“Humans like to see humans perform. It’s just a fact.” So says Emilio Castillo, tenor saxophonist, vocalist, co-founder and bandleader of one of the most influential, yet underappreciated bands, Tower of Power. We are nearing the end of our conversation, and Emilio is musing over the special soulful sonic cocktail that made TOP a must-see act for going on damn near fifty years.
Recently, they made the news, but for all the wrong reasons. This past January 12th, Dave Garibaldi, Tower of Power’s drummer since 1970 and bassist Marc Van Wageningen (filling in for Rocco Prestia) were hit by an Amtrak train as they crossed the street in front of Yoshi’s, a celebrated jazz club in their native Oakland where the band was nearing the end of twelve sold out shows. As of print, both men remain in the hospital, and it’s not clear exactly when they will be back in playing shape.
“Dave is doing better than Marc,” Emilio tells me, “Although… he had an eight-hour facial surgery a couple of days ago-supposed to be six hours but…they said it went well…he says adding that the band is “hopeful everything will work out” for both musicians.
Emilio seems surprisingly calm for a man who not only is dealing with this tragedy but whose father passed away a mere two days before our interview, a death that while not unexpected, in light of the accident from earlier month must be a heavy load to bear. And it’s not as if they have had much time to rest, resuming booked shows four days after the accident.
Finding last-minute replacements for not one but two members of a band whose jazzy melodies, soulful vocals, and funky, funky horn and rhythm section require only the best musicians apply, would be a crazy feat or any other band. But Tower of Power is not just any band.
Emilio joined up with in 1968 with lead songwriter and baritone saxophonist “Doc” Kupka. Back then, they were talented teenagers who didn’t know how to write but ended up turning the first song they wrote together “You’re Still a Young Man” into one of their first hits when they were signed a couple of years later.
Over the years there have been numerous lineup changes and guest musicians. But fans have come to trust them and even get excited when they hear of a lineup change. Never compromising quality, TOP has become kind of a musical university of sorts. “We’ve always had that moniker as you say, the musician’s musician band,” Emilio opines, going on to say, “We just draw musicians.”
And in between touring the Tower of Power has always written and recorded new material. Castillo is excited to release a new 13-track album later this year having inked a deal with Mack Avenue Records (Stanley Clarke, Kevin Eubanks, Cecile McLorin Salvant.)
He is aiming for their best album yet. But what about commercial success in the Age of EDM? “We’re still here, and we’re doing well,” he says. “So I have no complaints but yes, I want commercial success, I want people to say, you know, this is a great band, that has never gotten the recognition they deserve. Our fans our adamant about this stuff. For me, I’m not doing it so that I have commercial success, I do it because I love it: I love the music we make, I love the guys I make it with it feels good to know that you have that impact on people.”
At the most recent gigs, Emilio has had people come up to him telling him that they are praying for the recovery of Marc and Dave and have made donations to their respective GoFundMe accounts.
Their fans are accustomed to praying, having long beseeched the man upstairs on behalf of TOP’s bass player, Rocco Prestia. Emilio says they have a running joke that Rocco will outlive them all. Rocco, who has been plagued with health problems recently and got a new kidney two years ago had just recovered from a serious infection which is why Marc was covering for him on that fateful night. “The guy’s got 90 lives,” Emilio says. More like Tower of Power has 90 lives.
To donate to the recovery of David Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen visit GoFundMe:
Sold-out benefit concerts were recently hosted by the Tommy Igoe and the Pete Escovedo bands. Visit Tower of Power’s website for updates.
An editorial and feature writer specializing in music, beer, fashion and entertainment, Christine’s work has appeared both online and in print including October Magazine (Pitchfork, Conde Nast), and, of course, the award-winning OC Weekly. As a graduate of Cal State Fullerton’s acting program, she was a two-time nominee for the Irene Ryan award. She lives with her bass-playing, fishing-obsessed husband on the “real” side of Anaheim.