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Emilio Castillo

Emilio Castillo's Biography

When Tower of Power starts to groove -- I mean "really" starts to click -- we enter, what I call, 'the Oakland Zone' and we're really in the pocket. That's when the fans jump out of their seats and give us back that same high energy that we're putting out, and it's almost a transcendental experience. I'm blessed by the love and respect we get from our fans and fellow musicians. It's a humbling experience and fills me with a tremendous amount of gratitude. Our music carries a lot of energy and emotion; the magic is that we can translate and share it. It's like the funk -- you just can't fake it.

I'm very proud of my heritage; not many people know that my parentage is Mexican and Greek! I was born on September 24, 1950, and raised in Detroit; my family moved to Fremont, Calif., when I was 11. My musical memories are clear: I loved Bill Doggett's 'Honky Tonk,' the Platters' 'Only You,' and 'Green Onions' by Booker T. and the MGs. Life changed when we moved to California; the transition was tough but music made it easier. I heard a singer named Rodger Collins who just floored me -- right then and there I became a soul fanatic, absolutely obsessed! Rodger had a tune on Galaxy Records called She's Looking Good and it was killiing! I saw him in concert, too -- he was Mr. Showtime, baby! I also fell under the spell of an East Bay group called the Spyders; they were so tight, they could drop on a dime. Their lead singer, Dennis Del Aqua, became my role model for soul singing. But everything changed the first time I saw Sly & the Family Stone. Talk about entertainment value! Man! Rocco and I would sneak into Frenchies and stay for six sets a night. No one could match Sly's craft and substance and their music still inspires me today.

You could say I was a hippie -- i certainly acted like one! The music scene was fertile and flowering; the Vietnam War was raging but we were into Peace and Love. I had started my own group called the Motowns in 1967, then changed the name to Tower of Power in 1968. I met the Funky Doctor -- Stephen Mackenzie Kupka -- when he was a roadie for a hippie soul band called the Loading Zone and he asked for an audition. All I can say is, thank God I never had to audition! The band wasn't very receptive, that is until they heard that big fat tone coming from his baritone saxophone. Doc loved the way we treated obscure soul songs like "Open the Door" by J.B. and "Does Your Mama Know About Me" by Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers,

but he also wondered why we weren't composing our own material. And that's how we wrote our first song, "You're Still A Young Man."

Bill Graham was the big concert promoter in the Bay Area and we got a slot at the Fillmore West Tuesday night auditions. Everyone dreamed of being signed to his new San Francisco label. Fortunately for us, he loved the horns and our funky rhythm section and signed us to our first recording contract. "Mimi," he'd say in that unmistakable Yiddish brogue, "that's a bitch of a band." East Bay Grease came out in 1971 and Bill picked us to open for Aretha Franklin on the weekend she recorded Live at Fillmore West with King Curtis and the Kingpins. I'll never forget the way she sang 'Spirit In The Dark' with Ray Charles -- I still get chills.

During the Seventies we made a string of cool records for Warner Brothers -- Bump City, Tower of Power, Back to Oakland, Urban Renewal, In The Slot, Live And In Living Color. There were lots of great songs that we still love to play: "So Very Hard To Go," "What Is Hip?," "Time Will Tell," "Don't Change Horses (In The Middle of A Stream)," "Willing To Learn." It's a beautiful body of work that I'm extremely proud of. Touring, in the 70's, with Santana, Creedence Clearwater, Quincy Jones, and the Crusaders was awesome, and then we moved to Columbia, releasing Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now, We Came To Play and Back on The Streets.

But it was the start of a difficult period, a down period, for the band. We had many personal problems, and our music -- suddenly -- wasn't popular anymore. Huey Lewis was a huge fan and he helped us turn our fortunes around. We became regulars on The David Letterman Show. We sobered up and things started to get better. Epic Records signed us in 1990 and we made six records for them -- we went from being "dinosaurs" to "legends." It's a fine line between the two, trust me on that!

The years of togetherness with my band mates, and all the fans I've met on our journey, fills me with so many wonderful memories. And it gives me hope for many more. I'm very proud of our last record, Oakland Zone. Our collaboration, as a horn section, with Huey Lewis, Little Feat, and the Eurthymics stand out as my favorites. And I still have many goals to realize. I'd like to write a Tower of Power song that serves as the main theme in a classic motion picture, and I'd love to see the band make a record with an artist who has a timeless quality.

I'm a homebody. When the band isn't traveling, I spend all my time with my wife Suzanne, and my children Christian, Isabella, and Dominic (I also have two older daughters, Ariana and Katina). As a family, we're very active in our local church and share a special fellowship there. I love my family with all my heart and soul, with every fiber of my being. I don't just think it -- I say "I love you" regularly and, hopefully, I show it, consistently.

I've learned from experience that God has a plan for me, and that it's better than mine! I just try to remember that, no matter what comes down the pike.

Emilio Castillo's Gear
Emilio Castillo

Gear List

YTS-875