For close to 50 years, Tower of Power has been creating their own kind of soul music. Since 1968, Tower of Power has delivered their unique brand of music to their fans, appearing before sold out crowds as they tour the world each year. Tower’s sound can be hard to categorize, but the band’s leader and founding member, Emilio Castillo, has labeled their sound as “Urban Soul Music.”
Tower’s rhythm section lays down a groove like no other band. The band’s horn driven sound is unique, and the way they approach everything, from writing and arranging to mixing and performing, is totally their own. Combine all of that with an outstanding lead vocalist and you have one of the most dynamic groups of musicians to ever hit the stage.
The renowned horn-driven funk outfit Tower of Power have been issuing albums and touring the world steadily since the early ’70s, in addition to backing up countless other musicians. The group’s leader since the beginning has always been tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo, who was born in Detroit but opted to pursue his musical dreams in Oakland, California. It was in Oakland that Castillo put together a group called the Motowns, which, as their name suggested, specialized in ’60s-era soul. In 1967, Castillo teamed up with baritone sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and soon the Motowns were transformed into Tower of Power. Tower’s musical odyssey actually began in 1968 when Emilio Castillo met Stephen “Doc” Kupka in July of that year. When Doc auditioned during a band rehearsal at Emilio’s house, Emilio’s father called him into the kitchen and offered the following advice: “Hire that guy, he’s got something.” Doc and his signature baritone sax sound were now in the band, and on August 13, 1968, Tower of Power, as we know them today, began playing gigs, and soon became very well known in the area.(One of the first tunes the duo penned together was “You’re Still a Young Man,” which would eventually go on to be one of Tower of Power’s signature compositions.)
Tower of Power played regularly in the Bay Area throughout the late ’60s, as their lineup often swelled up to ten members, including such other mainstays as Greg Adams on trumpet and vocals, Lenny Pickett on sax, and Rocco Prestia on bass. By 1970, the funk outfit had inked a recording contract with Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records, resulting in the group’s debut the same year, East Bay Grease, which failed to make an impression on the charts as Tower of Power were still trying to find their own sound.
But it soon came together for the group, as 1972’s Bump City would touch off a string of classic hit albums, including 1973’s self-titled release (which introduced vocalist Lenny Williams and included another of the group’s most enduring tunes, “What Is Hip?“), 1974’s Back to Oakland, and 1975’s Urban Renewal and In the Slot. In 1976 they released their classic live album, “Live in Living Color”. While Tower of Power remained a must-see live act, as disco became the new trend in R&B the group’s original funk-laden style fell out of favor, and disco-oriented albums like 1978’s We Came to Play and 1979’s Back on the Streets didn’t please critics or fans, and the band would go nine years without releasing an album.
Despite it all, Tower of Power — in particular their horn section — remained a much in-demand backing group for some of pop/rock’s biggest names, including Elton John,Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, Little Feat, David Sanborn, Michelle Shocked, Paula Abdul, Aaron Neville,Aerosmith, Public Image Ltd., and many others. In 1988,Tower of Power returned to the studio for the album Power, and in 1991 they signed with Epic Records, where they released five albums by the end of the decade.
Into the new millennium, Tower of Power kept up their reputation as a strong live band, maintaining a steady touring schedule, and in 2009 they launched their own TOP Records label with The Great American Soulbook, in which they covered a dozen soul and R&B classics in the trademark Tower of Power style. The Tower celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2008 at a very special reunion show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. In addition to the ten current members of the band, another 20 musicians and vocalists that at one time held a position with the band appeared with them. The show was filmed and is available on DVD. Of the ten current members, Emilio Castillo, Rocco Prestia, Stephen Kupka, and David Garibaldi are four of the band’s founding members. Their dedication to the music, their creative writing, and their original vision still guides Tower of Power In 2013, Tower of Power took a look back with the release of Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, which documented a live radio broadcast from 1974 (absolutely killer!)
They continue to tour relentlessly and are often in the NYC and Boston areas. Go catch them when you can – They really put the Unk in the Funk.