Neal Casal, singer, songwriter and gifted guitarist, dies at age 50

Neal Casal, playing with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood at 2014's Way Over Yonder Festival in Santa Monica (Photo by Carl Pocket)

Neal Casal, the beloved musician and photographer who played guitar with the likes of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Phil Lesh, Shooter Jennings, Cass McCombs, Tift Merritt, Todd Snider, Circles Around the Sun and GospelbeacH, has died at age 50.

His passing on Monday was announced today on his Facebook page: “It’s with great sadness that we tell you our brother Neal Casal has passed away. As so many of you know, Neal was a gentle, introspective, deeply soulful human being who lived his life through artistry and kindness. His family, friends and fans will always remember him for the light that he brought to the world. Rest easy Neal, we love you.” A representative of the artist confirmed to Pitchfork that he died by suicide.

Casal, a New Jersey native, released a dozen solo albums between 1995 and 2012. He got his start in the late-’80s incarnation of the Southern rock band Blackfoot and went on to sign a record deal in the 1990s, releasing seven albums in a six-year span between ’95 and 2000. He joined Ryan Adams & the Cardinals in 2005 and released the photo book “Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: A View of Other Windows” in 2010, documenting his years in the band. He joined the Chris Robinson Brotherhood in 2011.

Amid his many commitments (he was an in-demand session player), he formed the instrumental jam band Circles Around the Sun with Adam MacDougall, Dan Horne and Mark Levy in 2015 and was a key player in GospelbeacH with Brent Rademaker, with whom Casal had played in Beachwood Sparks and the Tyde.

This morning, Rademaker shared this remembrance:

Neal was so very special to so very many people I’m hesitant to lay any special claim to my friendship with him especially when it relates to the music we shared together. When you meet a friend as cool as Neal who is also a musician, it’s a done deal that you’ll end up making music together. But when I met Neal the first thing he did was offer me the use of his apartment when I was homeless. Like real friends do. That was in the year 2000, and by 2001 he was a member of our group Beachwood Sparks touring the world.

Although he was a world-class, highly in-demand studio musician, he sacrificed money and fame to play with us and, later, with The Tyde, and finally we made good on our promise to start a band together. That was GospelbeacH and although his touring commitments to CRB made it hard for him to be around all the time, he made great efforts to play and record when he could. Most recently he played and more importantly to me he SANG on the upcoming GospelbeacH album “Let It Burn,” turning in nothing short of world-class, heartfelt, soulful performances. Neal was one of my favorite singers on the planet and I was a huge fan of his solo work (“No Wish To Reminisce” being a special record). When he couldn’t be around for the second GospelbeacH record we recorded a version of his best song “Freeway to the Canyon” in his honor.

He was also a very gifted photographer, and we used his photographs for the covers of “Another Summer of Love” and “Another Winter Alive” because they captured so much emotion … If he took your photo, you were lucky! More recently, Neal was slated to be involved in a number of projects for our new Curation Records label including recording a Neal Casal solo album, which makes [his passing] even more difficult. Neal was involved in so many musical projects as a producer, player and writer, it was sometimes hard to keep up with it all. I know from talking to him personally that with that many projects comes some pressure, but he was “happy to have those kind of problems.” We will miss him dearly. We are lucky in this difficult time that we’ve got a big family to turn to for support, and that IS because Neal Casal brought us all together.

Besides playing bass aside Casal in Beachwood Sparks and Circles Around the Sun, Horne was a member of the supergroup the Skiffle Players with Casal, Farmer Dave Scher, Aaron Sperske and Cass McCombs. Horne says:

Neal was the embodiment of our musical scene and spirit. A rock ’n’ roller at heart, his fearless sense of musical improvisation took everyone’s music to new places. The list of musicians he collaborated with and influenced is endless and his spirit will live on through them.

He never played a wrong note. His solo on “’Til Stone Day Comes” was one-take in the studio and still blows me away. I listen to it over and over. … To many of us, Neal Casal and Graham Parsons are basically the two most influential guys in L.A.

Among the many online tributes to Casal are those from Chris Robinson, Shooter Jennings, Ryan Adams, Bob Weir, Farmer Dave Scher, Railroad Earth, photographer Piper Ferguson, Tift Merritt, Jason Isbell and Ken Stringfellow. A sampling:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Chris Robinson Brotherhood (@crblive)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Shooter Jennings (@shooterjennings)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Bobby Weir (@bobweir)

Neal Casal with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood in 2016 (Photo by Ashly Covington)