Tributes to Neal Casal continued to pour in Tuesday as word got of the singer-songwriter-guitarist’s death, with famous friends whose bands he’d served in leading the memorials.
“I can’t believe I’m having to say goodbye to my friend and my brother,” Chris Robinson said in a statement. “It’s almost too painful. When I think about the songs we’ve written, the shows we’ve played and all the laughs and great times we shared, it’s almost unbearable to know you’re gone.”
The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir wrote simply, “My last memory of Neal will be the smile he left me with,” as the caption for a group photo that had him and Casal with arms around each other. The photo was presumably taken Saturday at Virginia’s Lockn’ Festival, where Weir and his late friend shared the stage during a performance by Oteil Burbridge & Friends that turned out to be Casal’s last.
Casal died of suicide at 50. Friends were taken aback, believing he had been in good spirits recently and seemed energized at the festival Saturday, where he also performed with his own band, Circles Around the Sun.
Wrote Shooter Jennings on Instagram, “I am absolutely devastated with the news of the loss of my dear friend and consistent collaborator Neal Casal. He was always my favorite picker in LA and we’d all just finished some beautiful music together. I’m really just hollowed out by this. God bless NC.”
Ryan Adams, whose band the Cardinals had had Casal as lead guitarist, paid tribute on his Facebook page: “Oh man. My heart is broken. It’s too much. What an honor to have known you, true believer. I love you, always. Go easy, brother. Go easy. Through thick and thin your heart was a lighthouse of kindness. Your eyes a mirror to a better world — your soul bled into ever note. I don’t know how to even feel right now. Grateful for your time. But immense loss.” Adams went on to quote from Rutger Hauer’s touching death speech at the end of “Blade Runner.”
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Oh man. My heart is broken. It’s too much What an honor to have known you, true believer. I love you, always. Go easy, brother. Go easy. Through thick and thin your heart was a lighthouse of kindness. Your eyes a mirror to a better world- your soul bled into ever note. I don’t know how to even feel right now. Grateful for your time. But immense loss. “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” #RipNealCasal
A group statement on the Grateful Dead’s Twitter account read: “It’s an unbearable loss, but the love and light that our friend Neal shed on the world is forever.”
Other musicians with whom Casal performed included Willie Nelson, Todd Snider, Phil Lesh, Tift Merritt, Cass McCombs and GospelbeacH.
Said Jason Isbell, “Neal Casal was a fantastic musician and a great photographer and a kind, sweet soul. We’ll miss him.”
His bandmate in GospelbeacH and an earlier band, Beachwood Sparks, Brent Rademaker, posted a lengthy remembrance on Facebook.
“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” Rademaker wrote. “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. …
“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 it 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.
A video excerpt of Casal’s soloing at his final gig Saturday in Virginia: