Tower of Power returns to Lake Tahoe on Saturday, Nov. 30 for its annual Thanksgiving concert in the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room. The influential 11-piece R&B band from Oakland has had numerous lineups since forming in 1968. South Lake Tahoe’s Trey Stone spent some time as the guitarist and keyboard player Roger Smith was recruited to the band when he was a regular at the Christiana Inn. Next summer Tower of Power will tour with Journey and the Steve Miller Band. TOP Bandleader and saxophonist Emilio Castillo spoke with Tahoe Onstage while the band was in Park City, Utah, acclimating, he joked, for the Tahoe show. Here are five questions for Castillo.
There is a new Tower of Power double-CD, “Hipper Than Hip – Live on the Air & in the Studio 1974.” (To purchase CLICK) You have been quoted saying that was one of the band’s best performances, which is remarkable considering there have been more than 10,000.
Castillo: It was from a concert series that Warner Brothers did in 1974 at a studio called Ultra Sonic Sound and there were doing simulcasts over WILR and we were the last weekend of that month. They knew ours was going to be very popular. We were at the height of our game at that point. So after all those years, Warner gave permission to this other record company called Real Gone Music to pull the masters and mix and master them and they sound fabulous. I was astounded. Within five minutes I was just like, “Wow. We were really at our peak performance wise.” It’s a really great performance.
Tower of Power is called the creators of East Bay Grease. Where did that come from?
Castillo: It was Bruce Steinberg the album cover designer who came up with that title. We used to use that term a lot. “Man, that groove was so greasy.” Back then everybody was eating a lot of barbecue and greasy burgers. It was just the way we talked. It was just that urban, greasy vibe.
What do you most miss about Oakland?
Castillo: I lived in Oakland from 1962 to the early 80s, then L.A. for 15 years, now Scottsdale, Ariz. When I am home, I’m with my family I go to church and study the Bible. I enjoy my children. I am different person now. The thing about Oakland that I miss the most is that my family that is up there. And I miss the soulfulness of the bay. Certainly Scottsdale is not a real soulful place but when you do what I do, you kind of find the soulful people in the area. I have some good friends down there who are very soulful and very creative. I enjoy it and as I said, I get up to Oakland quite a bit.”
Singer Larry Braggs will retire from the band at the end of the year. Have you selected a new singer?
Castillo: We have. We haven’t (announced who it is) but we are going to soon. We auditioned a lot of people. We screened even more. Larry told us way back, early in the year when we were up in Seattle doing the Jazz Alleys. He came up to us and said, “I am going to finish out the year and then I am going to move on,” so we kind of kept it under our belts for a while because, with us, you just think something and immediately it’s a rumor going around. So we kept it to ourselves and put some feelers out here and there. … We started getting tons of people interested in the position and I had to screen them all. We weeded out the one who weren’t even close and looked a little closer to ones that were in the ballpark and then narrowed it down and then we auditioned those people.
George Duke sang great at the Playboy Jazz Festival in June. It was a surprise to me that he died in August. You pay tribute to him on your website. What happened?
Castillo: His wife Corine was amazing woman and she was his whole life. Nobody worked with George without working with Corine. No one was a friend of George’s without being a friend of Corine’s. They were one person. We had done some recordings (in 2009) for our “Great American Soulbook.” She got sick and passed away, and that was out of nowhere. We knew that was going to take a huge toll on him. It seemed like what happened was, he had some medical issues and he could have dealt with it and he would have been fine but I don’t believe he wanted to be. They were both believers in Christ and he knew she was in heaven for eternal life and I am quite certain he just finished out his life here so he could go be with her. I’d have to believe he didn’t enjoy life without Corine. She was his whole life.