Neal Casal, the guitarist with Circles Around the Sun and Chris Robinson Brotherhood, died tragically on August 26 at the age of 50. Previously, Casal had been in Ryan Adams’ backing band, the Cardinals, from 2005 until 2009. No cause of death has been made public, but a source close to Casal confirmed to Heavy that the musician died by suicide by hanging.
Casal was a native of Rockaway, New Jersey, where he graduated from Morris Knolls High School. At the time of his death, Casal had been living in Ventura, California.
Casal’s death was confirmed in a tweet from his official account that read, “It’s with great sadness that we tell you Neal Casal has passed. As so many know, Neal was a gentle, soulful human who lived life through artistry & kindness.” The message continued, “His family, friends & fans will always remember the light that he brought to the world. Rest easy Neal, we love you.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ryan Adams Paid Tribute to Casal, Calling Him a ‘True Believer’ & a ‘Lighthouse of Kindness’
Among those paying tribute to Casal was Ryan Adams who tweeted, “I am so humbled, so grateful, so honored for every moment when I was having ocular migrant seizures onstage, and only Neal saw. He would walk over and give me this look.. “you can do it, Ryan.” The tweet went on, “My fingers looked in a seizure. That kindness & brotherhood is once in a lifetime.” In 2010, Casal released a book of photos he had taken while touring with Adams titled, “Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: A View of Other Windows.”
In a separate statement on Instagram, Adams referred to Casal as a “true believer” and a “lighthouse of kindness.” Adams said that Casal represented a “mirror to a better world” and said that Casal’s “soul bled into every note.” Adams added that he doesn’t know how to feel upon hearing of Casal’s sad passing. The post concludes with a quote from “Blade Runner” reading, “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.”
2. Casal Signed His First Record Deal With Zoo Entertainment in 1994
Casal’s career began in the early 1990s, signing with Zoo Entertainment in 1994 and releasing his first solo album, “Fade Away Diamond Time,” in September of that year. In 1996, Casal’s second album, “Rain, Wind, and Speed,” was released under Buy or Die Records.
Casal then went on to release multiple albums under the Glitterhouse Records banner. His record, “Basement Dreams,” was named as Americana Album of the Year by Mojo magazine in 1998. Casal had produced the album.
In 2005, Casal joined Ryan Adams’ backing band, The Cardinals. That same year, Casal exhibited his photography for the first time. While with Adams’ band, Casal released another album, “No Wish to Reminisce.” While in March 2010, Adams joined the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. During that time, in 2011, Casal would release his tenth studio album, “Sweeten the Distance.”
3. Casal Released His Last Album in 2019 With Circles Around the Sun
An earlier version of this fact incorrectly stated that Casal released his final album in 2018 with The Skiffle Players.
Casal would begin performing with Circles Around the Sun, with Adam MacDougall, Dan Horne and Mark Levy in 2015. The band had made their debut at the LOCKN festival in Arrington in 2016. The same event where Casal would have his last gig in 2019.
More recently, Casal had been performing with The Skiffle Players, alongside, among others, Aaron Sperske and Cass McCombs. The group released their first album, “Skifflin,” in 2016, followed by the EPs “Piffle Sayers” and “Skiff” in 2018. In January 2019, Casal released what would turn out to be his final album, “Let it Wander,” with Circles Around the Sun.
4. Casal Served as Owen Wilson & Vince Vaughn’s Voice Coaches in 2004’s ‘Starsky & Hutch’
Casal served as Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s voice coaches in the 2004 comedy, “Starsky & Hutch.” Casal spoke about the experience in a 2017 interview on “Making It with Chris G.” Casal said that he got the gig through a friend, George Drakoulias, in the movie industry. Casal described it as being something that happens when you live in Los Angeles for enough time.
Casal said that the experience was “hysterically funny” and said that he was “blown away” at Vince Vaughn’s ability to improvise song lyrics. Casal said that Owen Wilson was a “great guy.” In a separate 2012 interview with Glide Magazine, Casal said of working in the movie industry, “It’s not something I’ve ever really pursued, but I’ve always enjoyed them. It’s fun being a fly on the wall and observing and watching these people work. I come away with a lot more respect for the movie world. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of people, a lot of ideas moving around, and a lot of precision involved.”
5. There Are Conflicting Stories About the Relationships That Casal Was Involved in Before His Death
Heavy was contacted by a woman who says she was in a personal relationship with Casal for the past two and a half years and said that he was planning to “start a new life” with her. Casal was also in a long-term relationship with another woman.
After posting photos of the woman with Casal and information from her, including of them kissing, Heavy was contacted by Casal’s bandmates, friends and manager, who disputed her version of their relationship. They said he had once filed for a restraining order against her and said he was not planning to start a life with her. But the woman said that she was not the cause of Casal’s personal issues as his friends alleged.
Casal had performed at the LOCKN’ Festival in Arrington, Virginia, on August 24, two days before his death. Casal had been accompanying Oteil Burbridge, who was celebrating his 55th birthday, at the show. The woman told Heavy that Casal had been depressed since the disbanding of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood in May 2019. The band split after completing their tour in July 2019.
The woman told Heavy that Casal had promised her that he would throw up a peace sign during his show at LOCKN’ and then did.