Wednesday, September 20 , 2017, 7:53 am | Fair 54º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Feel the Power of Tower of Power

The funky R&B band will perform at the Granada Theatre

Tower of Power will perform at the Granada Theatre on Sept. 23. Click to view larger
Tower of Power will perform at the Granada Theatre on Sept. 23. (Publicity photo)

Tower of Power's axis — Emilio Castillo (tenor sax) and Stephen "Doc" Kupka (baritone sax) — first joined forces way back in 1968. The band's debut album, East Bay Grease, was released in 1970, and notable follow-ups were 1972's Bump City, 1973's Tower of Power and 1974's Back to Oakland. Castillo and Kupka co-wrote most of the band's songs, including funk workouts such as "What Is Hip?" and "You Got to Funkifize," and soulful ballads such as "Time Will Tell" and "So Very Hard to Go."

In addition to giving us their own hits, the Tower of Power horn section has appeared on recordings by numerous artists over the years, including Little Feat, Elton John, Huey Lewis and the News, Aerosmith and many others.

Tower of Power will be performing at the Granada Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 23. Tickets are available online by clicking here.

The following is adapted from an interview with Castillo from 2014.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?

Emilio Castillo: It's a Tower of Power show, and most people that come to Tower of Power know what to expect. It's a high-energy show, a lot of uptempo, original soul music, and a lot of emotional, heart-wrenching ballads. Obviously, the horn section is very prominent in the band, and we have one of the funkiest rhythm sections in the business today.

JM: I find it amazing that you and Doc have been musical partners for so long, since 1968, and of course, you co-wrote so many of the Tower of Power songs together. Can you describe the chemistry that you two share with each other?

EC: Well, for one thing, when I met him it was immediately evident to me that he was a real character. He was really the first hippie that I ever knew. He was a real character, in a really soulful way, too. He had a real passion for soul music, and he was impressed with our band. I offered him an audition, and he came and he auditioned and everybody liked him immediately. My dad — I was a teenager living at home — my dad actually called me into the house and said, "Hire this guy. He's got something." I said, "He does, huh?" And I hired him that day. It was immediately clear that we had the same passion for soul music. We've been close friends ever since.

JM: I read that you guys did a tour with Sly and the Family Stone. Sly had a reputation for always being late to gigs and canceling gigs. What was your experience like when you toured with them?

EC: Well, he already had that reputation by the time we gigged with him. I don't know if you know this, but before I even started Tower of Power, I used to watch Sly Stone every weekend at Frenchy's in Hayward. He had a one-year contract at that nightclub before he became famous. And so we watched him every night. We idolized him and his band. So I was very familiar with them. I didn't know them personally. I was a young kid, and they were heavyweights. But by the time we played with him it was years later, we were both established acts and he had already sort of developed that reputation for being undependable.

We had a few instances with him where it got a little weird. One time we were playing the Michigan Palace in Detroit. He always liked Doc, so Doc went by to say hello to him, and they called him into the dressing room and before Doc knew it the door shut behind him and this big bodyguard was guarding the door. And Sly proceeds to tell him that he had a dream, and in the dream Doc joined his band. And he needed to make that commitment right there and then. Doc was like, "Me and Emilio have Tower of Power. I'm in that band." And he said, "Yeah, but I had the dream so we're going to need you to make that commitment right now, before we let you out of here." The bodyguard was blocking the door, and he got all scared. But finally Sly lightened up and let him out of there. That was kind of the weirdest thing that happened between the two bands.

JM: Can you tell me how the song "You Got to Funkifize" came together?

EC: Doc came up with the title. We knew immediately that we were going to write that song and what it was going to be like. I remember we had just written it, and we were in this car — me and Doc — and in the backseat was Skip Mesquite, our sax player at the time. We were talking about the song — we said, "We wrote this song called 'You Got to Funkifize.'" And he goes, "Funkifize? What kind of word is that?!" I started to sing it, and when he heard me singing it he realized how soulful it was. "God, you guys did it again." He was kind of upset about that. We just knew it was going to be a song about dancing and playing soul music. It's an exciting tune.

Click here for the full interview with Emilio Castillo.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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