For over 50 years, Tower of Power has delivered the best in funk and soul music. “We were a Soul band called The Motowns.” recalls Emilio Castillo. “Rocco was the bass player, I was in there, and my brother was the drummer. I met “Doc” Kupka back in 1968, and gave him an audition. He came in the band, and we eventually changed our name to the Tower of Power.” The reason for the band name change was that they had a specific goal in mind.
“We wanted to get into the Fillmore Auditorium and with a name like the Motowns, dressed in suits with razor cuts, we knew we’d never get in there. We grew our hair long, and started to be hippies, and changed our name. Doc then suggested that we start writing our own songs.”
The Fillmore was a major goal, which came along at the right time. “We had been playing nightclubs, and we had gotten busted for being underage. One night, the ABC came in, and caught the trumpet player drinking, and the next thing we knew, a notice was out across the Bay Area that if they hired us again, clubs would lose their liquor license. Then, my parents moved to Detroit, and I was on my own, broke and hungry, and all I did was rehearse. We wrote the songs for East Bay Grease, and by November, we were at the end of our rope. I told the guys that I was leaving for the holidays, and if nothing happened with this audition, I wasn’t coming back.”
Fortunately, he did, and the rest as they say, is history.
East Bay Grease defined their sound and landed them with Warner Brothers. Bump City, their 1972 debut for the label, was a hit on both the Billboard 200 and the R&B Albums chart, and netted them the hits “You’re Still A Young Man” and “Down to The Nightclub.” The 70s were a boom period with radio classics like “So Very Hard to Go” and “What Is Hip?,” and the band continued to tour and record over the years. Castillo says their love of the stage is the same today as it was back in 1968.
50 years later, in 2018, they returned to Oakland to celebrate their landmark 50th anniversary. Tower’s window-rattling grooves and raucous party spirit has been a balm for the soul throughout their half-century existence, but the release of 50 Years of Funk & Soul: Live at the Fox Theater couldn’t arrive at a better time.
“People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Wow man, 50 years! We can’t believe it,’” laughs Castillo. “You can’t believe it? I’m the one that can’t believe it. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and learned a lot along the way. We’ve affected a lot of people’s lives and done a lot of work that we’re very proud of. The band has a real family atmosphere. It’s been very rewarding.”
The band has long since surpassed Castillo’s modest aspirations, traveling the world, enjoying hit singles on their own and backing legendary artists including Otis Redding, Elton John, Santana, the Grateful Dead, John Lee Hooker, Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, and countless others. In the process they’ve defined an “Oakland soul” sound as instantly recognizable as those from Castillo’s hometown, Detroit, as well as inspirations like Memphis and Philadelphia.
The future of Tower of Power is set out to be vigorous and dynamic, and will prove to be just that for fans around the world starved for the band’s groove just the way Tower of Power likes it!