Hi folks, long time no writing!
So the day when i’m gonna write about my nr 1 favorite band, Tower of Power, is here thou it wasn’t obvious that i actually was gonna do it. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?! Anyway the reason why i hesitated was that this band’s music isn’t very slick. Then i realized that there are 2 songs that are, at least for beeing TOP, quite slick. Since it’s my favorite band i’m gonna have 2 songs with them.
Present line up of Tower of Power. Left to right: Francis Rocco Prestia (Bass), Tom E. Politzer (Lead Tenor Saxophone, background vocals), Adolfo Acosta (Second Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Background Vocals), Jerry Cortez (Guitar, Background Vocals), David Garibaldi (Drums), Ray Greene (Lead Vocals, Trombone), Roger Smith (Hammond B3, Keyboards, Background Vocals), Stephen MacKenzie “Doc” Kupka, (Baritone Saxophone), Emilio Castillo (Second Tenor Saxophone, Vocals, Background Vocals), Sal Chracchiolo (First Trumpet, Background Vocals)
Well let’s go way back to when it all began 1968 in Oakland, California when leader and founder Emilio Castillo (Mimi) met “his partner in crime” Stephen Mackenzie Kupka a/k/a “The Funky Doctor” or just simply “Doc”. In his early teenage Mimi got busted doing some crime. As a result of this His father took Mimi and his brother to the local music store and told them to pic any instrument they wanted in order to keep them off the streets. Mimi picked the tenor saxophone while his brother picked the drums. In his young days Mimi listened to all kind of soul music, back in those days Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, San Fransisco had their own styles, bands with their typical sound.
A shot of the band in the early 1970:s
So the two brothers started a band called The Motowns and as the name says they played mostly Motown and other soul covers . Then in 1967 he met Doc who heard The Motowns and liked what he heard but said that “the sound had no depth” and after a audition at Mimi’s house his father told him to hire Doc. They shared the same passion for the soul/funk music and it was Doc that suggested that they should write their own songs. The first one is a TOP classic based on a true story called You’re Still a Young Man. Mimi had a crush on this girl who was some years older than him and she said to him “you’re still a young man don’t waste your time…”.
Another shot of the band in the early 1970:s
They started to get a lot attention in Oakland and San Fransisco thou Mimi realized that with a name like The Motowns they ain’t gonna get any major cred. At this time Mimi’s biggest dream was to play at the Fillmore Auditorium started by Bill Graham in San Fransisco. So, on a break from recording in a little studio in Hayward, Mimi was sitting on the studio owner’s desk, and right in front of him was a long list of weird band names. He looked through it and saw Tower Of Power and thought “Yeah, that describes us.” The band agreed so the name stuck and you gotta agree that TOP sounds way cooler than the more lame The Motowns. Now renamed Tower of Power the first official line up besides Doc and Mimi was David Garibaldi (DG, drums), Willie Fulton (guitar), Greg Adams (first trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger), Francis Rocco Prestia (Rocco, bass), Skip Mesquite (lead tenor saxophone),, David Padron (second trumpet,) Rufus Miller (lead vocals). With this setting they got a record contract with San Fransisco Records and the debut album was released in 1970, see pic below. Also playing, contributing on this album was Rick Stevens (vocals), Mic Gillette (trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn) both later full time members and Ken Balzell also playing trumpet.
The band didn’t stay long with San Fransisco Records, they got a contract with Warner Brothers Records. Now there had been some personal changes in the band, Rufus Miller had left and now Rick Stevens was the lead singer and Brent Bryars had joined on percussion. The band’s first album for Warner Brothers came in 1972 and included the first song written by Doc and Mimi together, the one i’ve already mentioned “You’re Still a Young Man”. On this album we also find 3 other songs that are often featured in the band’s playlists such as “You’ve Got To Funkfize”, “You Strike My Main nerve”, “Down To The Night Club”.
Let’s jump one year forward to 1973 cause this year the band’s most successful album was released. And as many times before there had been a change of members. New leadsinger was Lenny Williams, Bruce Conte new guitarist, Chester Thompson (CT, Hammond B3 , keyboards) and Lenny Pickett (LP, lead tenor saxophone). This is by many fans considered THE TOP line up, picture above. Anyway the album simply Tower of Power contained several TOP classics to be. Those are “What is Hip”, they do “Hip” on every show, “Soul Vaccination”, “Get Yo Feet Back On the Ground” and the soulful power ballad “So Very Hard To Go”. Often all of these songs are featured in the playlists. Lenny Williams didn’t stay long within the band thou he sang on 4 albums, i’ll get back to that later.
Lenny Williams and TOP in action 1972.
The 1970:s was a very turbulent decade for the band as it was for many i think. DG went in and out of the band twice during the 70:s and even Rocco was out for a while. There were a lot of drugs and bad stuff going on.
Sometime during or before the sessions of the “Urban Renewal” album, pic above, DG left the group for the first time thou he plays on some tracks. The other guy was called David Bartlett and he’s only featured on this album at least as drummer.
Another guy replacing DG was Ronnie Beck for a few years between 1976-78 something. He’s featured on 2 albums and the first one of those is also DG featured. As i said a lot of bad stuff was going on withing the band during the 1970:s. In 1976 former lead singer Rick Stevens was sentenced to death for a drug affair gone terribly wrong. It ended up that Rick shot 3 persons to death. For this he was first sentenced to death but it became prison instead. He stayed 36 years behind bares before he was let out by paroled.
So in 1978/79 DG returned and are the featured drummer on the band’s last album for Colombia Records and the last for the 1970:s. The last albums are no good one cause towards the end of the 70:s the classic soul/funk music was no longer hip now it was disco. The record company more or less forced them to go more disco rather than Oakland funk. After this album DG had it with all alcohol, drugs and stuff so he left for good so everyone thought including himself thou he left with a heavy heart. And at this time Rocco was also out of the band. The 1980:s was also hard in it’s own way since the band was more or less forgotten and the big record companies though of them as dinosaurs. They belonged to the past.
One of two albums the band released during the 1980:s by the group picture above. They did however happen to have a huge fan in Huey Lewis who wanted to hire the horn section for some session. Eventually the band joined him on tour on the conditions that he was to promote them. And did he? Big time he did! Huey promoted the band as much as he possibly could! They jammed together on stage and the band began getting back on track.
TOP horn section jamming along with Huey Lewis. Horn section left to right Greg Adams, Al Chez, Doc, Marc Russo, Mimi.
Slowly but surely the band found their audience and their way back but on the other hand the TOP fans are loyal. Thou the 80:s was no difference comparing the previously decade regarding members coming and going. In the mid 80:s Rocco was back in the band again. Not gonna mention every single member but mention a few at least. In the early 80:s a guy called Richard Elliot was playing with jazz/fusion band Yellowjackets before joining TOP. He says that his time with TOP helped him to find, shape and define his own style. He has actually written a tribute song to the band called Boys From the Bay and offcourse the horn section is featured on that one. He is only featured on one album, Power from 1987 thou in Europe it was released the year before under the name TOP.
The band around 1986/87 with Richard Elliot second right back row.
Before Richard joined the group there was a saxman called Marc Russo who mostly played the alto saxophone. He’s a big time favorite of mine as long as the plays the alto sax cause i so totally love the sound of his alto! They did a recording during the 80:s with Marc but it was never released until 1999. It’s some songs recorded between 1980-83. It’s called Dinosaur Tracks cause that’s how many record companies hot shots were thinking of them.
Sorry about the kinda blurry pic here, on the far left you see Marc Russo in action.
Then sometime in the mid 80:s Marc Russo joined this band called Yellowjackets…yes the very same “Jackets” that Richard Elliot left so they more or less switched places! For a while Marc was actually playing in both bands, you gotta stay busy right?! They contiued changing members and touring and working hard during the 1980:s. Anyway the 1990:s came and in 1991 Monster On a Leach the decades first album was released with as so many times before a brand new line up. It was around this time i first heard the band, it was either this album or one released a few years later which was the first one i bought.
The line up for the Monster On a Leach album. Left to right: Back row: Mimi, Lee Thornburg (trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals), Doc, Nick Milo (Hammond B3, keyboards, backing vocals), Steve Grove (alto/tenor saxophone) Front row: Ross McKinnon (drums), Rocco, Greg Adams, Tow Bowes (lead vocals), Carmen Grillo (guitar, backing vocals)
Well in this band history always repeats itself meaning that they change members alot not saying it’s a bad thing or accusing those in the past who didn’t stayed long. Every member had their reason for joining and leaving no matter how long time they remained within the band. When the next album came Steve Grove had left the band thou the rest was still left so to speak. On the album the solo parts with sax was done by Brandon Fields who had been a member in the late 80:s early 90:s.
A shot from the late 1980:s early 1990:s with Tom Timko the tenor guy with the beret and the long hair.
In 1995 the next album came and again with some new members, it was a new lead singer in Brent Carter, new drummer Herman Matthews, 2 trumpet players in Barry Danielian and Bill “Churchy” Churchville and a new saxman in David Mann. Thou there are some guest appearances from Brandon Fields and pianist Jeff Lorber.
The band for the Souled Out album in 1995. Left to right back row: Carmen Grillo, Doc, Rocco, Mimi, Bill “Churchy” Churchville. Second row: David Mann, Brent Carter, Barry Danielian. Sitting front: Nick Milo and Herman Matthews.
The horn section mid 1990:s left to right: Bill “Churchy” Churchville, Barry Danielian, Doc, David Mann, Mimi
So for the next album Rhythm & Business the line up was almost the same but not quite since David Mann had been replaced with saxman John Scarpulla and Carmen Grillo with Jeff Tamelier see pic below. This was in 1998.
The new guys are the two last ones from the left in the back row with Jeff Tamelier first and then John Scarpulla.
John Scarpulla and Mimi in action while Brent Carter seems to having a ball!
A few years ago i heard someone saying that Rocco once was asked if he thought that DG would ever return and he didn’t think so thou. So in the late 90:s DG attented a show with the band and went to say hello after the gig to his old band mates. Still with no plans to return but the present drummer at that time Herman Matthews had announced he was gonna leave so they asked DG if he possibly could return…He accepted to like try to see how it feels again for a few gigs or maybe it was for a tour. Another reason was to get to play again with his favorite bass player, one of the best in the world, the original Francis Rocco Prestia!
A pic from the late 1990:s or possibly early 2000:s when DG was back in business for good. Back row left to right: Roger Smith, Bill “Churchy” Churchville, Doc, DG, Jeff Tamelier, Rocco, Front row: Brent Carter, Norbert Stachel (tenor sax), Mimi, Jesse McGuire (trumpet)
I believe it’s this line up of the band that plays on the first of the two songs today. The first one it’s actually a James Taylor cover called Steamroller. A cool and funky, soulful verison with a great horn arrangement by Dave Eskridge and the first song DG recorded with TOP for over 20 years!
Before the next one i gotta say something about a few members starting with LP. When on youtube look for clips/videos from the 1970:s with the band and check out LP in action! Check out the pic below thou it’s kinda blurry but LP is the guy nearest the drums with the very weird or cool outfit! Back in the days he used to do his very own, improvised dance moves something definetely worth checking out! Nowadays he’s living in NYC and is the musical director for the Saturday Night Live band. He sits in with the band now and then when they are playing in NYC.
Lenny today picture below.
Almost every funk/fusion bass player share the same like “house god” called Jaco Pastorious whom deserves all the cred he gets. Then let’s look at who inspired him, a certain Francis Rocco Prestia! Sad that Rocco has been kinda overlooked cause you won’t find any better and tighter rhythm section than Rocco and DG. A former member once commented on Facebook regarding Rocco that many times he turned around to see what Rocco actually was doing! Many bassists likes to play so called “slapping” meaning they use their thumb a lot when playing funk/fuison. Rocco is not playing any slapping still he grooves like crazy and plays incredible licks playing with his fingers.
Since TOP is my #1 favorite band i guess it doesn’t comes out as a surprise that DG is my favorite drummer. He’s a really great guy, very humble and down to earth met him a few times. When the magazine Modern Drummer was ranking the best grooves of the 1970:s Soul Vaccination was the second best groove or maybe even the best but not sure don’t really remember. At least between 1998 -2003, 2007 David won the Modern Drummer reader’s poll for “Best R&B/Modern Funk drummer”. How about that winning that for at lest 6 times and 5 of those years in a row! I know for fact that he’s a very well respected musician in the business. When he rejoined he had to update himself on his old grooves since long time no playing and then change them some. He has like matured and as both drummer and human beeing and during his absence got a lot of new influences. This year from February until August he’s not with the band due to hip replacements so the guy subbing for him is Herman Matthews, yes the very same guy who used to be in the band.
The first song came in 2001 and the next full album with David back in the TOP drumchair came in 2003 on which they went back to their roots and did everything, rehearsing, recording, producing in Oakland. The album was called The Oakland Zone. By now the only remaing guys were the main core guess you can figure out who they were, almost true since Jeff Tamelier was still around.
The band at the time for 2003:s album The Oakland Zone. Back row left to right: Doc, Roger Smith, Rocco, Tom E. Politzer. Front row left to right: DG, Jeff Tamelier, Larry “LB” Braggs (lead vocals), Adolfo Acosta, Mimi, Mike “Iron Mike” Bogart (trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn).
As you remember the band officially started in 1968 so in order to celebrate this they brough together a lot of guys from the past for one night only. Many of the past members wss able to join the band on stage! The best parts of this event was later released on cd as well as dvd and now blueray as well and it’s simply called 40th anniversary, see pic below. If you remember what place Mimi dreamed of in the very beginning it’s quite obvious to have the 40th anniversary at the very same place. This event took place at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Fransisco.
Earlier in the history of TOP the lead singers never stayed long but when LB joined that was about to be changed big time. He became the leadsinger sometime 2001/02 and stayed until December 2013! LB was a great showman who really knew how to take on the audience and he always gave like 100 % on stage with an amazing voice with a huge rang. My town here in Sweden is called Gothenburg in english and LB used to call it Gotham City, you know the fictional city of Batman! So when news reached the fans that LB was leaving many started getting nervous thinking he can’t be replaced. The hardcore fans have been saying that about every lead singer since Rufus Miller more or less.
Larry “LB” Braggs in action. He always used to perform in suites.
Ray Greene is a great replacer, got a great voice and since he has his background within the church he adds like a “church approach” to the show. Since the horns are a huge deal of this band it’s not a bad thing that Ray also plays the trombone! So do i have a favorite line up? No not directly don’t like comparing guys. Each singer brings something and does his own thing. The band sounds anything but old they are very much alive and kicking and one awesome live act!
Ray and the boys in action.
I mentioned earlier that Lenny Williams was featured lead singer on 4 albums. Here’s the thing, a few years ago Warner Brother Records called Mimi up saying they had been digging in their vaults. In 1974 the band did a show in NYC for a audience in a radio studio and it was recorded thou for whatever reason it never got released. They played the recordings for Mimi who immediately loved it and gave them their approval to released it as soon as possible! On this album it is what some call the classic line up. If you’re only gonna buy one album with the band this is the one cause they are all very inspired and on some tracks man CT’s fingers are like on fire!!
Added January 22 2016.
Since i wrote this like, if you will, article or whatever you will call it things have changed. The first is that lead singer Ray Greene announced he’ll be leaving the band for joining Carlos Santana and his band it was sad news and the fans have said that after pretty every lead singer that he can’t be replaced! Guys like Mimi, Doc, Rocco and DG you just can’t replace in TOP period but a singer is easier to replace. They haven’t presented any replacer for Ray yet. So the second thing is the most sad one since it was announced on Sunday 17 2016 that co-founder Mic Gillette died all of a sudden due to a heart attack. And below some comments from former colleagues in TOP taken from their Facebook pages. First it’s a comment from Mimi shared through the band’s offical web/Facebook page.
“Today we are shocked, stunned, and saddened to learn that Mic Gillette has passed away. We are told that a sudden heart attack took him. Please keep Mic’s family in your thoughts and prayers during this most difficult time. “The Tower of Power family was stunned today by the news that Mic Gillette, our dear friend and bandmate going back to 1966, passed away. Mic was without a doubt the greatest brass player I’ve ever known. Our sincere condolences go out to his wife Julia and his daughter Megan and their entire family.”
Emilio Castillo – Bandleader for Tower of Power
This is what trumpet player Greg Adams wrote after receieved the sad news.
“Where do I start? He was one of the best. We sure didn’t see this coming
whatsoever and are saddened that Mic is no longer with us.
Mic was the first lead player I had the opportunity to write for and play with in 1970. He’d play anything I’d put in front of him with great style and flair for many more years to come.
Rest in peace, Mic. I’ll miss you my brother in brass!”
Next is from guitarist Bruce Conte who were the guitar player in the band during the most years in the 1970:s. He wrote this.
“Sad news about Mic Gillette passing..he really helped me out at my oakland benifet last year.. he was a rare musician that could double on trombone and trumpet back and forth and a great section singer…he said some very kind things about me on facebook about my contribution to the tower of power music that we made together.. im am still in disbelief about this RIP MIC”
Former lead singer also commented the passing of Mic on his Facebook.
“I am shocked to hear about Mick Gillette. I met Mick in the sixties. He sold me the Trumpet he played Still a Young Man, on. He was one of a kind. He always had a joke to lighten the mood.”
Last qoute is from Rocco.
“So sad to announce that we lost Mick Gillette to a heart attack last night. He was one of the best trumpet players on the planet!
My condolences to his family~
Finally a link to an article from Rolling Stone Magazine regarding the death of Mic.
Unfortunately i never got the chance to see Mic with the band but no doubt he’s one of the greatest Tower of Power alumnis ever. Below a clip with Mic’s absolutely last performance with the band. After reading lots of comments from fans and colleagues it’s very clear that he was not just an amazing musician but also a wonderful person in private. When he left the band around 1984 it was to be able spending more time with his family. To quote Beatles/John Lennon “life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend”. If you have hurt someone and you know it apologize today tomorrow might be to late. If you love somebody tell them now not later cause when it’s too late you’ll surely regrett you never told the person/persons what you really felt.
R.I.P. You’ll be greatly missed by foremost your family, friends and colleagues but also thousands and thousands of fans world wide. You have joined the heavenly band and are jamming with Skip Mesquite and Brent Bryars again!
The perhaps most iconic TOP horn section.
Left to right:Mimi, Doc, LP, Greg and Mic.
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