Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Tower Of Power: From the T.O.P

Tower Of Power
Tower Of Power Tower Of Power Tower Of Power Marcus Scott - Tower Of Power

One of the world’s most celebrated live bands, legendary purveyors of “Oakland Soul music” Tower Of Power are set to return to the UK this October for a run of live shows, including - for the first time in 15 years - several dates outside of London.

Having officially begun as The Motowns in July 1968 in Oakland, California when tenor saxophonist/vocalist Emilio Castillo met Berkley, California-raised baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, the by-now-renamed Tower Of Power would release their debut album “East Bay Grease” for concert promoter Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records before going on to sign with Warner Bros. Records for their 1972 sophomore set “Bump City”, which spawned the breakthrough US Number 29 hit ballad, “You’re Still A Young Man”.

Greater success meanwhile would follow in 1973 when, after recruiting highly soulful lead vocalist Lenny Williams to replace their previous singer Rick Stevens, the group would release their Gold-selling US Top 15 third album “Tower Of Power” and in turn score their biggest hit single, the enduring US Top 20 hit “So Very Hard To Go”.

Meanwhile, with Williams still fronting the band on the US Top 30 “Back To Oakland” and “Urban Renewal” albums, further US Hot 100 action would arrive via such tracks as “This Time It’s Real” and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of The Stream)” before his departure for a successful solo career in late 1974. Following which the band have over the ensuing decades continued releasing albums for such labels as Warner Bros., Columbia and Epic plus various independents with the ever-in-demand Tower Of Power horn section over the years significantly appearing on recordings for such diverse big-selling acts as Elton John, Santana, Aerosmith, Otis Redding and Bonnie Raitt.

Indeed, with Tower Of Power still touring extensively to this day (it’s estimated at least 60 musicians have toured or recorded with the band over its near-50 years of existence), today’s ten-man line-up still boasts aforementioned co-founders Castillo and Kupka (who together have written most of the group’s song catalogue) alongside fellow long-term members Francis “Rocco” Prestia (bass) and David Garibaldi (drums). Meanwhile, more recent additions to the group comprise Memphis-raised lead vocalist Marcus Scott (who joined in April 2016) plus keyboardist Roger Smith; trumpet and flugelhorn player Adolfo Acosta; tenor saxophonist Tom E. Politzer; guitarist Jerry Cortez; plus newest member trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo.

…Cue aforementioned founder-member Emilio (who was interestingly born in Detroit, Michigan in September 1950 to Mexican and Greek parents) on the line to “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing interview regarding Tower Of Power’s trailblazing history whilst simultaneously shedding light on the band’s current recording activities

PETE: Let’s start by discussing the early origins of the band back in the mid/late-Sixties

EMILIO: “Well, we actually started as musicians around 1965 - just a buncha kids in the neighbourhood who didn’t know how to play or anything. I mean, this was right at the time when The Beatles had come out and kids were starting bands in garages or wherever they could. Which is why we started a band and then learned how to play! But while we may have started out doing it backwards, after playing for a couple of years by late ‘66/early ’67 we discovered we were getting very serious about our love for soul music. You know, Sly Stone was a very popular disc jockey in the Bay Area at the time and he’d started his band Sly & The Family Stone. And so basically what we did was try to emulate their energy while at the same time musically patterning ourselves after another group out at the time called, The Spyders, who were really tight with three horns and very well-arranged, really great backing vocals... So yeah, those were the people we started out patterning ourselves after, and then from there we just kind of started making our own kind of soul music.”

PETE: So how did the name Tower Of Power come about?

EMILIO: “At first me and my brother were both in the band and so, because we’d grown up in Detroit, we started out by calling ourselves The Motowns. But then, because we wanted to perform at The Fillmore West - which was the big rock ballroom in San Francisco where all the hippy bands played - we knew we needed to change our name because we’d never have got in there with a name like The Motowns! So what happened was, around the same time I hired my first hippy in the band - our baritone sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka - and he and I started writing together and coming up with these quirky songs with these funky rhythms that I was arranging these weird horn parts for, I saw the words ‘Tower Of Power’ on a list, and because we thought it suited us that immediately became the band’s new name!”

Tower Of Power’s October UK tour takes in the following dates: Manchester, Academy (12); Bristol, O2 Academy (13); Coventry, The Empire (14); and London, The Roundhouse (15)

You can read more from our exclusive Tower Of Power interview, including how did revered vocalist Lenny Williams come to join the band, how did their first record deal with San Francisco Records come about? And BIG news of new Tower Of Power material. All in the current issue of Blues & Soul Magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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