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Tower of Power to perform Saturday night at the A.V. Fair 2009

Tower of Power at the Antelope Valley Fair 2009

By Lorraine Kay

August 2009 – The 60s band Tower of Power is still going as strong as ever. In an exclusive interview with the band’s co-founder Emilio Castillo, he discussed the band’s ever growing tour schedule. Performing in excess of 200 concerts a year the band is touring farther and wider than ever before visiting new places like New Zealand, Bangkok and other Asian countries. “I got a new manager about four years ago and I told him that I appreciate that we are playing all the time, and I like the places we go, but I want to go someplace new to us and he has made that happen.”

Doc Kupka and Emilio Castillo have kept TOP together since the 60s

The 8-piece band has been playing and recording together for 41 years this month, this year. There have been many personnel changes over the years, but for this tour there will be five of the original players on stage, including Mic Gillette, who just recently returned and will be playing for the first time in several years this month.

“Mitch heard that Mike Bogart Was going back in the Navy and jumped at the chance to come back. Originally, he had taken time off to raise his daughter, and now that she is grown he was itching to get back on tour.”

Over the past years Tower of Power has lost members, added new members, welcomed back old members and a fresh outlook, but the band has always remained true to itself and to its soul music roots, never failing to please audiences.  

Original guitarist Bruce Conte left the band for over 20 years but returned in 2004. to play with his long time friends.

The recording of “Oakland Zone” brought the prodigal return of David Garibaldi, Tower’s original drummer.  Garibaldi’s return reunited him with bassist Rocco Prestia to recreate Tower of Power’s original, mind-blowingly tight rhythm section.  At that time Tower was also joined by then, new singer Larry Braggs, who Castillo describes as “The best singer we’ve had since the ’70s.” 

After 41 years, the band is still on the road featuring a new selection of songs. Even though they will be pumping out a slew of the old favorites at  the Saturday, August 22nd show, they will toss in a handful of songs off the new album, “The Great American Soulbook, Tower of Power’s 20th album, and first studio disc in five years. The new album is a different spin for the group with a collection of giant covers featuring as guests some of the greatest vocalists in the business.

According to Castillo, the band struggled against doing a cover album but “our manager talked us into it and now I think it was a good idea. I think people will like it. I heard that we were recently on the Jazz charts for the last 17 weeks,” says Castillo

The new album features 2 tracks, including
1. “You Met Your Match” – By Stevie Wonder
2. “I Thank You” – By Sam & Dave (featuring Tom Jones in a duet with Tower of Power singer, Larry Braggs)
3. “Loveland” – By The Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band
4. “It Takes Two” – By Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston (featuring Joss Stone in a duet with Tower of Power singer, Larry Braggs)
5. “Me & Mrs. Jones” – By Billy Paul
6. “Star Time” – A James Brown Medley with 4 songs: “It’s A New Day,” “Mother Popcorn,” “There It Is”, and “I Got The Feeling”
7. “Mr. Pitiful” – By Otis Redding (featuring Sam Moore)
8. “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” – By Tavares
9. “Since You’ve Been Gone (Baby, Baby, Sweet Baby)” – By Aretha Franklin
10. (“Heaven Must Have Sent) Your Precious Love” – By Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell  (features Joss Stone in a duet with Tower of Power singer, Larry Braggs)
11. “634-5789” – By Wilson Pickett (features Huey Lewis in a duet with Tower of Power singer, Larry Braggs)
12. “Who Is He (and What Is He To You)?” – By Bill Withers

The group is releasing The Great American Soulbook on its own “Tower of Power Records” label with distribution through Ryko.  And in keeping with audience needs in these internet-centric times, Tower of Power is focused on selling the album at live shows, on its web site, and on Amazon.com, iTunes, and other digital forms of media.  Bassist Rocco Prestia says that while young music fans are learning about classic soul from them, the group is catching up with the youngsters, “It’s common knowledge that this is the way the music business is going – downloads.  It’s all computerized and exciting.”

Castillo produced most of the tracks, but legendary Frank Zappa keyboardist George Duke helmed tracks 4, 8 & 12..  “George gave us so much freedom,” says lead singer Larry Braggs, he’d say, ‘I don’t need to tell you how to sing-just sing!”

According to Castillo. In the old days, making a record was a bit easier because our then 10 – piece group was based in the Oakland area of California.  But now, in between spending over 200 dates on the road every year, the guys also live in different parts of the United States during their off time.  So we had to schedule studio time every few months to make the recording of The Great American Soulbook happen.

“We were resistant at first to the idea,” says Castillo.  “But a third of the way into the recording, we realized how good it was working.”   “In the old days,” says the group’s co-founder, saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, “the thought of doing other peoples’ songs would have been unthinkable, but this felt like a really good way to go – our take on classic great soul songs that we listened to on the way up.”

Drummer David Garibaldi felt both the making and listening of The Great American Soulbook to be inspirational, “We were such big fans of James Brown-his music had such a powerful affect on us.  And then listening to ‘Loveland,’ Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band was such a profound influence on me.  That music was happening when we were starting out, and we’re still inspired by this music.”

Some of the album’s highlights include Braggs’s solo numbers, like “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel.” Initially he wondered how he’d enhance these covers, but realized, “You entertain, enlighten, and give a piece of yourself when you’re making this music.”      

The outside collaborations with guest vocalists Sam Moore, Joss Stone, Sir Tom Jones, and Huey Lewis brought fresh dimensions to the songs.  Castillo says he was astounded to be “in the same room as the legendary Sam Moore,” especially collaborating on an Otis Redding classic. 

In working with the young British singer Joss Stone on “It Takes Two” and “Your Precious Love,” Braggs realized, “this was an artist who creates her own licks when she sings, and you have to step back and just let her sing and be creative.”  Most people when they hear the soulful voice of the young singer comment that she must be 40 years old in disguise or have grown up in a blues bar, but according to Stone, “I grew up on a farm just outside of London.”

“Huey Lewis helped save our career over 20 years ago,” says Castillo, remembering the days that Huey Lewis and the News was a chart-topper and the Tower of Power horn section were part of Huey’s live shows.  Regarding Lewis’s track on The Great American Soulbook, Braggs says, “We raised the key for ‘634-5789,’ and Huey sang his parts in Montana, and sent them back, and we told him, ‘it sounds great,’ but he said, ‘I’m glad you liked it, but I’m also glad you didn’t have to see me while I sang it!’”

Braggs felt most honored working with Sir Tom Jones, who Tower of Power toured with in 2006.  “Singing in the studio with Tom is one of the greatest accomplishments for me.  I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid, I used to watch his TV show every week.”

The band personnel on The Great American Soulbook included,

Emilio Castillo on second tenor sax and vocals, Co-founder Stephen “Doc” Kupka on baritone sax. Framcis Rocco Prestia on bass, David Garfield on drums, Larry Braggs on lead and background vocals, Roger Smith on keyboards, Tom E. Politzer on first tenor sax and alto sax, Adolfo Acosta on second trumpet and flugelhorn, Michael Bogart on lead trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone and Mark Harper on guitar.

Always inspired by soul and R & B music, it has always been difficult to describe Tower of Power’s blinding collage of soul, rock, funk and jazz.  Even band members, when asked, give a myriad of responses.  Says bandleader Castillo, “What Tower plays is urban soul music.”  In reality, Tower of Power’s horn-driven, in-your-face sound is all its own, and verbal descriptions fail. 

In 1968, co-founder Castillo hooked up with baritone saxophonist Stephen “The Funky Doctor” Kupka, and moved to Oakland determined to compete with the Bay Area’s reigning psychedelic rock bands.  “Doc was the strangest bird I’d ever met,” Castillo recalls.  “He loved soul music and that was my passion…we clicked immediately.” 

Out of their partnership came the beginnings of the Tower of Power repertoire.  The first song the pair penned was the band’s signature classic, “You’re Still a Young Man.”  The group was soon a fixture in the Bay Area music scene, and in 1970 cut their first record, “East Bay Grease, for the legendary Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records.

Melding jazz, funk, rock, and soul in a way no other group ever has, Tower of Power was eventually a key part of Warner Bros. Record dynasty in the 1970s–storming the charts with tunes such as “What Is Hip?” and “You’re Still a Young Man.” 

Penned by critic Marcus Nordal of Seattle Times, “Tower of Power’s brand of high octane funk, like the music of Ray Charles or James Brown, never sounds dated and appeals to a wide cross section of listeners. 

One reviewer from the Fort Worth Star Telegram wrote, “If you see someone sitting still at a Tower of Power concert, don’t bother checking their pulse–they’re already dead!”

Growing from their prodigious Easy Bay beginnings to move on and record for Mo Ostin’s legendary Warner Bros. powerhouse, the rest of Tower of Power’s brilliant history–from “What is Hip?” to “Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)” to “Soul Vaccination.”  In 1991, the group made its first of a series of recordings for Epic/Sony, titled “Monster On A Leash”.  These were followed by two more studio recordings, Souled Out and Rhythem & Business”, as well as a live recording, “Soul Vaccination Live!” 

Tower went through a down period in the 80’s, but never disbanded and kept performing and is still tight as a clenched fist, and funky as week-old meat. 

Tower of Power has been experiencing a renaissance the past few years, touring most of every year and packing venues in the United Sates, Japan and all over Europe with its audience of new and old fans. 

Castillo, who not only plays sax and does vocals for the band has been is one of the busiest men in the business, wearing more hats that can be counted. Not willing to just sit back between tours,  he also teaches kids workshops and plays for nearly everyone else in the business, including the Rolling Stones and others. “I just love it all. When I am writing with Doc and we finish a song I think, yeah, that’s why I do this. And then when I am on stage with the Stones, I say, yean this is why I do it. I don’t know, I just love it all,” says Castillo

But that’s the way it is for all the members of the band. they tour nearly half of the year and when they aren’t in the studio, they are working on other projects with other heavy hitters in the business.

When not on the road, Tower of Power’s horn section guests on albums for a range of other artists, including recordings for Elton John, Phish, Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond, Aersomith, Little Feat, Smokey Robinson, Michael Bolton, Bonnie Raitt, and David Sanborn.
 
When asked what is next for the band, Castillo said they have a new DVD that they are working on. It is a live concert DVD that he hopes will be released soon.

 The band will be sharing the Grandstand Stage at the Antelope Valley Stage Saturday night with another legendary band, “War”.  The concert starts at 7:30. Tickets are still available, Ticket prices are  Gold: $50, Track: $25. The bleacher seats are free with admission to the fair.

The 2009 Antelope Valley Fair Is A Big Success

Antelope Valley Fair 2009

By Lorraine Kay

August 2009 – The 2009 Antelope Valley Fair is coming to an end. There have been seven days of powerful music concerts and a week of fun for everyone of all ages. With just a few more days left, there is still plenty of fun available to those looking for a full day of good family entertainment.

Local Community Queens welcome crowds to the grand stand stage

Unfortunately, the attendance seemed down from past year’s events. The poor economy would seem to be the culprit  to blame despite the fair’s efforts to make the event affordable for the community. For what should have been a source of distraction from the economic woes there seems to have been a large number of people that still are unable to put two nickels together. Or perhaps they have not heard that this year’s admission includes free seating for every concert and grandstand event. With the exception of Foreigner and Guess Who, full sections of the seating were empty including free seating sections.

Some things – food, carnival rides and the arcade games were without a doubt pricey, but the fair is not just about the carnival and vendors. Historically, the fair has been about a community coming together to share its achievements and personal victories over the previous year. And in 2009 it is still about blue ribbons and trophies. It is still about rows of little girls dancing to “The Lollypop Song” in tights, top hats and tap shoes or singing “Tomorrow” at the top of their longs, quite often quite off key, but to the pride of their adoring families.

Everywhere there was non-stop free entertainment by local and outside professional performers in every corner of the fairgrounds.

Everything from rock and roll bands and country bands, to soloists and acoustic music.  Dance teams performed every kind of dance, and several groups of children tapped and pirouetted to their hearts’ content.

Bands rocked the Grand Stand Stage nearly every night

On the big stage the fair opened with a newcomer to the rock and roll scene. American Idol winner David Cook entertained an audience of all ages. A newbie to the public, Cook did a great job sending the crowd into wild cheers.

Saturday began the step backwards into music history welcoming 60’s bands “War” and “Tower of Power” to the stage. Presenting their own style of funk, R & B and soul, both bands still packed a wallop in their music. Still some of the tightest and danceable music on the planet, they did not let up one bit on the audience, driving their peers, now in their 60s and 50s to rise to the occasion and dance.

Tuesday and Wednesday took major steps back through the “Way-back Machine”. Tuesday featured 1960s icon “The Beach Boys” and Pablo Cruise. Even without complete original line-ups of the original members of both bands the music still took the audience down memory lane. The Beach Boys performed an incredible 30 songs featuring original lead singer Mike Love.

Foreigner and Guess Who offered much of the same for their audience, a nearly sold-out crowd. Nearly all new band members still kept the signature sound on the iconic songs under the leadership of original member, Mick Jones,

Guess Who took the crowd back to Woodstock with the rock and roll anthem “American Woman”. An hour of the 60s most memorable songs filled the arena to the pleasure of the band’s faithful fans.

It was close to listening to the original recordings with Lou Gramm when Foreigner hit the stage. Although it is impossible to replace the original lead singer 100%, Kelly Hanson, who joined the group in 2006 made a good stab at it. Hanson had the chops when he joined the group then, but no grit, Gramm’s signature approach to the band’s songs. But during Weds. Night’s event Hanson proved he is smoothly growing into Graham’s shoes strutting a confidence and stage presence that was lacking when he was the new kid on the block, as if he was channeling Gramm. The crowd was awestruck by the similarity. Gone is the pretty boy/soap opera star  look of 2006, enter rock and roller of 2009.

All seven nights were great concerts and well worth the ticket prices. Seating in the new grandstands offered a great view of the stage no matter where you sat. A new handicapped seating section behind the dignitary seating was a welcome addition to those in wheelchairs and those unable to make the steep climb up the bleacher stairs. In another venue even the cheapest seats would have cost upward of $35, but this weeks seats were free. And every evening the band gave their all to the fans.

The fair is a community event. Local service organizations offered great food and interesting displays. Groups like the Kiwanis that offered a down home barbecue to die for with a plate piled high with tri-tip, lamb chops and chicken, homemade beans and salad. Not to mention lots of lemonade and ice tea all for one price all cooked and prepared and served by locals organization members and their families.

The low admission price this year, not only offered all a grandstand seat to each night’s main event, but free admission to all the displays and seating to each of the other stage events. Of main interest to many locals were the livestock auctions and judging and produce judging. Winners’ prize winning animals and produce were on display for all to view.

The pavilions offered vendors with some of the latest in technology and fun things to buy. Also on display in the pavilions are the entries of locals of their craft creations, cooking, art, and collections and more.  Just as they did nearly 100 years ago, rows of jars of old-fashioned canned preserves, fruits and vegetables are displayed with labels and the names of their creators, as with every food entry. Beautiful quilts display the craftsmanship of some traditional and precise needlework. Everywhere you can look there is a triumph of come individual committed to preserving a simpler lifestyle. 

The local photo club offers a gallery of some of the finest local amateur photographers of all ages. Everything from portraits, wedding photos, animal photos and travel photos to experimental close-ups and examples of new technology were mounted and hanging on rows upon rows of photos with a display to challenge even the most elite galleries.

The fair has always been about a sense of accomplishment to locals – four and five generations of families have competed in every area, year after year. Some plan from year to year, beginning preparations a week after closing day for the next year’s entries. Cooks and bakers start experimenting with improving their recipes to clinch a blue ribbon next year. Artists begin creating next year’s entries, that one incredible masterpiece. Farmers and ranchers begin caring for the produce and livestock to ensure another blue ribbon win next year. Photographers set out to take that special photo and catch something new and wonderful in their view finder.

 If you have not yet been to this year’s fair, there is still time. The closes Labor Day evening. There are still great events and fun in which to take part. Tickets are still available for most events and the fun goes on.


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