Photograph by Anna Webber
Oakland, California music legends Tower of Power - the most dynamic and distinctive band of survivors in Soul Music – is roaring into its unprecedented 50th anniversary with a dynamic new disc of all new material that finds them as energized and inspired as ever. A labor of love, definitively titled Soul Side of Town, this package is charged with 14 filler-free songs. In the spirit of their enduring theme song “Oakland Stroke” – the bookending intro and outro “East Bay” shine a light on elemental instrumental ingredients within the band’s signature sound. This astounding and historical release (available June 1, 2018 in digital, vinyl, streaming & CD configurations) inaugurates Tower of Power’s fresh affiliation with Mack Avenue Records, a Detroit-based company renowned for its award-winning dedication to top-tier Jazz that is now extending its support to Soul and Funk giants, Tower of Power: a band so one-of-a-kind, it’s an institution.
As always, the songs on Tower of Power’s Soul Side of Town were primarily composed by the hitmaking team of founding members Emilio Castillo (Detroit-born on 2nd tenor sax) and Stephen “Doc” Kupka (Los Angeles-born on baritone sax) who also hold down the world famous 5-man Tower of Power Horns. For the special occasion of Tower of Power’s 50th anniversary, leader Emilio Castillo brought in a most-astute choice in co-producer, Joe Vannelli: an all-around production/engineering/keyboard master best known for the jazz-tinged Soul-Rock Grammy-winning work he performed behind the scenes with his international superstar brother, Gino Vannelli. Also insuring that the sound blasts powerful and clear from your speakers is the presence of mastering engineer Bernie Grundman in the mix. Along with the legendary rhythm section drums and bass lock of David Garibaldi and Francis Rocco Prestia, respectively, these decorated veterans have custom-crafted a hair-raising audio experience that longtime fans, music connoisseurs and a new generation of listeners will groove to for years to come.
In keeping with Tower of Power’s golden canon of classics, the new material picks up the torch in all of the time-tested styles fans respect and love. In line with hiply intricate, cranial-crushing funk classics such as “Down to the Nightclub” and “Soul Vaccination” are new jams “Do You Like That” and “On the Soul Side of Town.” In the tradition of heart-stopping balladry like their biggest chart hits “You’re Still a Young Man” and “So Very Hard to Go” are new love songs like “Let it Go” (Bruno Mars will want to cover this one) and “Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” Along the firing-on-all-cylinders line of instrumental anomalies such as “Squib Cakes,” “Walking Up Hip Street” and “Ebony Jam” are burnin’ offerings “Butter-Fried” and “After Hours.” Following up positivity primers such as “Knock Yourself Out,” “You’ve Got to Funkifize” and “Credit” are new spirit lifters “Selah,” “Love Must Be Patient and Kind” and “Do it With Soul,” along with T.O.P.’s singular approach to Pop-Rock on “When Love Takes Control.”
Along with veteran members Castillo, Kupka, Garibaldi and Prestia, T.O.P. consists of guitarist Jerry Cortez, Hammond B3 organist/keyboardist Roger Smith, 1st tenor saxophonist Tom Politzer, and trumpeters Adolfo Acosta and Sal Cracchiolo. Soul Side of Town is also blessed with not one but two lead singers: outgoing Ray Greene (now in Santana) and incoming Marcus Scott (boldly introduced on several selections, including “Hanging with My Baby”). The 10-piece Tower of Power band is prepared to throw down next year with a celebratory tour that will include sweet spots around the globe.
Since its formation in Oakland, California in 1968, Tower of Power has forged a reputation as a crack band of high achieving musicians fluent in all realms of Soul, Rock and Pop music with a sophistication and punch like that of a Jazz big band. From their first album East Bay Grease (1970) on Rock impresario Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records label (distributed by Atlantic), the interracial band became pillars and signatures of The Bay Area Music Scene that included pioneering like-minded bands such as Sly & The Family Stone, Cold Blood, Graham Central Station, The Pointer Sisters and The Sons of Champlin plus rock-oriented outfits such as Santana, Betty Davis and Journey. Beginning with their sophomore release, Tower of Power came to prominence with a string of acclaimed albums on Warner Bros. Records: Bump City (1972), Tower of Power (1973), Back to Oakland (1974), Urban Renewal (1974), In the Slot (1975) and Live and in Living Color (1976). A move to Columbia Records resulted in three more major label releases and their last top-charting hit, “You Ought To Be Havin’ Fun.” Including all studio albums, live albums and rarities anthologies, T.O.P. has 24 previous releases in its burgeoning catalog.
Along with T.O.P.’s classic recordings, the 5-piece Tower of Power Horns – known for its power packed punch and fullness with two trumpets, two tenor saxophones plus a baritone sax on the bottom – became much in demand for studio sessions and live gigs. Among the hundreds of artists they have blessed with their presence are Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Graham Central Station, Elton John, Little Feat, Billy Preston, John Lee Hooker, Coke Escovedo, Jose Feliciano, Al Kooper, Sammy Hagar, Rod Stewart, Peter Frampton, Jermaine Jackson, Harvey Mason, Lenny White, The Brothers Johnson, The Meters, Lee Oskar, Dionne Warwick, Melissa Manchester, Bobby Caldwell, Heart, Rick James, Santana, Smokey Robinson, Huey Lewis & The News, Toto, Paul Shaffer, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Spyro Gyra, Terence Trent D’Arby, Luther Vandross, Candy Dulfer, Aerosmith, Phish, John Hiatt, Neil Diamond, P.Diddy, Bill Wyman, Eiko Shuri…and TV’s The Simpsons (Sing The Blues).
Most importantly, when almost all other R&B bands abandoned their horn sections as the sound of Soul music morphed into more stripped-down techno and synthesizer strains in the `80s, Tower of Power near single-handedly carried the torch for full-on 10-piece bands, often even including a conguero/percussionist. Faithful fans flocked to their concerts and purchased their new albums that kept the real soul vibe alive for decades. Indeed, the horn section is so pivotal to Tower of Power that unlike most band stage setups that have horns in the back, T.O.P.’s renowned and respected horn section is right up-front with the lead singer.
Soul Side of Town is the centerpiece of a celebratory 50th Anniversary campaign for Tower of Power that will also see the re-release via Mack Avenue Records of four hard to find independent productions: The East Bay Archive Vol. 1 (a 1973 live recording from Boston), Oakland Zone (a 2008 release celebrated for the return of drummer David Garibaldi after several years away), Great American Soulbook (an all-star affair of soul classics featuring guests such as Joss Stone, Tom Jones, Sam Moore and Huey Lewis), and 40th Anniversary: Live at The Fillmore in San Francisco (a deluxe multi-disc CD/DVD collector’s item loaded with great new live renditions of hits plus interviews with alumni past and present).
Anticipation is so high for Tower of Power’s 50th Anniversary milestone that the first show on their home turf of Oakland swiftly sold out with a second one right on its heels, and an appearance at this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival also has tongues wagging!