Monday, May 2, 2011

27 Apr 11 - Interview with Emilio Castillo of Tower of Power

"...young people will always be rebellious ...and determined..."
Emilio Castillo

Hey, blogspot readers, this 10-piece funk/soul/jazz band rocks their shows with a vibe of high energy, emotional soul sound that can leave the audience touched on several spiritual levels from their music. And personally, SouthSide cannot wait to experience this herself on May 17 at Chicago's House of Blues. Known for the 70s hit, What Is Hip?, Tower of Power is still a popular mainstay amongst the band's devoted fans for over forty years within the music industry. However, there was one point in time in which the band was viewed as a "dinosaur" in the industry because being told no one would listen to their style of music anymore. That was then, titled as "legendary", Tower of Power is packing venues around the world as well as influencing at new music generation of musicians (such as local favorite JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound). Quite familiar with Tower and its music (thanks to her father), SouthSide felt honored to be interviewing Emilio Castillo, bandleader and 2nd tenor sax on vocals, recently via phone ...gaining some insight about how the music industry has changed from the days when the band first started to how Tower of Power got its name and more.

SouthSide jumped right into the interview wanted to know Tower of Power received its name. Emilio stated before Tower became to be known as Tower of Power they were performing under the name as The Motowns with aspirations of playing at top venues such as The Fillmore like such acts Jefferson Airplane. However, he felt that a band name - The Motowns (especially since they were from the Bay Area) wouldn't get them there. So one day while at a management office, he spotted a list of potential band name along a wall in which the name - Tower of Power - instantly caught his eye. Emilio knew that was what they were and what their music sounded and immediately took the new band name suggestion to the other members. And the rest, as they say, blogspot readers, was history.

Then she asked what attributed to Tower's long lasting popularity through time, Emilio simply replied "...we never quit ...never went away..." He briefly relayed a story in which a young singer disenchanted by the music business sought his advice on what to do. He told this person (name withheld) that "...if you quit, you'll never make it..." Emilio also attributed Tower's popularity to the fact the band made music the way "...we liked it ...[and] to please ourselves..." which the audience enjoys. He did state the record company at one point of the band's career wanting them to follow the popular trend or sound like someone else. They tried, blogspot readers, but according to Emilio, the songs kept sounding like Tower of Power songs instead. Soon, the record company gave up ...basically stopped caring and things got better after Tower returned making music their way. "...[We] never tried to like everyone else..." to which he advises "...stay true to yourself ...create your own signature..." When first starting out as a band, it's nice to imitate your heroes but you also need to "...find your own voice..."

With Tower having over 40 years plus experience inside the music industry, SouthSide wanted to know in his opinion what has changed about it over the years. In Emilio's eyes, the music industry has lost its passion and creativity thus becoming more of a big corporate business. SouthSide can agree with that. Emilio stated when Bill Graham started The Fillmore in NYC and CA, the hippie was starting to come to life as well as with the folk/rock blossoming soon discovering there's money to be made from promoting big time rock concerts. Over the years, more money could be made when adding merch (i.e. buttons, posters, et al) and then it moved to commercializing popular songs as product placement pieces. Slowly the heart and soul of this industry went out as time passed, according to Emilio, in which he also cited the corporate monoply on venues. However there is an upside to all of this, blogspot readers, the internet. "...instead of listening to pre-fab radio stations, people are turning to the internet to hear some obsecure station..." And speaking of the internet, this reviewer wondered does it play a major role and how has it effected Tower of Power as well as the music scene. Emilio replied saying it [definitely] plays a role to music period changing (as well as effecting) Tower of Power and the scene in general. "Now people are discovering a whole new world ...meeting other likeminded people ...don't have to knock on doors but now [Tower of Power] can knock on doors as far away as Sweden..."

For fun, SouthSide asked Emilio which popular artist(s), current or past< would he like Tower of Power to collaborate on an album. Immediately, he replied "...Sting..." A little background as to why - before forming The Police, Sting used to front a "Tower of Power" like band in which they covered Only So Much Oil (off Tower's 1974 album - Urban Renewal). Emilio said that this particular song is still relevant today as it did back in the 70s when written during the oil crisis (oh, SouthSide remembers those days). Emilio would like to do this song and more with Sting however he prefers the Tower of Power's horn section backing him instead of his (Sting's) horn section. SouthSide's next fun question was asking Emilio which Tower of Power album was his personal favorite in hopes of stumping this musician. No such luck this time, blogspot readers, because he answered saying it was Urban Renewal. Though being Tower's least selling album, Emilio felt it was his beast "...firing on all cylinders..." from producton to horns and vocals. He also stated he's pretty much proud of all Tower's albums. SouthSide did not a gap between albums Back On The Streets (1979) and Power (1987) asking him what happened then with the band. That's when Emilio said the record company started calling them "dinosaurs" citing that no one (especially SouthSide's genX age group) would want to listen to music like Tower's. The record company were searching for someone or something no one has heard before thus began the rise of 80s pop scene. Tower of Power went from becoming a "dinosaur" to an "institution" after 20 years in the business and then elevated to "legendary" after being honored by The California Music Association with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. Yet, in the meanwhile between Tower's "dinosaur" and "legend" status, the band was still around making music.

SouthSide told Emilio that she was very excited about attending her first Tower of Power concert wondering what she could expected at House of Blues on May 17. Emilio referred back to her opening queston "...high energy emotional soul music..." to further explain she would be seeing more than a funk show. "...funk is just a part of what Tower of Power does..." says Emilio stating this reviewer will be hearing a little bit of Jazz, a little Rock and Soul during the concert. Plus, she might cry (while listening to the music) ...perhaps be emotionally touched on several levels because their music contains a lot of heart and soul. Then she also expressed how her father is a Tower of Power fan to which Emilio lovingly stated "...Tower of Power fans a complete nutcases..." He told a story of meeting two different set of people while on a flight - person A casually asked what he did for a living in which he said he's a musician and then mentioned the band name - Tower of Power. Person B, overhearing the conversation, bursted with exuberent glee of how much he's a T.O.P. fan. Yes, blogspot readers, Tower of Power fans are not your average fans and Emilio can attest to that statement. Though never having number 1 albums like The Beatles, Tower of Power are so indebted to their fans who keep their music alive ...telling SouthSide how they named their children after them or would wait in line just to tell them their life story affected by Tower's music. SouthSide cannot wait to meet some of Tower's fans on the 17th to get their perspective about the band.

SouthSide closed the interview with her last two questions for Emilio which the next to last question was spiritually profound. She asked what influences Tower of Power's hot funk/soul sound and Emilio replied "...that's a God thing..." stating "...God gives certain gifts to different people..." He went on to say you do your best at first but soon it turns into a gift however when you reach a certain point, it's all for the glory of God. In otehr words, blogspot readers, you have to give credit to the Source for giving you that unique talent or gift. And lastly, SouthSide asked him if there would be anything he could change about Tower of Power after being in the business for so long. Emilio doesn't believe in rewriting history saying "...all things happened for a reason..." Leaving the past where it's at, he also said he wouldn't change a thing to Tower of Power because he's merely "...doing my best today..."

What an interview, blogspot readers! SouthSide's ready to rock out her first Tower of Power concert on May 17 at House of Blues. She would like to thank Emilio Castillo for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview and Anne Leighton of Leighton Media for arranging the interview.

Until next time, support your local scene,

1 comment:

  1. Southside,

    I'd have to believe that today, because of the ongoing media delivery revolution, the influence of big name music (or multi-media) publishers has waned. There is an axiom about companies that grow too big, they tend to focus on keeping that rate of growth, which means revenue.

    Tower Of Power proves that being true to ones self, no matter how corny that sounds, may be hard, but it isn't as hard as trying to stay false.



Thank you for your feedback - SouthSide