People did give me good advice but I was way too headstrong then to listen. Be yourself, don’t chase trends, in the beginning, spend more time woodshedding and working on your craft than trying to get ahead in the industry, follow your instincts, don’t look for other people to give you creative direction, do the work. While music and songs are indeed magical, most of it comes from doing the work. If you don’t do the work, it’s not going to happen.
As part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jerry Castle — singer/songwriter, road warrior, producer, and cosmic Appalachian soul troubadour — has carved out a career that’s just as diverse as his musical influences, earning everything from chart-topping radio hits to critical acclaim from publications like Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, and Wide Open Country along the way.
After thousands of cross-country shows and a string of critically-acclaimed album releases, Jerry found himself at home in 2020, forced indoors by a global pandemic that had brought the concert industry to a halt. It was a time of reflection and reconstruction — two themes that he explored with Midnight Testaments, an album that fused the sharpest songwriting of his career with the southern sounds of his childhood home in the Appalachian mountains. Released in October 2020, Midnight Testaments was hailed by Wide Open Country as Jerry’s “potential breakthrough album.” It also helped set the stage for his next project: a group of standalone singles that blur the lines between Americana, country, and rock & roll, showing the full range of Jerry’s musical reach.
“With the Band,” the project’s first single, is a soulful southern rock ballad co-starring the iconic saxophonist Bobby Keys. A longtime member of the Rolling Stones’ touring band, Keys teamed up with Jerry to record “With the Band” in 2014, months before passing away at age 70. Years later, Jerry rewrote the song to emphasize Keys’ saxophone parts. The result is a moving tribute to the grit and glamor of the touring lifestyle — a lifestyle that Keys embodied as compellingly as Jerry himself. “When things in ‘the real world’ get too overwhelming, we musicians usually have the overwhelming desire to take to the open road,” Castle says. “No matter how in love we are with someone, we never love them more than we love music.”
The bright bounce of “Live for the Day” finds Jerry in an optimistic mood, singing about gratitude over electric guitar, handclaps, and blasts of brass, while the roadhouse roots-rock anthem “Throwback Texas Man” salutes the larger-than-life, hard-working Lone Star statesmen who’ve become a fixture of Jerry’s audiences in Texas. The final song of the bunch, “Miracle,” whips up a cloud of atmospheric Americana, punctuated by the unmistakable twang of its creator’s voice.
“I don’t want to pigeon hole myself to one genre,” says Jerry, who recorded the four singles at Trace Horse Studio and his home studio in Nashville. “I grew up loving both The Rolling Stones and Willie Nelson, and I know there are a lot of other people out there that feel the same. Everyone seems to get so hung on if I’m country, rock or Americana — but I’m all of those things.”
He’s more than that, too. During the years leading up to 2020, Castle topped the Roots Music Folk Rock Chart for five weeks with his Number One radio hit “She Kills,” while also sharing shows with fellow southern-fried genre-benders like Sturgill Simpson, Old Dominion, and Amanda Shires. In search of life experiences that felt every bit as colorful as his music, he lived in Los Angles for several years, worked as a Music Row songwriter back in Nashville, and sharpened himself into a charismatic, guitar-slinging frontman with an unending string of shows. Songs like “With the Band,” “Live for the Day,” “Throwback Texas Man,” and “Miracle” find him pushing the envelope once again, planting one foot in the musical terrain of his native South while pointing the other toward broader influences. The world may look different after a year like 2020, but Jerry is continuing to do what he’s always done best: move forward.
These are songs for the highway, the heartland, the happy, and the heartbroken.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! Obviously I’m going to be giving you the condensed version of my upbringing. I grew up in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. My mother had me when she was 15 years old. The Castle side of the family were all musicians, so music was in my life as far back as I remember. I was around a lot of country and gospel music. The Castle’s lived on the fringe of society and weren’t the most upstanding citizens by most people’s standards, so my mother wasn’t all that eager to support my urge to be a musician as a child. With that being said, I didn’t get my first guitar until I was twenty years old. I grew up playing sports and started working in the tobacco and hay fields before I was a teenager. We lived in poverty until I was about 12 years-old but my mom was way too proud to accept government assistance. She worked two jobs and eventually pulled us out of poverty and ended up providing us a blue -collar middle-class upbringing during my teen years.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I feel like I always knew that this was what I was going to do, despite the fact that I didn’t actually get my first guitar until I was 20 years old. There have been times in my life that I’ve become frustrated with trying to find my place in the industry and I’ve tried to give the universe ultimatums, which obviously helps zero. About 5 years ago I let go of any notion that I was going to do anything besides music. Making music is my way of life and my religion as much as it’s my “career”.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
What’s interesting to me probably isn’t going to be interesting to everyone else. Given that I recently released “With The Band”, it seems pertinent to mention recording with long-time Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys. I was a big Stones fan as a teenager but I went through a resurrection of my fandom back in 2014. I was reading “Life” by Keith Richards and watching “The Stones in Exile” on repeat on Netflix. In Keith’s book, he talked a lot about his best friend, saxophonist Bobby Keys. There were some absolutely legendary stories about Bobby and it led to me becoming a huge fan of his. One day during this timeframe, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that one of my poker buddy’s, Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites, was playing a show at The Mercy Lounge with Bobby. I immediately sent Dan a message and asked him if he could connect me with Bobby because I had a song that I wanted him to play on (There was no song). Dan asked Bobby if he was cool with it, Bobby gave the go ahead and Dan sent me his phone number.
Bobby and I played phone tag a couple of times but eventually, I got him on the phone. He said “I hear you want me to play on your song? First things first though, if we’re going to do this, you have to pay me in cash.” It was like I had lifted the character from Keith’s book and was suddenly talking to him in real time on the phone. We made arrangements for the session and within days, there I was with the guy I had been reading about and watching on the tv. He was exactly as I expected him to be. Funny, boisterous, Southern, and soulful like no other saxophonist. The greatest rock-n-roll saxophonist of all times, playing on my songs. I treasure that experience to this day. When Bobby was satisfied with his performance he said “Let me give you another one and that way, you’ve got another one.” He did so, snapped one picture with me and off he went, with his cash of course.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
For sure. I was fronting a 3-piece rock band called “The World Outside” during a gig at the Exit/In in Nashviile, TN. The drummer was a big fan of Kiss and he was always preaching that we “needed to put on more of a show.” We were backstage and he let me know that he was going to light his cymbals on fire during the four on the floor break during one of the songs. He told me this while he was putting on his “gig outfit” which was basically a silver sequins pair of granny panties. He explained that he could put lighter fluid on them, light them and it would just burn the fluid without burning anything else. I laughed and really didn’t think much of it. Here stood this 5’4 red headed dude with eyeliner and sequin panties on. I couldn’t take anything he was saying seriously. I had zero concept of the fact that if somebody in the band did something stupid, it would reflect poorly on me since I was fronting the band. The time comes for his big pyrotechnic moment and the guy has a pickle jar of lighter fluid with drumsticks, that have a wad of paper towels tied to the ends, and they have been soaking in the lighter fluid all night. He squirts the lighter fluid on his cymbals, while keeping the beat going with the kick drum, reaches down into the pickle jar and takes the sticks out. He holds the sticks up in the air over his head and the lighter fluid runs down his arm. He takes out his lighter and sets both his drumsticks on fire and the flame quickly follows the stream of lighter fluid running down his arm. He freaks out, kicks over the pickle jar of lighter fluid and drops the drum stick that’s still on fire. The entire drum riser catches on fire and the staff has to put it out with buckets of water. The staff were all musicians that went on to play in well- known bands and they haven’t let me live that down to this day. Come to think of it, they shouldn’t. The drummer had 3rd degree burns on his arm, he recovered but his life as a musician did not. The lesson I learned from that is your band can either make you look good or your band can make you look bad. Be particular in deciding who you hire to help represent you.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have a single coming out on Jan 22 called “Throwback Texas Man” and another single coming out on Feb 19 called “Miracle”. Those songs couldn’t be more different. “Throwback Texas Man” is a rocking, driving, grooving song with elements of Texas country and “Miracle” is an ambient soundscape song that the lyrics of the song are the focal point. I’m currently working on another album and I have a slew of livestreams coming up as well. There are some other really cool things that are in the works but it wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about them until they’re confirmed.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Life is about letting go and evolving. It’s absolutely not about your past or your traditions. Hearing the word “heritage” in the context that it’s being used today makes me want to puke. The notion of exclusivity is one of the most ridiculous ideas that has plagued the world as far back as civilization goes. Having diversity in film and tv helps to push evolution forward in that it reminds people that we’re all humans, that there are other people out there in the world that look different than you but we all came from love, and we all deserve to be treated as such. Being reminded that there are people from many different walks of life is paramount when it comes to what entertainment is being provided to small town America. There is no cause more noble than art, art helps society to grows. The more each race is represented in art, the more diverse that art is going to be. The more diverse art/film/tv is, the better it’s going to be. The better it is, the better we’re going to be as humans.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
People did give me good advice but I was way too headstrong then to listen. Be yourself, don’t chase trends, in the beginning, spend more time woodshedding and working on your craft than trying to get ahead in the industry, follow your instincts, don’t look for other people to give you creative direction, do the work. While music and songs are indeed magical, most of it comes from doing the work. If you don’t do the work, it’s not going to happen. As far as sharing examples, I really try not to dwell on the negative of my career nor my life. It’s an absolute miracle that we exist in the first place and that’s where I want to spend my energy, not on reliving regrets nor mistakes.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’ll regurgitate the advice I was given that changed my creative life. Back in 2015 I had the opportunity to work with the former president of NARAS, Mike Greene in the studio. Mike was complimenting me on my songwriting and I said something to the effect of “If something doesn’t happen with this next album, I’m going to have to focus on something else. I can’t keep….” Mike was shaking his head “no” while I was talking, and he finally interrupted and said “Stop. Just stop.” He said “Look son, you’re in the top 99,6% of the world in that you have a passion. Most people spend their entire lives wishing that they had something to do that they felt passionate about. A lot of people go to be praying for direction as to what they should do with their lives. You know what you’re meant to do with your life and just because it’s not going the way you think it should, you’re going to spend your time bitching and moaning instead of working on your passion? Just write the songs, play the music, put one foot in front of another, be thankful and if the day comes that you don’t want to do it anymore, then that’s ok too but enough with the whining.” That advice stuck with me and forever changed the way I approach music.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to see a program that allows people to take a one-time 10,000 dollars government loan that you can either apply to college or to your business idea. If you choose to apply it to your business and the business make 40,000.00 dollars or more, you repay the loan. If you break even or lose money, the loan is forgivable. If you make 30,000 dollars, you pay back 75% of the loan, if you make 20,000 dollars, you pay back 50% of the loan. Our system puts way too much of a premium on going to school and then getting a job to work for somebody else. Entrepreneurship should start being taught in elementary school and continue to be taught throughout high school. We need to do things in this country to encourage people to be innovative and uniqe, not to do what you’re told to do by some bloated corporation. Now don’t get me wrong, the program wouldn’t be something that everyone would want to take advantage of and that’s ok but there’s a whole lot of talented people out there that never get their ideas off the ground because the financial resources aren’t available or they’re just not cut out for college.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are a lot of people that have helped me out, some that didn’t even mean to. I’m grateful for both those that encouraged me and those that discouraged me. I wouldn’t be where I am without either. At the same time, I don’t have the feeling that I’ve “arrived” and frankly, I don’t think I ever will. Life is about the moment and the moment is everchanging. I guess I’m most thankful for the people that gave me pure honest love. At the end of the day, that’s really the thing that makes the most difference. With that being said, my mother has consistently been my biggest supporter. Lots of people have come and gone but her love remains steady as a rock.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Experience the life that is happening to you, not the one you wish was happening” -Michael Singer We all spend a lot of time regretting and planning, I’ve done too much of both. I recently went through some extreme challenges and loss. This quote has consistently reminded me to stay in the moment, that’s where we all should strive to be.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oh man, this suddenly feel like a very important question. Since I’m here doing the interview because of my involvement with music, I’ll limit my pick to someone in the music world. With that being said, Rick Rubin seems like a guy that really gets “it” when it comes to music and artists. I love his Broken Records podcast. It’s one of my favorites ever. I admire how Rick seems to be able to hone in on the essence of each artists and help that artist to better bring that essence out. He isn’t micromanaging their every move or coming in to making records a bunch of preconceived notions. He realizes that the making of music is a fluid situation and he seems to give both the artist and the songs the space that allows for something amazing to happen.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me at jerrycastle.com on facebook at facebook.com/jerrycastlemusic, on instagram at instagram.com/jerrycastlemusic on youtube at youtube.com/jerrycastlemusic or on twitter at twitter.com/thejerrycastle
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
It was very kind of you to have me. Thank you!