“Rollicking, playful, good-time blues and intimate, reflective balladry…her songs ring with emotional depth” –Rolling Stone
“A welcome ray of sunshine…Ball is a killer pianist, a great singer and songwriter. Potent blues, sweet zydeco, soulful, fast and furious Texas boogie…heartfelt, powerful and righteous” –Billboard
“Fifty years have passed in a flash,” says Texas-born, Louisiana-raised pianist, songwriter and vocalist Marcia Ball of her long and storied career. Ball, the 2018 Texas State Musician Of The Year, has won worldwide fame and countless fans for her ability to ignite a full-scale roadhouse rhythm and blues party every time she takes the stage. Her rollicking Texas boogies, swampy New Orleans ballads and groove-laden Gulf Coast blues have made her a one-of-a-kind favorite with music lovers all over the world. With each new release, her reputation as a profoundly soulful singer, a boundlessly talented pianist and a courageous, inventive songwriter continues to grow. Her love of the road has led to years of soul-satisfying performances at festivals, concert halls and clubs. The New York Times says, “Marcia Ball plays two-fisted New Orleans barrelhouse piano and sings in a husky, knowing voice about all the trouble men and women can get into on the way to a good time.” The Houston Chronicle says simply, “She’s as perfect as an artist can be.”
With her new album, Shine Bright, Ball set out to, in her words, “Make the best Marcia Ball record I could make.” In doing so, she has put together the most musically substantial, hopeful and uplifting set of songs of her five-decade career. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and recorded in Texas and Louisiana, Shine Bright contains twelve songs (including nine originals), ranging from the title track’s rousing appeal for public and private acts of courage to the upbeat call to action of Pots And Pans, a song inspired by renowned Texas political writer and humorist Molly Ivins. From the humorous advice of Life Of The Party to the poignantly optimistic World Full Of Love, the intensity of Ball’s conviction never wavers while, simultaneously, the fun never stops. Shine Bright is exactly the album Ball set out to make. “It is a ridiculously hopeful, cheerful record,” she says, in light of some of the album’s more serious subject matter. The secret, according to Ball “is to set the political songs to a good dance beat.”
Born in Orange, Texas in 1949 to a family whose female members all played piano, Ball grew up in the small town of Vinton, Louisiana, right across the border from Texas. She began taking piano lessons at age five, playing old Tin Pan Alley and popular music tunes from her grandmother’s collection. But it wasn’t until she was 13 that Marcia discovered the power of soul music. One day in New Orleans in 1962, she sat amazed as Irma Thomas delivered the most spirited and moving performance the young teenager had ever seen. A few years later she attended Louisiana State University, where she played some of her very first gigs with a blues-based rock band called Gum.
In 1970, Ball set out for San Francisco. Her car broke down in Austin, and while waiting for repairs she fell in love with the city and decided to stay. It wasn’t long before she was performing in local clubs with a progressive country band called Freda And The Firedogs, while beginning to sharpen her songwriting skills. It was around this time that she delved deeply into the music of the great New Orleans piano players, especially Professor Longhair. “Once I found out about Professor Longhair,” recalls Ball, “I knew I had found my direction.”
When Freda And The Firedogs broke up in 1974, Ball launched her solo career, playing clubs around Austin, Houston and Louisiana. She signed with Capitol Records in 1978, debuting with the country-rock album Circuit Queen. Creating and honing her own sound, she released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder label during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, Ball— collaborating with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton—recorded the hugely successful Dreams Come True on the Antone’s label. At the end of 1997, Marcia finished work on a similar “three divas of the blues” project for Rounder, this time in the distinguished company of Tracy Nelson and her longtime inspiration, Irma Thomas. The CD, Sing It!, was released in 1998 and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Marcia Ball has appeared many times on national television over the years, including the PBS special In Performance At The White House along with B.B. King and Della Reese, Austin City Limits and HBO’s Treme. She performed in Piano Blues, the film directed by Clint Eastwood included in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series which aired on PBS television nationwide in 2003. Marcia also appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman with The New Orleans Social Club, where she not only reached millions of people, but also helped to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she had a role in the independent film Angels Sing starring Harry Connick, Jr., Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson. In 2017 she performed on NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas, live from The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Ball joined Alligator in 2001 with the release of the critically acclaimed Presumed Innocent. The CD won the 2002 Blues Music Award for Blues Album Of The Year. Her follow-up, So Many Rivers, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and won the 2004 Blues Music Award for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year as well as the coveted Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year award. Her next release, Live! Down The Road, released in 2005, also garnered a Grammy nomination, as did 2008’s Peace, Love & BBQ (the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart). 2010’s Grammy-nominated Roadside Attractions and 2014’s The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man successfully grew her fan base even further. Altogether she holds ten Blues Music Awards, ten Living Blues Awards, and five Grammy Award nominations. She has been inducted into both the Gulf Coast Music Hall Of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. The Texas State legislature named her the official 2018 Texas State Musician. As her hometown Austin Chronicle says, “What’s not to like about Marcia Ball?”
Since joining Alligator, Ball has blossomed as a songwriter. Each album has been filled with fresh, original songs, never more so than on Shine Bright. Ball easily draws her listeners deep into her music with instantly memorable melodies and imaginative imagery. Her songs paint vibrant musical pictures richly detailed with recognizable characters, regional flavors, universal themes and colorful scenes, both real and imagined. Living Blues declares, “Her originals sound like timeless classics and southern soul masterpieces that no one else can imitate.”
Now, with Shine Bright, Ball’s new, aggressively hopeful songs are energized by Steve Berlin’s inventive and exciting production, creating electrifying music that is daring, inspired, poignant and timely. The Boston Globe calls Ball “a compelling storyteller” who plays “an irresistible, celebratory blend of rollicking, two-fisted New Orleans piano, Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues.”
Of course, Ball will bring the party on the road, playing her new songs and old favorites for fans around the globe. “I still love the feel of the wheels rolling,” she says, “and the energy in a room full of people ready to go wherever it is we take them.” With both her new album and her legendary live performances, Marcia Ball will shine a light into the darkness, making the world a brighter place one song at a time.
Tommy Castro & the Painkillers’ 30th anniversary tour
“The hardest thing to do,” says internationally beloved soul-blues rocker Tommy Castro, “is be yourself, take some chances and bring your fans along with you.” Throughout his long, constantly evolving career, guitarist, singer and songwriter Tommy Castro has always remained true to himself while exploring, growing and creating new music, and he has taken his thousands of devoted fans right along with him. Since his solo debut in 1994, he’s made 16 albums— the last seven for Alligator—each its own unique chapter in the book of Tommy Castro. Ranging from horn-fueled R&B to piping hot blues to fiery, stripped- down rock ‘n’ roll, each release is solidly built upon Castro’s unshakable musical foundation—a dynamic mix of 1960s-influenced guitar-fueled blues, testifying Memphis-soaked blue-eyed soul and Latin-tinged East San Jose funk, all driven by Castro’s grab-you-by- the-collar vocals and passionate guitar work. Blues Revue declared, “Tommy Castro can do no wrong.”
For Castro’s new album, a roots music odyssey entitled Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came To Town, he tells a timeless story. This special project was composed by Castro along with Grammy Award- winning producer Tom Hambridge. Through its 13 songs, A Bluesman Came To Town tells the tale of a young man working on his family farm who gets bitten by the blues bug. He masters the guitar and heads out on the road seeking fame and fortune, only to find what he’s left behind is the treasure he’s been looking for. Each memorable song—from the blistering title track to the pleading Child Don’t Go to the hopeful I Caught A Break to the emotional Blues Prisoner—stands on its own, as well as contributing to the larger story.
“I like to keep things fresh and interesting,” says Castro, “Tom and I have talked about making a record together for a long time. Collaborating with him was even better than I imagined. I had an outline for the story and then Tom and I talked it out and the songs just started to organically grow out of each other.” Castro continues, “A Bluesman Came To Town isn’t a story about me. It’s pulled from some of my friends’ and my experiences though. I’ve seen first-hand for a lot of years what it’s like out there on the road.”
The road has always been Castro’s home away from home. He’ll instantly ignite a crowd, turn them into loyal fans and then keep those fans coming back for more. He has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles and performed thousands of gigs, leading his bands at clubs, concert halls, and festivals all over the world. Famed guitarist Joe Bonamassa says, “Tommy has always been top of the heap among blues guitar players. He always puts on a great show.” Born in San Jose, California in 1955, Tommy Castro first picked up a guitar at age 10. He fell under the spell of Elvin Bishop, Taj Mahal, Mike Bloomfield and other blues artists of the day. Almost every major rock and soul act, from Ike and Tina Turner to Janis Joplin to the J. Geils Band to Tower Of Power, toured through the area, and Castro was at every show. He saw John Lee Hooker, Albert King, and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells at the same local blues bar, JJ’s, where he often jammed, dreaming of one day busting out. Mixing the blues and rock and roll he loved and the soul music he heard blasting from lowriders in his neighborhood Tommy started to create his own personal sound and style. He honed his guitar skills and intense, gritty vocals, learning how to capture an audience as he performed on San Francisco’s highly competitive club scene. As his reputation spread, Tommy played in a variety of Bay Area bands, soon making a name for himself as a hotter-than-hot live artist bursting at the seams with talent. In 1985, he was recruited to become lead singer and guitarist for the regionally popular blues band NiteCry, gigging regularly throughout Northern California. Castro joined Warner Brothers’ artists The Dynatones in the late 1980s, performing all over the country. He formed the first Tommy Castro Band in 1992 and has not stopped touring since. In 1995, soon after releasing his first album on Blind Pig Records, The Tommy Castro Band was selected as the house band for three seasons on NBC Television’s Comedy Showcase (airing right after Saturday Night Live). The show brought him in front of millions of viewers every week and cemented his reputation as a not-to-be-missed, nationally touring live performer.
After a series of successful releases on the Blind Pig, Telarc and 33rd Street labels, Tommy Castro joined Alligator Records in 2009. His label debut, Hard Believer, was released to massive popular and critical acclaim. With the album, Castro won four of his six career Blues Music Awards, including the coveted B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year Award (the very highest award a blues performer can receive). In 2012, Castro stripped his music down to its raw essence, creating a high-energy, larger-than-life sound with the formation of The Painkillers. Tommy Castro & The Painkillers’ initial release, The Devil You Know, was embraced by his legion of fans and discovered by hordes of new ones. With the current version of The Painkillers (bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Michael Emerson), Castro released Method To My Madness in 2015, Stompin’ Ground in 2017, and the irresistible Killin’ It–Live in 2019, with critics shouting praise and admirers cheering the group’s every move. The band has coalesced into one of the telepathically tightest units Castro has ever assembled, making them one of the most in-demand live roots music acts performing today, delivering soul-shaking, muscular music.
Castro’s relentless road-dog approach—gig after gig, night after night—has won him loyal, lifelong fans everywhere he plays. The Washington Post says Castro is “phenomenal and funky” with “soulful vocals and inspired blues guitar.” The San Francisco Chronicle describes Castro’s music as, “funky Southern soul, big city blues and classic rock…silvery guitar licks that simultaneously sound familiar and fresh.” No Depression says “Castro plays gritty,string-bending blues like a runaway train…a glorious blend that rocks the soul and lifts the spirits.”
Upon release of A Bluesman Came To Town, Castro will hit the road with The Painkillers, performing fan favorites as well as songs from the new album. “I’ve made seven albums for Alligator,” Castro says, “and I’ve never made the same record twice. I will always try to be my most authentic self. I give it all I’ve got every time we hit the stage!”