R.I.P. Neal Casal of Circles Around the Sun

Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Neal Casal

Rhino HQ is in mourning mode today: Neal Casal, best known around these parts for his work with the band Circles Around the Sun, has died at age 50.

Born in Denville, New Jersey on November 2, 1968, Casal first began to make a name for himself as guitarist for Blackfoot in the late ‘80s and stuck with the band until 1993, signing a solo deal with Zoo Entertainment the following year and releasing his debut album, FADE AWAY DIAMOND TIME. While his time with Zoo didn’t last long, he released a second album, RAIN, WIND and SPEED, in 1996 with Buy or Die Records, after which he signed with Glitterhouse Records, which would prove to be his home for the next five albums. His third album for the label, BASEMENT DREAMS, caught the ear of Mojo Magazine, which named it their American Album of the Year  in 1998.

Even as his solo career continued (which it did through 2011’s SWEETEN THE DISTANCE), Casal was also regularly collaborating with other musicians:

•    In 2002, he formed the band Hazy Malaze with Dan Fadel and Jeff Hill, which resulted in three albums: their self-titled 2002 debut, 2005’s BLACKOUT LOVE, and 2009’s CONNECTIONS.
•    In 2005, he joined Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, playing on five of their albums: EASY TIGER (2007), FOLLOW THE LIGHTS (2007), CARDINOLOGY (2008), III/IV (2010), and CLASS MYTHOLOGY (2011).  Oh, and lest we forget, he was also a contributor to Adams’ 2011 solo album, ASHES & FIRE.
•    In 2012, he became part of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and we’d list all of the releases he was part of, but we’d be here all day. Suffice it to say, however, that there were quite a few, and he was with them for the long haul, including their 2019 release, SERVANTS OF THE SUN.
•    In 2014, he joined Hard Working Americans, releasing three albums with the band: their self-titled debut, 2016’s REST IN CHAOS, and 2017’s WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

•    In 2016, Casal joined three other Beachwood Sparks alums, Farmer Dave Scher, Dan Horne, and Aaron Sperske, and songwriter Cass McCombs to form The Skiffle Players.

And as if this wasn’t enough, you can also hear Casal’s contributions on albums by James Iha (LET IT COME DOWN and LOOK TO THE SKY), Lucinda Williams (CARAVAN OF DREAMS), Duncan Sheik (DAYLIGHT), Robert Randolph and the Family Band (UNCLASSIFIED), Tift Merritt (TAMBOURINE), Willie Nelson (SONGBIRD), Minnie Driver (SEASTORIES), Mark Olson (MANY COLORED KITE and GOOD-BYE LIZELLE), The Tyde’s DARREN 4, and many, many others.

But as we noted above, we knew and loved him best for his work with Circles Around the Sun, a band which originated out of Casal and friends Adam Macdougall, Dan Horne, and Mark Levy recording a collection of instrumentals inspired by the work of the Grateful Dead. The music was used as the house music for the Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” shows, and people loved it so much that Rhino released it, credited not to Casal but to Circles Around the Sun. Although it wasn’t necessarily intended to be a proper band, it quickly evolved into one, resulting in a second album, LET IT WANDER, which was also released by Rhino.

Casal’s last live performance was only a few days ago, at the 2019 LOCKIN’ with Otell & Friends:

In the wake of his death, his family released a statement:

“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.”

More than a few of his fellow musicians and past collaborators have taken to social media to offer their farewells to their fallen friend, most of which can be found within this JamBase piece.

In closing, we’d just like to add one more thing that we can’t stress enough: anyone in need of help can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 or SuicidePreventionLifeline.org to chat with someone online.

R.I.P, Neal.