Interview: Tower of Power’s Emilio Castillo talks Jazz in January and much more
© Jhon Inot

The tireless funk band, Tower of Power, is getting ready for their show at the Rialto Theatre as a part of Tucson’s third annual ‘Jazz in January’ festival happening Jan. 12 through Jan. 22. Tower of Power (TOP) is getting ready to celebrate their 50th year together as a band next year with an album of new, original music. The band has survived nearly fifty years in a fickle business that can eat bands for lunch. TOP’s attributes their endurance to their unique delivery of soul and funk music, their commitment to staying true to themselves as musicians, and their very faithful fans. Band founder and tenor sax player, Emilio Castillo, was gracious to speak to AXS prior to their appearance in Tucson.

AXS: I understand you are coming up on your 50th year as a band and you are working on an album of new music to celebrate.

Emilio Castillo: We’re getting there. We will be 49 in August. I was talking to one of our old managers and he said, you really need to make one of the best records of your career coming up on your 50th. You don’t want to do just 12 songs and put it out. You need to do the Michael Jackson thing. Record way more than you need and pick the best twelve. We’ve recorded 28 songs. We are a working class band. I got together with Joe Vannelli, Gino Vannelli’s brother. He’s a great producer and he and I are producing the tracks together. I did the first 18 tracks by myself and I did a few tracks with him and he was just so meticulous and so creative. I asked him to help me finish. I knew that the project was just too big for me at that point. We are almost done. We have 28 songs recorded. I’m putting the strings on in about a week. I’ve got about four or six more vocals with the new lead singer. Then we are going to start mixing.  We will be finished after that.

AXS: Who is your new lead singer?

EC: His name is Marcus Scott. We had a guy named Ray Greene who we really loved. Carlos Santana decided he loved him as well.

AXS: He loved him more, huh?

EC: Yeah, he offered him a lot of money and half the work. We couldn’t blame Ray for going over there. God helped us with a really brilliant lead singer and his name is Marcus Scott. He’s from Memphis, Tennessee. He’s really great.

AXS: You have had many changes in band members and lead singers through the years.

EC: People ask me how many and I tell them I’ve lost count years ago.

AXS: I read somewhere that the number was around 60. I’m not sure how accurate that is.

EC: Laughing, it might even be more.

AXS: When do you think the new album will be released?

EC: 2017, for sure. Hopefully we will end up with two albums eventually.

AXS: TOP has a longevity that is almost unparalleled in the business. Who has been your musical inspirations or heroes past and present?

EC: I can only speak for myself. We have ten people (in the band) and they all have vast interests. We are a soul band and we are inspired by the great soul artists of the sixties and seventies. So, of course, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, the Philadelphia sound, the Memphis sound, the Motown sound and a lot of the soul music that came out of New York. The real raw funk stuff like Dyke and the Blazers and Howard Tate are also in that list. As teenagers, we found soul music and life changed for us. We have immersed ourselves in that genre for years. It is our own brand of original soul music.

AXS: Do you get any inspiration from today’s musicians?

EC: I wouldn’t say we get inspiration from today’s musicians. There’s a lot of great artists and great writers out there. For me, inspiration was kind of early in my life. Now I have a certain way of writing and a certain way of visualizing my music. There are a lot of artists that bring me joy. I am a big fan of Alison Krauss and Union Station. I like them because in their genre, they are kind of like us in our genre. They are very high level and very musical. I heard them on a PBS special and I bought every cd they had. I listen to a lot of gospel praise music. I am a Christian. So Fred Hammond, Yolanda Adams, Smokie Norful are my favorites. I think all of the really great soul singers have gone back to the Church. I’m a fan of Tori Kelly and Elle King and Bruno Mars, too.

AXS: Were you a fan of Sharon Jones?

EC: Yes, I admired her. She was one of my favorite soul singers with a soul band that was having great success. She seemed like a great soul and I was really sad to hear that she had passed. I was sad for the band she had. Kind of like when James Brown passed, the band lived for that guy. Tower of Power is different. If I died, they could still do TOP. When it’s Sharon Jones or James Brown and the band it is different.

AXS: That is so true. However, the Dap Kings were the band on many of the tracks for Amy Winehouse’s album, Back To Black. They may be able to bounce back. Shifting a bit, I see that many writers compare TOP to the band, Chicago. The band has the longevity and the brass, but the music is very different from yours.

EC: Yes, they are celebrating their 50-year anniversary too. I think that’s great. I sort of mentioned it at one of our shows recently. They not only have been here 50 years, but they have had countless major hits. A little different from us. We’ve had hits, but not number ones. It’s sort of on a different level.

AXS: Your upcoming show at the Rialto Theatre for Jazz in January is essentially sold out.

EC: We have very loyal fans. As the years have gone by, our careers have definitely blossomed and grown. I have no complaints. We have a specialized way of doing our music. It’s not like the other people. It’s not like what you hear on the radio or what’s popular today. It’s unique to us. The people who are into it, are really into it. We try to push that envelope globally. We are out 200 days a year including travel days.

AXS: We are excited to see you in Tucson and this year’s Jazz Festival has a very diverse lineup. George Benson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Storm Large, Kamasi Washington, and Anat Cohen are a few examples of some of the performers on tap.

EC: We have done quite well in Tucson in the past. We have opened shows for George Benson and we have done a couple with Dee Dee as well. We have played several shows with George Benson over the years. He lives here in Scottsdale.

AXS: Your band will be the last show of the series for Jazz in January.

EC: We will end the festival with a bang.

For more information on Tucson’s Jazz in January Festival and tickets, please click here.