Members of Tower of Power (l-r) Bill Churchville, Herman Matthews, Carmen Grillo, Emilo Castillo, Barry Danielian, Rocco Prestia, Brent Carter, Stephen "Doc" Kupka, Nick Milo and David Mann. Photo by Bret Lopez.
Photo courtesy of Epic Records. All rights reserved. /

Interview with
Tower of Power

By Tina Alvarez

Exclusive for
Entertainment Magazine On-Line (, October 1995

In Concert!


Keswick Theatre
Glenside, PA
Friday, 3/4/2005
8:00 PM

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"I was writing a song and
we had this rhythm track
and it reminded me
of when I was a teenager,"

reminisces Tower of Power
co-founder Emilio Castillo

"I used to go see this really great soul band on weekends. The place was always packed. So I came up with this concept that it's 'sold-out.' In other words, 'sold-out' with people and 'souled-out' with soul. I didn't want to call this album 'Souled Out' because I thought it was little presumptuous, but as soon as I heard the (completed) tune, I had to call it that."

"Souled Out" is Tower of Power's cleverly-titled third release on Epic Records and their 15th album during the course of their 25-year career.

Originally known as the Motowns, this core group of Castillo, co-founder Stephen 'Doc' Kupka, Carmen Grillo, Rocco Prestia and Nick Milo, played the San Francisco East Bay Area in the mid 60's, attracting a following with its spirited style of funk and soul. For a short time during those early days, the group wore stage uniforms, a strategy they fashioned after their favorite local band, The Spiders.

"They always wore suits and they had moves. They were just a great soul band, had great background vocals," Castillo recalled. "I just idolized them, so I tried to emulate them. About they time they broke up, things were changing- The Fillmore was happening, hippies and drugs were happening. We knew that we'd never make it with a name like the Motowns, so we picked 'Tower of Power' and got an audition at the Fillmore."

At this point in time, groups and artists were flocking across the United States for the opportunity to perform at Bill Graham's now legendary shows at the Fillmore East and West. With his newly formed record company, Graham was responsible for signing a number of wide-ranging popular talent, including Tower of Power. In fact, the band captured their first recording contract on that amateur night performance at the Fillmore West.

"Bill Graham signed us to our first record deal. We lucked into it. We never believed we would be the ones to get picked," Castillo of their appearance and the subsequent signing. In part, Castillo credits their good fortune to their being busted for being underage and playing in a drinking establishment.

"All of a sudden all of these bar owners wouldn't hire us anymore because they were concerned about losing their liquor license," he recounted. "We couldn't get any gigs. All we could do was rehearse. It was the only thing we had left. By the time we played the Fillmore we were ready to break up. We were so broke, you might say that our lives depended on it at that point. We played with a vengence and Bill loved us. He was a big fan of horns. He loved Latin music, the salsa bands."

It was a love destined to be shared by fans worldwide. The Tower of Power's appeal has always been in live shows- the fluid rhythm section, a phenomenal (and widely sought-after) horn unit topped with a strong and professional vocalist that compliments the entire lot. Not only a creative assembly on stage, they have managed to translate a good deal of that energy onto vinyl. Their music exudes a good time beat, tight and amiable, and it's genuinely meant. And although the initial foundation of the group has remained the same over the years, it's inevitable that there would be personnel changes. Has Castillo found those transitions difficult to handle?

"Well, obviously I've got to be really careful," he admitted. "I tend to hire people that are a little more sane than I did 20 years ago. We just say, 'Look, you know, it's something different now. Good luck to you and good luck to us.' We're all still friends and that seems to work pretty good."

Indeed, his formula appears to have been a consistent one, as the integrity of the band has remained intact through the decades. Currently the band consists of Castillo (tenor sax), Carmen Grillo (guitar), Nick Milo (keyboards), Dock Kupka (baritone sax), Rocco Prestia (bass), Brent Carter (lead vocals), Bill Churchville (trumpet, flugel horn and tromebone), Barry Danielian (trumpet and flugelhorn), David Mann (tenor and alto sax) and Herman Matthews (drums and percussion).

Castillo said that he had no apprehensions in recording with the five new members on "Souled Out," explaining that the group recruits its members for specific reasons. In choosing lead singer Brent Carter, for example, Tower of Power auditioned 30 individuals. Carter was the one that had the characteristics the band was looking for.

"He had a real distinctive style, he had a very pleasant personality, he seemed to have really good values," rattled off Castillo," which is important to us because we're going to live on the bus with this guy for seven months out of the year. He tried really hard in the audition. He's great, and a pleasure to work with, too."

Also appearing on "Souled Out" is renown keyboardist/producer/arranger/composer Jeff Lorber, who contributes on the album by co-producing five numbers and co-writing three others, as well as playing keyboards on a few tracks. Castillo said he was introduced to Lorber by the vice-president of Epic Records.

"He was a big fan of the band, and to be real honest, I wasn't too excited about working with him upon meeting him," Castillo admitted. So he did a little research on his own by phoning friends of his who had previously worked with Lorber. All gave glowing recommendations, he said, which amazed him.

"I called up the exec and said 'If you want me to work with him, I will.' And after that it was just a total, great experience," Castillo acknowledged. "The guy was a complete pleasure to work with. I loved every minute of it. He's just a great producer, a great writer, totally happening."

"Taxed to the Max," written by Kupka, Lorber and Jeff Pescetto, features a scorching horn intro and a light, flip, fun sound accompanied by all-too-true lyrics. "Diggin' on James Brown" took a bit more work before Castillo was satisfied with the song. Castillo was presented with some beats, but he wanted a more funky James Brown type of feel. He eventually got the sound he wanted but the lyrics weren't up to par. He called Doc and asked him to write a new set, who came back with verses dealing with "diggin' on James Brown."

"I said, 'Doc, I want it to be like a James Brown tune. I didn't want to sing that we liked James Brown,'" he explained. "Then I started reading the lyrics again and I thought sometimes you just got to go with it- 'cause it made me laugh. We reeled in the rest of the lyrics and laughed all the way through."

Castillo said the band, presently on tour, will be on the road for a year and then start recording another album. He indicated they want to expand into writing for films and widening their fan base.

"We're freshly back into it," Castillo affirmed. "We went through the whole 80's without a record deal and people counted us out, said we were dinosaurs. We stuck to our guns and kept playing this kind of music and it's paid off for us.

"I don't have much to add," he concluded, laughing. "Just glad to be around."

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