Larry Braggs: Lead Vocalist
I was born to sing, I knew it in the second grade! (Laughs.) I‘m one of nine brothers and sisters -- Mom and Dad were from Greenville, Mississippi. Dad was a foundry worker and a great tap dancer. Mom was a housewife and they taught us we were put here on this earth with a God-given purpose, that everyone has talent, many talents, and that it’s up to us to discover and nurture the one talent that will distinguish us, because that’s the talent that’s going to shape our lives. And Tower has given me the vehicle, the opportunity to shape my destiny.
I’m very proud that I was the first person to go to college in my family; I graduated with a major in music from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluffs. Understand, college wasn’t really on my agenda growing up! Being in Tower has opened up a new world to me. The band challenges me to grow, to better myself. It was tough in the beginning, no question. Their singer of seven years had just left; he was embedded, entrenched, and I came in to replace his replacement. I didn’t just audition, like a cattle call, where you prepare something, then come back. No, I showed up in Reno, Nevada, in October 1999 to do a Tower of Power concert. Talk about trial by fire!
For a while I was on probation! I survived by perseverance.! (Laughs.) The crowd loved me, but the guys weren’t sure I was… The Voice. Here I am trying to grasp 30 years of music in two weeks -- and they want me to stick around while they find someone else! (Laughs.) I talked it over with my family and decided they were wrong, that they had no idea who Larry Braggs was! So I took on a new mission, to prove I was The Guy. I let them audition cats and just kept plugging along, learning the ins and outs – that the horns come first, then the rhythm section, or the other way around, depending on who in the band you’re talking to! (Laughs.) Meanwhile, they treated me like I was a rookie in the pros. They’d hide my stuff on the bus, my shoes, my glasses, whatever they could find. David (Garibaldi) and Roger (Smith) were the ring leaders, quite the practical jokers.
When they finally offered it to me, that the gig was mine, I said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks!’ -- I was kidding, of course. (Laughs.) But now that I fit, now that we’re one big happy family, I'm trying to make it me. I call it organized chaos. There's a spot for everything in T.O.P., and it’s a sweet spot. You just have to find it, and once you find it, stay there!
There have been a lot of lead singers over time in Tower, but I really count only three – Rick Stevens, Lenny Williams and Hubert Tubbs; every other singer tried to duplicate what they did. I’ve studied what each of them brought: Rick was raspy and gritty, masculine like Wilson Pickett. There was attitude; he was a playa. He had that Otis Redding vibe and his voice went right along with the soul era: it was nasty, pimpish. That was Rick Stevens. Lenny came along and brought a commercial quality to the sound. He was sanctified, churchy, like a preacher. His voice was higher than Rick’s and he put a gloss, a sheen on the sound. Where Rick was in the mix with the horns, Lenny’s voice sailed over the mix. Now Hubert, he was a mix of both. He didn’t have Lenny’s range but he had the grit of the soul era, so the band didn't lose a step.
When I joined Tower it didn’t take me long to realize I was not the musician I thought I was. In every other band I was always the front man, the focal point, the one who took everyone else to another level. But that’s not how it works with Tower. Singing is kind of the last element in the equation. You don’t get that impression watching the band. Within the band, though -- trust me, that’s how it is. It’s very humbling.
Funk was always my thing – I was a George Clinton, Bar-Kays kind of guy. Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band was my inspiration. But with Tower of Power, you gotta have soul. To front the band I had to completely change the way I sing. Now we’re like a greasy gumbo.
How do you grow in a band as established as T.O.P? Well, for one thing you have to pick your battles. (Laughs.) Mimi (Emilio Castillo) and Doc (Kupka) have created a classic formula, like Coca-Cola, and David’s always pushing to shake things up, and that push and pull is probably the secret to the band’s longevity.
I’ve never played a gig to just play the gig. With me it’s always balls to the wall, like it’s the last night of my life. I go out there every night and give 200 percent. And let me tell you, it’s like a freight train out there. If you don’t keep up, you’re gonna get run over! Some of these grooves get going so fast that if you get lost, well, you better take the next train to catch up. This is one powerful piece of machinery.
I love to hear people share what the band means to them. It’s one thing to attach memories to your favorite song, but to hear that song live is another animal. And the stories I get! Drugs, hippies, Hendrix, Vietnam. People relate to Tower the way they treasure the Grateful Dead, it has that kind of cult status, wherever we are, in Asia, Europe, South Africa or New Orleans, in front of 200 people or ten thousand people.
Tower over the years has set an incredible standard. It’s a musicians’ band – musicians play in it and musicians come to see us. Berklee College in Boston has a course dedicated to the dynamics of the band. The Tower name is known around the world. And yet the group is still looking for it’s place at commercial radio. That’s where I come in!
My goal is to make the group forget every singer they ever had. I want to be The Voice who drives them to the next level. And I can do that because I’m five years younger than my birth certificate says I am! I’m the lizard who keeps shedding his skin! (Laughs.) Which means I’m just catching up to where my talent is. Which ensures I always have someplace new to go.
All band member biographies were compiled by Leo Sacks.
Leo Sacks is a freelance record producer in New York. With Emilio Castillo, he co-wrote “Happy ‘Bout That” and “Stranger In My Own House” for Tower of Power’s Oakland Zone (Or Music, 2003), and the bonus track “Nothing Like It” for the European edition.