By Connie Leinbach
Lou Castro may seem like a quiet one, but get him talking about music and he’s a ball of energy as the joy of talking about his profession flows in a cascade of musical references and past and contemporary musicians. Castro, 48, is a fixture in the music scene on Ocracoke. The number of bands he’s in changes often.“Music is like my religion,” he says. “It helps me to be a better human being. I try to learn any kind of music.” In one band, the Ocracoke Jazz Society, jazz is a new form he has been learning the last few years.
Sometimes he might have difficulty communicating with the group’s founder, Serge Gracovetsky, who is from Montreal and speaks better French than English. “I can’t always talk to Serge (in his language), but I can through music,” Castro says. And that’s what Castro finds so wonderful about his profession: music helps people communicate and it brings diverse people together. Most nights, one is likely to see Lou in a band somewhere on the island.
Among the bands he plays in are Molasses Creek (a contemporary folk band, which is his main gig), Raygun Ruby, an 80s band, Lightning Lou and the Blackouts, which is his jazz-rock band, Martin and Lou, his gig with popular island guitarist Martin Garrish, the Ocracoke Rockers and the Aaron Caswell Band. There’s the Ocrafolk Opry Wednesday nights, and he also plays at various venues on Hatteras. On stage he has an array of instruments. Not just the electric, acoustic, slide or steel guitar, but the electric bass There’s also the duo, Coyote, with his wife, Marcy Brenner, who also is a member of Molasses Creek.
It all started when he was in the third grade in the Abington Friends School and growing up in the northeast Philadelphia area. He tried the violin, the recorder and piano.
His mother, who is Filipino, and father, who is Colombian, exposed him to all kinds of music. “Then I heard the Beatles and I wanted a guitar,” he says smiling his infectious grin. The iconic group from England still is his favorite band.“I discovered them after they had broken up,” he says about the Fab Four. “They showed us that our own music was cool and brought in harmonies from their parents’ era and different rhythms including Latin beats.” As the guitar gripped his imagination playing in bands was what he wanted to do. “I just always liked the idea of being in a band,” he says. “I don’t like solo playing. I just choke. I like playing off other people.” As he shows a visitor his music room that includes a baby grand piano, bookshelves full of music, computer equipment and instruments all over, he says he’s not sure how many guitars he has.
“I think 30,” he says, picking up an electric bass. “I love the guitar. It can do so many sounds.” While he loves to play covers from the classic rock and metal era, he also writes songs with Marcy, a skill he honed at Berklee College of Music, Boston, from which he graduated. He and Marcy met in 2000 while he was living in Duck and working in the Duck Deli. “I wanted her to sing Aerosmith and she wanted me to learn Joni Mitchell,” he says about their musical confluence. “I was classically trained, but then was playing Led Zeppelin,” Marcy chimes in.
“We had rock in common,” Lou continues. “I wanted her to sing because I have no range. So, I was stuck singing Metallica, which sounds like static.” But, a few times during a set, Lou will sing at least one song, often a Beatles song. Despite his limited singing, Lou’s rendition of “It’s a Sin to Tell A Lie,” a classic swing song, made it into the top 40 of folk songs in March 2012 when Molasses Creek’s CD “An Island Out of Time,” released nationally, became the fifth most played album in folk radio.
In his spare time, Lou teaches guitar and is pleased about the progress so far of one of his former pupils, Jason Daniels, the deputy sergeant on the island. Aaron Caswell, who performs frequently at island venues, is one of Lou’s more visible students. “He’s an awesome teacher,” Caswell says. “And now he’s learning from me.”
CDs of Castro’s music in various bands can be found in many island shops. See the Entertainment Calendar, for Lou’s gigs.
Lou, second from right, jams at the 2014 Ocrafolk Festival with Serge Grakovetsky, Fuzz Sangiovani of the Caravan of Thieves, and Rob Sharer of Craicdown. Photo by C. Leinbach