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Tower Of Power - Soul Side Of Town

Posted by April Galenzoski on 2018/08/13

The Oakland Bay area has been synonymous with a variety of things in the course of its existence. Shark infested waters certainly come to mind, as do seismic waves which have on many occasions caused ground shaking activity on different ends of a Richter scale. But in 1968, the region heard another rumbling that may have began as tremor, but can now be officially designated a soulquake.


50 years?? Really? Even ToP co-founder, spokesman, saxophonist and vocalist  Emilio Castillo reflects on that feat of endurance rarely seen in music and wonders how it all happened. A half a century of whipping fans into a music frenzy across the globe with in your face high energy horns and reverberating funk and soul culminates with Soul Side Of Town, on Mack Avenue Records. The album commemorates the legacy started by Castillo and Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka with 14 new originals songs and almost entire vocal offering, which was actually a four year process beginning in 2012 and recorded over four sessions. Enlisted to co-produce Soul Side Of Town with Castillo was Joe Vannelli (brother of Gino) resulting in a masterpiece of brilliant arrangement with fine-tuned brass, heavy funk driven rhythms, edgy vocals, and delightfully smooth and sophisticated background accompaniment. It’s not simply soul, but rather their legendary brand of soul. Furthermore, it has become ToP’s first Billboard number one album in their history.


Tracks like Do You Like That?, On The Soul Side Of Town, Do It With Soul, and Stop are among the definitive and certifiable ToP block party portion of the album. The incendiary energy is one that has defined the sound and ToP brand over the course of its existence and can pull an audience out of its seat and onto its feet with one opening note sax or horn blast.  However, as another pure example of ToP versatility and style, offerings like Can’t Stop Thinking About You, Love Must Be Patient, When Love Takes Control and Let It Go demonstrate their more delicate and smooth side where they bring down the temperature with a timeless and classic soul jam vibe which may be a subtle and unintentional reminder that Castillo’s original name for the band was ‘The Motowns’ before branding as Tower Of Power.


While Castillo, Kupka, bassist Rocco Prestia and drummer David Garibaldi have been the ToP pillars and constants, the same can’t be said for the generations of members who have spent studio and stage time in the group, and each an indelible chapter of the band’s historic success and achievements. Despite some facelifts, and personnel changes, ToP has never wavered or strayed from their trademark west coast sound. However, none of the legacy was ever achieved without adversity or obstacles over 50 years. In the late 1980s, both Castillo and Kupka found sobriety. Health issues have limited Prestia’s performances in recent years, though thankfully he participated on this milestone album.  In early 2017, members Garibaldi and fill-in bassist  Marc Van Wageningen nearly lost their lives after being struck by an Amtrak train outside of Yoshi’s nightclub in Oakland as they were walking to what would have been the 11th  show of the band’s 12  concert performance at the famed jazz spot. And in 2016, Castillo scrambled to find a lead vocalist replacement for Ray Greene who accepted a too-good-to-refuse offer to join Santana. Both Greene and his eventual replacement Marcus Scott handle lyrics on the album, in addition to Castillo’s vocal contribution.


How has ToP been able to maintain a high level of music superiority and challenges to stretch their legacy to 50 years? Castillo seems to think divine intervention has a lot to do with it. A half-century into it, ToP’s influence and recognition is such that concerts become surreal experiences where grandparents bring their enthusiastic grandkids who also have found the answer to the question of ‘What Is Hip?’


In an exclusive interview with Billboard Castillo said the title Soul Side Of Town is predicated on the idea that every major city has that side to it, and it’s about those soulful places in every city. ToP has spent much of their 50 years being musical overlords of that side of town, and we hope they have no plans of vacating the funky neighbourhood anytime soon.


And that doesn’t appear to be the case. Fans will be excited to know that so much material was recorded that a second follow-up album is expected to be released next year, and their 50th anniversary shows in at Oakland’s Fox Theater were filmed for a retrospective documentary on the band.


50 years later, and the earth they play on is still reverberating.


Reviewed by Stu Berketo

On-Air Host 94.7HD2 & 95.9HD2


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