Neal Casal, September 2018 – Photo by Jay Blakesberg
As the live music community continues to mourn the loss of Neal Casal, rock photographer Jay Blakesberg has shared his own memories of Casal alongside a batch of insightful images he took of the late musician.
In a message posted to his Facebook page, Blakesberg is quick to mention Casal’s own talent behind the lens.
“Neal was a very, very talented photographer,” Blakesberg writes. “I hope his body of work can be shared with his friends and fans somewhere down the road, but for a long time photography was very private to him.”
Later, Blakesberg adds Casal was a “true Deadhead” and that is was “the Jam World where Neal found his home and his family.”
“We always had a good amount of hang time…he was busy, I was busy, but there was never a show where we didn’t at least catch up one on one,” he adds. “I loved to photograph Neal! He had everything I want in a musician/subject/muse…energy, excitement, great body language, an elusive smile (very similar to Jerry Garcias) that I always waited for; but most importantly Neal had Passion – Passion for everything he did, and he was inspired by what he saw and heard around him (it showed up in his music AND his photography), but he was ALSO inspiring to me, and other photographers and fans.”
Blakesberg closes the message with a dash of grief, and plenty of love, writing, “There was still a lot of music left in Neal, and that meant there were also a lot of pictures to be made. Love you Neal… This much madness is too much sorrow…”
Read Blakesberg’s full message, and check out some of his photos of Casal through the years below:
I first met Neal Casal in 2007. My dear friend Michele Augis introduced us. He was in the Cardinals. We quickly became friends, which was pretty easy to do with Neal. It didn’t take long for us to bond over photography. Neal was a very, very talented photographer – I hope his body of work can be shared with his friends and fans somewhere down the road, but for a long time photography was very private to him. Once I saw his collection of images from Ryan Adams tour/life, I encouraged him to do a book and helped him with some of the digital production, the book is truly beautiful. Neal had deep musical roots, but deep down he was a true Deadhead, and when he slowly inched closer and closer to playing with Phil Lesh, he was ecstatic and so were we – because we all knew that’s what he should be doing – playing with members of the Grateful Dead!!! ! We knew it would lead to bigger things! At the end of The Cardinals, like any musician coming off a world tour high, he was trying to figure out his next move. There were solo shows, he connected with the Mother Hips guys, and Neal always praised them and was inspired by their brilliant songwriting. But it was the work he did with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood that showed everyone the true depth of his talents – it is not to say he didn’t blow minds in the world of the Cardinals, but it was the Jam World where Neal found his home and his family. Chris Robinson and Neal were an amazing team! This prolific period continued with The Hardworking Americans, and eventually Circles Around The Sun. Peak creative years for Neal that exploded with the CRB. We always had a good amount of hang time…he was busy, I was busy, but there was never a show where we didn’t at least catch up one on one. I loved to photograph Neal! He had everything I want in a musician/subject/muse…energy, excitement, great body language, an elusive smile (very similar to Jerry Garcias) that I always waited for; but most importantly Neal had Passion – Passion for everything he did, and he was inspired by what he saw and heard around him (it showed up in his music AND his photography), but he was ALSO inspiring to me, and other photographers and fans. It is passion and inspiration that fuels all of us, and Neal had it, shared it, and never stopped searching for that inspiration, because he knew that those things were the spark that ignited the magic we all want to touch in our lives! He was part of experiences that we all had as fans, friends, Freak Family, and collaborators, and because of those experiences, we are better people, with richer lives. Neal being a photographer knew how hard I worked, and how hard the work was, and never once didn’t recognize that at the end of a show, or a photo shoot, or a video project. I loved working long term with Neal, his career arc is important for the history of our scene, and music in general, and the music he made every time he went on stage blew the audience away. Neal was always present and in the moment when we did band portraits. When I directed the CRB “Let it Fall” video, I could see when Neal knew he was out of frame, and was just soaking it all in – no acting required – he just sat on that amp against the window and watched the madness unfold! When we filmed the part with his big epic guitar solo, he became an animated rock star that was somewhere between Eddie Van Halen and Buddy Guy and he was having a blast. His praise for the video to me was high after it was done…I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that Neal liked my work! As I look thru tears at the thousands of photos of Neal, I see a true artist, a man with incredible integrity, and a friend to many. Lockn’ was amazing. I was in my office when JRAD was just in to their second set and Circles Around The Sun was starting on the opposite end of the festival grounds. I was tired and on my last legs for the day – and deciding where I should go? I chose Circles Around The Sun – got there a minute before they went on, and said hi quickly. I will treasure those 15-20 minutes that I heard in Garcia’s Forrest! It was amazing as expected – and Neal’s new guitar soared!! The Saturday set with Oteil was also amazing. The crowd was huge, the energy was peaking, Neal was smiling…he played with Melvin, and Jason Crosby, the Trey Horns, Bob Weir, new friend Duane Betts, Alfreda and Lamar, and his buddies Kraz and Oteil…It was glorious – a true sign of more big things to come with this band! After the set, I got to catering as they were closing, and there were only a few people in there eating. As I sat down to eat, Neal came over to say hi. He sat with me for 15 minutes while I ate and we talked about stuff – nothing deep. I wanted him to see my sunset silhouette image of him from an hour before – and I texted it to him. He was laughing about me crawling around low on the stage behind him during the last song, he said “ I knew you were up to something, and I didn’t know if I should look at you or look away” – I said – “yeah I wanted that Neal Casal profile against the setting sun sky”, but there is that one shot where he looked at me with the biggest smile I have ever seen, those are the last photos I would ever take of Neal – and that smile on that stage, with the sun setting, and the band playing meaningful music will be what I take with me, to bring me some comfort, to connect with a man who meant so much to so many. It still hurts me a lot, and we will all be sad about this for a long, long time…there was still a lot of music left in Neal, and that meant there were also a lot of pictures to be made. Love you Neal… This much madness is too much sorrow…