Tower of Power: ‘I think our music is as contemporary as anyone out there’

Dimanche 25 Mai 2014

Interview. Tower of Power will play in le Trianon in Paris on Tuesday 4 November 2014. Emilio Castillo, leader and founding member of the band has been kind enough to anwer to my questions.

Was soul music an obvious choice for you when you started playing music?

Soul music was really the “in thing” in the East Bay Where I went to high school. There were some really high quality soul bands that we cut our teeth on.

The Bay area was famous for its psychedelic rock scene in the 60s. Was it a good place for soul music too? What are your memories of the Bay Area scene at that time?

When the psychedelic thing started to happen we were already fully immersed in the soul scene. We didn’t really get the urge to become a part of the Fillmore scene till around the end of 1968 and even then we were a soul band at heart, first and foremost.

Tower of Power has always claimed Oakland as its hometown. Seen from Paris, Oakland is a town in the suburbs of San Francisco. Why are you so proud of that town? What does this town symbolize?

Well for one thing Oakland was more of a blue collar city and it was what we knew as home. Soul music and various soul artists like Sly, Freddie Hughes, the Spyders, Faye Carrol etc… were what was happening in that area. San Francisco was just across the bridge and we would go do gigs there at clubs like Dragon a Go Go, which was a soul club, but San Francisco seemed a world away even though it was so close. We played all over the Bay Area but mostly at soul clubs where dancing was popular.

Which of ToP album are you particularly proud of? Is there an album on which you would like to draw the attention?

My favorite ToP album has always been Urban Renewal. I just felt that it was really soulful and the song writing, production, horn arrangements, vocals etc… were some of our best.

Tower of Power was silent during the 80’s. What do you think of the 80’s music and more particularly 80’s R&B?

The 80’s was a tough time for us and I’m not a big fan of 80’s music although in every era there’s some really great stuff and a lot of junk as well.

You did a fantastic job with Huey Lewis & the News on Fore! and Small World and also on stage. What are your memories of that period?

Huey’s band was excellent and we saw eye to eye musically. We owe him a lot for helping to reignite our career.

The Tower of Power horn section was one of the most in-demand horn sections in the music business with Seawind’s. What do you think of Seawind’s horn section? And have you met them? And how would you compare the sound of these two horn sections?

I knew Seawind when they were a band called Ox in Honolulu. They were always a great band and a terrific horn section. I know them in passing over the years and they’ve always been very likeable guys. Jerry Hey is an extremely talented arranger with a busier style than us and it’s very recognizable. We’re bigger and more bombastic and very recognizable also. I’m grateful to be compared with them because they’re an excellent horn section.

Ray Greene is the new voice of Tower of Power. How did you find him?

I heard about Ray Greene through a musician friend of mine and as soon as I heard him I was very interested. I think he’s going to grow into one of our best ever.

Although you have never tried to play contemporary R&B, I have noticed that you have rejuvenated your audience. How can you explain this?

“Contemporary R&B” I never think in those terms. I just write and produce soul music in my own particular style and let the chips fall where they may. I think our music is as contemporary as anyone out there. People tend to want to put labels on music but I never think that way. To me it’s all just music. An artist’s popularity seems to flow in waves but I think the longer you stay at it the more likely your fan base is going to grow. The fact that we’re passionate about our music has become common knowledge and people seem to respond to that.

Could you tell me more about your upcoming show in Paris. Will it cover every period of Tower of Power’s carrier?

I’m sure we’ll touch all the bases but in truth I’m just concentrating on “today’s” gig. I don’t plan that far ahead. In places like Paris and all throughout Europe we pretty much do what we want and the fans there always respond in a big way. I have three 90 minute sets that I revolve nightly and that keeps it interesting for us.

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Boris Plantier