Since its formation in Oakland, California in 1968, Tower of Power has forged a reputation as a crack band of high achieving musicians fluent in all realms of Soul, Rock and Pop music with a sophistication and punch like that of a Jazz big band. From their first album East Bay Grease (1970) on Rock impresario Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records label (distributed by Atlantic), the interracial band became pillars and signatures of The Bay Area Music Scene that included pioneering like-minded bands such as Sly & The Family Stone, Cold Blood, Graham Central Station, The Pointer Sisters and The Sons of Champlin plus rock-oriented outfits such as Santana, Betty Davis and Journey.
Along with T.O.P.’s classic recordings, the 5-piece Tower of Power Horns – known for its power packed punch and fullness with two trumpets, two tenor saxophones plus a baritone sax on the bottom – became much in demand for studio sessions and live gigs. Among the hundreds of artists they have blessed with their presence are Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Graham Central Station, Elton John, Little Feat, Billy Preston, John Lee Hooker, Coke Escovedo, Jose Feliciano, Al Kooper, Rod Stewart, Harvey Mason, Lenny White, The Brothers Johnson, The Meters, Lee Oskar, Dionne Warwick, Melissa Manchester, Heart, Rick James, Santana, Smokey Robinson, Huey Lewis & The News, Paul Shaffer, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Spyro Gyra, Luther Vandross, Aerosmith, Phish, John Hiatt, Neil Diamond, P.Diddy, Bill Wyman and TV’s The Simpsons (Sing The Blues).
Most importantly, when almost all other R&B bands abandoned their horn sections as the sound of Soul music morphed into more stripped-down techno and synthesizer strains in the `80s, Tower of Power near single-handedly carried the torch for full-on 10-piece bands, often even including a conguero/percussionist. Faithful fans flocked to their concerts and purchased their new albums that kept the real soul vibe alive for decades. Indeed, the horn section is so pivotal to Tower of Power that unlike most band stage setups that have horns in the back, T.O.P.’s renowned and respected horn section is right up-front with the lead singer.
I had the chance to catch up with friend of the proGram and founding member of the mighty Tower Of Power, Mr. Emilio Castillo, just a day before the brand new album, “Step Up” is released. We dive into the family style creation of this album, how the songs were selected to complete the package and the feeling and inspiration the title track could lend out there in this time of uncertainty.