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Bill MelendezTower of Power's
Emilio Castillo

After 40 years of great music
Tower of Power is still Rock'n!

by Augie Lopez - photo: Frankie Leal

CD: How did your band come together?

Emilio Castillo:
We started playing when we were like 15 year old. Rocco and I have been playing since. We started the band the first day, then we learned to play along the way. When I was about 16 we were started to play pretty good and that’s when we really got into soul music. Eventually we became a group called ‘The Motown’s’. I grew up in Detroit and I was 11, my mom said, “If your going to play soul music you got to be in the Motown’s”, so that’s what we were doing. We were a bunch of slick little vatos with razor cuts. Hanging out in the town looking like a soul band. Thats when all the hippies and all that stuff was happening in the bay area. I was doing a gig and I met Doc. He was a roadie for the loading zone. He just started playing baritone sax. He came up to me and he was telling me “you know your band sounds good only one thing wrong,” I said, “oh what’s that?” he said, “Your horn section, it needs a little bottom by the way. I play baritone sax”. So I gave him an audition. We were the Motown’s and he joins the band. He was the first hippie we ever knew. We cut his hair cut and got him a suit. He didn’t feel comfortable that way so he started telling me, “We ought to get rid of this look and go try to play the Fillmore Auditorium”. We were like, “yeah that would be great”. So we started growing our hair long. We decided we would never get into the Fillmore with a name like, ‘The Motown’s’. I was doing a little bit of recording at this record studio in Hayward, CA. The guy that owned the studio had written a list of potential band names. You know weird names, psychedelic names, like “Strawberry Alarm Clock” and “13th Floor Elevator” stuff like that. I was trying to find a name that would fit the Fillmore kind of theme. I saw the name “Tower Of Power” although that didn’t sound like a psychedelic name I thought it described us good. I told the guys, “hey we should call ourselves “Tower Of Power” and they were like, “Yeah”. So we did and we got an audition at the Fillmore West, we went on a Tuesday night audition. You know we were little nobody’s. Literally, I mean there was every famous band in the bay area who was trying to get into the Fillmore and get on their new record label. Somehow they picked us. Those people at the Fillmore were ready for something to kick.

CD: Are there any performances that stand out from the others?

Emilio Castillo:
There are a lot of them. I have played with a lot of great people with my horn section. The live album with Little Feet years ago, with the Rolling Stones live at Candlestick Park, with Tower of Power playing at Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans for the first time after trying to get in there for 20 years. They were telling us we didn’t fit. I was like, “we don’t fit”? So we finally went in there and just brought the house down. The guy that ran it was walking by shaking his head saying, “what was I thinking”? It was a very gratifying performance. Any time we play in Connecticut and Oakland. To go to this place in Arhus, Denmark called the train. It’s all kids under 20 singing the lyrics louder than we are.

CD: Your website says that your horn section has been featured on a lot of songs. Some of those songs have won Grammys. Tower of power has yet to win one.

Emilio Castillo:
No Grammys, one gold record.

CD: To me there is something very wong with that. There are many rappers who win Grammy’s and their music is not timeless, They make two albums win a Grammy and then they are out. You guys have produced timeless music.

Emilio Castillo:
Well, that’s kind of the business now days. People come and go a lot quicker. We are fortunate in that respect to have this long career. Quincy Jones felt the same way when we were recording the “First Brothers Johnson” record called Right On Time. We were talking and it came up that we had never received a gold record. He could not believe it. He said this record is going gold and I am going to send you one. About six months later I got a gold record in the mail for the Brothers Johnson. A few more years later our record Tower Of Power ‘What Is Hip’ went gold. Were quiet certain that ‘Back to Oakland’ is gold but they keep saying no. They have a different of computing because it was recorded as an album but now it’s a CD.

CD: How did you feel when James Brown passed away.

Emilio Castillo:
I was shocked! It was the day before Christmas I believe... and I was just shocked! We had played some gigs with him in the last years of his life. We played with him about 6 or 7 times. He liked that song “Digging On James Brown”. We were friends with all the people in his band. You know, we never gave it a thought. We used to always ask ourselves, ‘how old do you think he is’? The band members would say, “He lies”. It was a big secret about his age. He was out there doing his thing. So, I think I just thought of him of this guy that would be there forever. I never thought about it that he might die at some point. Then all of a sudden, James Brown died today and I was like “What”! I couldn’t believe it.

CD: It must of hurt you, cause it hurt me.

Emilio Castillo:
You know I don’t think it sunk in. Shortly after that they released a video on youtube of him singing with the famous opera singer, Pavarotti. He was singing, “It’s a mans world”. I didn’t know this but apparently the violin part in, “It’s a mans world” that is from a famous opera. Pavarotti and James Brown got together and James Brown would sing a verse of, “It’s a mans world” and Pavarotti would sing the violin part in Italian. You think? Now that’s kind of weird? What record company suit thought of that? But it was so moving. It is the most moving thing.

Celebrity Detour: How does the economy affect your traveling and your concerts? Does it affect you at all?

Emilio Castillo:
It affects us. For one, historically when there’s war going on and economic problems, entertainers do better. It just seems like people want to escape. They may not be spending their money on things that they need to spend them on but they will go on a Friday night to go see there favorite band. In that aspect we are very fortune. As a business it costs renting a bus for a three week tour. The bus is usually 1,000 bucks a day plus gas. Well now the gas is almost twice as much as two years ago. You know, that effects our cost. Hotel rooms are up. Service is down. You go to book flights and they are charging you for a bottle of water. In all these nit picky way’s it effects us but in the big picture we are just blessed because were entertainers and fortunately business is up.

CD: What kind of advice would you give someone looking to get into the music industry?

Emilio Castillo:
The most important thing is to be passionate about it. I think now days a lot of the main reasons young people get into music is because they know all of the trappings that go along with it. They know that if you’re a big star you have 18 buses, 18 semi’s, all these lighting directors, and your a guest star on all these people albums. Where as when we did it was just I just like playing music. I think that is the most important thing, to have that passion.

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