Tower of Power is one of the most beloved bands to come out of the ’70s soul and R&B scene—and the band keeps on going, despite loss and tragic events over the years.
Tower of Power is playing a sold out concert with Average White Band at The Show at Agua Caiente Casino Resort Spa on Saturday, April 1.
During a recent phone interview with saxophonist and vocalist Emilio Castillo, he explained what he loves about R&B music.
“R&B music is basically soul music, and it’s music that moves you emotionally,” Castillo said. “A lot of people say that Tower of Power is the greatest funk band in the world, but funk is a very small part of R&B. There’s also the heart-wrenching ballads, finger-popping shuffles and medium tempo love songs, and they all move you emotionally.”
Some people say that today’s newer R&B lacks the same appeal and style as the music from Tower of Power’s heyday. However, Castillo does not necessarily agree.
“There’s always good R&B, and I’m not one of these people who say, ‘There’s no good music today,’” he said. “There’s always good music, and there’s always junk. The young people always find the good music, and that’s just the way it is. I remember when I was very young, seeing people say, ‘Elvis Presley, this is crap!’ Now he’s an icon. They said the same thing about the Beatles; they said the same thing about Nirvana, and that’s just the way of the world. People tend to stick to their ways and say, ‘The only good thing is what I like.’ In truth, there’s lots of good music and lots of good R&B, because people like to be moved emotionally.”
I asked Castillo about his favorite albums in Tower of Power’s catalogue.
“My favorite is Urban Renewal. That’s probably not one of our biggest sellers,” he said. “But for me, production-wise, writing-wise, performing-wise, the musicians and everything about it—it remains one of my favorites. I always enjoy listening to it, and I’m very proud of it.”
A band name such as Tower of Power carries a lot of, well, power. Castillo laughed when I asked about the name, and he told me the group was once called The Motowns.
“If I had to do it all over again today, I wouldn’t have even picked it. It sounds kind of braggadocios,” Castillo said. “But back then, I was a young man, and we were trying to get into the Fillmore. The whole hippie thing happened, and the Fillmore West was the place to be. We started changing with the times, wearing bellbottoms and doing all that. We knew we’d never get into the Fillmore with a name like The Motowns. We were looking for one of those weird names like Grateful Dead, and I was at a recording studio in Hayward, and I was sitting in the office during a break, and there was a list of all these potential band names. They were all weird. I see the name Tower of Power, and I thought, ‘That describes your sound.’ I went back into the studio and said to the guys, ‘Hey, what about Tower of Power?’ They all said, ‘Yeah!’ We’ve been stuck with it ever since.”
Castillo explained what keeps the band going, despite rough times.
“We make the music exactly the way we want it to be,” he said. “We quit chasing trends in the late ’70s and early ’80s. We realized that no matter what we did, we sounded like ourselves. Record companies were trying to make us sound like other bands, telling us, ‘If you could sound like this band or that band, we could get you more airplay.’ They were giving us a lot of money, and we tried, but it always came out sounding like Tower of Power. For a while, we thought that was a curse, and asked, ‘Why can’t we sound like the others?’ The record deal dried up, and things got tough, and we said, ‘Well, you know what? If nothing is happening, let’s make the music the way we like it.’ We just went back to being ourselves, and things got better. It wasn’t a curse, but a blessing to sound like yourself. … I made every mistake in the book you can make—drug abuse, alcohol abuse, poor decisions, poor management, acting poorly, living wrong—and through it all, God took care of us, and we just showed up.”
Back in January, drummer and full-time member David Garibaldi and bassist Marc Van Wageningen, who was subbing for bassist Rocco Prestia after kidney surgery, were in a serious accident in Oakland before a performance when they were both hit by a train whilewalking across railroad tracks.
“They’re much better, but they’re not OK. They’re far from good, but they’re going to be OK,” Castillo said. “Dave, he probably won’t be back until early November. He’s going to have two or maybe three eye surgeries after a facial reconstruction surgery. Marc, he’s been in an induced coma in (intensive care) for seven weeks. He just came out of it to everyone’s amazement and happiness. They just sent him home. He’s still got a long road ahead of him as well.”
For those who have never seen Tower of Power play live, Castillo accurately described the show as bringing a lot of energy.
“Both in the way we play the music and the audience participation,” he continued. “If it’s a slow love song, we ring it out like a rag. If it’s an up-tempo funk tune, we’re doing high energy to the max. It’s like a James Brown show and a Prince show at the same time.”
Tower of Power will perform with Average White Band at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 1, at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. The show is currently listed as sold out. For information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.hotwatercasino.com.