By David DeRocco As an aspiring 17 year old musician living in Oakland TOWER OF POWER founder Emilio Castillo had a rather modest dream for his career.
“When I started out in 1968 there was a band called The Spiders we used to go see that got a gig in Sacramento,” recalled Castillo, the long-time tenor/saxophonist and sometime vocalist for this internationally acclaimed American R&B-based band. “I thought ‘man, if I could just get to Sacramento I will have made it.’ It didn’t seem doable. But I have so far exceeded my wildest dreams.”
Looking back on his storied career, Castillo says he’s “as amazed as everyone else” that Tower of Power will be celebrating 50 years as a collective when they hit the stage at FirstOntario PAC. The band’s on-going popularity is certainly no accident. As a recording act Tower of Power has landed a total of nine songs on the Billboard Hot 100, including “You’re Still a Young Man,” “So Very Hard To Go,” “Soul With a Capital S” and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle of a Stream)”.
However, it’s the versatility of the Tower of Power horn section that has brought them their greatest acclaim. As highly sought out session men, Tower of Power horns have appeared on record or on stage with an incredible list of artists including Otis Reading, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Santana, Journey, Rod Stewart and Huey Lewis. It’s safe to say there are few artists that could work successfully with such diverse acts as The Monkees, The Grateful Dead and Poison and still maintain their credibility, and Castillo agrees.
“Don’t forget Neil Diamond, Aaron Neville and Aerosmith,” laughs Castillo when considering the broad diversity of his collaborations through the years. “When you do sessions like that with famous people you’re there to enhance their product, but also to make your own statement of who you are. We’re Tower of Power horns. We bring that to the table in a big way. We pick our spots so when the horns happen they stick out. It’s huge.”
For optimum delivery of that sound, Castillo suggests the perfect horn section requires five elements. “The five horn sound, with two saxes, two tenors, plus two trumpets and a baritone sax, there’s nothing you can’t do with that line-up,” he said. “But what truly makes a great horn section is the players.”
With their upcoming gig at FirstOntario PAC, Castillo and his talented fellow players in Tower of Power have certainly pushed their dreams far beyond the borders of Sacramento. When it comes to motivating traditionally subdued Canadian audiences into displaying some energy, however, Castillo says the band is well prepared.
“I don’t know any polite Canadian audiences. When we play in Canada people go crazy. Going to a Tower of Power show is like going to a James Brown or Prince concert. It’s high energy and high emotion. It’s not only fast dance tunes. It’s also ring your heart out like a rag love songs. It’s an experience. We know how to get an audience on their feet.”