For most of the 1970s and 1980s, New Zealand-born Leo De Castro was one of the best soul singers working in Australia. During the 1970s in particular, Leo was a permanent fixture of the pub/concert/festival circuit and was praised for his vocal abilities. De Castro was always able to gather quality musicians around him, but unfortunately he was under-recorded. He returned to New Zealand in 1995.
De Castro's first band was The Dallas Four in New Zealand. He came to Australia in 1969 and joined The Browns, which comprised Les Stacpool (guitar; ex-Chessmen, Merv Benton and the Tamlas), Ronnie Peel (bass; ex-Missing Links, Pleazers, Rockwell T. James and the Rhythm Aces) and Ray Arnott (drums; ex-Chelsea Set). The Browns also worked with singer Bernadette O'Neill, and were variously referred to as Leo and the Browns or Bernadette and the Browns.
Leo and Friends comprised De Castro, John Capek (piano, vocals), Rob MacKenzie (guitar), Jeremy Noone (sax) and Kevin Murphy (drums; ex-Wild Cherries). In September 1970, De Castro formed King Harvest. When that band broke up in September 1971, he formed the short-lived Flite with Barry Sullivan (bass; ex-Thursday's Children, Wild Cherries, Chain, Carson), Barry Harvey (drums; ex-Thursday's Children, Wild Cherries, Chain, King Harvest), Vince Melouney (guitar; ex-Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Bee Gees, Fanny Adams, Cleves) and John Capek (piano; ex-Carson, Meating, King Harvest).
In December 1971, De Castro formed Friends with Charlie Tumahai (vocals, percussion; ex-Healing Force, Chain). Friends broke up two years later and, after a brief period with New King Harvest, Leo formed De Castro in early 1974. Moving away from the progressive rock of Friends, the band played a mix of funk, soul, rock and blues. It was a style De Castro would pursue for the rest of his career. The line-up was completed by Rob Grey (keyboards), Ian `Willy' Winter (guitar; ex-Carson, Daddy Cool), John Young (bass) and Steve Webb (drums; ex-Blackfeather, Duck, Tramp). Later in the year, De Castro joined Sydney funk outfit Johnny Rocco Band. The band recorded the first version of `Heading in the Right Direction', co-written by Rocco guitarist Mark Punch and Garry Paige. Singer Renée Geyer later made the song famous via her definitive reading.
In 1976, De Castro formed Cahoots with Tui Richards (guitar; ex-New King Harvest, Johnny Rocco Band, Powerhouse), Billy Rylands (guitar; ex-Freshwater, Stevie Wright Band), Phil Pritchard (guitar; ex-Highway, Miss Universe), George Limbidis (bass; ex-Freshwater, Highway, Miss -Universe) and Doug McDonald (drums; ex-Powerhouse). In May 1977, the band was billed as Leo De Castro and Rocco with Mark Punch back in the line-up. By the end of the year, it was the Leo De Castro Band. Then came Heavy Division in 1978 with Tui Richards, Russell Smith (guitar; ex-Cam-Pact, Company Caine, Mighty Kong, Billy T), Tim Partridge (bass; ex-Clockwork Oringe, Mighty Kong, Kevin Borich Express) and John Watson (drums).
By December 1978, it was Leo De Castro and Babylon with Tui Richards, Billy Rylands, Thomas Reid (bass) and John McInerney (drums; ex-Company Caine, Foreday Riders). Babylon recorded one single for Warner in 1979, a cover of Elvis Presley's `Suspicious Minds'/`Hindley Street'. In the early 1980s, De Castro moved to Tasmania and formed Toots and the Legmen with Tim Partridge, Peter Hutchinson (guitar), David McLeod (keyboards) and Conrad Parkes (drums). By 1985, it was Leo and Friends with Leigh Taafe (guitar), Damien Bernard (bass) and Frank Bernard (drums).
Next came The Early Kookas with Tim Partridge, Ross Kerr (guitar) and Roger Pickering (drums), followed by The Kingpins with Partridge, Dave Berry (guitar), Derek Trehair (sax) and Steve Marskell (drums). De Castro continued to perform solo around Tasmania. In October 1987, De Castro assembled a group of musicians under the Friends banner for a series of shows at The Basement in Sydney. The line-up comprised Jimmy Doyle (guitar), Mark Punch (guitar), Dave McRae (piano), Dave Green (bass), Mark Kennedy (drums), Andy Thompson (sax), Jason Brewer (sax), Jason McDermid (trumpet) and Sally King (guest vocals). The shows produced the cassette album Live at the Basement.
In 1995, De Castro returned to New Zealand with the purpose of reuniting with his former Friends comrade Charlie Tumahai. Charlie had been playing bass with The Herbs for the previous ten years. Sadly, Tumahai died in December 1995 from a heart attack. Leo De Castro remains but a footnote in the history of Australian rock. Over the course of 25 years, Leo recorded just seven singles (two with King Harvest, two with Friends, two with Johnny Rocco Band and one with Babylon) plus one album (with Johnny Rocco Band). The records reveal De Castro to be the owner of a passionate, soulful voice.