Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Funk Band Rooted in Bay's Soulful Side

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Funk Band Rooted in Bay's Soulful Side

Article excerpt

While San Francisco in the late 1960s was the heart of the hippie- psychedelic music scene, a different type of band was honing its craft in the city across the San Francisco Bay.

"Oakland was more of a blue-collar, a more ethnic city," said Emilio Castillo, founder of pioneering soul-funk outfit Tower of Power. The group, featuring its signature brass section, the Tower of Power Horns, performs Thursday in Englewood.

"San Francisco had the hippie bands like the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company," the tenor saxophonist-vocalist said. "The East Bay also had something special going on. It was all about soul music. Sly Stone was a disc jockey there. He was quite a star and everybody listened to him."

Tower of Power, which also mixes elements of rhythm-and-blues and jazz into its signature sound, has a distinct musical dynamic. The 10-piece band's songs fall into two categories: high-energy soul- funk tunes like "Knock Yourself Out" and "You Got to Funkifize" and sensitive ballads like "The Soul of a Child" and "Willing to Learn."

The band also embraces social messages, such as the gasoline crisis and need to find alternative energy in 1975's energetic "Only So Much Oil in the Ground."

"For me it's all about the emotion in both types of songs," Castillo said. "The up-tempo songs are happy and make you want to dance. The ballads really move you emotionally and have strong, powerful feelings of sadness or love."

The Seventies were Tower of Power's peak commercial period. Their 1973 self-titled third album, featuring the single, "So Very Hard to Go," hit No. 15 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. Follow-ups "Back to Oakland" (1974) and "Urban Renewal" (1975) also did well commercially.

Castillo said the late, legendary San Francisco promoter Bill Graham helped spread the appeal of soul-funk groups during that decade by opening his famous Fillmore West venue in San Francisco to different types of music.

"He had all these psychedelic bands and he started putting other acts on the bill with them, like Miles Davis and Sam & Dave," Castillo said. "People started getting into it and it spread across the country and the world. …

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