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Peppy Castro: just beginning after 50 years


Peppy Castro - Just Beginning
Kayos Records

What happens when you get to interview a classic rock artist:

"It isn’t every day that I get the opportunity to interview a pioneer of the psychedelic garage band era who has endured, evolved and arrived at a place where the journey makes being here all the more fun," reflects guest interviewer Jim Smith after a conversation with Peppy Castro, founding member of Blues Magoos, Balance (listen to their 1981 hit single, "Breakin' Away"), and Barnaby Bye.

As much as he has done, Castro is still trying new things. "After almost 50 years as a professional," Smith says, "musician/singer/songwriter/producer Castro recently released his first solo effort, Just Beginning.

"The CD version contains a little something extra. 'I wanted the audience to appreciate the origins and meaning, the motivation  behind the songs,' Castro says. After the last track plays, the CD contains spoken tracks, one for each song, with Castro doing the narrating. The listener is treated to behind-the-curtain insight that is often left unnoticed in liner notes."

What you ask a psychedelic garage band pioneer:

Smith: "You were in the aorta of the psychedelic era as a founding member of Blues Magoos. (We Ain’t Got) Nothin' Yet was a personal anthem of mine during puberty. What was it like to have a hit single at that time?"

Castro: "It was everything you could imagine and stuff you couldn’t begin to imagine. The whole deal -- girls climbing in our hotel windows, the whole scene was pretty loose. We had free love, free parties everywhere we turned. In a word, it was crazy! Imagine being 17 with a Top 5 hit. If there was a be-in or love-in in San Francisco, I’d  go to the bank, take out cash, hop a plane and get a hotel near the happening. Then I’d head out to Golden Gate Park and watch 200,000 people tripping.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

What might have been:

Smith: "There’s a story about the song that was supposed to be the Magoos' follow-up -- a song that virtually never was. What happened?"

Castro: "Back then censorship was in vogue. The cut Pipe Dream, by virtue of its title was declared to be a drug reference/pro-drug song by the powers that be at the [ABC network] flagship, WABC Radio. So they banned it. When they banned it, their nationwide network of affiliate stations banned it. It never saw the light of day and, for sure, we lost momentum. Ironically, it was an anti-drug song. The lyrics tell the story, but ya gotta listen to them. I was 19 and convinced I was a has-been!"

Watch a 1966 Blues Magoos TV performance of "Pipe Dream"

And what was:

Smith: "But the Magoos had a good run. Any particular highlights you cherish?"

Castro: "The summer of 1967 we toured, I mean all over the US and for the entire summer, with Herman’s Hermits and The Who. That and the fact that we got tossed - frisked and searched, not only us but all our gear -  wherever we travelled. Back then we were 'those hippie freaks.' But, in the process, we all grew up together and on that tour I got particularly close to Keith Moon. I was about the only one who would run with him on some of his excursions and even I usually bailed out long before Keith. He was an amazing guy. I recently spent time with Pete Townsend when The Who played Long Island, just the two of us, catching up in his dressing room. And, I still talk to [Herman's Hermits lead singer] Peter Noone. He has more energy and is more talented than most folks realize.

Going solo, but not alone

Smith: "So, why the solo album? Why now, and how long has it been in the works?"

Castro: "The short answer is all my life. Jim, you remember when you would have to pay for studio time if you wanted to record. It was tremendously expensive. Over the years, we learned how to become engineers. The home studio allows me to please me, not the record company, not a specific 'target audience.' I make my music for me and if anyone else likes it they are welcome to come along for the ride."

Smith: "You’ve got some familiar names on the CD and you tell the stories on the disc’s narrative. Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford leap off the page."

Castro: "Joey is a longtime friend and we shared management back in the day. He called me during my Balance incarnation, a time when Aerosmith was going through a really rough patch and wanted to join. I love Joey and looked him straight in the eye and said, 'Joey, you know I love you and think the world of you. But, let’s face it, you guys will eventually patch things up and I’ll be screwed for a drummer.' True story

Smith: "And the inspiration for the title was Richie Havens?"

Castro: "I said to Richie, 'Man, we’re getting away with murder to be doing what we’re doing at this age.' Richie said, in his best aging hippie voice, 'Well, you know, man, I’m just getting started, and I’m just beginning.' I said, 'Richie, I gotta go. I have a song to write.'"

It seems 50 years into his career is just the beginning for Peppy Castro. Still ahead in his immediate future: a Blues Magoos reunion album coming out in September 2013; occasional Barnaby Bye live shows; possible live shows with some of the original members of Blues Magoos; the off-Broadway revival of The Gong Show, and Xstar, which he describes as "a 32 song rock opera/stage production where I developed all the characters, laid down all the vocals tracks, and the players are coming in to lay down the instrumentals."

Peppy gets the final word, as the interview wraps up. "Thanks to your readers for keeping the music alive. See ya down the road."

Interview date: June 20, 2013
Just the Beginning is available on CD and MP3
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