April 15, 2008 – Sean Costello. Born in Philadelphia on April 16, 1979, Sean was a beautiful and precocious baby who walked, talked and read at an incredibly early age. His interest in music was evident as early as the age of 2, and after he moved to Atlanta at age 9, he began playing guitar. While his early influences were hard rock bands, he soon discovered the blues after picking up a Howlin’ Wolf tape in a bargain bin at a local record store. Sean never looked back. Soon local Atlanta bluesman Felix Reyes took Sean under his wing, and the rest is history.
At age 14, Sean won the prestigious Memphis Blues Society’s New Talent Award. The prize included studio time during which he recorded his debut album, Call The Cops, which was acclaimed by Real Blues Magazine as “an explosive debut.” While in Memphis, Sean met fellow blues guitarist Susan Tedeschi with whom he later toured as lead guitarist, going on to record incredible lead guitar tracks on her gold album Just Won’t Burn.
After leaving this tour in 2000, Sean put together his own band, and his next album Cuttin’ In was released in early 2000. This album garnered Sean a W.C. Handy Award nomination for Best New Artist Debut and earned him a Gold Record before his 21st birthday.
As Philip Van Vleck commented in All Music Guide, “Costello the guitarist has snatched the key to the blues kingdom. His playing is shockingly deep for a 20-year-old. And his vocal work is nearly a match for his guitar chops; given time, that too will become very real. Of all the young blues lions out there brandishing their electric guitars, Costello is the one who’s got his head and heart into the deep blues.”
Released in 2002, his third album Moanin’ for Molasses featured a more mature and confidently soulful sound. With this album, Sean was featured in a Blues Revue cover story where he was lauded as “the top contender to be the next blues star – and soon.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called his guitar playing “masterful” and of “remarkable maturity,” and compared him to guitar legends B. B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
2005 saw the release of Sean Costello, his self-titled album on which he explored soul, funk, and hard rock, covering songs by musical greats such as Johnny Taylor, Al Green, and Bob Dylan with a result that was uniquely his own. Two tracks on the album feature the great Levon Helm, one of Sean’s musical heroes, as well as Levon’s daughter Amy Helm and her group Ollabelle. Sean penned seven original songs for this album including the phenomenal ‘No Half Steppin’, a dynamic track which offers insight into Sean’s efforts to overcome his personal struggles.
Sean’s accomplishments in his short life were prodigious; he was successful, handsome and well-liked. Why, then, did he die of an accidental overdose? He died from an overdose of drugs including prescribed anti-anxiety medication
The most obvious answer is his struggle with Bipolar Disorder, which fueled his battle with alcohol and drugs. Sean Costello endeavored until the end of his life to overcome the demons of panic attacks, sleep deprivation and depression that plagued him, the cause of which remained undiagnosed and unrecognized until close to his death on April 15, 2008, one day before his 29th birthday. He was 28 years old.
Blues guitar virtuoso Tinsley Ellis called him a triple threat, pointing at his virtuoso guitar playing, his masterful singing and his amazing songwriting. As a guitarist he was astounding, but for Sean Costello it was never about showing off monstrous chops or stroking his ego. His playing always fit the song; he would work the tone and phrasing, sometimes with an economy of notes that let the empty spaces hang achingly for what seemed like hours. When he did take off on the occasional blazing run, he was the ultimate tightrope walker, flirting fearlessly beyond pentatonic danger before bringing it all back home with the unlikeliest of phrases that was still, somehow, perfect.