When I think of Tower of Power, I think of the horn section — the tightest in the West — that for decades has been the go-to ensemble to spice up recordings by a variety of notable artists. But, as we were reminded in force on Thursday night at the Chumash Casino Resort, Tower of Power also has its own soulful funky horn-driven repertoire that still resonates 45 years in.
Today’s band includes original members Emilio Castillo (second tenor sax), Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone sax), Francis “Rocco” Prestia (bass) and David Garibaldi (drums), and is filled out by Tom Politzer (lead tenor sax), Santa Barbara’s Adolfo Acosta (trumpet), Sal Cracchiolo (trumpet), Jerry Cortez (guitar), Roger Smith (keyboards) and Brent Carter (lead vocals). Castillo and Kupka wrote the bulk of the band’s songs over the years.
All of the musicians are first-rate, and special mention goes out to the “new guys”: Politzer, who played some smokin’ sax solos; Cortez, who shredded on guitar; and Carter, who has a soulful voice that effectively rises above the groove.
Songs were drawn from the band’s whole career, with an emphasis on the goods from the early to mid-1970s like “Can’t You See (You Doin’ Me Wrong),” “You Got to Funkifize,” “Get Yo’ Feet Back on the Ground,” “This Time It’s Real,” “Time Will Tell” and “So Very Hard to Go.”
While I’m mostly into Tower of Power’s funky stuff, the ballads presented at least one of the show’s highlights with “Willing to Learn,” which was introduced by Castillo as “One of those ‘I messed up and I’m sorry’ songs.” Carter soared on this, pausing at times to tell the crowd how he finally understands what the song is about.
Castillo took over the lead vocals for a couple of the funkiest songs, namely “You Got to Funkifize” (“Got to get funky / Like a bow legged monkey”) and the tribute to the Godfather himself, “Diggin’ on James Brown.”
Speaking of Mr. Brown, there was a brief taste of his “Soul Power” in the middle of Tower of Power’s biggest hit “What Is Hip?” which closed the main set. Starting with this song, Danny Pelfrey, who lives in Cambria, joined in on sax.
For nearly the whole show, and at the encouragement of the band, fans danced up in the front of the showroom. Typically the Chumash Casino only opens up the front area like this at the end of a concert, but clearly this time they made the right call. A lot of people just couldn’t contain themselves by sitting down in the presence of such funky music!
Arguably the best dancing came from “Doc” during “So I Got to Groove,” when he got the spotlight for a brief funkifized moment. I’m tellin’ ya, he and the rest of the band have still got it four and half decades after they first blew the roof off of a joint.
I Like Your Style
Only So Much Oil in the Ground
Can’t You See (You Doin’ Me Wrong)
You Strike My Main Nerve
Just Enough and Too Much
You Got to Funkifize
Willing to Learn
Get Yo’ Feet Back on the Ground
This Time It’s Real
So I Got to Groove
Time Will Tell
Diggin’ on James Brown
So Very Hard to Go
What Is Hip? / Soul Power / What Is Hip?
You’re Still a Young Man
Soul With A Capital “S”
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.