Oakland honors funk band Tower of Power
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.
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.