‘Bump’ in the night: Tower of Power celebrates 50 years

Tahoe Onstage

Marcus Scott is the new frontman for Tower of Power, which plays two shows Feb. 2-3 at MontBleu.

These cats first began performing in the 1960s, but you’d better get ready for one of the most high-energy acts that you’ll ever see. Tower of Power is performing at MontBleu Resort Casino on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 2-3, as part of the group’s 50th Anniversary Tour.

Hailing from Oakland, ToP has been cranking out high-octane soul and funk for audiences worldwide since 1968, making bodies move with hits such as “So Very Hard To Go,” “What is Hip” and “You’re Still a Young Man.”

“We came out of the Bay Area – Oakland is our home – but we came out during the San Francisco sound, which is very much psychedelic, all the weird hippie names and all that,” said founding bandleader Emilio Castillo. “But we were in the East Bay, and over there it was about soul music. We came around right at the perfect time, the whole psychedelic thing had kind of run its course the previous few years, and they were ready for us.

“If you listen to our music, it has very much an Oakland soul sound. Just like people from Detroit have the Motown sound, Memphis has the Memphis sound, we have the Oakland soul sound. We kind of own that.”

Roger Smith

Tower of Power’s Roger Smith is a former South Lake Tahoe resident.

The group recently welcomed back drummer Dave Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen, less than a year removed from a horrific accident. The two were struck by a train in Oakland on January 12, 2017, while en route to a show.

“We were waiting to go onstage for the 11th and 12th show of a straight six days at Yoshi’s,” Castillo said. “We had already done 10 shows in five days and killed it, and we were just about to put the cherry on the setting with the final two shows. Just a bizarre, horrific accident.”

Despite sustaining severe and life-threatening injuries, the two have returned to the touring lineup in recent months.

“The two of them are just playing better than ever, just killing it,” Castillo said. “That’s a God thing man, both of those guys should have been dead. Mark was in a coma for eight weeks.”

For its 50th anniversary, Tower of Power has a major record release due this year, hopefully in May. While the final format has yet to be decided, fans can expect more than two dozen new tracks to be released, in one or more albums. This project is five years in the making, with the group recording in scattered sessions, as dictated by rigorous annual touring schedules.

“I was talking to one of my old managers when we first started, and he said ‘this is not the time to just throw 12 songs together and get out a record, you’re going to regret it if you do,’ ” Castillo said. “‘You need to create the best record of your career. The only way you do that is you cut way more than you need and you pick the best 12.’

“Well, we did 28 but then the record company heard it and they loved all of them.”

Among other formats, the material will be available as a boxed vinyl release with multiple albums.

“It’s a big, big project and I’m really glad to have it finished. It came out wonderful,” Castillo said. “It sounds truly like Tower of Power. It’s just the best version we’ve ever done.”

Enticingly, most of this music has not been performed

Just come out and see it. It’s the live thing that really does it. Tower of Power — it’s a high-energy show, up tempo, danceable soul music and wring-your-heart-out-like-a-rag emotional ballads.”

live or heard by the public.

“We might’ve done a little tease on the record company’s website. People might have gotten little bits here and there, but they haven’t really heard it yet, so it’s going to be exciting,” Castillo said.

Tower of Power also is working on a concert and documentary video for the anniversary. The concert footage will be shot at Oakland’s Fox Theater in early June.

Other upcoming plans include expanded touring, particularly in Europe, Australia and Asia. The band continuously has been expanding its touring footprint over the years.

“We’ve kicked it up a major league notch in Korea,” Castillo said. “We’d played Korea a few times over the years, but in the last five years we’ve been there two or three times, and the last time it was a huge outdoor festival with 10,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. They knew all the lyrics. We were stoked.”

This description should come as no surprise to ToP fans, as live music is the band’s calling card. With a five-piece horn section and four-piece rhythm section backing up wildly soulful vocalist Marcus Scott, expect a tour-de-force, wall of sound that would compel a corpse to get down and boogie.

“Just come out and see it. It’s the live thing that really does it,” Castillo said. “Tower of Power — it’s a high-energy show, up tempo, danceable soul music and wring-your-heart-out-like-a-rag emotional ballads.

“It’s got the energy of a James Brown show or a Prince show or a Sly and the Family Stone show. You should walk away sweaty and emotionally drained.”

-Josh Sweigert

  • Tower of Power
    When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 2-3
    Where: MontBleu Theatre
    Tickets: $40 and $50

About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

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