Neal Casal on his Nov. 18 show in Westbury with The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Montauk, Long Beach and more
An active solo artist since the early 1990s, Neal Casal has released 12 solo albums. However, Neal's solo career is only a small part of his life as a musician. Neal's first big break was as a touring member of Rickey Medlocke's Blackfoot starting in the late 1980s. In the years since, Neal has recorded and/or toured with Ryan Adam & The Cardinals, Shannon McNally, Gin Wigmore, Tift Merritt, Willie Nelson, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and James Iha, to name a few artists.
Since 2011, Neal has been very active with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Neal and the former Black Crowes frontman met on tour five years ago and have since released four studio albums. The Brotherhood will be coming to our area on Nov. 18 with a headlining show at The Space At Westbury. He also manages to make time for the band Hard Working Americans.
In support of the gig in Westbury, Neal -- who is also accomplished as a photographer -- spoke to No Place Like Long Island. Although originally from Denville, New Jersey and now based in California, Neal turns out to know the Island well. He can visited online at www.nealcasal.com and followed on Twitter via @NealCasal.
Where was the first gig you ever played on Long Island? What do you remember about it?
NC: First gig I ever played was at Stephen Talkhouse a long time ago. I remember being really impressed by the history of the club and feeling honored to play there. I love that area and have always felt a lot of inspiration to write songs and words when I’m there.
Did you ever come to Long Island beyond touring?
NC: Yes, I used to go to Montauk to surf quite often. I was in love with the small hotel right on Ditch Plains and wrote many songs there and stayed there whenever I could. I had some of the best days in my life on Montauk, come to think of it. It’s a special place with deep vibes for me.
I also have a very close friend named John Schultz who lives in Long Beach, and I visit him whenever I can. He’s a great surfer and surf historian. He’s also a great photographer, skateboarder, DJ, and musicologist. We share may interests and his friendship is of great value to me. He’s been a mentor to me in many subjects, and l learned some of my most lasting lessons about the ocean on Long Island. John has lived in Long Beach all of his life and I’ve learned what a great place it is primarily through his perspective. I think as time goes by, he’ll be regarded as one of the important figures in the history of the island. He usually spins records at our New York CRB shows, so look behind the decks and you’ll see him there with us.
Beyond music, you are known as a top-notch photographer. Is that something you went to school for? Something you discovered you had a knack for on your own?
NC: I have no formal training in photography and know very little about it. I just have an instinctual feeling for it, an eye if you will, and that’s what I follow without questioning it. I didn’t start making photographs until later in life, so my skills are extremely limited. But it doesn’t matter because I approach photography like a punk band approaches a jam. Total DIY, throw away the manual and just go for it. Life is too poetic and beautiful not too document it. There are the most amazing things happening around us all the time and I have a great need to grab those moments as they come to me. It’s a very simple, visceral process for me.
How did you wind up playing in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood? Did you have a mutual friend?
NC: I met Chris in 2001 when i was in a band called The Beachwood Sparks that opened a Black Crowes tour. We became friends then and remained so until 2011 when he called and asked if i’d like to start a band with him. Being a massive fan of the guy and his work, I jumped right onboard and we got to work writing songs, playing shows, and weaving this band into the mandala of our lives. Six years later, we’re better than ever and about to make a new record in January, so it all worked out.
What should be expected from your upcoming show in Westbury? Is it all Brotherhood material? Any covers or Black Crowes songs?
NC: No Crowes covers. We play our original songs that we’ve released on our four records, and a handful of lovingly chosen covers that we’ve reinvented from their original versions. We play two sets with no opening bands, so it’s a three-hour night of music with us.
You have played in a lot of notable people's bands over the years. Was it always the plan to be a sideman with a solo career on the side? Or did that happen organically?
NC: I never really planned anything specific in my life, except that I wanted to play guitar, write songs, and have a life with music at its center. It never mattered to me whether I was playing my own music or someone else’s. As long as the music moves me in some positive way and I feel I can make a good contribution, then I’m in. Point me towards the tour bus and I’ll be the first one on. I felt that way as a kid and I still do now.
What's coming up for you in your solo career?
NC: I’m not doing any solo work at the moment all of my focus is on the CRB and a few of the other people I work with as a guitar player. I still write songs of my own on the side, and maybe I’ll record them one day, but for now my focus is with the CRB.
When not busy with music or photography, how do you like to spend your free time?
NC: I’m obsessed with surfing, so I chase that around a little bit. I’m not very good at it, but I have these moments where I almost feel like I am, and that’s good enough for me. The ocean is a great place to get away from everything for awhile, but it also inspires my work and my dreams, so i can get away but still be creative. Surfing goes really well with music and photography, so it’s all interrelated. That’s what I like most about it.
Finally, Neal, any last words for the kids?
NC: I have a friend named Todd Hannigan, an excellent songwriter. He was once asked this same question, and his answer was one that I could never top. So I’ll just sorta repost his answer for the kidsL “Follow your dreams, or whatever.”