Lisa Condit recently spoke with Emilio Castillo, vocalist and tenor saxophone for Tower of Power, about the band’s upcoming show on Wednesday, October 10. Read on for highlights from their interview, or listen to the full interview here.
Lisa: Fifty years is a long time to be together. You say, “When Tower of Power starts to groove, and I mean when we really start to click, we enter what I call the ‘Oakland Zone.'” Can you tell us about the “Oakland Zone” and how it came to be?
Emilio: It’s just a phrase that we came up with to mean when we’re really humming as a band, just bringing it to the best of our abilities. The audience is giving us all of their energy and we’re giving them twice as much energy back. It just turns into a great vibe. We call that being in the “Oakland Zone.”
Lisa: You must have some great memories and great inspirations.
Emilio: We started in Oakland, California in 1968. I already had my band, The Motowns for about a year and a half and then I met a guy named Steven Kupka, who eventually became known as “the funky doctor.” He played the baritone sax and joined the band. He urged me to start writing original songs. The first [song] we wrote was “You’re Still A Young Man,” which is still one of the most popular songs we play. We had a really great trumpet player named Nick Gallant, who I hired at 16 and I had no idea that he would become one of the world’s greatest trumpet players. Pretty soon we got signed to Bill Graham’s new record label, San Francisco Records, and we did our first album. We came at a time when the psychedelic era was coming to an end in San Francisco, and they were ready for something a little more soulful, a little more rhythmic and a lot more entertaining. We’ve been doing it now for 50 years and feel blessed to be able to do it.
Lisa: You’ve played with so many great bands and performers. What are some of the highlights?
Emilio: We’ve appeared as Tower of Power with some really great acts like Santana and Aretha Franklin, but you’re probably talking about the Tower of Power horns, which have recorded with countless artists. You can find out who at towerofpower.com. We have full discography of every recording session that we’ve done…Elton John, Aerosmith, Linda Ronstadt. We appeared on stage with James Brown. A lot of great music with a lot of great people.
Lisa: It’s because of those horns. That’s what you’re known for. How did you get together playing those horns as a group?
Emilio: I started a band when I was 16. They were called The Spiders. They had three horns and they were really soulful. Before that I was really into rock and roll. I liked the more soulful rock, but when I saw this soul band with horns, it spun my cap and I had to have some horns. The big horn sound was something I inherited. I just kept hiring guys. Before I knew it, I had five! These days, when people ask me for advice, I say start a trio.
Lisa: What would you tell our conservatory students? It is about being able to play with other musicians. It’s the collaboration that keeps you sharp. Is that part of the secret of getting along with these people for 50 years? A lot of marriages don’t last that long.
Emilio: We live our lives with principles and we love each other. We’re with each other a whole lot. I’m closer to these guys than my brothers. We make this music exactly the way we want it to be. We’re not chasing trends or trying to be like anyone else.