April 16, 1979 – April 15, 2008
Born in Philadelphia in 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, 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. 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. Steve Leggett of All Music Guide writes,
“One gets the feeling that Costello is just starting to hit his stride as a songwriter and singer, while as a guitar player he has obviously learned the vital and difficult lesson that drawing attention to your playing should only happen when the song demands it.”
It would be four years until Sean’s next album We Can Get Together which was released two months before his tragic and untimely death on April 15, 2008, one day before his 29th birthday. The accolades for the album are many, and Sean himself felt it was his best work to date. Mojo Magazine described We Can Get Together as “bluesy original songs arranged in classic soul style and delivered with a ravaged intensity.” We Can Get Together was nominated for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year award and Sean was nominated Contemporary Blues Male Artist in the 2009 Blues Music Awards. Sean’s Blues: A Memorial Retrospective which was released posthumously, received a nomination as Best Historical Album by the Blues Music Awards, and was also nominated as Best Contemporary Blues Recording in the 2010 Blues Blast Music Awards.
In addition to his own albums, Sean collaborated with many other renowned artists both onstage and in the recording studio. In his last interview on April 14, 2008, the eve of his death, Sean said,
“I’ve played with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Luther Thomas, Dr. John, Levon Helm, Donald Fagin . . . James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Jody Williams . . . Nappy Brown, Tinsley Ellis. I’ve played with most of my heroes, you know. I’ve been very lucky.”
But it is these artists, as well as his bandmates, the blues community, his fans and his loving family that feel honored and fortunate to have had Sean touch their lives and who so profoundly mourn his loss.
From early childhood, while some things came to him quickly and easily, others were much harder for him to master, and he often expressed feeling out of place with the rest of the world. By the time Sean was in middle school, it was obvious that a traditional educational environment was not working for him, and that he felt more than the usual adolescent angst about being different from his peers. Sean’s music blossomed at North Atlanta High Center for the Arts, as did he – at least to all appearances. To the outside world, Sean had hit his stride, but underneath it all, he was battling occasional bouts of depression and anxiety and all too soon alcohol entered the picture. Sean’s intelligence, charm, and self-deprecation all masked the seriousness of the daunting challenge of balancing his emotional age with his musical genius. Mental health professionals who treated Sean at this time didn’t recognize his true diagnosis.
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? The most obvious answer is his struggle with Bipolar Disorder, which fueled his battle with alc
ohol and drugs. Sean 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.
The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research is a living testimony to Sean’s spirit. Sean used his depth of feeling and his talent for communicating through music to overcome what could have been insurmountable odds. It is our job as family, friends, and fans to give others who struggle with the effects Bipolar Disorder the help and support they need to conquer this very dangerous illness.
Sean Costello 1979 – 2008
Delta Groove Press Release
It is with the deepest sadness that we issue this press release, and the news that Delta Groove recording artist Sean Costello passed away in Atlanta, GA on Tuesday, April 15th, one day before his 29th birthday. Sean was not only a member of the Delta Groove musical family, he was also a friend, and words cannot express the sorrow we feel at having to say goodbye so soon. As blues music fans, we unfortunately grow somewhat accustomed to the sadness of the inevitable passing of musical elders after long and fruitful careers. Losing someone as young, vibrant, and talented as Sean, who had accomplished so much in just a few short years and still had so much potential, is a terribly difficult blow, not only to those who knew him personally, but for the music community as a whole. He had been unanimously praised as one of the main torch-bearers of the blues flame for the coming generations, and now that potential will go sadly unfulfilled.
Costello was born in Philadelphia in 1979, moved with his family to Atlanta at the age of 9, and soon afterward picked up the guitar. Within a few short years he’d won the Memphis Blues Society’s new talent award, and was on the road with his own band. At age 17 he released his first album, “Call The Cops”, acclaimed by Real Blues Magazine as “an explosive debut.” He soon joined forces with fellow blues guitarist Susan Tedeschi, with whom he toured and recorded, laying down tasteful lead guitar work on her Gold-certified Tone-Cool debut “Just Won’t Burn”.
In 2000, Costello released “Cuttin’ In” on Landslide Records, which earned him critical acclaim as well as a prestigious W. C. Handy Award nomination for ‘Best New Artist Debut.’ With 2002’s “Moanin’ For Molasses”, also on Landslide, came a Blues Revue cover story touting Costello as “the top contender to be the next blues star – and soon.” Costello’s hometown paper The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called his guitar playing “masterful” and of “remarkable maturity.” The paper also compared him to such legends as B. B. King, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In 2005, his self-titled fourth CD “Sean Costello” was released by Artemis Records. Produced by Steve Rosenthal (The Rolling Stones, Suzanne Vega, Freedy Johnston), it was an appealing blend of soul, funk, upbeat rock. He was joined by some very special guests: Levon Helm of The Band sits in on two tracks, as does his daughter, Amy Helm, with her group, Ollabelle. Steve Jordan, Willie Weeks and the Conan O’Brien horn section also appear.
Sean’s Delta Groove debut CD “We Can Get Together”, just released in February, was produced by Costello himself. He was justly proud of “We Can Get Together”, calling it the best work he’d ever done, and the critics agreed, with excellent reviews from radio and press alike lauding it his most impressive and mature work to date.
Costello was fortunate enough to earn the respect and admiration of many of his own idols, and had the opportunity to perform with his mentors. He shared stages with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, and Bo Diddley among many others. He recently said, “All I’ve ever wanted to do was play the guitar well. I’ve been fortunate to be able to make a living doing it, and I plan to keep it up for the rest of my life.”
Rand Chortkoff and Robert Fitzpatrick, the CEO and President respectively of Delta Groove Music, issued the following joint statement: “Sean Costello was a genius. He was destined to go down in music history as a blues legend. His musical legacy will live on through his music forever. We at Delta Groove Music and all his fans everywhere are devastated by the untimely news of his death. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, loved ones and friends and to all of his many fans around the world. He will not be forgotten.”