Oak­land hon­ors funk band Tower of Power

The Mercury News Weekend - - MOVIE GUIDE - By Ali Ta­dayon ata­dayon @ba­yare­anews­group.com Con­tact Ali Ta­dayon at 408- 859- 5289.

OAK­LAND » For 50 years, East Bay funk su­per­star Tower of Power has shaped what’s come to be known as the “Oak­land sound” with hits such as “What Is Hip,” “Down to the Night­club,” and “You’re Still a Young Man.”

Through­out the journey, Tower of Power has thanked Oak­land for inf lu­enc­ing its unique, gritty style. On Thurs­day, The Town showed its own grat­i­tude, and pro­claimed May 31 as “Tower of Power Day.”

“Oak­land has al­ways been the back­ground of our lives and cer­tainly of our mu­sic,” band’s founder and leader Emilio Castillo said at a cer­e­mony Thurs­day in front of City Hall. “We wound up trav­el­ing the world and pro­mot­ing the Oak­land Sound, and it turned out to be one of the wis­est de­ci­sions we ever made.”

Mayor Libby Schaaf, who pre­sented the procla­ma­tion to band mem­bers Thurs­day in front of about 100 fans, said the band mem­bers have be­come “pil­lars and sig­na­tures of the Bay Area mu­sic scene” and paved the road to suc­cess for Sly and the Fam­ily Stone, Cold Blood, the Pointer Sis­ters, San­tana and other soul, funk and rock acts.

What set Tower of Power apart from its con­tem­po­raries was its orches­tra­tion and jazz­i­ness: The band em­pha­sized its horn sec­tion while other bands ditched theirs dur­ing the ’ 70s and ’ 80s. It also ad­hered to a clas­sic funk style dur­ing its rise while San Francisco bands went the psychedelic, flower-power route.

“It’s about time that they honor these guys,” 65-year- old Berke­ley res­i­dent Manuel Ar­col said.

Ar­col, who grew up in Oak­land and has lived in the East Bay all his life, owns 22 Tower of Power CDs and said he could lis­ten to them and in­stantly re­mem­ber what car he was driv­ing and who his girl­friend was at the time.

“It’s Oak­land, it’s funk,” Ar­col said.

Drum­mer David Garibaldi said the band got its start play­ing twice a week at a club on Fourth Street and Broad­way.

“No­body came,” Garibaldi said.

The band heav­ily iden­ti­fied with the East Bay. Its break­out al­bum was ti­tled “East Bay Grease,” and was later fol­lowed with “Back to Oak­land,” much later fol­lowed with “Oak­land Zone.”

For its 50th an­niver­sary, the band is re­leas­ing a new al­bum ti­tled “On The Soul Side of Town,” and is per­form­ing shows at the Fox The­ater today and Satur­day.

Castillo said some of the band’s most rec­og­niz­able songs were writ­ten in Oak­land. He and Steve “Doc” Kupka wrote “Flash in the Pan,” and “You Got to Funki­fize” at Kupka’s apart­ment at 48th and Tele­graph Av­enue. Shortly af­ter the band mem­bers moved in to­gether in a house on Hayes Street in

“Oak­land has al­ways been the back­ground of our lives and cer­tainly of our mu­sic.” — Emilio Castillo, Tower of Power founder and leader

the Sem­i­nary neigh­bor­hood where they wrote “Down to the Night­club,” “What Is Hip?” and oth­ers.

Af­ter reach­ing some suc­cess, they moved to the Oak­land hills, where they wrote “This Time It’s Real” and other hits, Castillo said.

“There was a bunch of soul bands, soul singers and great soul ra­dio sta­tions and DJs that the shaped us into who we are,” he said.

The band mem­bers have since moved from Oak­land, though some still live in the East Bay, Castillo said.

Last year, Garibaldi and a fill-in bassist were struck by a train at Jack Lon­don Square and were hos­pi­tal­ized. Castillo said they have both re­cov­ered and are “play­ing bet­ter than ever.”

Dur­ing the cer­e­mony, Schaaf asked band mem­bers to de­scribe what the “Oak­land sound” means to them.

“To me, the Oak­land sound is cul­tural,” key­boardist Roger Smith said. “It’s all the sounds that you hear rolled into one big funky ball, and it can’t be du­pli­cated. It’s Oak­land.”

Kupka of­fered a more tech­ni­cal def­i­ni­tion.

“You play on top of the bear, and make it funky, un­less it’s a pretty song, and then you make it real pretty,” Kupka said. “Our Oak­land sound has five horns play­ing into their mi­cro­phones, and it’s big, it’s di­verse and it’s mu­si­cal.”

Garibaldi said the sound ex­presses Oak­lan­ders’ unity and love for one another.

“It was so great to be here. Oak­land has al­ways been a place where ev­ery­one is very wel­com­ing, and peo­ple lived to­gether, and we’re just a re­flec­tion of that,” he said.

LAURA A. ODA STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Long­time fan Mar­i­anne Fogle from Con­cord steals a kiss from Tower of Power sax­o­phon­ist and founder Emilio Castillo af­ter the cer­e­mony declar­ing Thurs­day “Tower of Power Day” in Frank Ogawa Plaza out­side Oak­land City Hall.

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