1967 – present (51 years)
Oakland, Alameda County, California, United States
Tower of Power is a horn-based funk/soul band from Oakland, California. In the mid-1960s, 17-year-old tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo moved from Detroit, Michigan, to Fremont, California. He started a band called the Motowns, specializing in soul music. In 1968, Castillo teamed up with baritone saxophonist Stephen "The Funky Doctor" Kupka and trumpet/trombone player Mic Gillette, moved to Oakland, and began writing original material. They changed the band's name to Tower of Power and began playing frequently in the Bay Area.
In 1970, TOP signed a recording contract with Bill Graham's San Francisco Records and quickly released its first album, East Bay Grease. 1972's Bump City and 1973's self-titled release were breakout albums for the band; the latter included possibly their most enduring song, What is Hip?.
Tower of Power has remained active throughout the 1970s, '80s, '90s, and into the 21st century, and is still touring in 2010. Personnel changes have been part of the history and evolution of the band; at least 60 musicians have performed, toured, and/or recorded with the band through the years, including Saturday Night Live musical director Lenny Pickett, drummer David Garibaldi, bassist Rocco Prestia, and bassist and BALCO founder Victor Conte. (His brother Bruce Conte played guitar in the band as well.) Lenny Williams served as lead singer for several years after one of the original singers, Rick Stevens was imprisoned. Rufus Miller performed most of the lead vocals on "East Bay Grease." Former lead vocalist Rick Stevens (real name Donald Stevenson) was sentenced to life in prison on three counts of first-degree murder relating to a botched drug deal, crimes committed after leaving the band. Stevens was paroled on July 20, 2012 after 36 years in prison. Rick Stevens died on September 5th, 2017.
TOP has released 15 albums over the years, the latest being 2003's The Oakland Zone. In addition, the horn section has become well-known as a backing horn section for other artists. The TOP horn section has appeared on many recordings, including some made by the Monkees, Santana, Elton John, John Lee Hooker, Rod Stewart, Jefferson Starship, Heart, Huey Lewis and the News, Lyle Lovett, Poison, Phish, Pharoahe Monch, and Aerosmith.
(2) The renowned horn-driven funk outfit Tower of Power have been issuing albums and touring the world steadily since the early '70s, in addition to backing up countless other musicians. The group's leader since the beginning has always been tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo, who was born in Detroit but opted to pursue his musical dreams in Oakland, California. It was in Oakland that Castillo put together a group called the Motowns, which, as their name suggested, specialized in '60s-era soul. In 1967, Castillo teamed up with baritone sax player Stephen "Doc" Kupka, and soon the Motowns were transformed into Tower of Power. (One of the first tunes the duo penned together was "You're Still a Young Man," which would eventually go on to be one of Tower of Power's signature compositions.)
Tower of Power played regularly in the Bay Area throughout the late '60s, as their lineup often swelled up to ten members, including such other mainstays as Greg Adams on trumpet and vocals, Lenny Pickett on sax, and Rocco Prestia on bass. By 1970, the funk outfit had inked a recording contract with Bill Graham's San Francisco Records, resulting in the group's debut the same year, East Bay Grease, which failed to make an impression on the charts as Tower of Power were still trying to find their own sound.
But it soon came together for the group, as 1972's Bump City would touch off a string of classic hit albums, including 1973's self-titled release (which introduced vocalist Lenny Williams and included another of the group's most enduring tunes, "What Is Hip?"), 1974's Back to Oakland, and 1975's Urban Renewal and In the Slot. While Tower of Power remained a must-see live act, as disco became the new trend in R&B the group's original funk-laden style fell out of favor, and disco-oriented albums like 1978's We Came to Play and 1979's Back on the Streets didn't please critics or fans, and the band would go nine years without releasing an album.
Despite it all, Tower of Power – in particular their horn section – remained a much in-demand backing group for some of pop/rock's biggest names, including Elton John, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Huey Lewis, Little Feat, David Sanborn, Michelle Shocked, Paula Abdul, Aaron Neville, Aerosmith, Public Image Ltd., and many others. In 1988, Tower of Power returned to the studio for the album Power, and in 1991 they signed with Epic Records, where they released five albums by the end of the decade.
Into the new millennium, Tower of Power kept up their reputation as a strong live band, maintaining a steady touring schedule, and in 2009 they launched their own TOP Records label with The Great American Soulbook, in which they covered a dozen soul and R&B classics in the trademark Tower of Power style. In 2007, Tower of Power celebrated their fourth decade together with a special concert at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium, and a year later the show was issued in a special CD/DVD package, simply titled 40th Anniversary. In 2013, Tower of Power took a look back with the release of Hipper Than Hip: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, which documented a live radio broadcast from 1974. The bandmembers also announced they would be touring in 2013 and 2014 with two other iconic acts from Northern California, Journey and the Steve Miller Band. ~ Greg Prato & Steve Leggett, Rovi
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