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Networking 101... Never underestimate the importance of choosing your friends wisely. Houston singer/songwriter Rogelio "Tody" Castillo has always been socially selective, and it's paying off for his fledgling quartet, Tody and the Royals. So far, the dividends can't be measured in amounts of money or number of units sold. Instead, the dividends come in the way of motivation and advice.

Castillo's closest music-industry confidant is Austin's David Garza, who last winter released his major-label debut, This Euphoria. Tody and the Royals' flamboyant, earnest jam-pop has only a little in common with Garza's eclectic, kitchen-sink hooksmanship (the similarities begin and end with Castillo's fluttery vocal ache), but that hardly matters. No doubt, Castillo -- who recently put out Tody and the Royals' Five Song EP on his own -- would kill to be where Garza is now, and he respects the honest and uncomplicated route by which his more successful friend got there. As it happens, Garza's best advice to Castillo was also the simplest.

"I've known him for about seven years," says Castillo, whose mother gave him his unusual nickname. "I would just ask him, 'Man, how do you do it?' And he'd say, 'Man, you just do it; you just pick up the telephone and call.' "

Apparently, hearing it from someone who knows the ropes did the trick. Working as his own booking agent and manager, Castillo went from performing local open-mike nights to playing just about everywhere. Houston, Austin, Fort Worth, College Station, San Marcos, Waco, Huntsville, McAllen, San Antonio, Corpus Christi: any town with a college campus, and it's a good bet Tody's been there -- or will be sooner rather than later. It isn't particularly glamorous, but it's been enough to boost the group's profile around Houston -- from the outside in. A favorite of the Sonnier Brothers Band, Tody and the Royals have opened for that group in the past and have headlined Mary Jane's on several occasions. Coming up, the band will open for Grand Street Cryers at Instant Karma on August 27.

"I stay really busy," says Castillo, who works days as a handyman at the Museum of Natural Science.

There was a time when Castillo had pretty much given up on music. Moving here in 1992 to attend the University of Houston, Castillo had his heart set on acting. He'd been in countless school productions over the years and thought he might have a shot at going professional. A child of divorce, Castillo was born in Kingsville and, as a kid, flip-flopped between his mother's home in San Antonio and his father's place in Corpus Christi. Neither place figured to be conducive to Castillo's evolution as a performer -- whether it was in theater or in music -- so going to school in Houston was the perfect way out. He lasted two years at U of H. It took only one open-mike performance at Munchies (now Instant Karma) for him to get a lock on where he was headed. He began writing tunes, and acting fell by the wayside. "I was really struggling to write; then I finally got one song out," Castillo says. "Then, I stopped auditioning for plays."

Castillo has lost and found a few band members along the way, but the latest lineup looks to be his most solid and reliable. Today's Royals are drummer Payson Clarke, bassist Chris McFarland (late of All Mod Cons) and former Under the Sun guitarist George Kapsalis.

"I've been doing Tody and the Royals since August of '95, and I've had a number of people in and out; so many guys just up and quit on me," Castillo says. "But these guys are a lot more experienced. Now, we're able to make a difference."

Etc.... In an effort to, as the band puts it, "escape the curse" of their saintly name.selves Kayfabe. Evidently, the decision was an internal one and had nothing to do with outside pressure from disabled-rights activists. Kayfabe will test-drive its kinder, gentler moniker Friday at the Oven.

After all that ugly Velvet Elvis business (sorry, that's Velvet E.), Elvis Presley gets his just Houston due in the form of a live salute at Garden in the Heights Sunday, which is the anniversary of his death. The day's entertainment lineup includes the El Orbits, Fondue Monks, Zydeco Dots, Toy Subs, TKoh!, Space City Dogs, Blue Monks and an impromptu collective called the Suspicious Minds. All acts will play classics from the King's extensive catalog -- with a career that spans well over 100 releases (many of them posthumous), there ought to be no shortage of material.

-- Hobart Rowland

Have a comment, tip, compliment or beef? E-mail Hobart Rowland at hobart_rowland@houstonpress.com.

 
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