Albert Castiglia lived a blues guitarist’s dream on New Year’s Eve 1996.
He was invited to play in Del Ray, Fla., on the same stage as Junior Wells, the Chicago harmonica player who recorded with Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. After playing with Wells’ group for two opening songs, the diminutive yet larger-than-life bandleader came onstage. Castiglia played three songs alongside Wells.
“It was the most amazing night of my life at the time,” Castiglia said. “I remember running up the street after I jammed with them and calling my parents. They were excited for me, although they didn’t know who he was.”
The excitement was just beginning.
Two months later, Wells needed a fill-in guitarist and he called Castiglia, who joined the band for a tour through Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit. The south Florida native didn’t mind it was freezing in February.
Another month later Castiglia answered another call: “Can you be in Chicago in three days to take the job full time?”
“Yeah, sure. No problem.”
“I was working for the state of Florida for the welfare system,” Castiglia said. “I just walked away from it. I got on a plane and moved to Chicago. I had no plan on where I was going to stay or live. I vowed I was never going to go back to a day gig after that.”
Castiglia has been a full-time blues guitarist ever since.
He performs with his trio Tuesday, at Squaw Valley’s Bluesdays. Although it will be his first time in Tahoe, Castiglia has a lifetime of experiences from nearly five years working in Chicago.
“What I learned from Junior was, how to connect with your audience,” Castiglia said. “He was really good at that. Prior to me playing with him I just thought it was all about playing. But you have to open yourself up to your audiences or they are never going to buy into what you’re doing or believe what you’re doing. He made them feel like they were part of the show and he never turned away from them. He was always accessible to them. That was a great thing to learn because I enjoy hanging around people who come to the shows. It’s a big part of the gig.”
Castiglia moved to Chicago in 1997 when that city lost some of its greatest players: Johnny Copeland, Luther Allison and Jimmy Rogers. Wells died in January 1998. But Castiglia was able to learn from more greats, such as John Primer, Carey Bell, Billy Branch, Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor, Otis Clay, Detroit Junior and Melvin Taylor.
“The Chicago blues that I listened to and loved, it’s hard to improve on that,” Castiglia said. “You should always honor it and cherish it. I think if you love the blues you should always play it and give the people that angle. You should try to push boundaries as well.
“Those guys, as well, they pushed boundaries. Muddy electrified it. Little Walter pushed the envelope in terms of harmonica playing. It is important to honor that style of music. It’s the reason we’re all doing it. It’s the reason John Nemeth is doing it. It’s the reason I am doing it. Rick Estrin and Janava Magness, it’s the reason they are all doing it. It’s the greatest art form America created. I love it very much.”
Castiglia will play with bassist Matt Schuler and drummer Billy Meyers. The band also plays in the region Aug. 18, when it appears at the Powerhouse Pub in Folsom, Calif.
When: 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 13
Where: Bluesdays, the Village at Squaw Valley
Aug. 16 – Fargo Blues Festival, Fargo, N.D.
Aug. 17 – Biscuits and Blues, San Francisco
Aug. 18 – Powerhouse Pub, Folsom, Calif.