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Just as San Francisco's late-'60s psychedelic scene was winding down, legendary concert promoter Bill Graham helped raise the Bay Area's collective consciousness by bringing in artists such as Miles Davis, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and B.B. King. By the time Oakland's Tower of Power hit the scene in the early '70s, people were ready for its horn-driven brand of soul and funk. Since then, the group has gone on to release nearly twenty albums, including an upcoming record of classic soul covers. We talked with founding member and sax player Emilio Castillo about the new disc.
Westword: How did the sessions go for the new record?
Emilio Castillo: Pretty good. We did the last four tracks with George Duke. Talented guy — really nice. They're gonna come out great.
Any different than the last few albums you've released?
We're doing all old soul music. This is definitely the most different album we've ever done.
Like which tunes?
We cut a tune by Stevie Wonder called "You Met Your Match." We did a four-song James Brown medley. We did "Baby Baby, Sweet Baby" ["Since You've Been Gone"], by Aretha. We did "Love Land," by the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. "Me and Mrs. Jones." "Your Precious Love," by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. "Heaven Must be Missing an Angel," by Tavares. "Who Is He and What Is He to You," by Bill Withers. "It Takes Two," by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston. And a few others.
What made you want to go that direction and do the old stuff?
It was a suggestion from our new manager. He's almost two years with us. When we started thinking about doing the new record, he said, "What you think about doing something different?" We were like, "What different? We don't do anything different. We make Tower of Power music." He said, "I want you to make Tower of Power music, but maybe rather than doing original material, you do some old soul stuff." We said, "Everybody's doing that. We don't want to follow a trend." But he said, "Do these tunes your way." He made a point and said, "You've done nineteen albums of all original Tower of Power music, and maybe it's time you give them something different." So he ran it by a bunch of different promoters throughout the world, and they were all really excited about it, so we decided to go ahead and do it, and it's been fun.
What is hip now versus when you guys started?
My answer to that question is always the same. It's in the lyric of the song: "What's hip today just might become passé." Because that's what always happens. Hipness is a state of mind; it's not a thing. It's not a particular fad. It's not a trend. It's a state of mind. If you're trying to be hip and wear your hair a certain way, you know that hairstyle's gonna be out in six months. You're trying to be hip and have a certain amount of tattoos, and in a few years people are going to look at you say, "What were you thinking?" All fads come and go.
Visit our blogs for more of our interview with Emilio Castillo.