Interview by Scott Preston
No matter who you are, where you live, or your taste in music, Tower of Power will find you. And once that happens, it’s all over. You will come to believe not only that soul music is the salvation of us all, but that Tower of Power is one of those rare bands who can claim to be the real deal, 100 proof, aged-to-perfection, ground zero Soul. And the thing is, they’re everywhere now.
Cincy Groove: I see that this year is Tower of Power’s 40th anniversary, are there any special plans to celebrate the event?
Emilio Castillo: We had the celebration of the actual day we started back on August 13 in San Mateo. A lot of the old members came by and performed and it was also filmed. We are having the official party on October 18 at The Fillmore in San Francisco. We will also be filming for a dvd release.
Cincy Groove: How is the new Tower of Power cd coming along? Any special guests?
Emilio Castillo: We actually just finished mixing, and we are currently mastering. We need to get the liner notes together and the cover. So I think we are probably looking at the first of the year. As far as guests go we had Tom Jones, Sam Moore, Huey Lewis, 2 songs with duets with Joss Stone. They all did a great job, we are really pleased. We did all soul music Tower of Power style. We are going to call the cd “The Great American Soul Book”.
Cincy Groove: How did Tower of Power first get together?
Emilio Castillo: We were just a bunch of kids in the neighborhood who got together and wanted to play music and start a band. We really worked at it and were totally driven and consumed by the music. After we learned how to play our tastes ran into soul music and once we found soul music it was like someone put blinders on us. It became out passion. Shortly after that I started hiring horns and before you knew it I had 5 horns. We were an east side soul band called The Motowns. When I met my song writing partner Doc, who is our barotone sax player, he was amazed at what we did with all the songs we were doing. Songs by Sam and Dave, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, The Temptations. He said why don’t we start writing our own songs? The thought had never really occurred to me, so I thought why not lets give it a shot. Shortly after that we wrote our first song and wanted to get into the Fillmore circuit. Where we lived the Fillmore Auditorium was the place to play.
They had just started their own record company, booking agency, they were managing people. So we ended up getting an audition at the Fillmore West. To our complete shock out of all of these bands that were trying to get in who were at the time pretty well established we ended up getting chosen. The producer that Bill Graham had brought in, David Rubenson, he saw the soul and dug it. Bill Graham of course was always a big fan of horns, rhythm, soul, so he dug it and they signed us. We were very fortunate.
Cincy Groove: When did you first pick up the sax?
Emilio Castillo: When I was 14 years old, my brother Jack and I got caught stealing a t shirt and my dad said you are going go to you room and fill this notebook with reasons why you are never going to steal again and then you are going to think of something that will keep you off the streets, otherwise you are never going to come out of that room again (laughing). It was right about the time the Beatles had come out so we said we wanted to play music. So he said get in the car. He took us to the nearest music store, Alegro Music in Fremont, CA. My dad then told us to pick an instrument anything we want. My brother Jack pointed to the drums and I pointed to the sax and life as we knew it changed from that day forward. We actually started a band that day even though we couldn’t play. We did it backwards, started a band then learned how to play.
Cincy Groove: What was the name of the band that you and your brother started?
Emilio Castillo: We first called ourselves The Roadrunners. Then we became The Extension Five. Then we had a brief stint where we all dressed as Batman and The Robins. A manager at a club in San Jose had seen us as The Extension Five and said I have a great idea there is this new TV show out called Batman so we will call you Batman and The Robins. It was about the same time that Paul Revere and The Raiders and The Young Rascals dressed up. My brother was Batman and we made this blue silk dome that went over his drum kit. By this time I was also playing the organ, so we put this light in front it so it looked like a computer. So this manager sent a letter to the tv show telling them I have this great band for you that should be on the show called Batman and The Robins. We immediately got a letter back saying we had no right to use the name. So we then changed the name to The Gotham City Crime Fighters and that lasted about a year. We became famous really fast in the Bay Area playing huge concerts and I wasn’t even 16 yet. We were selling the Longshoreman’s Hall and doing really well. Then the fad wore off pretty quickly and we really just got tired of the costumes.
Cincy Groove: Was there a band that had an influence on the bands development early on?
Emilio Castillo: We saw a band called The Spiders who were a soul band. They had 3 horns and thats when it all came together. I went out and got a trumpet the next day. Not too long after that my dad came home one day and said I want to take you to see this band, Sly and The Family Stone. We had already started listening to K Soul radio and there was this disc jockey there by the name of Sly Stone. We had never heard of the band, this was before that had made a record. I remember Larry Graham the bass player sang Georgia in this low voice, pretty different than Ray Charles version. Then they did losing you by The Temptations. Then I noticed there was this organ and there was nobody sitting at it. Then this guy walks in right through the dancers on the floor and right up on to the stage. He is dressed in this Sherlock Holmes suit. He had knickers, the cape, the hat, the whole thing. He walked up to the organ and stops the band in the middle of the song and yelled “1, 2, 3!!” and they went right into it. They were a whole different band when he got there. At that point we realized it was Sly Stone. What I wanted to do was to emulate the energy and the entertainment that they brought to the people.
Cincy Groove: How did the band end up picking the name Tower of Power?
Emilio Castillo: I thought if we could be like the Spiders and have that tightness and harmony, then have the energy and high entertainment factor that Sly and The Family Stone had, then we would really have something. The first name for our soul band was the Black Orfeece and that lasted about 2 months. I lived in Detroit until I was eleven so my mom said if you want to be a soul band you should be called The Motowns. As the Motowns we became tight and had that high energy and thats when I met Steven Doc Kupka. He told me your bands pretty good but your horn section is missing some bottom. Then he said “Oh by the way, I play the barotone sax, I have a Selmer with a low A key.” I had just heard about this new barotone sax that Selmer came out with that had this key that was a half step lower than all of the other barotones. Before then the lowest note you could goto on the barotone was B flat. I then told him to come over to my house in Freemont next Tuesday for an audition. He shows up and he was also the first hippie we had ever met. We were all these clean, razor cut guys all wearing the same suits. As soon as he started playing everybodys eyes opened up. Because before that we were doing songs like Cold Sweat, Doc just added a whole new dimension to the band. We played a couple songs and my dad came out into the garage. He told me to come into the kitchen, I though I was in trouble. Right away he said “Hire this guy, he has something.” I walked back into the garage and said he’s hired, rehearsal is over (laughing).
Shortly after that we wanted to get into the Fillmore and we knew we couldn’t get in there with a name like the Motowns. Also with the look we had at the time, clean cut, suits and that whole deal. So we started growing our hair long and tried to think of a new name. We were doing some recording at a studio in Heyward, CA and in the studio I saw this list that said List of Psychedelic Band Names. It had all these crazy names on it like the 13th Floor Elevator and Strawberry Alarm Clock. Then I saw the name Tower of Power and I thought that describes our band. So I told the rest of the band about it and thats when we became the Tower of Power.
Cincy Groove: Is the band working on any other projects besides the new cd?
Emilio Castillo: We are doing this series of releases called East Bay Archives. All the band members have old tapes, board recordings, rehearsal tapes, that kind of stuff. So we are all going through these recording and finding some pretty good stuff. The reason we did it was because there are people all over the world selling live gigs of ours where we of course are getting paid for. Our manager said “Why don’t you guys go through all your old stuff and start releasing it ourselves?” Our drummer went through all his stuff and picked out 6 shows. We ended up picking this show from K-K-K-Katy’s, Boston, MA April 1973. It was actually on cassette so we took it to this mastering facility to clean it up. So that release is called “East Bay Archives Vol 1”. Thats been out for a month now.
Tower of Power:
* EMILIO CASTILLO – Second Tenor Sax, background & lead vocals
* STEPHEN (“DOC”) KUPKA – Baritone saxophone
* FRANCIS ROCCO PRESTIA – Bass Guitar
* DAVID GARIBALDI – Drums
* LARRY BRAGGS – Lead & background vocals
* ROGER SMITH – Keyboards, background vocals
* TOM E. POLITZER – First Tenor Sax, Alto Sax, Flute, Clarinet
* ADOLFO ACOSTA – Second Trumpet, Flugelhorn
* MICHAEL (IRON MIKE) BOGART – Trumpet, flugelhorn, background vocals
* Mark Harper – Lead guitar, background vocals
Upcoming Tower of Power tour dates:
for complete show details visit http://www.towerofpower.com
October 9th Anaheim, CA The Grove of Anaheim
October 11th Wendover, NV Peppermill Casino Concert Hall
October 18th San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
November 5th St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
November 7th – 8th & 9th Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun Casino Wolf Den
November 11th Buffalo, NY The Tralf
November 13th Waterbury, CT The Palace Theater
November 14th Atlantic City, NJ House of Blues
November 15th New York, NY B.B. Kings
November 16th New York, NY B.B. Kings
November 18th Annapolis, MD Rams Head On Stage
November 20th-22nd Boston, MA Scullers Jazz Club
December 5th Oroville, CA Feather Falls Casino
December 6th Brooks, CA Cache Creek Casino – Club 88
December 11th-14th Seattle, WA Jazz Alley