Who was/is Tower Of Power ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Tower Of Power

What Is Hip? (single edit)

Tower Of Power

What Is Hip? (single edit)


What is hip? Tower of Power, without question.

The horn-heavy Oakland, California aggregation was born in the summer of 1968, headed by tenor saxist Emilio ‘Mimi’ Castillo (born September 24, 1950 in Detroit) and baritone saxist Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka (born March 25, 1946 in Berkeley, California). The two met at an audition that July at Castillo’s house. Castillo and bassist Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia had been playing covers in The Motowns, but in August of ’68 they renamed themselves Tower of Power and began concentrating on originals. Long-haired and Caucasian, their musical passion was strictly R&B.

Trumpeters Greg Adams and Mic Gillette (he doubled on trombone) and drummer David Garibaldi were in place when TOP cut their all-original 1970 debut LP for Fillmore boss Bill Graham’s San Francisco label, ‘East Bay Grease.’ At that point, their primary lead singer was Rufus Miller. He gave way to Rick Stevens on TOP’s ’72 encore set for Warner Bros., ‘Bump City.’ Cut in Memphis with longtime Stax engineer Ron Capone producing alongside the band, it contained their first sizable hit, the elegant Castillo/Kupka-penned You’re Still A Young Man.

For their next Warner set, an eponymous affair produced by Jim Gaines at Wally Heider Recording Studios in Frisco, TOP recruited another fresh lead singer. Lenny Williams, born February 16, 1945 in Little Rock, Arkansas, had made a couple of singles for Fantasy’s Galaxy subsidiary prior to joining TOP. Also new to the ranks were tenor saxman Lenny Pickett, guitarist Bruce Conte, and keyboardist Chester Thompson.

The album was full of hits. The powerful So Very Hard To Go was the set’s top seller, sailing to #11 R&B/#17 pop during the summer of ’73. A happy This Time It’s Real came next, making a #27 R&B impression that fall. What Is Hip?, penned by Castillo, Kupka, and Garibaldi, was next. It rode a percolating 16th note bass line inspired by Freddie King’s Going Down and showcased TOP’s incredible horn section punching and jabbing behind Williams’ fiery vocal. Cracking the R&B charts near year’s end, it peaked at #39. Not a bad haul off one long-player.

TOP weathered frequent personnel changes (Williams exited in 1975 to launch a successful solo career) and drug problems that threatened its existence. Its impeccable horn section found itself in demand for outside projects ranging from Santana and Huey Lewis to Poison and Michael Bolton. Castillo, Kupka, and Garibaldi still anchor TOP (a kidney transplant has temporarily sidelined Prestia). They remain the funkiest crew the East Bay ever produced. 

- Bill Dahl -

Various - Sweet Soul Music 23 Scorching Classics From 1973

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