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Tower of Power releases 50th anniversary live album, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2021

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Tower of Power has been celebrating its "50 Years of Funk & Soul" a couple of years now.

The brass-fueled group formed during 1968 in Oakland, Calif., and released its first album during 1970. During June of 2018 it welcomed back several of its alumni, including "Saturday Night Live" band leader Lenny Pickett, for a concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland, which was filmed for a live album and video coming out Friday, March 26 -- and which has been airing on PBS.

Emilio Castillo, the group's Detroit-born tenor saxophonist, and Stephen "Doc" Kupka continue to lead the troupe, which now records for Detroit-based Mack Avenue Records. Its last studio album, "Step Up" came out during 2020, and

Castillo says the band is ready to power up when circumstances allow...

Castillo, 70, says by phone that he's humbled by Tower of Power's durability, including the horn section's collaborations with other artists over the years. "I remember doubtful times in my career when we were like, 'Why don't we sell like other bands?' We didn't ring the bell like Michael Jackson or Huey Lewis. We hit the Top 20, a couple songs hit the Top 10, but nowhere near No. 1. Yet here we are 50 years later. People are really interested in talking about the band, and they say all these great things. So now I just realize it's a blessing we have our own sound and people like and appreciate it."

Castillo recalls the actual 50th anniversary concert as "phenomenal -- not just on a musical level. Just from friendship and personality, it's so enjoyable. We love these guys and they love us, and it's kind of that way with all our alumni. There's just a lot of laughing, and then when we play it's like you finish the first tune and everyone's like, 'Wow! Yeah!!' So it's wonderful, and then you get to be on stage and follow through with everything you worked on. It's a great sense of accomplishment."

With more than 60 members during Tower of Power's 53 years, Castillo considers himself and Kupka to be fortunate that they've maintained such strong relationships with most of them. "Y'know, I'm a believer, so I just think God's got a lot do with that. And I changed the way I live in 1988, cleaned up my act. Doc did a year later. Because of that I was just very careful to protect our reputation and to build and continue to nurture great relationships. Even before that I wasn't on the outs with a bunch of people. There have been a couple little instances here and there, but for the most part every one of the guys from our past I can call up any day and have great conversations."

Last September, Tower of Power suffered the death of bassist Francis "Rocco" Prestia Jr. at the age of 69. "That was very difficult," Castillo says, but he was buoyed by a Berklee School of Music Zoom tribute to his departed bandmate. "They have a bass department there, and every famous bass player in the world got together for, like, three hours on Zoom, and it was fabulous. Every genre, even the guy from Metallica (Robert Trujillo), all gushing over Rocco and gushing on us, the band. I'm like, 'How does this happen?!' It still amazes me."

Castillo says the pandemic shutdown has led him to start practicing again, something he hasn't had to do, often, the band's busy touring schedule. "I'm not practicer; I just played all the time. But I was talking with Doc one day and he said, 'I started practicing' -- and he's another one who also never practiced. I go, 'What?!' and he says, 'Yeah -- don't tell no one. But I'm glad I did it, man. My chops are out of shape.' So I thought I better get on it. And it's good; I've been doing all my scales, up the horn, down the horn chromatically, all these double diminished things. I know all this stuff in my brain and I use it all the time, but it's different to go through these little practice runs. It's been good."

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