In the early 1970s, Tower Of Power started what would eventually become a 35+ year reign as one of the most influential funk groups of all time.
This legendary powerhouse 10-piece band from the San Francisco East Bay (Fremont), incorporated horns, an infectious rhythm (backed by beat maestro Mr. David Garibaldi) and top notch lead singing with a hint of gospel-soul--all of which the group has uniquely crafted into we now know as "T.O.P. Funk".
This is why many fans have compared leaving a Tower Of Power live show to walking away from a spiritual revival!
Apart from creating memorable hits such as, "Your Still A Young Man", "Down To The Night Club" and "What Is Hip?"--Tower Of Power has also shared recordings with the likes of Rod Stewart, Elton John, Dionne Warwick and more.
Currently on tour with T.O.P., one of its founding members--singer/saxophonist, Emilio Castillo, took time to chat with us about The Spyders, feeling the funk , soulful singin' and more!
S&S: How are you this morning?
E.C.: Pretty good!
S&S: Great. So I see you guys are coming to the Fresno area once again? Fresno LOVES you guys!
E.C.: Yep, they always have!
S&S: First off, how many original members are still in the band?
E.C.: We have 5. Half the band is original now. We just got back our original guitar player Bruce Conte, (note: Bruce Conte began with the band in the 70's , then left to pursue solo work. He's officially back with T.O.P. as of last summer.) who is actually from Fresno. Then we have on drums--David Garabaldi, on bass--Frances Rocco Prestia and my songwriting partner and baritone sax player--Steven 'Doc' Kupka and myself.
S&S: It's so good to see half of the original guys in the band. Who were your influences back in San Francisco when you first decided to start Tower Of Power
E.C.: Well, on the national level, all the soul stars of the day. You know, Sam & Dave, James Brown, The Motown and Philadelphia sounds, Curtis Mayfield....then on the local level, I idolized a local band in Hayward called The Spyders. They were a really tight high-energy soul band. Then there was also another band just starting at that time that I used to go watch called, Sly & The Family Stone. I watched those two bands allot. But mostly The Spyders.
S&S: Now in the mid-70'S when T.O.P. gained popularity, did you guys ever do shows with any of your influences?
E.C.: Oh yeah! We played a lot of shows with Sly & The Family Stone after they became famous. But I used to watch them before they even made a record.
E.C: Yeah, they had a steady gig near my house and we were under age and used to sneak in there to see them. But The Spyders, they were the most popular soul band in the East Bay and we played a few gigs with them....we had the same manager for quiet a while. Ironically, they're doing a reunion in September and they've asked my horn section to be their horns--a couple of their horn players have passed away over there years. So we'll be doing that in September.
S&S: Wow! And where will that be?
E.C: It'll be in Fremont, September 9th at a club called The Saddlerack.
S&S: There's two singers in the band. Are you the voice for the song, What Is Hip?
E.C.: No, no...I'm more of the secondary singer. I sing one of the songs that's really popular in our show right now called, "I Still Be Diggin' On James Brown"....I've sung a few songs over the years but I've always had a lead singer that has done the bulk of the lead vocals and we have a really good lead singer right now who's name is Larry Braggs (L.B.).
S&S. Nice! Ok, so there are tons of bands out now--many of which call themselves "funk" bands or "soul" bands. Is there anyone out there who you can say is still bringing that old school sound? Anyone of them that you're into these days?
E.C.: Not particularly. I listen mostly to gospel artists. I listen to Fred Hammond, Yolanda Adams, people like Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin.....I find that many of the great soul singers have gone to the Church.
I like Soul and I like Emotion and it so happens in the last few years I've become a Christian--so I'm just really into this praise music. It's really contemporary yet it has the real powerful emotion, the live energy and excitement and those great singers! And of course the gospel choir in the background bringing it down. I find that gospel praise music of the present day is very cutting edge.
S&S: Right. I don't know if you've noticed, but I've seen that so many of these really popular groups are missing the singing. That deep down soul singing.
E.C: Well there are some people out there that can sing fairly well. A lot of these white artists out there now have very mature vocal styles. People like Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, certainly Justin Timberlake, Pink....a lot of these artist that are comin' up sing pretty darn soulful! It's just a little different from the praise and gospel genre or the soul music that I listened to back in the day.
The singers then seemed to have an urgency, more emotion, highly energetic performances.....they still do today, but in a different way.... it's hard to explain.
S&S: More like they're geared to the pop culture than anything?
E.C. Yeah, and one thing I always say about young people coming into the music business today is the main reason they do it is because of the money. They see if you get as big as Brittany Spears then you're gonna have 26 semi-trucks, 32 buses and you're gonna come out on the stage in smoke and fly across the arena........they see these things on MTV about their houses and their cars, etc. That's their inspiration for making music.
When I was a teenager, you wanted to play music because it just felt good and you felt like you were cool if you did it. Nobody really thought, "I wanna play music because I wanna be a millionaire".
S&S: Exactly. And it is that reason that kept you guys around and performing so long instead of being a 1 or 2 hit wonder! You actually really wanted to do what you were doing because of the love of the music.
E.C. People ask me, "Did you ever think you would get this far?" I tell them no! I just thought that if I got to Sacramento and played the top-less bar, that'd be a success! I had no idea that I'd one day tour the world, have thousands of songs recorded....it's way beyond my wildest dreams! We were just happy to play the music and we try to stay in touch with that.
We make music that pleases us. We don't make it to please our fans, we don't make it to get on the radio, we don't make it to sell millions....we make it to make ourselves happy. When we get a song to where we're happy with it , then we put it out there. Then going to "work" is going to do something you love. It's truly a blessing of a career....
S&S: I heard that Sting once had a Tower Of Power cover band! Is that true?
E.C.: I met Sting way back in the early-80-'s backstage at an Eric Clapton concert. I went back to meet the opening band, The Robert Cray Band, who introduced me to Sting and he's the one who told me "I used to have a Tower Of Power clone band!" He covered Only So Much Oil In The Ground", "Don't Change Horses In The Middle Of The Stream"......
S&S: Through the million shows you guys have performed over the years, is there any one that has stood out for a particular reason?
E.C. When we opened for Aretha Franklin at the Fillmore auditorium. That weekend that she recorded Aretha LIVE At The Fillmore? That was a magical weekend! WE did really good in that show and I remember Aretha Franklin coming up to me and looking me in the eye and saying, "Tower Of Power! My favorite band!" And you know I just melted! Ray Charles came to sit in, my drummer got to play on the ride out with Ray Charles.....just a very exiting weekend.
S&S: That's a classic jam! I NEED to get that one!
E.C.: It's a 2 CD set , Aretha Live At The Fillmore.
S&S: That must have been something! Well, Emilio thank you for taking this time out to chat. I will definitely be seeing you guys this Saturday at Chuckchansi for sure. Thank you so much.
E.C.: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it!
**Catch Emilio and the rest of Tower Of Power SATURDAY, JUNE 2ND at
Chuckchansi Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, CA (right outside of Fresno)!**