Tower of Power celebrates 45 years
November 12, 2013
Tower of Power celebrated its 45th anniversary in August.
The 10-man soul, funk and jazz band from Oakland, Calif., famous for the Top 40 hits "So Very Hard to Go," "You’re Still a Young Man" and "Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of the Stream)" still tour the U.S., Europe and Japan regularly and will stop in Park City for a four-night stand at the Egyptian Theatre this week.
Saxophonist Emilio Castillo, who, a long with Rocco Prestia, Stephen Kupka and David Garibaldi formed Tower of Power in 1968, spoke with The Park Record earlier this week about the band’s longevity during a phone call from a stop in Nevada.
"There was the folk and psychedelic sound coming out from San Francisco back then, but we lived in Oakland by the East Bay and where we lived, soul music was popular," Castillo said. "Sly Stone was the most popular disc jockey on the radio there and we all listened to him."
Castillo’s defining moment came when he saw a band called the Spiders.
"They were an all-white soul band that had three horns and impeccable background vocalists," he said. "I wanted to have a band like them and hired a trumpet player the next day. Since then, I’ve had blinders on and got into soul music and dedicated my life to it."
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It helped that Castillo was already a saxophonist.
"My dad was a bartender and worked at places that hosted showbands that had horns, and stuff," Castillo said. "I had seen some of those bands and noticed the sax player was the coolest guy in the band.
"Anyway, my brother and I got in a little trouble and got caught stealing a T-shirt from a store," he said. "My dad sat us down and gave us notebooks and told us to write about why we weren’t going to steal again and to think about something that would keep us out of trouble."
The Beatles had just come out and Castillo and his brother told their pop they wanted to play music.
"He took us to the music store and let us buy any instrument we wanted," Castillo said. "My brother chose the drums, because he thought the drummer was the coolest guy in the band, and I chose the saxophone."
Throughout the past 45 years, Tower of Power has played to all kinds of audiences and have recorded with such artists as Elton John, Santana, Little Feat, Aerosmith, Heart and an array of blues players.
"All that stuff we did with other bands happened by accident," Castillo said laughing. "People don’t realize that when they see our names on other people’s records that those sessions take very little out of our time with Tower of Power."
The first guest appearance happened a few weeks after the band’s debut, "East Bay Grease," was released.
"We had one album out and had began to get a little notoriety and one night Nick Gravenites, a blues guitarist from Chicago, called the band up and asked if we could go down to CBS Records," Castillo said. "Nick said they were recording a song called ‘Funky Jim’ and that it would sound great with horns.
"We bopped down there and arranged some parts and he loved it," Castillo said. "When we left, he said, ‘Here’ and gave us some money."
A couple of months later, Carlos Santana rang the band.
"He wanted us to come down to play on a song called ‘Everybody’s Everything’ and we put some horn parts on it," Castillo said. "Same thing happened. He loved it, and while we were walking out, he gave us money."
In 2008, Tower of Power celebrated its 40th anniversary and played at the historic Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
"We invited everyone who has been part of the band and almost all of them came to play that night," Castillo said. "I was levitating three feet off the ground for a week before the show. We had rehearsals with all these people who have been part of the band."
Those who showed up weren’t just former band members, but also former crew members, managers and friends of the band whom Castillo hadn’t seen in years.
"They were flying in from all around the country, and it was great because we were all still friends," he said.
The show took Castillo to a new musical level.
"We had 15 horns, three guitarists, three keyboardists and five drummers," he said. "It was an unreal feeling, but also a great feeling that we have made it so far."
One reason the band gets along with former members is the camaraderie among the musicians.
"No matter how you look at it, in Tower of Power, you are just a member and everybody gets an equal share," Castillo said. "I’m the leader who has been here for 45 years, but I still get paid the same as the new trumpet player, Sal Cracciolo. It’s like the old hippie days. Everyone gets the same."
This year lead singer Larry Braggs, who joined the band in 1999, will become one of Tower of Power’s former members.
"Larry has been with the band longer than any other vocalist," Castillo said. "He came to us early in the year and announced that he was going to be leaving.
"When you think about it, he’s not a spring chicken, but has made a name for himself as our lead singer and wants to parlay that into a solo career," Castillo said. "This is important for a lead singer who is that good and who hasn’t had a solo career, because if he doesn’t do it soon, he may never do it. We will miss him and we will hate to see him go, but we’ve done this before. I hope he does well."
In another five years, the band will celebrate its 50th anniversary, but Castillo doesn’t have time to think about that, yet.
"I learned a long time ago to take things one day at a time," he chuckled. "We’re in the middle of doing a new album of originals so the 50th anniversary will have to wait."
Tower of Power will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., Thursday, Nov. 14, through and Saturday, Nov. 16,, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $39 to $70 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.