Bandleader and saxophonist Emilio Castillo was only 17 years old when he met Kupka and started to assemble the band that would become Tower of Power. “I had no vision at all,” he recalls now. “I just loved playing soul music. My idols were a local band called The Spyders and they had gigged in Sacramento. I thought, ‘Man, if I could just get to Sacramento that would be it.’ That's literally how small my vision was.”
The band has long since surpassed Castillo’s admittedly modest aspirations, traveling the world, enjoying hit singles on their own and backing some of the most legendary artists of the last 50 years – a list that includes Otis Redding, Elton John, Santana, the Grateful Dead, John Lee Hooker, Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, and countless others. In the process they’ve defined an “Oakland soul” sound as instantly recognizable as those from Castillo’s hometown, Detroit, as well as inspirations like Memphis and Philadelphia. While the Bay Area music scene had become famous because of the Fillmore, across the Bay in San Francisco, ToP launched a whole new sound and wore its less glamorous origins proudly.
That sound is vividly represented throughout the nearly two hours of pulse-quickening funk that makes up 50 Years of Funk & Soul. Released as a 3-LP set, a 2-CD/DVD combo, a standalone DVD, as well as digitally, 50 Years of Funk & Soul is the next best thing to hearing these brilliant musicians in person. The setlist spans the band’s history, from classic hits “You’re Still a Young Man,” “So Very Hard to Go,” “What is Hip?” and “Don’t Change Horses” to newly-minted favorites like “Stop” and “Do You Like That?” from recent albums on Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Music Group, Soul Side of Town (2018) and Step Up (2020). The band shows off its taut precision on the intricately syncopated “On the Serious Side” and proves eerily prophetic by including “Soul Vaccination.”
This vigorous and dynamic live set should prove to be just that for fans around the world starved for the ToP groove over this past year. Count Castillo himself among their ranks – used to fronting the band for 200 dates a year, he’s only played a single gig since last March, joining Los Lobos for a drive-in concert at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. He’s looking forward to resuming that tireless schedule once the coronavirus is under control. Despite the band’s long and storied history, he has no plans for retirement.