Fans of blues guitar are in for a string-bending good time as two of the most popular blues players of the past three decades will land on Rifle’s Ute Theater stage starting at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Tommy Castro and Tinsley Ellis will each play a set with their own bands before coming together for a good old-fashioned, raise the roof jam session.
The two blues men joined forces for a tour last year after Ellis recorded “Winning Hand” on Alligator Records, the same label on which Castro has recorded his past six albums.
It is Ellis’ third stint with Alligator after recording nine albums with them in the ’90s and ’00s.
“Well, I tried the rest, and I came back to the best,” Ellis said. “They’re just great to work with, and I’ve been with them off and on, mainly on, for over 30 years.”
Castro and Ellis had such a good time touring together in 2018, Castro said, that they decided to do it again this year.
“I’m a big fan of his, and he’s a fan of mine,” Castro said. “And we get along really well as friends, and the bands get along really well.
“When we were younger, half of what we were interested in was partying. Now that we’re a little bit more mature, music is all we really have. So we go a little farther and deeper into our music and we appreciate being able to do what we love.”
Ellis said his set Saturday night with his own band will include songs from “Winning Hand,” a few songs off the 2005 album “Live Highwayman,” and even some unreleased songs off his album “Ice Cream In Hell,” which is due out in January.
Castro’s set with his band, The Painkillers, will include many songs from their new 2019 release “Killin It Live,” a record he said represents “what you get when you come to see a Tommy Castro and the Painkillers show.”
“We have a really strong four-piece group right now, and I just wanted to be sure to capture what this band sounds like live,” he said.
Florida native Ellis and Northern California native Castro have different approaches to blues music that are informed by growing up in two distinctly different parts of the country.
Ellis’ brand of Southern blues-rock is heavily influenced by blues men like B.B. King and Freddie King.
Through the years, Ellis has performed and recorded with various Allman Brothers members, and in fact, he played mentor to Derek Trucks in 1991, letting the young slide-guitarist sit in with his band.
“He was only 12 years old, and we were skeptical,” Ellis said. “His dad (Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks) and I were old friends, so we let him get up there, and he was just so incredible that he ended up staying there the whole set, and we started touring together.”
Castro’s brand of blues is more of a West Coast style, owing to his roots growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area during its fertile ’60s music scene.
We would see shows at the Fillmore and Winterland or any number of outdoor venues, everything from The Grateful Dead to Sly and the Family Stone,” Castro said. “But my all-time favorite from the Bay was the Elvin Bishop Group.
“We were inspired by all this great blues, R&B, soul, rock ’n’ roll, psychedelic music, folk music. It was a great time to be a teenager and I’m sure that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing today.”