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Castellano leaves final reminder of talents

Frank Castellano and I were supposed to talk last month.

Castellano had just received copies of his CD “Roll On,” the first collection of original songs released by the guitar player extraordinaire.

The day I called to set something up, he went into the hospital. I talked to Jim Fogarty, his nephew and my friend, on my last day of work before taking some time off around Christmas. We decided rather than throwing something together, we’d set something up after the holidays and give Castellano and “Roll On” the attention they deserved.

Life had other plans. Castellano died Sunday at age 67.

The outpouring from family, friends and fellow musicians on social media has been overwhelming. His skills as a player clearly were revered by his peers, but those musicians spent just as much time talking about how much they respected Castellano as a human being.

“He loved animals, he loved artists, he loved people, the disenfranchised that others would brush aside,” Fogarty said. “If it was right, he would fight for it … I was blessed he was my uncle, but he was everybody’s uncle. He took people under his wing and tried to show them the good in life.”

Castellano worked for years as a professional musician in Nevada in addition to entertaining audiences in the Mahoning Valley, both as a solo act and in bands.

According to Fogarty, he first was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the early 2000s, which prompted him to record his first album, “In a Mellow Tone,” a collection of mostly cover songs. He beat the illness and was healthy for about a decade before needing to be treated for a recurrence.

“The second time he didn’t bounce back as easily as he did the first time,” Fogarty said.

Things got worse in early 2019 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Castellano had been working on the songs for “Roll On” for awhile, but Fogarty said his uncle was a perfectionist and in no hurry to finish. The diagnosis gave the project a new urgency.

“They were going to have to take half his lung,” Fogarty said. “He didn’t know how he would sound, he didn’t know how he would sing, so he got in the studio (before the surgery) … This was his swan song for lack of a better term. He knew what the diagnosis was.”

Some of the songs were written years ago, but “Roll On” can’t help but have the elegiac feel an album like Warren Zevon’s “The Wind,” which was recorded after Zevon was diagnosed with a terminal illness. It’s clearly the work of a man looking back at his past and knowing there’s not much future left.

The album — which is available at Artistics in Warren, Record Connection in McKinley Heights and Market House Cafe in Howland — is filled with examples of the guitar skills that left other musicians in awe, and a sly sense of humor.

“I Wanna Be a Mobster” sounds like the result of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan recording a wistful song about organized crime. The opening number, “Limited Love,” has Castelleno’s guitar licks floating over a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”

One of my favorites is “You Should’ve Seen Me,” which might be best described as AARPunk. Over a distorted guitar riff, Castellano finds humor in aging and health issues, bemoaning the fact that the “pharmacy babe” always “Asks me for my birthday / but she never sends a card.”

The title track is the final song, the words of a man hoping for, pleading for a few more moments — “I ain’t done making sweet love / I ain’t done ridiculing hate / I ain’t done being as graceful as a ballerina / I ain’t done tripping over my feet when I walk.”

The song ends with Castellano repeatedly singing the lines, “Roll on, give me one more minute, give me one more day,” until it becomes a chant, a prayer.

Castellano doesn’t have any more minutes here. But he left behind a touching and heartfelt goodbye.

Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@ tribtoday.com

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