The Hippo


Jul 23, 2019








Courtesy photo

Tower of Power

When: Saturday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m.
Where: Casino Ballroom, 169 Ocean Boulevard, Hampton Beach
Tickets: $25-$40 at 

Hipper than hip
Tower of Power perform at Casino Ballroom

By Michael Witthaus

 Fueling hits like “What Is Hip,” “You’re Still a Young Man” and “So Very Hard to Go,” Tower of Power’s horn section is its calling card. Early on, all sorts of musicians asked the five-piece unit to guest on studio recordings and live shows. They were de facto members of Huey Lewis & the News in that band’s heyday.

Tenor sax player Emilio Castillo recalled being a little confused after their first session in 1970. 
“Nick Gravenites called and said, ‘I’ve got this song that would be great with the horns, and can you come over?’” Castillo said in a recent phone interview. “We drove over in the middle of the night and played on ‘Funkie Jim.’ We had a ball. Walking out, he stuffed some money in our pocket. We thought we were doing it for free.”
A few months later, Carlos Santana invited them to play on the eventual Top 20 hit “Everybody’s Everything.” He too handed them cash as they left. 
“It started to dawn on us that we could actually do this and it doesn’t take any time out from what we actually do,” said Castillo. “We started getting calls because people began figuring out that what we were doing was really working.”
The ToP Horns appeared on hundreds of sessions, backing everyone from Rod Stewart to Molly Hatchet, the B-52’s and Ray Charles — even P. Diddy. 
“That’s what artists want,” said Castillo. “To have a couple of songs where this sound is barking out; it’s just a special thing.”
Still, the Oakland, California, band’s bread and butter is strutting its stuff on stage, playing over 175 dates a year. After four-plus decades, Tower of Power is a storied franchise, the 49ers of funk and soul. Castillo, Stephen “Doc” Kupka and Rocco Prestia remain the only founding members in the band; dozens of others have come and gone. 
Dozens more are constantly trying to join the band. 
“Our career sort of speaks for itself, so now people sort of seek us out,” said Castillo. “It looks good to see you did time with Tower of Power. My phone is filled with … all kinds of players.”
One particularly persistent guitarist helped them find a new vocalist when 14-year veteran Larry Braggs announced he was leaving last year. 
“He really wanted into the band; I told him I want to go to my grave with Jerry Cortez as my guitar player,” said Castillo. “But he approached me from every way possible,” including e-mailing about a singer named Ray Greene. 
“I learned a long time ago to look at everything, every song,” said Castillo. “So I had to give Ray a listen, even though I was thinking, this guy again.’ Then I had to call and thank him.” 
He sent Greene’s MP3 to the rest of the band, who all agreed the southern-born gospel singer then working in Boston should be called in for a tryout.  
A comedy of errors found Greene fronting the band on a night he was only scheduled for a soundcheck audition.  
“Larry couldn’t make it, and I told the guys, ‘I have a good feeling — what if I just call and ask him to learn six more songs?’ They all felt the same way,” said Castillo. Although it wasn’t flawless, “that night, we knew … it was very comfortable and we liked him. So Ray started on New Year’s Day.”
Greene clicks more than musically. 
“One thing you have to do is hire people with principles … if they are uncomfortable to be around or embarrassing because of the type of people they are, you don’t want them,” said Castillo. “Back in the day we were nuts and did a bunch of stupid stuff, but we’ve grown up. We live life in a manner that we don’t have to apologize for; we’re looking for people like that. Ray Greene has all that and more.” 
As seen in the September 25, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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