Former Journey Drummer Deen Castronovo One Year Later: ‘I’m So Grateful I Woke Up’ – Exclusive Interview
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you find yourself and rediscover the things that are really important in life.
That’s what former Journey drummer Deen Castronovo has realized in the days and months since June 2015 when he was first arrested for what was initially described as a domestic dispute. Things quickly snowballed and Castronovo eventually found himself facing a lengthy list of charges including rape, sexual abuse and unlawful use of a weapon. He entered rehab and was later sentenced to four years of probation, while undergoing domestic violence and drug counseling.
In November 2015, he spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock and was quite frank, revealing that he had been relieved of his drumming duties with Journey and that maintaining his sobriety was his only focus.
“I’m not expecting to work for a while and if God opens that door, he’ll open that door,” he said. “But I’m definitely not ready and even if somebody asked me now, I wouldn’t do it. A year from now, I don’t think I would do it. I need some time. I don’t ever want to have this happen again. I never want to do this to my band members, to any band member, any band, any friends of mine, any family — this is something that’s life or death and I really better take it seriously. Drumming right now is a beautiful thing that I love to do, but I’m not ready to put the shoes back on and play. I’m just not ready yet.”
Today (June 25), he marks one year of being sober, and he's turned his entire life around for the better. For the first time in 17 years, he’s at home and not on the road touring this summer. The above picture, which was taken last week, shows Castronovo in a happier and healthier place.
“You know, what’s really cool is you finally realize when something like this happens, you realize what’s really important,” he told Ultimate Classic Rock during a new interview that was conducted at the end of May. “Being a father is a huge, huge undertaking. For musicians like us, you’re on the road and you’re working a lot. You don’t have the time to be with your kids as much as you’d like. And then when I was in my addiction, man, I had no time for [Roman, Castronovo’s 11-year-old son] then. It’s so cool to be with him. He was always such a little closed-up boy and now he’s just opened up. You can tell. He’s got his dad back and he’s thrilled. And I’m thrilled. I see it in his eyes. You’re just like grateful that you woke up. I’m grateful that I woke up and that he’s got his dad now. It’s really cool. So yeah, I’m bummed about not being in Journey, of course, but I look at all of the great things that are happening now and being a part of his life and my family’s starting to see the real me again, being reliable. The good totally outweighs the bad at this point, definitely.”
As Castronovo tells us, Roman, his older son Kyle, and his stepdaughters, have all been happy to have their dad back in their life and he’s grateful that they didn’t offer any push-back when he came back into their world on a full-time basis. He admits that at times, maybe he’s around a little bit too much for their taste.
“They always saw glimpses of me and they knew who I was and then they’d see that person go away and then he would come back and go away. There wasn’t so much push-back as I think it was more relief. I think that they believed it, that this really woke me up. Here we are 11 months later and I think I’m driving them crazy,” he says with a laugh. “I call my boy every morning before school and then after school and he’s got such a busy little schedule. I remember talking to him one day and I said, ‘Let’s just hang after school’ and he goes, ‘Wow, Dad, my schedule’s pretty full right now.’ And he’s 11. [laughs] I’m like, ‘Wow, ouch!’ But it’s so great, you know, my family has been so supportive and they’re behind me. That’s what keeps me going, it really does. To wake up every morning knowing, ‘You know what, I can be there for my boys today.’ I can be there for my stepdaughters and I can be there for my family and for you and many people that expect the real me now to be there, I’m there. It’s a good thing.”
Even as his working relationship of nearly two decades with Journey came to a close as a result of the events of last year, he was still able to focus on his sobriety and mending the broken and damaged relationships without having to worry about how he was going to keep the lights on and a roof over his head.
“The beautiful thing is that the band, they were very kind. They left me with a substantial amount of money to make sure that I was taken care of,” he says. “I also have an amazing accountant that made sure that even money that I had no idea I had, was put away and then came back to me and said, ‘Well, you know, you’ve got this and this and this.’ Right now, financially, I’m actually doing very well. Of course, you have to tighten up. It’s the real world now and the fancy cars are gone and things like that. You’re not going out and spending 20 grand on a silly watch and things like that. I finally found my priorities and priorities are definitely not in things that I thought made me happy. I’m filling a hole that only God and sobriety could fill. Nothing else can really take the place of being in the moment and being there for the family and realizing that, ‘You know what? I don’t need any of that stuff.’”
Recently, Castronovo found himself reunited unexpectedly with one of his former Journey bandmates, when he got the call to come in and play drums on Jonathan Cain’s forthcoming solo album, What God Wants to Hear. In an email, Cain told us how it came about and shared his memories of the sessions.
“I called Deen last year when our drummer suddenly left our praise and worship team at New Destiny Church outside of Orlando, Florida. I was performing new songs, for praise and worship I had written for an upcoming album I wanted to record,” Cain recalls. “He hadn't been playing much but upon his arrival I noticed a new excitement for his playing, my music and for God. He continued to come for Christmas and New Year’s, and Easter, where I played more of the album for the congregation. He connected with the music I was writing and was enthusiastic about making it sound great.”
“To have him play and sing on the album was a no-brainer, as he not only knew all the music but had an emotional connection to it as well,” he explains. “Deen's drums provide a strong backbone and a driving pulse that drives the album to the last song. He was a blessing to work with and tracked 14 songs, with other studio musicians in two days! His voice can be heard on the background [vocals] and [it] blends seamlessly. I treasure his friendship and hope the best for his career going forward.”
“It’s probably the most spiritual thing I’ve ever done, really,” Castronovo says of his experience working with Cain on the album. “When we were playing, it flowed [and] it was so effortless. And even my playing, my approach to playing, completely took a 180. You know how I play, I’m very physical and very flashy and very showy and as many chops as you could….this, I went to a lighter stick. I played a smaller kit and the approach was just so effortless and so peaceful. Honestly, playing-wise, there’s not a lot of chops -- it ain’t about that -- but just me playing for the song, the stuff just came out and it was effortless. I’m very proud. I just got the rough mixes the other day. It kind of brought me to tears."
“I’m like, ‘Man, I’m such a different player on this.’ I approached it completely differently. I’m very proud of it. If you’re looking for chops, that’s not where to go,” he says with a chuckle. “It’s not a big riff fest. The songs are beautiful and the musicians that I played with were stellar players from Nashville. Most of the songs really were one and two takes. Just so effortless. I’m grateful I got to do it. That’s when I kind of had the spark and went, 'You know what, you’re getting closer now. You’re getting closer to getting back to playing again.' It kind of brought my love back after that. I was like, 'Man, I forgot how beautiful music could be' and without all of the show and stage and lighting and craziness. It was just pure music for music’s sake. Amazing. I’m very proud of it.”
Castronovo says that with the exception of working on Cain’s album, he’s stuck with his original plan to focus on his recovery first.
“What I promised myself is, I’m going to give myself a year of solid recovery. A real solid, strong base, before I get back on that drum kit and really start knuckling down,” he says. “I’m getting close. I’ve got my new kit and I’m going to be setting it up in the next couple of weeks and then it’s on, bro. It’s not like my phone’s ringing off the hook. [laughs] It’s not like there’s a lot of opportunities at this point, but I’m okay with that. I have faith and I believe that God will open up a door when it opens. Obviously, I’m not ready yet or it would have opened by now. It’s going to take me a little bit of time. I’ve got to get back into playing again and get focused on that, because you know, the last year has been about God, sobriety and my kids.”
“There’s meditation in the morning, there’s reading in the morning and then a meeting -- at least three times a week, I hit a meeting,” Castronovo says, walking us through his daily routine, adding that his life changes have brought additional opportunities
“The great thing is that the door has kind of opened up for me to talk to people. I was actually at a biker rally about a month ago, telling my story to four or five hundred tough bikers. It was so cleansing,” he says. “Next week, I’m heading up to Hazelden-Betty Ford, which is where I went through treatment and I’m going to go talk to the men there. I think they said there was about 47 men in there right now. The counselors and the administration said, ‘Why don’t you come up and share what has happened.’ That’s cool. I love that. It’s amazing to be able to give back. Because that’s what they tell you, you know, in order to keep what you’ve got, you’ve got to give it away. That’s kind of what I’m doing now, is just kids and helping people, being of service. Because you don’t want to be where I was. If I can stop anybody or help anybody or just get through to one guy and just say, ‘You know what, dude? You don’t want to be there.’ 11 months ago, dude, it was the end of the world to me. It really was the end of the world. But now that I’ve got my faculties and I’m thinking clearly and I’m walking more of a spiritual path, it’s like, ‘You know, it wasn’t the end of the world, it was the beginning.’ The beginning of a real life instead of this illusion that I’ve had for eons and years.”
When we spoke with Castronovo last November, he was still under legal orders not to have any contact with his former fiancee. Since then, he’s been able to communicate with her and he’s glad to be back in touch.
“We actually can have phone conversations now and she’s doing very well. Which is a blessing to me. She’s finally taking care of herself. For years, that’s all she was doing was taking care of me. I was a nightmare to take care of,” he admits. “She’s gotten great counseling and she has been taking amazing care of herself. I’m very proud of her. I don’t know what the future holds, but you know, I’ve known her since she was 14. She’ll always be my first love and she’ll always be an amazing friend, no matter what happens.”
“That’s another thing that’s in God’s hands, too. I don’t make any decisions based upon feeling anymore. You’ve really got to sit down and go, 'You know, we both need to take time away, to take care of ourselves,'” he says. “And she just never had that time. She looks amazing [now] -- she was so depressed and worried all of the time, just waiting to find me dead. The way that I treated her those seven years was horrendous. To see her coming back, without me in her life, I mean, I’m her biggest cheerleader now. I want to see her succeed. I want to see nothing but amazing things happen for her. Because she deserves it, just like all of us. We all deserve to have a good solid life for the people we love and the people around us. She’s finally coming out of that and I’m grateful for that. I’m very grateful. I love her to death and I always will.”
Watching some of his fellow musicians in this industry succumb to their addictions, Castronovo is very aware that it could have been him making those same kinds of headlines and he’s grateful that he’s still around to read them.
“Every time I see one of those, really the first thing that comes to my mind is, “That could have been me. Why was that not me?” The way that I was using and drinking would have killed a rhinoceros. I never did anything at half-measure. I went full bore,” he says. “It breaks my heart, but it also brings things into perspective, like, my God, there were a lot of people praying for me, there were a lot of people that were supporting me with whatever positive energy that they were sending my way, [which] kept me alive. God showed me his mercy. He had his hand on my life and I’m totally grateful for that. It hurts. You see these guys and they’re so talented. They were such amazing players and to see them fall to this, that’s what’s so scary. It could be me. The next time, it will be me. If I do this again, it’s just a matter of time. I’ve done the jail, I’ve done the institutions, what’s next? What’s next?”
That’s a question which hopefully will only have good answers as time progresses. For now, Castronovo knows that he’s where he’s supposed to be, something which his family, friends -- and even his former Journey bandmates, continue to reinforce.
“[Jonathan Cain] and Paula [White, Cain’s wife and pastor at the New Destiny Christian Center in the Florida area] are very proud of me. They’ve really been behind me. Neal [Schon] has as well. Neal texts me from time to time,” he says. “But Jon just gave me a chance to restore and not just throw me away. He felt it in his heart, it’s time, ‘Let’s give Deen a shot.’ We stay in contact and he’s my spiritual mentor now. He really is. When I’m having a rough day, because I have days, you know, you see the reviews on the shows and you’re going, ‘Man, they’re doing so good. I wish I could have been there.’ Jon’s like, ‘You know what? It’s okay. You’re where you’re supposed to be right now. You just stay on it.’ Very great. He’s always been that kind of a guy. He’s very encouraging and always has been one of the guys that can be a mediator for whatever the Journey band was going through. He was the voice of reason for us and he is for me too. I think I’ve gotten closer to him than I think I ever have. I was really tight with Neal and Neal and I were brothers and we still are. Neal’s a brother for life. But Jon gave me this shot and I’m very grateful for that, bro. I don’t take this for granted. That’s another thing, I don’t take anything that happens for granted now, good or bad. You don’t take it for granted. It’s either a learning experience, or it’s a place for you to grow and it’s been great.”
Castronovo says that he’d like to go see his former bandmates when they come to town on this summer’s tour -- understandably, he has a few reservations about whether or not he’ll do that.
“They’re coming August 25. You know, I’ll have to see when that day comes. There’s a part of me that really wants to go and just say hi to the guys and give Smitty [drummer Steve Smith, who came back to Journey after Castronovo's departure] a hug and stuff and you know, be with my brothers. But there’s another part of me that goes, is it going to be painful? I mean, obviously. Is it going to be kind of weird? Is it going to make me feel weird? I’ve really got to stay in check with my feelings at that point. It’s a couple of months away, but yeah, I think I’ll go up. I still love the music...I don’t care who’s playing it. Journey was the soundtrack to my teen years. I’m a big fan. I was a fan before I joined. So yeah, I would imagine I’ll come up and visit my guys, definitely.”
Castronovo, who released his first album with the band Revolution Saints featuring guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio) and bassist Jack Blades (Night Ranger), in February 2015 before all of his troubles came to a head, says that project is very likely going to stay on the shelf. He says that he did make an initial attempt to resume activity with the band last fall once he came home and as he looks back now, he’s thankful that didn’t happen.
“I was talking [at that time] to Serafino [Perugino, president of Frontiers Music] and saying ‘I need to do something.’ I mean, I was really jumping the gun, because I was still shell-shocked from everything,” he says now. “It was like, I need to get back and play, I need to get back and play. Doug was like, ‘Dude, yeah, I’m into it.’ I think the last message that I got was from Jack and it said, ‘You know what bro, I’m going to have to bow out. I’m too busy. I wish you the best.’ That was it.”
“That was a good realization for me,” he continues. “It was like, you know what dude, you need to just back off on all of this right now. This is right after I got out of treatment. I was gung-ho. I realize now, thank God, I didn’t do anything. Thank God I didn’t jump back in. Because it wasn’t time. You know, if that door opens, if that’s God’s will for my life, of course I’d do it. I would love it. It was a lot of fun and I was very proud of that record. It was my very first one and it wasn’t too bad. It could have been a lot better, of course. You know, we all nitpick our stuff to pieces. But I would love to. I loved working with Doug and I loved working with Jack. But I’ll tell you, Doug, he’s a monster and what a sweet human being. He was another one...a lot of people scattered, bro. Wouldn’t talk to me anymore -- and Doug was like, ‘You know what bro, I support you. I’m here for you, man. You can do this.’”
“It was the same with the Journey guys,” he says. “They were like, ‘You know what? We love you and support you.’ I’ve learned who cared and who didn’t and that’s another beauty of recovery is you find out who your friends really are. You find out the people that would take bullets for you or stand behind you, no matter how horrible the things that you did were. I’ve got real friends now, bro. Real friends. The people that weren’t my friends, they have scattered -- and that’s okay. You know, at first it hurt, but now I’m okay with it.”
“When it’s time, the doors will open and I’m certainly not forcing them open. I’m not begging for work,” he concludes. “If somebody wants to work with me and give me a chance, I’ve got stacks of documented urinalysis [tests] from Hazelden. I signed up for that Hazelden Connections program. For 18 months, they do random tests on you and every one of them have been negative. I’ve got a stack of them. So if anybody does ask me and go, ‘Well, we don’t know if you’re really sober,’ I’m going to bring in a wheelbarrow full of tests and go, ‘Here, look through them all. If you see anything positive, let me know.’ But it’s been good. Thank God for that program. And I’m probably going to sign up for another 18 months after this 18 months is up. I just like the accountability.”
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