My Name is Richie Castellano. I was
born in Brooklyn on February 7th, 1980. I'm a fifth generation musician. My
great great grandfather was a guitar player, my great grandfather was an orchestral
multi-instrumentalist, my grandfather was a jazz bassist, and my father is
an r&b singer/guitar player.
I remember my first performance.
It was at a night club in Brooklyn. I think I was 5 years old. I sang with
my father's band, Good N Plenty. Over the next few years, my father would
frequently bring me up to sing with his band. I was content with being just
a singer until 1987 when I saw the movie LaBamba. After seeing Ritchie Valens
rock out on the big screen, I asked for guitar lessons.
Learning guitar was a slow and tedious
process for me. Like many young kids, I wanted to play songs right away. It
wasn't until I formed my first band at age 11 that I got really motivated
to get better at guitar. At the time I was heavily into the music of the 1950s.
This was great for me since those songs only have 3 or 4 chords.
When I turned 12 I was introduced
to the Beatles. This got me very interested in songwriting. I started writing
music like crazy. With this came the need to record these songs, so I borrowed
a 3 track (4 track with one broken) tape recorder from my Uncle Phil. Recording
my songs forced me to learn a whole new set of skills. I had to start learning
the nuts and bolts of recording. I also learned how to play other instruments.
My Uncle Phil started giving me bass lessons, and I taught myself keyboards,
drums, and harmonica.
As my songs became more sophisticated,
so did my recordings. I quickly outgrew the 3 track, and my Uncle ended up
giving me his 16 track. This was a huge deal for me. We setup a recording
studio in my basement, and I locked myself in there for the next few years.
During this time I learned about effects processors, MIDI, sequencing, mixing,
At age 14, I wrote and recorded a
song for a contest at my junior high school. The contest was to come up with
a song for graduation. My song won, and this was the first of many magic moments
to take place in my basement. My basement was cold and dark, but the room
had a pretty good sound. I started calling my basement studio "The Dungeon."
When I got to high school I became
heavily influenced by progressive rock. This was a great time to be into that
music because I was like a sponge. During my sophomore year I formed my first
progressive rock band called Speed Of Sound. The band was made up of Andy
Ascolese on keyboards, Andy Graziano on guitar and bass, Adam Sachs on drums,
and me on guitar and bass. We wrote a few songs, and went into the dungeon
to record a 4 song demo.
During my junior year of high school,
I was writing a lot of angst-ridden high school songs. My band wasn't really
interested in playing any of these songs, so I decided to make a solo album.
The album took 9 months to record and I ended up calling it "Alone In
This album was very
good to me. I sold out of the initial pressing, and had to get a 2nd pressing.
I won 2 songwriting awards including first place for the songwriter's hall
of fame songwriting competition and third place in the Bertelsmann World of
Expression competition On the production side, this album was very ambitious.
It even got a write-up in EQ magazine about the unorthodox recording methods
this is a
photo of my grandfather, Phil Castellano Sr., and me at the friars club during
the Songwriters Hall of Fame awards ceremony
this is the
EQ magazine article on the making of Alone in my Basement
Aside from the press
and awards, Alone In My Basement also helped to get me into college. One of
my songs, "The Story", was heavily influenced by the vocal arrangements
of one of my favorite bands, Queen. I remember playing this track on my college
auditions and blowing away the professors. You also have to realize that this
was before the big computer recording boom, and Alone In My Basement was recorded
completely on analog equipment.
Once I got into to the
Purchase Conservatory of Music I got right into digital recording. My first
digital recording was an album for Speed of Sound. (which had just changed
its name to Progeny) The Progeny album was recorded on a mac in my dorm room.
broke up due to certain tensions that arose during the making of the album.
This left me at college, without a band. I wanted to take a break from prog
rock and original music. I formed a hard rock cover band called Hit Me With
It featuring Jason Spoor on Vocals, Chris Kuffner on Bass, Andy Ascolese on
Keyboards, Jared Apuzzo on Drums and me on Guitar. With this band I really
got to stretch my guitar chops. We played mostly in the Westchester area.
Around my sophomore
year of college I became involved with the recording of Regina Spektor's debut
album. The album was called 11:11 and I was both the producer and engineer.
This album took 2 years to make and eventually launched Regina's extremely
successful solo career.
During the summer after
sophomore year, I started an unofficial internship at Wave Studio in Staten
Island studying under the musical genius Ron Thal. (AKA bumblefoot) Ron taught
me all about advanced digital recording techniques. I was also lucky enough
to assist Ron with the engineering of a few of his albums.
When I returned to school
for my junior year, I was informed that I had enough credits to graduate college
a year early. I had been taking an average of 22 credits a semester while
maintaining a 4.0 average. This put a little pressure on me, but I was mostly
taking classes that really interested me so I really enjoyed it.
During my junior/senior
year I got a call from Steve LaCerra, who was a longtime friend of my family's.
Steve was working as the Front of House Engineer for Blue Öyster Cult.
He was unable to make a few gigs and asked if I could fill in for him. Of
course I agreed. This event set many things in motion. The band really took
a liking to me, and I was asked to sub for Steve more and more frequently.
Around this time, I
started a band with one of my professors, Joe Ferry. Joe is a grammy award
winning producer. Joe heard me play at a blues jam, and asked me to form a
blues band with him. We called the band Richie & the Pocketrockets. Through
Joe's connections, Richie & the Pocketrockets began appearing on several
blues tribute CDs including "the Blues Tribute to The Grateful Dead."
With everything that
was going on with School, the Blues Band, Blue Öyster Cult, and my cover
band, I was finding less and less time to write my own music. I started writing
and recording songs for a second solo album. These songs were strong but they
were all over the place stylistically. On top of that I was nearing graduation.
Joe Ferry asked me to consider the Master's program. I would be able to major
in composition which would give me plenty of time to work on my own music.
I agreed and in 2001 I became a graduate student.
Aside from studying
under Joe Ferry, I also began working for him. He hired me as a staff producer
for his record label, Larchmont Records. Larchmont did a lot of work on tribute
albums. During this period I was working insane hours knocking out one album
per month. Although I was accumulating an impressive list of studio credits,
I still didn't have the time I needed to work on my solo album.
I got my Master's Degree
in Music in December in 2002. Shortly after I decided to leave Larchmont records
and the blues band. I didn't have the time to make the trips back and forth
to westchester. I tried to devote as much time as I could to working on my
solo album. The album wasn't going so well. The differences in style from
song to song were too drastic. It sounded like I was working on 2 different
albums, a rock album, and a pop album. Just I was about to bang my head against
the wall, I heard a few songs that Andy Ascolese was working on. His songs
had a very similar style to my pop songs. After a little discussion we decided
to combine our songs to make a duo album.
We wanted to start recording
the album right away, but we had a bit of a delay. I got another call from
Blue Öyster Cult. This time, the band was going to Germany and needed
me to come along. Of course I went. On this trip I really got to know the
guys in the band, and developed a very good relationship with lead singer,
Eric Bloom. Eric and I were into a lot of the same things.
When I returned from
this amazing trip, Andy and I got to work on out album. Andy and I were still
also performing with our cover band Hit Me With It. Around this time, Hit
Me With It was planning the ambitious task of performing the album "Rubber
Soul" by the Beatles, live in its entirety at an upcoming gig. I invited
Eric Bloom down to this show, and to my surprise he actually came down!!!
A few weeks later,
I was asleep on one particular morning when my phone woke me up. The voice
on the phone said "do you play bass?" To which I replied
"uh, yeah..." Then voice said "do you rock?" Then
I said, "yeah, sure..." Then the voice said, "Do you want
to play bass?" I said, "ok..." The voice said, "Ok,
you're in. Go back to bed. I'll call you later," Then I hung up the
phone, and went back to sleep. About 2 minutes later, I realized what had
just happened. I sprung out of bed and told my mother, "I think I just
joined Blue Öyster Cult!"
Later that day, Eric
called me up with the details. I had to learn 18 songs in 4 days. The best
part was that there would be no rehearsal for the gigs. I practiced my ass
off for those 4 days. We were able to get together in a hotel room before
we had to play. I plugged my bass (actually it was a bass I was borrowing
from my uncle Phil) into the television. The rest of the band was either banging
on chairs, air guitaring, or playing acoustic. We went through all 18 songs
in a row. They went incredibly smooth, without a single mistake. My first
show with the band was in Las Vegas, and it was amazing!
Afterward I found out
the whole story. The band's bassist had to leave on very short notice. When
the band was trying to think of a replacement, Eric remembered seeing me play
with my band a few weeks earlier. For the next 2 years I continued to play
bass with BOC.
Blue Öyster Cult: Jules
Radino, Eric Bloom, Allen Lanier, Buck Dharma, & Me
In the winter of 2005,
Andy and I finally finished our album, and we ended up calling it 2 Part Invention.
In 2007, I moved over
to guitar and keyboards in Blue Öyster Cult upon original member Allen
Lanier's retirement. They were big shoes to fill, especially since I didn't
really play keyboards that well. I did another crazy week of wood shedding.
The guitar parts were challenging, but since I already knew the arrangements,
it wasn't so bad. They keyboard parts were the real killer. I had to basically
learn an instrument from scratch in a very short time. Between revamping certain
parts, and building up some new muscle memory, I was able to do the gig.
As I moved over to guitar,
the bass position was temporarily filled by former BÖC/current Queen's
bassist Danny Miranda.
Blue Öyster Cult:
Me, Jules Radino, Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma, & Danny Miranda
Then, later that year,
the bass position was filled by Rudy Sarzo on a semi-permanent basis. Rudy's
resume includes playing for: Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake, Yngwie
Malmsteen, Dio, and others.
Me & Rudy Sarzo
Aside from being a great musician, Rudy is also well versed in 3D animation, and video editing. Under Rudy's tutelage, I took up filmmaking as a hobby. My next project combined 2 of my hobbies: Kung Fu & Filmmaking. The project was called the Tiger's Fang. It started as a private spoof video between my friends and I. As more and more people saw what we were doing, the fun side project developed into something a little more complicated. To date, we've made 6 Tiger's Fang Movies, and our cast and crew has grown from 3 people to over 30 people.
the cast of the Tiger's Fang
Currently, I am on tour with Blue Oyster Cult, approaching my 5th year as a band member. I teach guitar, bass, and recording privately in Staten Island, and I'm working on a new music project.
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(top left photo by Julia Rabkin)