Tower of Power 11/7/02
Toad's Place - New Haven, CT
"The greatest horn band in the world", as I like to call them, rolled into New Haven, CT in their big, shiny tour bus ready to rock! Tower of Power was in town! And the place was packed.
Toad's Place, in the heart of Yale University territory, is as legendary as the band itself! Toad's (www.toadsplace.com) is also a home-away-from-home for Tower of Power. They love New Haven and New Haven loves them! Some guy even got up onstage this night and proposed to his girlfriend! Ring and all! (She said 'yes'.) The club was packed solid with a mixed bag of hardcore T.O.P. fans. Hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, Tower of Power was formed back in 1968 by Emilio Castillo and Stephen "Doc" Kupka. The band's first album came out in 1970 called "East Bay Grease". Their first song, "You're Still A Young Man", is now a classic. T.O.P. has been building a loyal fanbase every since.
"What Tower plays is urban soul music," explains co-founder and tenor player Emilio Castillo. Most people know Tower of Power from their hit "What Is Hip?". But these guys have played on tons of albums as the horn section. (Check your record personnel listings. You'll be surprised.)
When the gang hit the stage at Toad's, they were hot off of two nights in New York City at B.B. King's Blues Club. Smokin' and ready to go, they kicked the gig off with "Soul...With A Capital 'S'". Getting' funkier by the minute, they ripped into "Get It On Your Good Credit". One after another, tight as a....
Lead vocalist Larry Braggs is a class act frontman. The band's personnel may change over the years, but Emilio and "Doc" manage to keep that same funk R&B sound that Tower of Power is famous for. For more than thirty years, these guys have been runnin' hard!
As of this writing, the touring band consists of 10 members. (I think that's why they are constantly on the road, so they can pay all the guys! Ha!) The band looks like this: Emilio Castillo (tenor, lead/backing vocals), Stephen "Doc" Kupka (baritone sax), Bobby Vega (bass), Adolpho Acosta (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tom Politzer (lead tenor), David Garibaldi (drums), Roger Smith (keyboards), Jeff Tamelier (guitar, vocals), Mike Bogart (trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals) and Larry Braggs (lead vocals).
Drummer Garibaldi, who originally joined the band in 1970, rejoined T.O.P. in 1998. Longtime bassist Rocco Prestia is on hiatus, recovering from a medical situation. (I think he just received a liver transplant.) Rockin' through the evening, Tower of Power was in good form this November night in New England. "What Is Hip?", "Don't Change Horses In the Middle Of The Stream", they played all their classics. "Still Diggin' On James Brown" is a crowd pleaser. And while the beer was flowin' o'plenty and the fans were packed in like sardines, there wasn't any trouble. It's like a family outing for the Hell's Angels. A tough, but lovable audience. Lots of black leather. Worn black leather.
Next time their tour bus rolls into your town, be sure to answer the call of the East Bay Soul Music. Go see the world's greatest horn band - Tower of Power (www.towerofpower.com). It's R&B like it should be.
Scott H. Thompson is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association and is a columnist for The Jazz Report magazine. He has contributed to JazzTimes, Jazziz and Down Beat. Thompson wrote the CD liner notes for such classics as Herbie Hancock "Headhunters" and Weather Report "8:30", to name a few.