Higher Power

Tower of Power’s renowned R&B comes from the group’s spiritual soul


Tower of Power's musical odyssey began in 1968 when Emilio Castillo met Stephen "Doc" Kupka in July. When Doc auditioned during a band rehearsal at Emilio's house, Emilio's father called him into the kitchen and offered the following advice: "Hire that guy; he's got something."

Doc and his signature baritone sax sound were now in the band, and on Aug. 13, 1968, Tower of Power opened for Jimi Hendrix at California's Berkeley Community Theatre.

Of the 10 current members, Castillo, Kupa, Rocco Prestia and David Garibaldi are four of the band's founders. Their dedication to the music, creative writing and their original vision still guide ToP. Castillo spoke with Folio Weekly about the band's longevity over four-plus decades, its trials and triumphs.

Folio Weekly: What's it like playing with one of the most dynamic drum and bass duos in the business?

Emilio Castillo: They're definitely amazing. It's interesting, because growing up and playing with them my whole life, for many years, I didn't even think about it, I just sort of took it for granted. But now that I'm older, I turn around and just marvel at who they are. The way Rocco plays bass. I've had some great bassists come in and sub for him when he's had health issues, and I mean really excellent players, but they're never, ever anything like him. That's not to say he's better or they're better. It's just different. He's so far world class that it's hard to put into words. He just has a very unique touch and feel that doesn't come from an educated place, it's a total heart thing. It's not a head thing, it's totally about feel. But it just works and sounds so great. And [drummer] Dave comes from the other direction. He's very educated. He has a lot of knowledge about what he's doing. But he has this innate sort of open soul feel that he can't help but do. He also has one of "the biggest feet" in the business, as we say. His [are] larger than any other drummer's. His bass drum work is phenomenal.

F.W.: In the liner notes on "Tower of Power 40th Anniversary" DVD/CD, you alluded to the group's defeats and triumphs over the years.

E.C.: We came out as young kids playing this music, and we had success fairly early on. Not overnight, but within the first 10 years, we sort of hit our height. And then we started coming down. A lot of that had to do with drug addiction and alcoholism. Dave left the band three different times and came back a fourth time. He couldn't stand to be out of it, but then when he was with us, we were so crazy, he couldn't stand to be in it, watching us kill ourselves. And we did that for the first 20 years of our career. And then I was one of the first ones to sober up. … Eventually we all started to get sober, and then as a band, we all sort of turned to God. Sobriety and spirituality kind of go together. And now we pray before every gig, the whole band. It's something that kind of came about naturally. So that's really the contrast. The highs were very high, but we made a lot of mistakes. Huge mistakes. The kinds of things foolish people do. Fortunately, God blessed us and we were able to live through it and overcome it.

F.W.: While you've accomplished so much already, what goals do you have for ToP moving forward?

E.C.: We have a famous rhythm section and renowned horn section. And I would like to share that with some other artists. Although the horns have played with some artists, as a band, I would like us, as a band, to play with some other artists. For example, with Sting. Also to reach some other places globally that we don't normally tour. We tour frequently in Europe and Japan, but I'd like to see us get to Thailand, Australia, Korea, New Zealand, South America, Mexico, and get back and tour Canada, and visit more places that we don't normally get to around the world. 

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