Tower of Power Brings the Energy of Soul to the Suffolk Theater - 27 East

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Tower of Power Brings the Energy of Soul to the Suffolk Theater

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Tower of Power and their horn section. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Tower of Power and their horn section. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Tower of Power performing live. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Tower of Power performing live. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Tower of Power performing live. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Tower of Power performing live. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Tower of Power performing live. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Tower of Power performing live. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Lead singer Jordan John. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Lead singer Jordan John. COURTESY MEG SEXTON

Dan Stark on Jun 10, 2024

It’s rare to find a band that’s been playing, touring and recording together for 50 years or more. Whether it’s lineup changes, creative differences or the stress of life on the road, most bands don’t even come close to this mark.

But Tower of Power is no ordinary group.

Founded in 1968 by saxophonists Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka in Oakland, California, Tower of Power has stood the test of time and continues to share its funky and soulful sound with the world. Since its founding, the group’s defining trait has been its horn section that gives the music energy and life.

Now, they’ll be bringing their dynamic and groovy sound to The Suffolk in Riverhead on Thursday, June 20, at 8 p.m. for a night of rhythm, groove and powerhouse horns.

Tower of Power was formed during the heyday of psychedelic rock in the Bay Area scene and the group became rising stars there in the early 1970s. Bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger dominated the scene in the late 1960s, but after a few years, people were ready for something new and Tower of Power was going to be the band to fill that void. The group soon expanded its reach nationwide with hits like “What is Hip?,” “So Very Hard To Go” and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle of a Stream).” They’ve released 20 albums and have maintained a consistent touring schedule for 56 years.

“Once the psychedelic thing had been around for three or four years, they were ready for something with a little more soul, something with a little more rhythm,” said Castillo in a recent phone interview. “And something that hadn’t happened yet was horns.”

After two years of playing in small clubs in the area, they took the stage at the legendary Fillmore West in San Francisco on a Tuesday night in 1970. Castillo recalled looking out to a disinterested crowd when they walked on stage, as weekday nights were usually “audition nights” for new bands. But once they started playing, the energy shifted back in their favor.

“We hit that first groove and it’s like somebody said, ‘about face,’ because they heard it, turned around and walked back in,” said Castillo.

During their set, Castillo saw Bill Graham, the influential promoter who ran the Fillmore West and other venues, poke his head out of his office to check out the band. They were soon offered a record contract and became one of the biggest bands in an evolving Bay Area music scene.

Over the course of their long career, the band has undergone many lineup changes, with dozens of musicians coming and going. While the frequent changes can be tough, Castillo said that “when somebody leaves, somebody new and exciting is coming in.” This also makes it exciting for their fans, who get to see fresh new talent. The crowd excitement drives more fans to come out when they hear about new members making their debut.

“Generally, when word gets out, and it gets out quick, that we have somebody new, people are showing up,” said Castillo. “They always want to see the new guys and see what it’s like.”

And the newest members of the band have made an immediate impact. Castillo spoke at length about the latest addition to the horn section, Dave Richards, who plays lead trumpet and trombone. Though he’s only been in the band for a short time, he called Richards “one of the best I’ve ever worked with” for his command of the upper ranges of the trumpet and his versatility to switch between trumpet and trombone. With the addition of Richards, Castillo said that “the horn section has never sounded better.”

A major lineup change occurred this past January when longtime drummer David Garibaldi left the band due to years of constant touring. As one of the most influential funk and rhythm and blues drummers of the 1970s and a major driving force of the band’s sound, his departure left some big shoes to fill. But Garibaldi’s influence among drummers turned out to be a good thing for Castillo and his bandmates as they searched for their next man behind the kit.

“Because of David Garibaldi, there’s just a plethora of great drummers out there, because for years now, he’s inspired people to go the extra mile as drummers,” said Castillo. “And fortunately for us, they all want to be in the band.”

After an extensive audition process where Castillo had to carefully listen to each applicant to see whose style would fit best, the band went with a drummer named Peter Antunes. Though not well-known, Castillo noted that he has “an excitement to him and owns the tunes” and that their fans “have responded well to him so far.”

One of the things that the band is most famous for is its collaborations with other artists. The horn section has been featured on dozens of albums and songs since the 1970s for artists such as Elton John, Rod Stewart, Jefferson Starship and even Phish. The horn section has also performed live with various artists, the most notable of which being a six-show run with Little Feat in 1978 that became the basis of the acclaimed live album “Waiting for Columbus.”

But one of the group’s most important collaborations was with Huey Lewis and the News. During the 1980s, the horn section was featured on that band’s albums and went on tour with them for three and a half years. After the regularly scheduled shows, the group would then play “midnight shows” at small bars or clubs. Castillo credited working with Lewis as something that brought the band back up during one of its more tumultuous eras as a band.

“That was during a time where we were having a difficult time, sort of a low ebb in our career,” said Castillo. “And he single-handedly helped us build it back.”

Now, after 56 years of touring and recording, Castillo said that he still has a great sense of drive for his work, though he admits that touring gets harder as he gets older. He’s also committed to staying sober, as he quit drugs and alcohol in 1988, and has a daily routine to achieve peace of mind.

“In that pursuit of staying sober, I have to field my spiritual self,” he said. “Every morning, I get up, I do my daily meditations and devotionals, I read the Bible and pray and I get myself set up spiritually to do the day. I talk to God about it before I walk out of the room and then I go down and do my best.”

And above all else, Castillo said that “I love what I do and I love the people I do it with. And I love the people that come to see us. We’ve got really great fans.”

Tower of Power performs in concert at The Suffolk on Thursday, June 20, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $79 to $115 at thesuffolk.org. The Suffolk is at 118 East Main Street in Riverhead.

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