From humble beginnings in the Appalachian Mountains to the booze-drenched country lyrics and soulful southern-rock sound he’s become so well known for, Jerry Castle’s life has been a winding and often bumpy road. ‘Up until I was about 11-12 years old, we lived in poverty,’ he recalls. ‘Being in fist fights was a common occurrence and I still remember my first full-fledged fight at the age of seven.’ Despite this, Jerry credits his upbringing for teaching him the importance of hard work and resilience, two qualities that helped him remain dedicated to the one thing that brought him sanctuary; his music.
His latest album, Midnight Testaments saw Jerry really solidify his own style of music. The singer/songwriter revisited the steel pedal guitar and soul music from his past and infused it with specks of Americana, rootsy country and southern rock to create an album soaked with raw complexity. After Midnight Testaments came the release of With the Band which Jerry recorded with the legendary Rolling Stones saxophonist, Bobby Keys. It was the product of hours of deliberation and tweaking, with Jerry finally releasing the track six years after it was originally recorded. ‘I definitely questioned whether I had done a good job of paying tribute to Bobby, but I also knew that my intentions in completing this song were pure and that I had spent a lot of time making sure that the song was the best that I could make it.’
Turning the focus away from his own life, Jerry’s brand-new track Throwback Texas Man pays homage the Texan men he admires, from Willie Nelson to Kris Kristofferson to Matthew McConaughey. This country/rock single explores what it means to be a hard-living Texas man with lyrics such as ‘coffee through the day, sweating out last night’ setting the theme for the track. ‘From my perspective, they live by the creed of work hard, play harder.’ he explains. ‘They’re tough while remaining kind and those are all characteristics I admire.’
Here, we chat to Jerry Castle about all things music, the ups and downs of life and the round of drinks he’d buy for all the throwback Texas men in the bar.
Hi Jerry, thank you so much for taking the time. I’ll start with the obvious, how was your Christmas and New Year?
Thank you for caring enough to have me! My Christmas and New Year were really mellow and really good. I had my kids this Christmas and they make the holiday so much more fun.
You released a new single, Live for the Day, on New Year’s Day. Can you tell us a bit more about that song, the inspiration, the sound and why you chose to release it on New Year’s Day?
I live in East Nashville, TN and it is a very musical neighborhood, perhaps the most musical neighborhood in the world. The drawback is that when you put that many musicians in a consolidated area, you wind up with a bunch of people that take themselves too seriously. This song was meant to be the antithesis of that. It was meant as an ode to being thankful, positive and hopeful. None of those things are very hip in the music community but I really feel like a little positivity goes a long way in these times. I’ve been through a lot, seen a lot, lost very dear friends, and cheated death several times myself so why not write a song about being thankful to put the past behind and celebrate the here and now? I released it on New Year’s Day because the horn/brass arrangement, the tempo and the lyrical content felt like a New Year celebration. Now, as far as making a big deal about the song and getting it out to a lot of people, a New Year’s release wasn’t the best idea. It turns out I’m not Beyoncé or Taylor Swift.
Midnight Testament really feels like a rollercoaster. We have those boozy tracks like Tequila and Tears and then we have tracks like Calm that feel a lot breezier. Can you tell us a bit more about the songwriting process and how what was happening in your personal life influenced some of the tracks on that album?
Isn’t that how life goes? Ups, downs, happy, sad, mad, chilled and occasionally drunk? My life has never been one dimensional and neither has my music. There were certainly a lot of ups and downs during the making of this record. Come to think of it, those extreme ups and downs have continued. I had two close friends die during the writing of this record. I fell in and out of love and had to keep it all together so I could take care of my kids. The process for most of this album went like this: I’d book a day in the studio, I wouldn’t have anything written and two days before it was time to start recording, I’d lock myself in my home studio and I wouldn’t come out until I had three or four songs finished. I did this three different times and that’s how Midnight Testaments was written and recorded.
I love the video for Calm. When I watched it, it put me in a really peaceful mood. How did you come up with the idea for that video?
That’s awesome! I came up with the idea for the video while sitting on a balcony at the beach in Florida. I wrote all of the storyboards while watching all of the life that’s a part of the ocean. I’ve always loved how the ocean makes me feel so insignificant. We’re on a rock hurtling around through outer space and we have the notion that our day to day problems are somehow important. The ocean always reminds me that they’re not. That’s the vibe I was going for with this video.
I just wanted to touch on the single With the Band. It has such an interesting back story to it, can you tell us how the song came to be from beginning to release?
Back in early 2014 I saw on Facebook that a guy I played poker with, Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites was playing with Bobby Keys of The Rolling Stones. I reached out to him and asked him to connect me with Bobby and he did. Bobby played on a song and gave a classic Bobby Keys performance, but when I objectively looked at the song, it sounded like a half-baked demo. For that reason, I put the song away. Every year on Bobby’s birthday, I’d think about that unfinished song, so in the fall of 2019, I pulled that recording session back up. At first, I was trying to edit out parts to make the song work. Ultimately, I ended up with just Bobby’s saxophone part and a click track. From there I decided to re-write the song around Bobby’s performance, and that’s ultimately what I did.
What is it about the sound of the saxophone and the way Bobby Keys played that made you want to collaborate with him?
The way Bobby plays the saxophone is uniquely Bobby. He’s the greatest rock-n-roll saxophone player of all time. He seems to approach his parts in a way that’s similar to how a blues guitarist does. When you hear a song with Bobby on it and you hear him bend a note, you immediately know its Bobby. I was reading ‘Life’ by Keith Richards and watching ‘The Stones in Exile’ when I met Bobby, so the folklore surrounding him was certainly appealing as well.
Let’s talk about your new single, Throwback Texas Man. Where did the inspiration for the song come from and why Texas?
From my perspective, Texas men have always seemed to march to the beat of their own drum and I’ve always admired that. The ones that I’ve known seem to have this ‘work hard and play harder’ approach to life which seems to pass down from generation to generation. Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Keys and Guy Clark are some of the throwback Texas men that I’ve admired the most.
How would you describe the sound of Throwback Texas Man?
I’d say that its part Texas country, part rock, and part Appalachian Mountains, which would pretty much sum up me and my music. I’m not a Texan but a whole lot of my heroes are and they sure have been influential on me as a writer and a human.
Can you describe the guy you had in your mind when you wrote Throwback Texas Man? Who is he?
He does his thing, he works hard, marches to the beat of his own drum, likes to have fun, doesn’t make excuses, has a sense of humor, is kind, honorable, and respectful to the ladies. He makes the most of the life that’s given to him and makes sure that he lives it to its fullest.
So Throwback Texas Man comes on in the bar… you order everyone there a round of which drink?
100% without a doubt Anejo Tequila-neat.
Can we expect to see Throwback Texas Man on another album any time soon or is this more of a stand-alone single?
That’s a good question. By the time this comes out, I will have just wrapped up another recording session and I’m not sure what’s going to become of all of that. Obviously if Throwback Texas Man is well received, it will be an option to put it on the next full-length album.
Have you made any mistakes in your career or have there been any times when you felt like giving up music altogether?
I have given up on music all together. At one point I sold all of my gear, got a corporate day job and didn’t write or play any music for a year and a half. It finally came to the point where it was harder to not play than it was to deal with the frustrations of trying to exist in the industry. Since then, I’ve 100% accepted that music is my lot in life and I’m thankful that I have something I’m passionate about. I don’t regret my decision to temporarily give up music because I’ve enjoyed the entire process so much more since I stepped away from it. My point of view is that if you feel like you should quit, you should and if you don’t end up back in music, then you weren’t meant to be there anymore.
How has the pandemic affected your music this past year?
I’ve certainly been more prolific in writing, recording, and overall creativity. Other elements of my life are a train wreck but musically and artistically, it has been positive. The subject matter of my songs might be a little bit darker but really, I think that’s a true reflection of what’s been going on in most people’s lives.
What are your plans moving forward with 2021?
I have another single coming out in Feb, I’m working on another album and I’m doing more livestreams. I want to keep getting better, both as a human being and a singer/songwriter. There are some other exciting things in the works so hopefully they come to fruition soon.