Tower of Power are legends. In the music world, yes, but especially in their hometown of Oakland, which has gone so far as to officially declare May 31 to be Tower of Power Day.
Since their founding in 1968, the band has continuously changed and evolved. Its music, which pioneered the unique Oakland sound by blending elements from numerous genres, has seen its focus shift from soul to jazz to funk and back again. Currently a nonet, it’s supposedly had more than 70 people as members.
Despite all that movement, two members have been there—and active—for the entire 52-year history of the band: founder Emilio Castillo, and his first hire, Doc Kupka. Castillo and his Tower of Power compatriots played at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 8, their first show since the pandemic hit, following the longest break he’d taken in half a century. That took some getting used to.
“I usually work 200 days per year,” Castillo said. “And that’s for over 50 years, like clockwork. So this is the first time I’ve been off for any length of time—let alone a year and a half. But I made the best of it, and I’m ready to get back to work.”
That said, it wasn’t all bad.
“I just got married two years ago, so it turned out to be a good thing for me and my wife,” he said. “She asked me like four months ago, ‘Have you ever spent this much time with either of your other two wives?’ And I had to think about it. I told her, ‘No, I haven’t!’ So we had a great time. It was good for us.”
Castillo also did a lot of speaking engagements, albeit remotely. Everything from recovery meetings to churches, to Arizona State University, to the Oakland Jazz School.
Now that he’s back on the road, he gets to come back to his home turf in the Bay Area from his current home in Scottsdale, Arizona to play the Mountain Winery in Saratoga and the Green Center at Sonoma State. He’s looking forward to coming back home to a place he hasn’t been in quite a while.
“It’s always really special to play anywhere in the Bay Area.” he said.
He’s looking forward to bringing his wife to see his granddaughters, daughters and brothers.
Castillo’s regular schedule begs the question: How does a band like Tower of Power stay active and (barring global pandemics) touring for more than half a century? When most bands seem to flame out after an album or two, that level of longevity is exceptional, if only for its rarity.
“I always tell people, the first 20 years of our career, we collectively made every mistake you could possibly make,” he said. “Lot of drugs and alcohol. Nearly killed us. Then I sobered up, and I started to have a spiritual walk, so my main phrase is God did it, and I just showed up.”
Castillo noted that Kupka became sober shortly after he did, and a few of the band members started praying together.
“Things have been uphill ever since we took that path,” he said.
The band’s longevity can also be attributed to the members making music the way they want it, not trying to be like anyone else or chasing any trends.
“You won’t see the reinvention of Tower of Power. We make music exactly the way we want it to be until it pleases ourselves,” he said. “And we’ve noticed that when we do that, our fans are pleased, so that makes it really easy to go to work every day.”
The band’s staying power is evidenced by the fanbase sharing the music with the next generation and onward.
“We’ve got fans worldwide that really digs our type of music. They’re very faithful and loyal, they raise their kids and grandkids on our music,” Castillo said. “Because of those fans, we can continue to do what we love.”
While Castillo and his bandmates missed Tower of Power Day by a few months, they’ll finally be back in the Bay Area to play for the biggest concentration of those fans soon.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.