Recently, I had the chance to talk with Deen Castronovo. A man with a music resume’ as long as my arm. You know his work from bands and playing with artists like Bad English, Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Vai, Paul Rodgers, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman,Tony MacAlpine, Wild Dogs, Hardline, G/Z/R, Fear Factory and of course the legendary rock band “Journey”, with which he performed for 17 years. Many of you also know that Deen was arrested on June 14th, 2015 and faced some really serious legal charges. Before you read the following interview, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to take just a moment and reflect on the fact that we’ve all made mistakes in our own lives. Some big and some small, but we all have things that we regret in our past. Substance abuse is a very real problem and we’ve seen many rock stars over the years succumb to it. Most recently, Prince and Scott Weiland among others. Luckily, Deen Castronovo is still alive. One thing that I think the press often does wrong, is when a sensational news story hits that involves a celebrity hitting rock bottom, getting arrested or getting into legal trouble, they immediately post their mugshot and all the negative aspects all over the internet. Now, I understand that doing that is also just reporting the news, but what the press so often fails to do is, report an equally sensational story when a celebrity gets clean and sober, makes every attempt to make amends and changes their life for the better. Deen Castronovo is doing just that, and I for one, think it’s a sensational story that needs to be told. So without further delay, let’s get started with the interview:
XSROCK: So let’s talk about the beginning of your musical career. Who were your musical influences and what made you interested in drums?
Deen: My musical influences were Alice Cooper, Kiss,Rush and Journey. Kiss were my “Beatles”! I was handed dressed to kill by my younger brother and I was hooked. That’s when I knew I was going to play drums, age 7!
XSROCK: Was Wild Dogs your first band? Can you tell me about that time in your life?
Deen: Actually my first band was The Enemy. We sounded a lot like Rush. Wild Dogs came after that and was my first band to have a record deal with Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records. That band gave me a lot of freedom as a metal drummer. Some of my best work were on Artists from Shrapnel.
XSROCK: Thinking back, the first time that I heard you play on an album was on Tony MacAlpine‘s Maximum Security. I was completely blown away and wondered why I hadn’t heard of you before then. What was that experience like? I still love that album. It’s an incredible album that really showcases each of the musicians ability.
Deen: Tony is an amazing musician! Mike Varney paired He and I up and the chemistry was undeniable! The neo classical direction was growing at the time and Tony and I just went for it! I remember just going in the studio and blazing, nothing planned out except the song arrangements! The whole record for me was improvised, the licks were all spur of the moment and Tony gave me that freedom!!
XSROCK: Later you rejoined Tony for recording “Premonition”. I understand that he has been quite ill lately from battling cancer. Do you still ever talk to Tony?
Deen: I haven’t connected with Tony in probably 20 years. I know about his illness and do follow him on Twitter, sent him a message but haven’t heard from him. I know he’s dealing with a lot right now and am praying for his health and well being. He’s a sweetheart. He was at my first wedding and will always be a brother.
XSROCK: Can you tell me what it was like working with Jason Becker and Marty Friedman in Cacophony? Another album where you just killed it. The double bass runs on that album were just incredible. Obviously, they were both good friends, but did you ever see any competition between them?
Deen: Oh man Marty and Jason were the pinnacle for me as a drummer! Both of them are just unreal to say the least! The way they played together is unmatched in my opinion, never seen anything like them since! Those records with them were ultra challenging for me, they pushed me to be as over the top as I could be. Never did I see any competition between them. They were a finely tuned machine together , and apart they were just as amazing!
XSROCK: Bad English is the first time that you were getting a large amount of radio airplay and larger national touring right? Was that where you really got to know Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain?
Deen: Yeah, Bad English was the first major Gig for me in terms of success. Neal found me rehearsing with Tony in San Rafael, he heard me playing, stuck his head into the rehearsal room, came in, grabbed one of Tony’s guitars and we both started just jamming on some riffs he was working on. Afterwards he took me aside and asked me to audition for Bad English. The rest is History so to speak!
XSROCK: After Bad English you went on to play drums on Ozzmosis for Ozzy Osbourne. How was Ozzy to work with? Do you have any crazy or funny Ozzy stories that you can share?
Deen: Actually I went from Bad English to Hardline, To Paul Rogers then to Ozzy. I had a great time playing with that lineup of Geezer, Zakk and Ozzy. I don’t think there’s one crazy story that stands out, the whole experience for me was Crazy lol!
XSROCK: Obviously, you have a knack for getting along great with guitar virtuosos. You did a couple of great albums with Steve Vai, “Alien Love Secrets” and “Fire Garden”. Do you enjoy the somewhat jazz-inspired sound that Vai often brings to his work? As a drummer, is a nice change of pace to play with someone who is so versatile and incorporates so many different musical styles?
Deen: Bro, Steve Is A GENIUS! Those records were THE MOST CHALLENGING OF MY CAREER!! I don’t read music and Steve was so patient with me when it came to tracking those songs. He had a specific vision for each song and I had to take his vision and try to lay them down as closely as I could. I remember doing “Kill The Guy With The Ball” and it took me close to 6 hours to take the drum patterns he heard and put them to tape. He was so cool and walked me through each part of that song! The toughest song I’ve ever recorded in my life STILL TO THIS DAY!!
XSROCK: Recently, you played on the new Fear Factory album. Is that a direct result of previously working with Burton C. Bell in G/Z/R with Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath?
Deen: Yes. Burton recorded a song for my son Kyle’s band Premonitions of Panic and after he finished I told him if he ever wanted me to play a track with them it would be a dream come true! I’m a HUGE FAN of FF! I remember telling he and Dino NOT to give me a tune that had light speed double bass cuz I’ve been in Journey so long I knew my feet wouldn’t be up to it lol! “Soul Hacker” was a blast to play and I’m ultra honored to have been a part of that track!
XSROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
Deen: Honestly,I can’t think of anything for me personally but did have a restaurant owner in my hometown ask me to see if Journey would do their grand opening lol!! I mean a Full Concert!! That didn’t happen lol!
XSROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
Deen: I would honestly be doing something for kids. I’ve always had a heart for kids that have been bullied or just the “outcasts” so to speak cuz I was one of those kids, my son was too because we were long haired musicians that immersed ourselves in music because we didn’t fit in.
XSROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
Deen: DW Drums, Zildjian cymbals, Vater drumsticks, Evans drum heads. Both live and in the studio! Only the best of the best man!! My companies have been amazing to me!! Blessed that they’re still supporting me
XSROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
Deen: There’s some things I like and some that aren’t my cup of tea but can appreciate every art form. I’ve always been a Metal fan and always will be. Slipknot , Stone Sour, Machine Head, Fear Factory, Lamb of God, I mean that’s where my heart is but there are times I gotta put on some James Taylor , Coldplay, Jason Mraz etc, it really depends on where I’m at emotionally and how fast I wanna get the Sports car going lol!!! I do miss the way things used to be when I first got my start. Miss the big guitar solos and big hooks but hoping that’ll come back one day!! The 80’s were cool times for musicians! A lot of freedom.
XSROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
Deen: Wow !that’s a tough one. I guess the last question kinda answered that, my musical tastes are pretty broad?
XSROCK: In recent years, you spent quite some time behind the drums for Journey. What can you tell me about those times? Are you still friends with the guys in Journey and do you ever still talk?
Deen: Journey will always be the greatest American Rock Band EVER!! In my opinion, of course and that isn’t because I was a part of it for 17 years, it’s because I was a massive fan before anything happened in my career. I cut my teeth at 11 years old singing and playing journey songs, seen them 4 times in Portland and Steve Smith is my biggest influence as a drummer, Steve Perry my biggest influence as a singer. Of course no where near their caliber but influences nonetheless. I still talk to Jon Cain and Neal once in a while, they will always be my brothers!
XSROCK: What’s your take on Arnel Pineda as the vocalist for Journey?
Deen: Arnel is UNREAL man!! He just has that “Thing” you know! Amazing voice and an amazing man! The chemistry was perfect when he joined.
XSROCK: Okay, now I’m going to cover a subject that I find a bit uncomfortable to discuss, but I would like talk about none the less. You were arrested a little more than a year ago on some pretty heavy charges, including assault and unlawful use of a dangerous weapon among others. How has your life changed since this incident?
Deen: Well today I’m clean and sober. Coming up on 14 months. As horrendous as all of it was, the incident saved my life. Jail saved me, Treatment Changed me and God is restoring me. There’s no excuse for what transpired, Drugs and alcohol turned me into a monster. Someone that everyone that truly knows me, knows wasn’t the authentic me. I’ve since made amends with my Fiancé and we’re both healing and growing together as well as on our own! She knows the real me and knew the police had to intervene or else I would be dead, I owe her my life and love her to death. She has the real me back and it’s amazing.
XSROCK: With the seriousness of this issue, how have you found the strength to try to rebuild your life and essentially try to start your life anew?
Deen: Bro, life, good and bad is amazing. Clean of head, heart and spirit. My kids have a Dad again, not a absentee father! Honestly if no one ever asks me to play music again I know what’s important in my life and being a stand up dad for my kids is FAR MORE IMPORTANT! They DESERVE A GREAT DAD just like my father is a great dad for me!!
XSROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to say to your fans out there?
Deen: I’m grateful for the outpouring of support from all the fans that have seen me through this the last year. It doesn’t go unnoticed and I’ve never taken it for granted man! God bless you all and hope that I’ll be back playing music again for you all.
XSROCK: Deen, I know I speak for all of our readers, when I wish you the best in your future musical endeavors as well as continued success in your recovery. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.