51 YEARS OLD AND AS FUNKY AS EVER, TOWER OF POWER HAS A NEW DISC, AND IS SET TO HAVE AN OCTOBER BLAST IN ATLANTIC CITY
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI
Being compared to Tower of Power is the ultimate compliment any band’s brass section can receive. Variously praised as having “The greatest horn section of all time,” this R&B-centric band’s mere existence answers the title of one of its top hits: “What is Hip?” its lyrics including, “Tell me, tell me if you think you know. If you’re really hip, the passing years will show.”
Dynamic and distinctive, the ten member group, out of Oakland, California, is celebrating its 51st anniversary and touring on the heels of a 2018-released album of all-new material, Soul Side of Town, featuring 14 songs they collectively termed “a labor of love.” The selections were primarily composed by founding members Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka, who also lead the world famous five-man Tower of Power Horns. The album also marked a fresh affiliation with Mack Avenue Records, a Detroit-based company known for its dedication to top-tier jazz.
A review of Soul Side of Town by Downbeat noted its “shiny mix of taut instrumentals, soaring, medium-tempo ballads, and tunes suggesting actual locales and characters… [It] affirms the trademarks of the meticulous ensemble: a razor-sharp horn section of distinctive saxophone drama, versatile lead vocalists, song titles demanding the listener join in the fun, and just enough variety to avoid predictability.”
Bringing the funk worldwide, the boys’ tour is hitting Alaska, Las Vegas, California, Hawaii, and Japan, ending, appropriately enough, in December at the Motor city Casino Hotel in America’s Motown and R&B capital: Detroit. The one stop in New Jersey will be October 19 at Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, where their reputation for scintillating live performances will be on full display. The only other area appearance is scheduled for October 25 and 26 as well as November 2 at Brooklyn Bowl on Wythe Avenue in that borough’s hip Williamsburg neighborhood (brooklynbowl.com).
“We put on a pretty energetic show that will make you want to move,” saxophonist Emilio Castillo said. “We’re all dancing around and involving the audience.”
Circa 1968 in San Francisco, the band, originally called The Motowns, auditioned at the Fillmore Auditorium and was immediately signed to its first record deal by legendary producer Bill Graham. The Tower of Power horns have long been in high demand for studio sessions and live gigs, in part because some of music’s biggest stars are among its fans. They can be heard backing up such diverse greats as Graham Central Station, Billy Preston, Little Feat, Rod Stewart, Peter Frampton, Rick James, Santana, Smokey Robinson, Huey Lewis & The News, Spyro Gyra, Aerosmith, Neil Diamond, and The Brothers Johnson. They also wrote music for the FOX series, The Simpsons.
For Tower of Power’s newest tour, Castillo has brought in co-producer Joe Vannelli: an all-around production/ engineering/keyboard master best known for the jazz-tinged Soul-Rock Grammywinning work he performed with his international superstar brother, Gino Vannelli.