Neal Casal, the influential roots guitarist who played with Willie Nelson, Shooter Jennings, Ryan Adams, Phil Lesh and more, has died at the age of 50. “Neal was a gentle, introspective, deeply soulful human being who lived his life through artistry and kindness,” read the announcement of his death on his Facebook page Tuesday morning. The cause of death was suicide.
“I can’t believe I’m having to say goodbye to my friend and my brother. It’s almost too painful,” longtime collaborator Chris Robinson said in a statement. “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. All of us in this rock & roll life have had to say goodbye to too many people too soon. I can only wish that you’ve found your peace returning to the wisdom of the universe. I miss you so much already, Neal. I’ll see you again, someday past the sunset.”
Best known for his work as the lead guitarist in Ryan Adams’ backing band the Cardinals, Casal also played with the Jayhawks, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and the Hard Working Americans. As an in-demand studio musician, he played on records by Nelson, Jennings, Lucinda Williams, Amanda Shires and Tift Merritt. Casal was also a prolific singer-songwriter in his own right, releasing numerous solo albums and founding the group Circles Around the Sun.
“I am absolutely devastated,” wrote Jennings on Instagram. “[Neal] was always my favorite picker in LA and we’d just finished some beautiful music together.”
As a teenager, Casal became obsessed with the music of the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. “Those groups opened my eyes and ears to the best music, literature, film and art of all kinds,” he said in a 2016 interview. “I bought every record and book that they ever spoke about in their interviews and tried to follow their instructions on how to dig in and do good work.”
Casal spent the Nineties primarily making music as a solo artist, releasing his acclaimed debut album Fade Away Diamond Time in 1995 before eventually teaming up to play with Adams in the Cardinals roughly one decade later.
“Mine hasn’t really been a rock star life,” Casal said last year. “Granted, I’ve gotten to travel the world and see a lot of things that other people haven’t. Some of the other life building events that people go through… I haven’t had some of those things. It gets harder as you get older. I’ve definitely had an amazing life in music. That’s for sure. I’ve got to make so many records, tour, take photographers, write songs, meet new friends, and all of that.”