few minutes. Mike sent me some songs that he recorded and produced in his studio where he did vocals, drums, bass guitar and I was hugely impressed by what I heard. It all sounded really good and really powerful. I believe that the first demo that he sent me was what then turned out to be, on my new album, the song called Keep On Swinging. The demo he sent me didn't have lyrics but it sounded so good and tremendously powerful that I told Mike that I could certainly work with that. The lyrics just flew out of me in no time and that was the first song I did for the album. In brief, Mike's concept for the record was to do a total DIY kind of record. Some may say that Zito's vision for the album was very much conceived by thinking outside the box but, truth to be told, this type of recording approach has been going on for at least the last 20 years of making music, therefore, it was not something estranged at all to the criteria of making and recording music. It's hard not to tell you the full story about the concept of the album without involving Ruf Records, my previous label. I would like to say, though, first and foremost, that despite the fact Ruf Records didn't feel enough my new album, I have got no animosity whatsoever towards Thomas Ruf (owner of the label), with whom I had a great run, at Ruf Records. We simply had creative differences on the Masterpiece album but I can assure you that I genuinely like Thomas, on a personal level. I don't believe that Mike and I told Thomas what our plans for recording the album were until we were almost finished, with the album. We just wanted to record ourselves, myself and Mike and that's what we did. The way we made the album was Mike's idea and it was a great idea. Mike did 99.9 per cent of the bass and the drum parts. I didn't do drums, I just played bass on two tracks and, naturally, I did guitars and vocals. That was the way we did the album, something that we planned from the beginning, long before we went to the studio. Zito and I talked about the risks involved in releasing an album like Masterpiece, sound wise and in the fashion that we did it. Even some of the material present in the album, like the acoustic songs, for example, they were very unlike my trademark sound. But, I've got to tell you, it didn't feel forced when I wrote those songs. I didn't consciously say to myself that I wanted a song to sound like the title track did, in the end. When I write songs, the lyrics tend to paint a picture. The lyrics are what dictates how the music is going to be with me. So, when I wrote Masterpiece, for instance, the lyrics came to me when my paternity was confirmed through the DNA test. I had written to my daughter a letter, about how happy I was to be her father and, on the last line of the letter, I had written that I have been an artist for 30 years, but she was my Masterpiece. When I wrote those lyrics, using that last line of the letter, the lyrics were there and it just happened that, when I read the lyrics and was playing my acoustic guitar, I thought about a riff I had been messing with for years but I couldn't ever really find anything that could match with it. Until that moment, when I put the two together and realized that it worked very well together. So, as you can hear, it was all very natural and very organic. I hope that my fans understand that it came from a honest place of my soul and to them, it didn't sound forced in the slightest".
Photo by Norma Himoyosa
Albert Castiglia has often stated that he struggles heavily to perform live a song off the Masterpiece album called Love Will Win The War and we ask him whether the reason of said struggle is due to a particular significance that this particular song has to him. "Absolutely. Here in the United States, we've got a terrible thing going on with gun violence in public places, like schools, for example or places of worship in general. People going to places of worship, adults or kids and being brutally gunned down. What started that song you were asking about, it was actually prior to my daughter finding me. There has been a shooting in a Baptist church in South Carolina, followed a little after by an incident in a school, 15 miles from where I live, in a town called Parkland (on 14th February 2018, a 19-years old gunman opened fire in a school killing seventeen students and staff members and injuring seventeen others), here in Florida, something that hit our community hard. That was what kind of set the scene for this song but nothing was written yet. Then, when it happened that I discovered to have a daughter and her family, shortly after, I also found out that there had been another shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, something that finally set me off for me to write something about these horrific events. Now that I had discovered to have a daughter and grandchildren, given all those atrocities, it terrified me even more the thought of what my daughter must feel, say, every day when she takes her kids to school. She confided in me that, actually, she doesn't like to take her kids to school, because by doing that, she is entrusting her children's lives to strangers. There is always that fear that things may happen and this is certainly due to those horrible things happening in our country right now. I am pretty sure that, as for my daughter, there must be several thousands of parents out there in the US feeling that way too. That was all that triggered that song. That fear, that uncertainty that family live with every time they drop their kids to school or go to places of worship. As you may appreciate, by feeling the fear in my daughter's mind, about the security of my grandchildren in this current society, for me it becomes incredibly difficult to play live that particular song without thinking about my family".
For the best part of the guitarist and singer/songwriter's career, to address social issues openly without pulling any string, it has always been an aspect of Castiglia's artistry that fans of this formidable musician and Blues/Rock lovers in general have always loved and admired. Being, at heart, a fairly private person, our website was wondering whether it took a major effort for Castiglia to release different kind of emotions, like he beautifully did into songs like the album's title-track or Bring On The Rain, among others. "Bring On The Rain was truly emotional for me to write and of course, to play live, given the subject. It's a song about my daughter completing me. For most of my adult life, I always felt like that there was a part of me that was missing. Most people dealing with art, I feel, they are maybe genetically predisposed with certain issues in their lives, certainly very sensitive people. I grew up with some esteem issues, as a kid. Nobody did anything to me, I guess I was just an over-sensitive kid. My parents were great with me but I always felt I had some personal issues with myself that I had to deal with. Meeting my wife Michelle, it helped me hugely, in that respect. She definitely felt that space that was missing, when I met her. Before this whole experience with my daughter, I often felt that I had an edge to me, almost a little chip on my shoulder. I feel that often artist have got this attitude of "Me against the world", which is something that relates a lot, in my opinion, to Blues as a genre and being a Blues artist. But all this attitude, this chip of my shoulder, this edge I was telling you of, it all went when I met my daughter. I felt completed, all of a sudden. I feel I have got all that I needed in my life right now. Bring On The Rain is all about that final piece of the puzzle that is my life, now finally completed".
While reviewing that exciting and inspired record that is Masterpiece in its entirety, our website found particularly emotional Castiglia's personal take on Muddy Water's song I Wanna Go Home. We ask the singer/songwriter if the choice of covers on any of his albums comes from the subject expressed in each of Castiglia's records or it rather comes from sheer and honest passion for those artists he occasionally cover. "I don't think that I choose purposely the covers that end up on my albums. It's rather the other way round. They choose me, most of the time. It's like the life that I live, the career I am in. They chose me, I don't feel I chose them. The only instance that I can remember of, when a cover didn't choose me, it was on the album These Are The Days, with Loan Me A Dime (originally from Fenton Robinson). That was a song that I was very resisted to cover, at the time. I love to play it live but I couldn't feel I could match, in studio, the same intensity of the original by Robinson or Boz Scaggs' version, for example. Now, ironically, after convincing myself to record that cover, it ends up being my most watched video on YouTube, how ironic is that??? (smiles). The Muddy Waters song I covered on Masterpiece, that song spoke to me too. It was an obscure song from Muddy's catalogue and I cannot remember, for the life of me, exactly the first time I heard it, several years ago. What I do remember, though, is that when I heard that song the first time, Muddy had a choir singing it and that just moved me, especially in the part of the song when the choir repeats back at Muddy "I Wanna Go Home". From that moment on, I knew that I would have covered that song which, right in that moment when I heard it, it chose me. The other cover of my new album, the Johnny Winter's song Too Much Seconal, that was another song that chose me, a song that I recorded on the spur of the moment, instinctively. Johnny Winter has always been one of my music heroes and always will. I even had the honour to talk to him few times and he was so gracious to me, so much so that once he even paid me one of the greatest compliments I have ever received in my life as a music artist about one of my songs. He certainly was one of the most influential artists in my music career and in my life in general, because of the ferocity of his guitar playing style, something that I truly love about playing the Blues. Something that I have learned about me and my guitar playing style, through the years, is that there is a time to lay back and there is a time to cut loose. But, boy, I love to cut loose!! As we were in the process to record the album with Zito in his studio in Netherland, Texas, given the location I felt particularly close to Johnny Winter's roots, because he was originally from Beaumont, Texas, not very far away where Mike's studio is. As you can imagine, it was a no brainer decision for me, as we were in the studio, to record one of his songs. It wasn't easy to pick up the right Johnny Winter songs because, truth to be told, he recorded a lot of amazing covers himself, during his lifetime. I wanted to record one of his originals, though, therefore I grabbed my computer, and I scanned the complete list of Winter's albums to try and select the song I wanted to cover. After a long and minute search, my attention got grabbed by the 1973 Still Alive And Well album, where Too Much Seconal was part of. The way Winter recorded that song was really cool and I decided, immediately, with Mike, that I wanted to put my personal stamp on that song. I used a Gibson Nighthawk guitar, on that song, which is a kind of low budget version of the guitar that Johnny used on the original, a Gibson Firebird one. But what I like about the guitar I used is that it has got a Firebird pick-up on the neck position, so I could sort of recreate a Johnny Winter's kind of sound with that guitar, particularly on the solos. It was certainly a labour of love doing that song and it was a tribute, for me, to the massive contribution that Winter brought to music, through his artistry and for helping me pushing myself in the musical direction that i went in, which is the Blues. I am very satisfied about the way I paid tribute to Johnny, with that song".
In few months after its release, Masterpiece has already been at the top of the Blues/Rock charts in the United States for many weeks and still ongoing. Castiglia must have been positively surprised about the way that the worldwide press and the fans have unanimously welcomed his new record. "Yes, especially because when you believe in a record like this, you can never guess people's kind of response. You know, initially, there was always that fear, inside of me, on maybe losing a little bit of ground with my fans, on my new record. . Truth to be told, I am proud of all the records that I made in my career so far, but I think that some of them didn't get the right recognition that they deserved. Some were more underrated than others, in my opinion. With my new album, I knew I was taking a chance. I have been able to make a decent living, as an artist, for the last 15 years and that it is due to my fans. My fans have stuck with me for my whole career and to the music formula that I created and I am hugely grateful to them. They know that I am not a political person, when I write some of my songs, although some may say that I sound like I might be. But my fans know me better and they know that, what some may perceive as "political", they are in reality just mere observations of everyday's life. I used to admire hugely a comedian, terribly cynical, called George Carlin and he used to be my favourite comedian. He had this tremendous line, during one of his stand-ups, where he said " We all have a front row seat to the shit show", which is kind of the way I have been writing some of the stuff on the Masterpiece album. There are things happening, out there, that concern me hugely as a parent and as a grandparent and I just tried to express them through my new record. Who knows, some of my fans might have not agreed with me but I am fairly positive that the majority has understood me and the kind of message I wanted to express. Back to your original question, yes, I am very surprised of how well Masterpiece is doing and in the end, you cannot create music if you keep worrying what people may or may not think about you and your music. Those songs are who I am and each of my records has always been the loyal mirror of the stages of my life and my growth as an artist and as a human being I was living at the time, including this. Records are like children for me and when somebody doesn't like my children, you know, it hurts. But that kind of pain is part of the game and part of what happen sometimes in the music industry, but I can live with it. This record is where I am, right now and I am proud of it, just as I have always been with every record I made in my career".
Castiglia is one of those amazing people and artists that speaks from the heart in every situation. It kind of feels natural for our website, before parting company with the guitarist and singer/songwriter to ask him, using Bob Dylan's words, how many roads must a man walk down, before he's able to make a Masterpiece like his whole life and career happening. "I don't think that there is any secret formula for that. I think, sometimes, your own Masterpiece may come out from one, two different roads. It took 30 years for me to find that road and my daughter was already my Masterpiece before I even knew it and before I recorded anything. But then again, I guess it might be different for other people. It may take a shorter or a longer time. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to discourage any young newcomer artist from doing this job for a living, by saying that it may take 30 years, to write your best work. But, I've gotta tell you, it was well worth waiting 30 years to get there. This is the greatest life that I could have ever asked for. I wouldn't trade this life for anything or anybody in the world. I am aware that, in the music business, there are more successful artists than myself but still, I wouldn't trade a single drop of my life for fame or else".