Marijn, Emilio, David, Doc, Inge
Tower of Power - November 20th 2009, Gronau (D)

While touring around Europe we spoke with three founding members of legendary Tower of Power: Emilio Castillo, David Garibaldi and Stephen "Doc" Kupka. During this nice chat subjects passed like the famous rhythm and horn section, slick moves in the late 80s, the baritone of Doc and thinking of no retirement at all!

Tower of Power

SJEU: After all these years, more than 40, where does the energy comes from? How do you do that?
Emilio: How do we do it? Well, we suit up and we show up! It's not so hard doing it because we play music that we love, we make it to please ourselves and the fans seem to like it! So that's what we do and makes it easy to go to work, which makes it easy to go on year, after year, after year, after year! We don't play anything which doesn't appeal to us or isn't fun to do! It is our passion so it's not difficult to keep on going! What will be difficult, will be to stop!
SJEU: Don't say it!
Emilio: We are not thinking about that right now!

SJEU: You are the ones who started it all but there have been some changes over the years with new members and old members come again. How does it work to do al the arrangements, play your sound, e.g. in the horn section?
Doc: These days when someone leaves there is a chance that an old member wants to rejoin. So when Mike Bogart, our ex-lead trumpetplayer, left to join the Navy, Mic Gilette came back. What a blessing that is! He's really playing good! But people like to play in the band so we don't have so many changes.
SJEU: We've seen some familiar faces over the years! But a question about the horn section, we saw some rehearsings during the soundcheck. Are all things written out or is it all inside your head?
Emilio: We have most of the stuff charted out but some of the tunes get lost! And that one tune we were working on during soundcheck, we don't have the charts for it. And Mic played it for years with us but some of the voicings had changed when he was gone during the 25 years! And I noticed that, when we were playing it a few nights ago, some of the voicings were wrong; he was playing his old part which somebody else already is playing! So I wanted to go over that because we are playing full chords! I don't wanna have three part chords when we have five horns! We are always updating and now there is a part which is going up high and coming down again, and Mic wasn't doing that because it wasn't there 25 years ago! Every night when we play I am listening what he is doing what we used to do and now are doing it different. And then I tell him and he gets better each night!
SJEU: So you are still alert for the details?
Emilio: Little details, yes!
SJEU: I seems a little bit hard to play the same parts for all these years! When I am playing too much, sometimes I have some blackout! Is that never happening to you?
Emilio: O yes, it happens to us! I can play a part for 41 years and than one night completely space out! I then play something completely stupid it amazes me! Let's say always play an A-flat in "badah-badah" and then wonders: "Hey, it's a G tonight!" Because somewhere during a tour you are going on auto-pilot! And when you run on auto-pilot your brain intends to think like "Wow, that was a great dinner last night" or whatever! And then "Oops, I missed a part!"

SJEU: David, about the rhythm section, the groove is, besides the horn section, such an important foundation of Tower of Power. What is the secret behind it?
David: We really liked the music of James Brown, Motown, Staxx and so, we admired that a lot. And we have a jazz tradition in the band as well. We wanted to play like our idols! For us it was really important to personalize what we do, having a unique personal sound, something what no one else is doing. We didn't want to copy anybody. So with our rhythm section we developed our own sound. It was born out of the idea wanting to be like our heroes but no be our heroes! And we're still working on that!
SJEU: That's a good one! Music is ageless! Being young or old, it's the only thing you can go one with until you die!
Doc: Let me tell you a funny story about that. Back 20 years ago, when the Rhythm Nation record of Janet Jackson came out, our record company wanted us to be like that, you know with the soldier suit and the machines and so. We tried it, but it didn't work out. But then, about 2 years ago, I saw a video of Rhythm Nation and that stuff sounded so dated, so very dated! And our stuff sounds fresh! So I thought that was a really eye opener for me.
SJEU: That's a great story, so just go on doing your thing!
David: It's amazing that we still find things to work on in songs that we played so many times, so many years. But there is still room for those songs to grow.
SJEU: But there is a Tower of Power sound. I don't think there is some kind of recipe, but there must be something?
David: When new people come in the band, most of the time we have to teach them how we like things to be. So listening to Tower of Power is different than being in it! We have a way to do our music, a very specific style. So the new members bring their thing in and we teach them this style. And when they don't get it, we have to find somebody else who is willing to sacrifice themself a little bit to play the music. Because with our music, the music is the star and not one person or one instrument. So we have that people who like to perform and want to perform the way it is supposed to be.
SJEU: And how do you find those people? Do you listen to them or do they come to you?
Emilio: Both!
David: We need people all the time.

SJEU: Something else. You are touring around the world every year, do you think there is a difference in the audience or the way people respond to your music?
Emilio: The response is not that different. There are certain areas of the world where the crowd is younger, like in Europe the crowd is younger. But even in the States people gets younger, but we have about four generations over there! But there is not that much difference. We played New Zealand last year and I was wondering what is was going to be like. I pictured myself a bunch of people that was not into this kind of music. We are not Mariah Carey or Michael Jackson, we are a specific sort of act. And than we walked on stage in a winery, 7000 people, and we started playing and they were singing our lyrics! So we get a good response wherever we go! But the only time we don't get a good response are these gigs we call corporate gigs. Those are gigs where a big company pays $40.000 to bring somebody in to basically be the cocktail music. So we come in and play and the people are talking about the daily seminar.
SJEU: Yes, like "can you please play a little softer because we want to talk a little bit over here!"
Emilio: Well they don't ever tell us that!
SJEU: We had that once with our band!
Emilio: But generally, no matter where we go, we get the same sort of response. People know that Tower of Power is one of those high energy live acts.
SJEU: Is it different when you play on jazz festivals with a lot of other acts or when you play as the one solo act, as you are tonight?
Emilio: Generally when we do those jazz festivals we are like the "wake-up call". The other artists don't have much peaks and valleys. When we come up we take the people up and bring them down, we make them really emotional. We are the wake-up call for them. They might be sitting out there, eating or whatever they are doing, but when we come on they start sweating and moving. And that is how it should be for Tower of Power.

SJEU: There is another thing we would like to ask Doc, you probably have been asked thousands of times! But, why the baritone sax?
Doc: I was an oboe player in school, playing in orchestras. When I was at college age, soul music was what I wanted to play. But you can't do that on an oboe very well! And there were a lot of good tenor saxophone players around but nobody on baritone. So I got one, two years later I met Emilio and the rest is history!
Emilio: Because he played oboe and English horn, which is a double reed instrument, his lip muscles where very strong.
Doc: It takes more muscle to play on an oboe than on a baritone.
Emilio: So he is a big guy and because of his strong muscles, when he took up the baritone, immediately his tone was great! His just had to learn the idiom and because he loved that, he immediate was a great baritone player.
SJEU: Well, it is of course one of the signatures in your music, a lot of horns sections don't have!
Emilio: It is definitely the signature of the horn section, there is no question about that. A lot of horn sections don't have it, and if they do, they don't sound like him! His tone has an icredible edge, is incredible huge, round and fat.
SJEU: And you do solos as well!
Doc: Yes, it's different from other baritone players

SJEU: One last question. You have been playing for more than 40 years now, but what about the future?
Emilio: Doc has a phrase: "Musicians don't retire, the phone just stops ringing!" So if at some point we should fall out of favour we would stop doing it. But things haven't been going in that direction, we seem to become more in favour daily. Things are going upwards for us. That doesn't usually happen for people at this point in their career. So there is no reason for us for stopping until physically we can't get up there! We toured a few years ago with B.B. King and he is heavy and old and before the show you think: "Man, is he going to make it?" But as he walks up to the stage, he lives! Whe he is up there, he is playing and singing great with all this energy! And I think that is why he can play so long! It's the music, keeps him young!
Doc: They probably have to carry him out of the stage afterwards, on a stretcher. Then he is done!
Emilio: So I see no reason to stop!
SJEU: Please don't! And to go one, we have for you the SmoothJazz Europe T-shirts! Thank you very much!

all pictures by Marijn Eland