Interview: Emilio Castillo talks new Tower of Power platter - AXS

TOWER OF POWER have been mixing rock and soul with hot, hyperactive horns for a half-century now, having signed with impresario Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records imprint for their 1970 debut, East Bay Grease.

Since then, founder Emilio Castillo and the Oakland-based ToP have cut a whopping twenty-five albums, racked a string of jazzy hits (“Soul Vaccination,” “You’re Still a Young Man,” “So Very Hard to Go,” “Down to the Nightclub”), and guested on sessions and live performances with bigwigs like Rod StewartSammy HagarElton John, Peter Frampton, Toto, and Huey Lewis & The News. Tower of Power also pointed the way for other up-and-coming brass-rock groups, including ChicagoEarth, Wind & Fire, Average White Band, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Unlike those ensembles, however, ToP never tempered their tunes or watered down their wow factor to accommodate changing tastes and trends. While other acts streamlined their sound with synthesizers and drum machines to maximize radio accessibility in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, Castillo and company kept right on grooving with Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now (1977), We Came to Play! (1978), Back on the Streets (1979), and Power (1987).

Fifty years on, the Tower of Power boys (including long-timers Stephen “Doc” Kupka, David Garibaldi, and Francis Rocco Prestia) are still getting down ‘n’ dirty. The tracks on their brand-new full-length effort Soul Side of Town are so funky—so gloriously greasy—that listeners may require oven mitts and cooking spray to safeguard their stereos.

And prescription antibiotics to recover.

AXS spoke with tenor saxophonist Castillo about Soul Side of Town, ToP’s rich musical history, and the group’s sizzling summer concert schedule.  

AXS: Congratulations on fifty years with Tower of Power!

Emilio Castillo: Thanks! It’s pretty exciting, you know. We just got back from a three-week tour of Europe. We ended by doing the TV show Later With Jools Holland, and that went really great. People everywhere are coming up congratulating us on fifty years. Some of us can’t believe it. I can’t believe it either!

AXS: Tower of Power is Oakland-based, yet you grew up in Detroit. When did you move west and get your start in music?


Diane Ricci