Sting, if you’re reading this, we’ve got a gig for you.
Tower of Power is looking for a new lead singer.
“I would really like to perform with Sting… I think he’s very musical and it would be a great combination,” says Emilio Castillo, the tenor saxman who founded the funky soul band as The Motowns in 1968.
The Tower of Power lineup coming to Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center on Sept. 27, 2013, still features the dynamic Larry Braggs on lead vocals. After 13 years at the mic, he is about to fly solo.
This also may be your last chance, for awhile, anyway, to see longtime bass player Rocco Prestia. A decade ago he got a new liver. Now he needs a kidney.
“He’s the Miracle Boy, rebuilding himself one part at a time,” said Emilio. (Sting, if you’re not using one of those kidneys…)
Come what may, you can count on Tower of Power powering forward, in one form or another, with Emilio and bari-sax player Doc Kupka belting out You’re Still a Young Man until their last breaths.
“I think the performance keeps us in shape,” says Emilio, who is working on TOP’s first album of original songs in years.
What will it sound like?
“Tower of Power songs,” Emilio deadpans. “We learned a long time ago that we can’t really do anything else. It comes out like sweat.”
After bagging Sting, the next item on his bucket list is writing an Oscar-winning theme song for Hollywood.
TOP already has performed or recorded with a who’s who of pop legends, ranging from Aerosmith and Elton John to Heart, Lyle Lovett and Santana. Friday’s incarnation–which includes four original TOP members–will share the stage with fellow soul survivors War (The Cisco Kid, Why Can’t We Be Friends, Spill The Wine). Emilio promises an exciting evening.
“You’ve got 10 guys up there, you’ve got all these horns. You’ve got this smoking rhythm section, these unique soul tunes, a lot of audience participation. It’s a great show,” he says.
Read on for our complete interview with Emilio.
Tower of Power and War
Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 at 8 pm
100 South St., Morristown
MorristownGreen.com: There’s a lot of news in TOP land. Your lead singer, Larry Braggs, is leaving?
Emilio Castillo: Well, he’s been with us longer than any lead singer ever. He’s just completed his 13th year with us. And I think he’s of an age where he wants to get out and see if he can do it on his own. So, we’re moving on, and we’ve been doing sort of this big media search for a singer… One thing you know about Tower of Power, it’s a rumor mill. There are no secrets. Everything is kind of open turf. So the word gets out pretty quick.
MG: So your ‘Help Wanted’ ad would look like?
Emilio Castillo: “Wanted: One soul singer. Good range. Exciting live presence. Good personal habits.” That’s about it.
MG: And tell us about TOP member Rocco Prestia’s health condition?
Emilio Castillo: Rocco Prestia, he needs a kidney. This has been an ongoing struggle in his life. He needed a liver 10 years ago and he was blessed and he got one. Now he needs a kidney, and they’re working on a donor and we’re all praying for him and hoping that it happens. Because if it doesn’t, it’s going to be dialysis, and that kind of ruins his chances of staying on the road.
MG: Has he been playing regularly with you through all this?
Emilio: We didn’t take him to Europe and Japan this year. But he’s back with us now.
MG: How’s his outlook?
Emilio Castillo: Good. He’s the Miracle Boy, rebuilding himself one part at a time.
MG: One of your signature songs is You’re Still a Young Man. Does that still ring true?
Emilio Castillo: Depends on who you’re talking about!
MG: How are you feeling these days?
Emilio Castillo: Pretty good. No complaints.
MG: Your drummer, David Garibaldi, said the first hundred years are the hardest. Do you agree?
Emilio Castillo: Well, I think that’s just a funny saying.
MG: I also read that you want to write the theme song to a classic movie someday. What kind of a movie would you like to write a soundtrack for?
Emilio Castillo: A drama… at this point in my life any kind of drama would be cool. I’m not really looking to write music for some B movie, although, who can turn down a job like that? But I’d like to write one that’s going to get an Oscar.
MG: What kind of movies do you like to watch?
Emilio Castillo: I like dramas, like A Few Good Men. I like comedies, too, As Good As It Gets, stuff like that.
MG: As a kid you moved from Detroit to Northern California. Which place was rougher–Detroit or Oakland?
Emilio Castillo: When I left Detroit I was 11, so how rough Detroit was didn’t really affect me yet. But when I got to California, though, that was a wakeup call, because I was right in the middle of San Francisco for three months. And I remember my first exposure to all different kinds of nationalities, all hanging out at the playground. In Detroit, everybody was separate. There was the Polish neighborhood here, and the Russians over here, and the Greeks over here, and the Jews here, and the blacks were here. All these different segments of people, sort of separate. When I got to California, man, it was Italian kids, Irish kids, Asian kids, black kids, white kids, Mexicans, all together on the playground. It was the most I had ever seen of kids who had single parents. In Detroit, everybody had two parents. I never heard of divorce till I came to California. When I got to California, all these kids were children of single parents.
MG: How did this mix influence your music?
Emilio Castillo: I don’t know that it influenced my music so much, because I didn’t play till later. I didn’t play till I got into high school. I was in junior high when I first came to California. And then we quickly moved out to a suburb, and it was a pretty white bread kind of suburb called Fremont. I remember we had a couple of black kids and a few Mexicans at the school, but for the most part, really a Wonder Bread kind of community. But we had stuff going on there, too. So as far as my music being affected, I think the biggest effect was I left Detroit, which was my home, and I came to the Bay Area, where I was a scared little boy, and my friend became the radio. I would listen to the radio all the time. And that’s right when Motown music started to happen. So I would hear the Motown music and I would pine for my friends in Detroit. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved music. My parents played it all the time. I was a really good little mimic. I used to mimic singers. The radio was my best friend, and then I got into a little bit of trouble, and my dad told me to come up with something to keep me off the streets. And music happened, and I never turned back.
MG: That’s lucky for us. It’s been awhile since we’ve heard any new originals from TOP. Anything in the works?
Emilio Castillo: Yeah, I just completed the basic tracks for 25 songs, all original. And I just need to go in and finish them up. I put a lot of background vocals on, and several lead vocals. But I still have to put on the horns…and then violins and overdubs and solos, and then I’ve got to mix it. I’m doing it all between touring, so it’ll be awhile. But it’s coming along and it sounds very good.
MG: How would you describe the songs?
Emilio Castillo: Tower of Power songs. We learned a long time ago that we can’t really do anything else. It comes out like sweat. It always sounds like Tower of Power. That’s about all I can tell you. Lot of songs by myself and Doc [Kupka].
MG: You’re still going strong four decades in. How do you keep it fresh–and how do you keep yourself in shape to perform? The sax is a pretty demanding instrument.
Emilio Castillo: I think the performance keeps us in shape. It’s a very physical show, and we do a lot of them. Over the years you learn how to take care of yourself. I spent the first 20 years trying to kill myself, and now every day I try to live to the best of my ability, for God. I would say God does it, and we just show up.
MG: For those handful of folks who have never seen TOP, what can they expect on Friday in Morristown?
Emilio Castillo: Tower of Power as a live show is really the thing. It’s a really exciting live show. You’ve got 10 guys up there, you’ve got all these horns. You’ve got this smoking rhythm section, these unique soul tunes, a lot of audience participation. A very exciting show: High energy, uptempo tunes, and really slow, heart-wrenching ballads. It’s a great show.
MG: You’ve played with so many top acts over the years, everybody from Aerosmith, Elton John, the Monkees, even. I’m just wondering who are you still waiting to perform with?
Emilio Castillo: I would really like to perform with Sting. That’s one we really haven’t done. I think he’s very musical and it would be a great combination.
MG: Of the many stars you have performed with, who are your favorites?
Emilio Castillo: I have a few favorites. I really like working with Little Feat, and Huey Lews and the News. We did some good work with Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt and Santana and Elton John.
MG: We interviewed Heart not too long ago. What do you remember about playing with them?
Emilio Castillo: Great people. It was a really nice relationship. I enjoyed that, too. I just ran into a couple of those guys up in Seattle, and it was good to see them. Mike Derosier, the bass player. They’re great people, and it was a class act.
MG: I have to ask you about the Monkees…
Emilio Castillo: You know, it was just a session where we showed up to do a recording. They weren’t there. It wasn’t Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart producing, it was later in their career… the session doesn’t stick out as anything special except it was, ‘Oh, we’re doing the Monkees.’
MG: You’re playing on Friday night with War. Have you played a lot with them?
Emilio Castillo: Many times, great guys. They’ve got all those hits. The band, the aggregation that Lonnie Jordan has is excellent, they all play really good. We’ve been friends for years; it’s a comfortable setting.
MG: And in TOP, you have four original members now? How does this lineup stack up with earlier ones?
Emilio Castillo: Four, yeah. It’s one of the best lineups I’ve ever had. That’s why I’m so diligently trying to get it recorded. I want to document it just the way it is. We’ve got probably the best guitar player we’ve had in our whole career, Jerry Cortez. We finally have an organ player that matches the intensity and creativity of Chester Thompson, his name is Roger Smith. David Garibaldi is back on drums, me and Doc [Kupka] are holding down the horn section. I got two trumpet players, one came from Maynard Ferguson’s band, Adolfo Costa, and the other played with Pancho Sanchez for 20 years, Sal Cracchiolo. We have a world-class tenor player, Tom Politzer. And Larry Braggs is one of the best singers we’ve ever had. He’s very exciting on stage. It’s just a great aggregation right now. That’s why I’m really trying to document it on tape.
MG: You and Doc Kupka go back so far, you must feel like an old married couple. How do you describe that relationship?
Emilio Castillo: He’s my best friend, you know, and he still is today. If I walk into a room and I look where I’m going to sit, it’s usually near him. We just know each other really well and we’re comfortable with each other. He’s just a really creative, quirky kind of guy. I hired him years ago at the advice of my dad, and I’ve never regretted it.
MG: Your dad was a smart guy. Looking forward to seeing you on Friday, and continued success to you.
Emilio Castillo: Thank you very much. God bless.