What is Hip? Tower of Power at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
For more than four decades now, Oakland’s Tower of Power has graced stages around the world with a signature blend of R&B, funk and rock & roll, scoring a number of their own hit songs as well as performing with the likes of Santana, Little Feat, Huey Lewis and Elton John.
Originally formed as the Motowns in 1968 by Emilio Castillo and Stephen Kupka, the band quickly changed its name to Tower of Power and began making a reputation gigging around the Bay Area, eventually getting the attention of local concert impresario Bill Graham, who signed the group to his record label.
Throughout the ensuing years, the band, which performs at the San Jose Civic on Dec. 8 with War, became known for a soulful sound that was propelled by an outstanding horn section and earned Tower of Power hit singles such as “So Very Hard to Go,” “Soul With a Capital S” and “What Is Hip?”
“It’s wonderful to play the Bay Area, no matter where it is, it’s always fabulous,” says Castillo, who now resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We have a big history in San Jose. We used always go there to buy our equipment and were part of that band circuit before we were famous. We used to the play the Warehouse.” Tower of Power has come a long way since those early days, and recently released a 40th anniversary box set featuring selections spanning the band’s history—an immensely successful run that Castillo says still amazes him.
“When people ask me if I ever had any idea that it would turn out like it has, I say the idea when I started it was to get to Sacramento—to be ‘on the road,’” Castillo says. “It’s gone far beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve traveled the world, and played with great, great musicians. I never imagined it would be like this.”
As with many long-running rock acts, Tower of Power’s success did not come without a few bumps in the road, some of which Castillo says nearly destroyed them. “We made every mistake you could possible make,” he says. “We abused ourselves; we nearly lost our career to drugs and alcohol—but we got clean around ’88 and started taking a spiritual approach.”
In addition to a healthier lifestyle and positive outlook, an ever-present independent attitude seems to be the secret behind the group’s continued inspiration. “We make our music selfishly—we make it to please ourselves, and we’ve noticed that when we do that, our fans dig it,” Castillo says. “By virtue of that fact, it’s easy to go to work every day.”
Tower of Power, WAR
Saturday, Dec. 8; 8pm; $25.50–$65
San Jose Civic