TOP Still at the Top
A review -- and remembrance -- of Tower of Power's latest CD: The East Bay Volume 1
Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor
The seminal R&B horn-driven funk master supreme band Tower of Power has reached way back into their trick bag and has issued a two-disc CD set entitled The East Bay Archive Volume 1.
Published on LatinoLA: August 12, 2008
The two joint set is a concert captured live on April 23, 1973 at a club in Boston. (The anal audio cats need to stand down and stop sniveling the sound quality. The CD as one would expect is not up to TOP studio standards, the sound is that of an authorized Bootleg, but worth every penny if you have ever taken a music lesson or have at least one ounce of hip in your dance DNA.)
According to archive producer, 2008 Drum Legends award winner David Garibaldi, "Throughout my first 10 years with the band. I collected reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes of our rehearsals and shows. These recordings document our evolution as a group, and are a historical record of the development of the Tower of Power sound. Over the years, I would occasionally listen to some of these tapes, and marvel at how we were always trying to reach beyond ourselves into that creative space where great music lives."
"The initial volumes of The East Bay Archive will be from my private collection, and covers the period from August 1971 to Spring 1980, but there is certainly more, and eventually, recordings from later years will be included. The release of this material was put in motion at the suggestion of our Manager Pat Rains, as a way to celebrate our 40th anniversary and further connect with our fans".
The two-CD set needs to be listened to loud. The tunes, the rhythm, the banter slingshot me back to the days of Daddy Mac brims, floor length trench coats, El Dorado drop tops and red hot Mamas with high-feathered hair, got my game up tight, Babe, shoulda known that up in frontÔÇª
Founding band member Doctor Steven Kupka recalls a certain Black and White divide in Boston at the time, something that the band was not used to coming from the San Francisco ... the Bay Area.
"We were originally booked to play a soul club in the Roxbury area which was predominantly black. But when the club owner saw our promo picture and realized we were not an all-black band he cancelled the engagement. He told us that he didn't want to cancel us but he was afraid that there would be a race riot if the crowd found out we were white, even though the band was fronted by Lenny Williams and Chester Thompson. Needless to say we were determined to dominate Boston in our five days at this K-K-K Katy's gig".
Bandleader Emilio Castillo and Doc recall, "The vibe was hipper in the cellar at Katy's, where hippies and Super Fly types commingled. They didn't seem to mind our color. In that racial climate, it was particularly gratifying to see blacks and whites partying together, equally enthusiastic about the music."
The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, once said praising the predominantly white Tower of Power, "There is no black group that plays my stuff as good as them".
The two-disc set includes 18 tunes, including all of the hits: "What is Hip", "So Very Hard to Go", "You're Still a Young Man", (Which provokes an intensely embarrassing emotional reaction in my friend comedian George Lopez), "Don't Change Horses", and a very special rendition of the flute powered gem, "Sparkling in the Sand". Big shout out to original TOP guitar player, Sparkling co-writer Jody Lopez, for the Latin bass line in the tune.
Tower of Power is not an oldies band. They are just a big now as they ever were and maintain a touring calendar that takes them around the world several times a year. The band is celebrating their 40th year, they've have never broken up. During the lean years, when the world went androgynous masked as disco, the horn section kept The Fellas in business working with everyone, including Elton John.
Recently, music icon Doc Kupka released a collection of traditional love songs on his Strokeland label, and has received high praise and talks of maybe a future collaboration with Barbara Streisand.
The archive CD is the first release on the bands TOP Records label. There is a new studio CD of the band in the works which is being mixed and schedule to be released early next year. They plan to cover classic R&B tunes and will feature guest artists as Sir Tom Jones, Huey Lewis, and Joss Stone.
The East Bay Archive Vol 1 is a must for any serious R&B real music lover, and if you don't know you need to ask somebody and they better not be someone square.
The CD is available on line at: http://towerofpower2006.hostcentric.com/store/
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