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Latest Interview With Emilio Castillo

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A FEW MINUTES WITH: Emilio Castillo of Tower of Power

By Don Wilcock


Tower of Power, the urban soul horn band playing the Cohoes Music Hall on Thursday night (November 10), is planning to release their 50th anniversary album of originals next year. Founding member and tenor saxman Emilio Castillo says they’re recording it using the Michael Jackson method: you record 28 tracks and pick the best 12.
“You’re Still A Young Man” was the first song Castillo wrote with his songwriting partner Stephen “Doc” Kupka. Castillo was 18 in 1968 and in love with Sharon, a 24-year-old caught between loving this kid in a Bay Area soul band and being abused by a Vietnam veteran with PTSD.

“We were like pinballs in a pinball machine,” Castillo explains, “just kinda bouncing off the walls. We didn’t know why we did what we did or why we were the way we were. We were just sort of driven by our emotions, and I lived that way until I was 37.”

That was the year he got sober, but he did a lot of blow before that happened, and it wasn’t all through a sax.

“It’s like we grew up with blinders on, and some of us at some point took off the blinders and started to mature, and worked on ourselves, and others just continued to live that way. We live in this small encased world, especially when you start to, quote, make it."

“We never thought about what we were gonna do (when we matured) because it was all handed to us as children. Like we knew there was nothing we were ever gonna do besides play music. I mean I never thought for a second, ‘Boy, what will I do with my life?’ I mean, I knew I was gonna play music; it was gonna be the band."

More than 60 musicians have passed through this band of funky white horn-dominated rhythm and blues masters who began their careers working for the late Bill Graham. Graham was the most volatile and aggressive major domo of the psychedelic era with Fillmores East and West and two record labels. Tower of Power’s tenure with Graham is an amazing story if for no other reason than the band didn’t fit into the type of acts Graham booked.

“We were not in that clique with all the psychedelic bands: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Big Brother & the Holding Company. We were known as a good dance band, but we played good soul music, and we were very committed to being really accurately soulful and then we became original.”

Tower of Power played a Tuesday night audition at the Fillmore West when they were at the end of their rope in 1970. They had been blackballed by the clubs after an underage bust by the Alcoholic Beverage Control, and Castillo was running out of time on his parents’ ultimatum that he return to Detroit if he couldn’t make it as a musician on the West Coast. They were the last band of five to go on stage at the Fillmore’s weekly audition show. They’d waited a year with virtually no gigs for this opportunity.

“We had velour shirts, and all the velour was worn off, and there were roach burns in all the shirts. We walked out, and people just turned around and started walking out. They didn’t know what we were, but we hit with this James Brown song called “Open the Door,” and we were doing it instrumental style. We were just drilling it, man, and it was like somebody said, ‘About face!’ Everybody turned around and started walking back in. We were about half way in, and the horns were going (he scats), and I saw this head stick out of the back room. It was Bill’s office, and he was looking.”


Bill Graham signed the fledgling band to a publishing deal, a management deal, a booking deal and a record deal. The relationship was extremely volatile with the band nearly coming to blows with Graham over issues, some of which were clouded by the group’s drug abuse. Graham had them locked into a contract that left him holding all the cards.


“We would plead our case, and we’d start, ‘Bill, we’re really sorry. We didn’t handle it right. We were disrespectful, but please, we just want to get on with our career.’ Then, he’d go, ‘Well, boys, I hear ya, and I just want you to know that (Castillo begins unintelligible screaming).’ And he had this office that was all glass windows, and outside were rows of desks with these girls. When he screamed at you he would stand up, and then he would point down at you, and he’d be screaming and pointing at you at the top of his lungs, very loud. And the girls would be looking in on us, and we’d be shrinking while he’d be growing, and we’d go, ‘OK, Bill,’ and we’d leave. ‘We’ll see you next Monday, Bill.’ ‘See you, boys.’ And we did that for almost a year."

After years of successful singles, like “So Very Hard to Go,” “This Time Is Real” and “Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)” in 1981 Graham had mellowed towards the band.

“He had us play his Christmas party. When we’d done sound check and everybody had split, I was sitting there, and he walks in and sits down next to me and says, ‘I’m going to say something, and I don’t want you to talk." “I got nervous."

“And he says, ‘I know you guys have been having a difficult time. Let’s just say I had a good roll of the dice this year. I’m going to give you this envelope, and I want you to take it and keep it. It’s for you. You can keep it for yourself. You can split it up with the guys, whatever you want. Don’t say a word, and I’m still paying you for the gig, and merry Christmas. And he gives me an envelope with $10,000 in it.

“Ten thousand dollars in 1981 for a starving band that was at the bottom of their career was a big deal. And the guys came back before the gig, and there was a pool table in the back room in the dressing room. I threw the $10,000 on the pool table. I said, ‘Merry Christmas, boys,’ and we all split it. And he still paid us for the gig.”

Tower of Power’s signature hit is “What Is Hip” from 1973 with the lyric, “If you think you know what is hip, the passing years will show what is hip.” The definition of hip has changed thousands of times since 1973, but Castillo is eternally hip.

He told me in 2007, “We’ve got legs because we’re not ‘in.’ We’re not following a trend. We’re not setting a trend. We’re not a trend that’s gone by. We’re just who we are. We stay true to our sound, and there’s a certain segment of the public that really relates to that kind of music.”

I asked him in our current interview if he thought he was prescient with that song.

“I don’t know that we understood that. We had a gift. God gave us a gift that we were using, and there were three people on the composition. There was me and David Garabaldi, my drummer, but the main guy was Stephen “Doc” Kupka, my songwriting partner, and he plays baritone sax, and he’s the one who came up with that title."

“He said, ‘I want to write a song called “What Is Hip?’” And I go, ‘What is hip? What does that mean?’ He started to explain it. I go, ‘Oh, OK,’ and then we just sat down and hashed it out. We just kinda talked through the story, and it just happened. But I don’t know that we were completely cognizant of the fact that we needed to write to a certain level to make us different. We were just writing. We were just creating any way we could.”


Christopher Stone
1935-2016
Godfather of the Modern Recording Studio

stone


"Our sincere condolences to the family of Chris Stone who passed away this past weekend. Chris was the owner of Record Plant Studios and was extremely influential in my career and my personal life. When I was at my lowest point Chris showed me some tough love by yelling at me to "Come out of those Berkeley hills clouds and get in the business or get out; the business is in LA!!!" He had never yelled at me and it was what I needed to motivate me to clean up and jump start my career in LA. He opened up his home to me and gave me 24 hour access to Record Plant LA where I wound up doing many sessions with the famous artists who recorded there. I got sober in LA and my life changed for the better and Chris was the rock I was privileged to lean on so many times during those years. He was a bigger than life, one of a kind, guy and he will be missed by many.

Emilio Castillo - Bandleader for Tower of Power


Chris Stone, a founding partner in the legendary Record Plant recording studios and leading figure in the music recording industry for nearly 50 years, suffered a heart attack and massive stroke and died on September 10 at the age of 81. Stone was born in 1935 in San Francisco, the son of a fourth generation Gold Rush entrepreneur. After earning his MBA at UCLA, he worked his way up to a top-marketing position with Revlon in New York City where he and top recording engineer Gary Kellgren met by chance. With a $100,000 investment, in 1968 they built the first Record Plant Recording Studio on West 44th St. in NYC. Record Plant LA followed in 1969 and Record Plant Sausalito in 1971. Stone was an innovative music industry executive with a list of credits that included hit records, films and leading music service businesses and professional associations.

Gary Kellgren and Chris Stone transformed the music recording studio into a comfortable, creative and collaborative environment and, at the same time, introduced the newest multitrack, acoustical and mixing technologies. Kellgren was the visionary designer and engineering force behind the partnership; Chris Stone was the MBA business-brains of the operation. It all started with Jimi Hendrix, Traffic and the Woodstock live album, then went on to include such legendary remotes as “The Concert for Bangladesh” and the "Rumble in the Jungle" – hitting historic heights in the mid-70s with Stevie Wonder: “Songs in the Key of Life,” “Fleetwood Mac: “Rumours,” and the Eagles: “Hotel California.”

The shining jewel of his accomplishments, the Record Plant provided audio recording services for the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the individual Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Guns & Roses, Whitney Houston, Billy Idol, Motley Cru, Prince, Chicago, and Barbra Streisand, among many others. Stone sold the facility in 1989 to Beatles producer George Martin/Chrysalis Records and today under new management the Record Plant still remains one of the leading facilities in the world.

Hundreds of hit records, producers, engineers, musicians, studio designers, and record industry executives can trace their roots to the real "Hotel California," as many now call it. The history of the Record Plant that Kellgren and Stone “invented” is the subject of an oral history, a book, a documentary and feature film initiative now being conducted by the Record Plant Diaries Project, a project which Stone helped launch.

With Grammy-winning recording engineer/producer Ed Cherney, Stone was Co- Founder and Executive Director of the Music Producers Guild of the Americas 1997-1999, a non-profit guild for leading audio engineers and music producers that was merged into The Recording Academy as the present day Producers & Engineers Wing. Stone was also a co-founder and former president and chairman of the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS) 1979-1989.

In 1992, Stone was founder and CEO of the World Studio Group, which serviced the elite of the recording industry, facilitating projects for his clients in 30 premier recording studios around the world. Stone was also the founder of Filmsonix Inc. (1987), a recording industry consulting firm, which globally serviced record labels, pro audio manufacturers and recording studios of the industry.

After the sale of Record Plant, Mr. Stone served as a reorganization consultant for Motown Records, L.P. After the conclusion of the Motown assignment, he was retained extensively as a marketing and financial consultant to provide new diversification and marketing plans for both international and domestic audio recording facilities and professional equipment manufacturers. As an example, he served as operations consultant for “Jazz at Lincoln Center,” providing guidance and services for the integration of recording studios into their facilities at Columbus Circle in New York City. Mr. Stone was also involved in many films and live events, including Flashdance, Star Trek, the Oscars, the Grammys, and the original Woodstock festival. He was the Associate Producer for audio productions of Woodstock ‘94 for A&M Records. As Record Plant Scoring, Inc. he operated the film scoring stage and the ADR stage at Paramount Pictures (Stage M) from 1983 to 1989, at which time it was returned to Paramount Pictures corporate operation.

 

 

Marcus Scott

Marcus Scott is from Memphis, Tennesee and has been fascinated with music, especially soul music, since he was a child. Marcus replaced Ray Greene in April of 2016 and has started a new chapter with Tower of Power. Well known in the Memphis music scene and beyond, Marcus is eager to write his own story with Tower of Power as he takes his position as the lead vocalist with the band. A few words from Marcus:

"Singing with Tower Of Power is simply a dream come true and it fits me like a glove. I have always been known as a “Soul Man” but The T.O.P. has me singing Soul With A Capital S."


Marcus Scott began his musical journey with Tower of Power in April of 2016.

For Marcus Scott's complete biography, please click here.



NEW SOLO CD By Jerry Cortez

Tower Of Power guitarist Jerry Cortez has a new solo CD entitled, From The Ground Up. The CD was recorded with the help of some fine musicians and background singers from London, Nashville, San Francisco and Seattle. The CD can be ordered from Amazon. It is also available at Tower Of Power live shows.

Here is a Youtube link that offers a short sample of each track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ57zc4mIFk

The CD can be ordered from Amazon by clicking here: "From The Ground Up"