" Interview "
Keith Crossan Interview
After miles of traveling to thousands of gigs with the Tommy Castro Band, Keith Crossan finally decided to make his own statement; the results can be heard on his debut recording Beatnik Jungle. According to Crossan the title refers to an area in San Francisco called North Beach, which is where the Tommy Castro Band got its start. It was also a place where poets and writers of the 1960s Beat era created their craft, in fact till this day North Beach is still a place that thrives with very talented writers, poets, painters, and musicians.
It was at the time of the release of Crossan's Beatnik Jungle that I had the good fortune to sit with him and the results of our conversations follows, where we delve deep into Crossan's interesting career before and during his long tenure with Castro.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Your Beatnik Jungle has a delicious mix of Blues, Jazz, and some Bay-area Funk. This record came out of the blue as one of my favorite recordings of 2008. [Publicist] Christine Vitale sent it to BluesWax and I saw it on their weekly lists of CDs to review. So when I saw your name I said, "I know Keith, he's been with Tommy Castro for a long time," and wondered what your disc was about. They sent it to me for review. When I got it, I said "Wow, where did this come from? It's a great recording, Keith!
Keith Crossan: It came from my brain! [Laughs] Some of that stuff came about as long ago as 1987, which was "Clemency," and that kind of music just doesn't matter how old it is.
BW: For those who don't know, you are Tommy Castro's sax player. How long have you been with Tommy?
KC: I've had that job for eighteen years and we still like each other.
BW: I was happy to see Tommy's prior bass player Randy McDonald on your CD, what's he been up to of late?
KC: Randy is one of those guys that I can really count on in the studio to do the right things. McDonald plays his cards close to the vest, I know he's been working with the San Jose city government, but I'm not sure what Randy's up to. He's not playing music and he's sticking close to home.
BW: Interesting about Randy, how about you? Will you be staying on the road with Tommy?
KC: I have to! Either that or I will be super-sizing your fries or mowing your lawn.
BW: I don't know about that! Where did the concept of Beatnik Jungle come about?
KC: Beatnik Jungle refers to North Beach, a neighborhood of San Francisco, which is where the band got started and also it was where the Beat poets hung out at, plus there was a great Jazz scene there with clubs like the Blackhawk and the Basin Street West were in that area. The Jazz clubs are now gone; there were three Blues clubs and topless bars so there was lots of trouble in North Beach, so it was jungle, hence the name Beatnik Jungle. You could easily go out there and not come home for two or three days!
BW: Tommy got started in the early eighties?
KC: I believe so, down in San Jose, which is where Tommy grew up. He led a Blues jam at a place called JJ's. Then he got in a band with Randy McDonald called the Dynatones, which was how they got to know each other. So when the Dynatones split up Tommy decided to put his own band together in North Beach where there were three Blues clubs within two blocks of each other. After a while they gave me a call when they were looking for a keyboard player, harp player, or a sax player. So Chip Miller from the Dynatones suggested that they call me up, so that's how we all got together.
BW: Back to Beatnik Jungle, I heard some sax great legends that must have influenced you; tell me who were some of your sax heroes.
KC: Gene Ammons was definitely someone I learned a lot from, of course from AM radio you have to give it up to Junior Walker. From big bands and Jazz bands you have John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Wayne Shorter is another great player I look up to who has his own style. The Crusaders...
BW: Now you are in my pocket with the Crusaders and sax man Wayne Henderson!
KC: I got to open for them when I played with vocalist Lenny Williams after he left Tower of Power. I was in Lenny's band for three years, where he got to record for ABC records and we got to open so many incredible artists like Grover Washington, Jr. and the Crusaders, so I got to be there near the monitor guy and watching these guys play, and just soaked it in as much as I could.
BW: Real cool. Whatever happened to Lenny Williams?
KC: Lenny came into TOP when Rick Stevens had his problems and Lenny went on to sing on great tunes like "What Is Hip" and co-wrote "Don't Change Horses" with Johnny "Guitar" Watson and they did a lot of writing together, too. We used to do a lot of touring up and down the West Coast with Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
BW: I am really happy that you finally stepped out and made this excellent recording.
KC: Thanks Bob. Everyone involved with the recording brought in their "A" game to the studio; Joel Jaffe the engineer and my co-producer who also owns Studio D in Sausalito, California, did a great job. In fact we made an instrumental album in '89, so I knew from the way he mixed that recording and the way we have the same kind of ideas that I could go to Joel's studio and get a really good sound, and have a record that could compete in the real world.
BW: It definitely competes in the real world and I am happy to see your disc turning up on play lists on Jazz stations, too. I think your CD would make deep inroads there if Beatnik Jungle was targeted to Jazz radio, as well as the Blues programmers.
KC: I'll take whatever I can get; radio is tough, as a national act you need radio, that's why I really appreciate the fact that not only you played my record, but you also took the time to talk with me on air.
BW: Is there any chance that you will take this record out on the road?
KC: Ah...No! [More laughs] But I am going to try to get a spot to do this on one of the Blues cruises. So I will call Roger Naber [Head Pirate of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise] and say, "How about a little big band segment?" And see what he has to say.
BW: What's your favorite track from Beatnik Jungle?
KC: All of them! But seriously, I do like "Clemency" that I wrote for Clarence Clemens when he came out to the West Coast around 1987. Clarence came out to a gig I had and sat in, that's when he told me he was going to be making a record and he invited me to come in and be part of the scene. That night I thought that Clarence could use a theme song, so that's when I wrote "Clemency." Unfortunately the record never got made and now I am kind of glad because it's my song!
BW: Neat story! One last question: on one of the last Castro CDs didn't you play flute?
KC: Yes, on Soul Shaker there was a song I wrote at 5 a.m. in the morning, as I did not want to disturb the neighbors, it was the last day that I could submit a tune and thought, "Oh, man, I got a have a tune on the new CD."
BW: Thanks again, Keith. Best wishes with Beatnik Jungle. You take care and I'll be looking forward to seeing you in the New York City area soon.
KC: Thanks again to you, too Bob. I'm sure we'll see each other soon.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com