Tower of Power Still Making Legendary Sounds After 46 Years


The legendary sounds of Tower of Power are coming to the stage at the Concord Pavilion on Tuesday, July 29. Having launched their new album “Hipper than Hip,” TOP is part of the “San Francisco Fest – On Tour Together for the First Time Ever,” with Journey and The Steve Miller Band.

Tenorsaxophonist and vocalist Emilio Castillo began his band in 1968, originally known as the Motown’s. Having played in several bands, he found a musical match when he saw Stephen “Doc” Kupka play baritone sax.

The duo served as the backbone of the band’s horn section and song writing touring Oakland and Berkeley. By the early 70s the band was re-branded Tower of Power after it performed for Bill Graham and signed to his record label.

With a long list of hits, like “You’re Still A Young Man and “So Very Hard to Go,” led by lead vocalist of the 70s Lenny Williams, the band blazed its own original sound.

“Opening for Aretha Franklin at the original Fillmore West was one of the highlights of my career,” Castillo said.

Emilio Castillo, vocalist
Emilio Castillo, vocalist

In the midst of contractual disputes with Bill Graham at the time, the band was given great opportunities anyway. “He was good man, and I miss him terribly,” said Castillo. “We were young, and we didn’t understand the business at the time, but we got past that and remained friends until he passed.”

Castillo says Graham was known for his eclectic mixes at concerts, pairing Janise Joplin with Otis Redding or Jefferson Airplane with Miles Davis and that the timing was right when his band hit the scene. “In the 60s, San Francisco was winding down from the psychedelic season, and we had an urban horn sound from Oakland and were into soul music on KDIA & KSOL when Sly Stone was the DJ,” he said.

Curtis Mayfield’s ballad “A Woman’s Love” was Castillo’s inspiration for the “You’re Still A Young Man” trumpet intro. “I was also in love with a woman six years older than me, and she kept telling me, I was too young for her,” he said.

The mid-70s trend of re-making Motown songs into a disco style almost impacted the group. “We tried, but we always came out sounding out like “Tower of Power,” he said. “As soon as we let what those pressures go, everything went up from there.”

On Aug. 13, Castillo says he will celebrate 46 years in the business. “I give God all the credit, and I’m in partnership with him,” he said. “God did it, I just showed up and sometimes in bad shape,” he said having overcome addiction years ago.

“After I found Christ, things changed for me forever,” he added. Castillo says he’s a happy homebody at his Scottsdale, Arizona residence with this family, with church life and children but continues his craft.

With TOP’s new lead singer Ray Greene, he’s touring 200 days a year and hard at work producing 25 new songs he expects to finish by the end of 2015.

“Our 50 year anniversary is just around the corner and I told the band we need to make the best album of our career,” he said.

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