In Memoriam: Neal Casal [1968—2019]

The rock world was shocked and saddened last week as Neal Casal, guitarist for Circles Around the Sun, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, along with being a prolific recording artist in his own right, passed away at the age of 50. At the time of this publication, it was reported that Casal had died by suicide.

Casal first began his career in the late eighties with the Florida rock outfit, Blackfoot. He released his first solo LP in 1995 and would go on to release several more LPs of his own before a brief stint with the group Hazy Malaze. Casal joined the Cardinals in the fall of 2005 and would go on to play on Adams’ 2007 album, Easy Tiger, remaining a member of the group until it disbanded in 2009. In 2011, he joined Robinson’s “farm-to-table psychedelic band,” and together over the next seven years, released a staggering six LPs, and an extensive collection of EPs, singles, and live recordings with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.  

Born in Deville, New Jersey in 1968, Casal would become one of the most sought-after guitarists in the land, permanently solidifying his prominence in the New York City and California rock scenes from an early age. But his love for rock ‘n’ roll was deeply rooted in his time spent as a youth in New Jersey. An avid fan of the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, Casal credited the FM radio stations in New York City as being the key that unlocked the doors to his musical ambitions. A student of the playing of Jerry Garcia, Casal in an interview with The Aquarian in August of 2018 said, “Growing up in New Jersey as a kid, it was during the seventies and early eighties when FM rock radio was at its peak. You had amazing stations like WNEW and WPLJ, and the Grateful Dead were pretty ubiquitous on the radio at that time. There was something about [Garcia’s] singing voice that appealed to me, and just the quality of the songs.”

A post to Casal’s official Instagram account announced his passing on August 27. 

“As so many of you know, Neal was a gentle, introspective, deeply soulful human being who lived his life through artistry and kindness,” the post read. 

Throughout the rock community, there was an outpouring of emotion. Friends and collaborators including Ryan Adams, Bob Weir, Cass MacCoombs, and Marcus King all took to social media to express their sadness and loss. 

In a post to his own Instagram account, Chris Robinson wrote, “I can’t believe I’m having to say goodbye to my friend and my brother. 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…. I miss you so much already, Neal. I’ll see you again, someday past the sunset.” 

Aside from being an exceptional guitarist and singer-songwriter, Casal was a devoted photographer, often capturing many candid and expressive photos while out on the road. In 2010, he released a book of his photography titled Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: A View of Other Windows, which documented his time with the group. He was also interested in film score music, having provided the original music for the Bob Weir documentary, The Other One (Netflix), at the request of his friend Justin Kreutzmann, son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. 

New Jersey has lost one its brightest talents, and The Aquarian extends our deepest condolences to Neal’s family and friends. 

Sail on, Brother Neal.

Please, do not fade away. If you or someone you know ever feels like giving up, please call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

You are never alone.