I had the honor to interview Neal Casal back in 2012 when I was recording video podcasts about once a week. He was touring as the lead guitarist with Chris Robinson Brotherhood, an act that I was just getting into, but still needed to share his own solo material. I knew he was good, but was blown away by how effortless he sang and played in person. So smooth and carefree. A real gentle and peaceful soul, too. He'd just released his tenth album Sweeten the Distance (The Royal Potato Family), one of my favorite albums of the year. And getting the chance to record him solo -- just voice and acoustic guitar -- was a very special moment for me. Check out that performance of "Need Shelter" (above) and this mournful ballad "White Fence Round House" (below), written following a near-death experience while surfing, both from the aforementioned solo album.
In fact, it was back in 1995 when I first discovered him. He'd just released his first solo effort Fade Away Diamond Time (Zoo Records) and that album quickly became one of my favorite albums of the year. It's a timeless classic of Americana roots-rock. For me, that album was a modern day version of Neil Young's After The Goldrush. I was instantly smitten with his talent -- voice, songs, guitar playing, tone, vibe. His sound was something that I would try to replicate for my debut solo album a few short years later.
As a member of Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Hard Working Americans, and his killer jam band Circles Around The Sun, Neil had become a stellar touring lead guitarist. He was the perfect foil for Chris Robinson, too. I'd seen him with the Brotherhood several times, and each time I was impressed with his chops, tone and inventiveness. The very first concert I took my son Luca and his friend to see was with Neal and CRB at Irving Plaza. Not sure if he understood how cool a father-son moment it was for me; sharing a cherished musician with your child.
RIP, Mr. Casal. All of us who knew you and followed your career were blessed to have witnessed your passion for music.