“Soul music moves you emotionally. If it’s up tempo, it can get you excited and if it’s slower it can pull at your heart,” said Emilio Castillo, one of the founding members of the legendary soul band, Tower of Power.
That range of emotion is why he and Stephen “Doc” Kupka decided to create Tower of Power in 1968 in Oakland, California after meeting during the Fourth of July weekend that year.
“We were just kids back then and we learned how to play together,” explained Castillo who plays second tenor sax in the band and provides lead and background vocals. “We wanted to be the most tight and soulful group around. “
The result of that partnership has led to scores of singles and albums, constant touring and legions of TOP fans throughout the world.
Two years after its formation, Tower of Power signed a record contract with San Francisco Records and released its debut album, “East Bay Grease.” Their song “Sparking in the Sand” received airplay on the famed Bay Area soul radio station KDIA. The group moved on to sign with Warner Brothers Records and released 1972’s “Bump City,” which gave Tower of Power its first taste of national exposure.
The single “You’re Still a Young Man” peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Another gem from that second release “Down at the Nightclub,” received heavy play on West Coast FM and AM stations. Both songs are still a favorite part of the repertoire on oldies stations today.
The self-titled “Tower of Power” was released in 1973. Lenny Williams was the group’s lead singer and Lenny Pickett on lead tenor sax. Arguably the group’s most successful album, “Tower of Power” peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Pop Albums Chart and was RIAA certified Gold—in 1999 17 years after its release.
It birthed the group’s most successful single, “So Very Hard To Go,” which reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song landed in the Top 10 of many West Coast Top 40 radio stations, often hitting number one on many of them. Other albums singles, “This Time It’s Real” and “What is Hip?” also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
1974’s “Back to Oakland” spawned the hit “Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of the Stream),” which reached number 26 on the chart and “Time Will Tell” charted at number 69.
Later that year, the group made a move toward more funkafied music with the release of “Urban Renewal” but still continued to record ballads also. Williams left the group in late 1974 and was replaced by Hubert Tubbs. Larry Bragg served as the group’s lead singer from 1999 to 2013. Although the band has gone through many different musicians within its 40-plus years on the music scene, more than 60 musicians have recorded or toured with the band.
Although Tower of Power’s commercial success began to wane, the clan has continued to release albums to the delight of their fans. They are currently working on a new album by taking the Michael Jackson route and recording 25 songs. They will pick the best of the bunch to place on the album.
The Tower of Power horn section has had its own success, appearing on various artists’ records including Larry Graham’s “Graham Central Station,” Rufus, John Lee Hooker, The Grateful Dead, Santana and Toto.
“We’re not like other bands. Our sound appeals to a certain demographic. We have very loyal fans and we’ve stayed loyal to our sound,” Castillo said. “We’ve been together for 46 years and it’s a real blessing. We get to see a lot of people every night.”
The 10-member crew will be making a stop at Pittsburgh’s First Niagara Pavilion on Friday, June 27 as part of the second leg of their tour opening for Steve Miller Band and Journey.
Castillo admits he was skeptical when TOP was asked to be a part of the tour, but he and his band mates quickly saw it as a way to make new fans.
“We do 200 dates a year usually. We have a very exciting set of high-energy songs we’re going to be performing. We have a new lead singer Ray Greene and we have a very exciting show,” Castillo said.
Greene is a singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who grew up listening to the great soul singers. His music has been heard on “The Young and the Restless” and “One Life to Live.” He has performed with Aretha Franklin, NKOTB and Rick James to name a few.
Fans will get to see original members Castillo and Kupka, the baritone sax player who penned most of Tower Of Power’s catalogue of songs, and original drummer David Garibaldi. Other original member, bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia is awaiting a kidney transplant and is unable to travel with the band right now.
“Rocco is working with Cedar-Sinai hospital in Lost Angeles and after some setbacks in trying to find a donor, they are confident he should get a kidney by the end of the year,” Castillo said.
(For more information on Tower of Power visit the band’s website at www.towerofpower.com.)
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