Keepers of the Flame

RIP Manny Castillo

Castillo (right) with The Kids in the Hall's Dave Foley
Castillo (right) with The Kids in the Hall's Dave Foley

The news from the Hickoids’ Jeff Smith that drummer Manny Castillo died after a short battle with cancer was terrible to hear. He played with San Antonio’s popular Snowbyrd (on Smith’s SausTex label) and served as Executive Director for San Anto Cultural Arts, initiating the Community Mural Public Art Program that tied together the Alamo City’s cultural and ethnic legacies in 30 murals. Manny was 40.

40. That’s too fucking young to go, especially someone like Manny. I met him by accident last summer, on the patio of Azeneth Dominguez’s Salute International Bar, while chasing down Steve Jordan. Not knowing who he was, I listened in on his conversation with a man who turned out to be the New York Times photographer who provided the Jordan photo I couldn’t otherwise get. Truthfully, I was eavesdropping because a hot Chicano man was conversing knowledgeably about San Antonio’s music scene and it was really sexy, but when Manny and I finally shook hands, we were old friends, kindred spirits from neighboring scenes.

He’d read my writings on Ruben Molina’s Chicano Soul book, elaborated for me on its local history, and explained how he deliberately fashioned his dress in tribute to the old school San Antonio Chicano look: the folded bandanna, the right shirt, the short-brimmed hat. Not that it was about image for Manny Castillo, but he understood image was a way to express his commitment to his heritage stylishly. He applied that same deep-rooted love to his playing, a tough Texas drummer with a San Antonio edge. You can't hear the vocals here, but you can sure hear Manny in this video.

If I worried that San Antonio didn’t have enough keepers of the flame, meeting Manny extinguished that fear. And on his death, the other flames flickered. Vaya con Dios.

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