Tower of Power is a soul and funk band that was formed in Oakland, CA in July 1968. Tower of Power currently has 10 members and has had at least 60 musicians that have toured or recorded with the band since it was formed. Tower of Power’s founding members were Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka.
The horn section band produces a blend of soul, funk, jazz, and rock music. It’s known for its powerful instrumentals including saxophones, trumpets, and flugelhorns.
Tower of Power was formed in Oakland after Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka met at the Alameda County Fair on July 4th weekend in 1968. The East Bay and, more specifically, Oakland have both influenced and been prominent themes in its music, which is most evident in its albums East Bay Grease (1970) and Back to Oakland (1974). Tower of Power is a quintessential Oakland band: the SF Chronicle dubbed them “Oakland’s funky ambassadors” (Vaziri), and Oakland declared May 31st “Tower of Power Day” in 2018. Tower of Power continues to create and perform music in Oakland today.
Castillo attended Irvington High School in Fremont and Kennedy High in Richmond, where he formed his first band. Doc Kupka learned how to play the oboe at age 12 and attended Berkeley High. He developed a passion for rhythm and blues; Kupka was inspired by James Brown and Otis Redding, leading him to work as a roadie for the band The Loading Zone before he met Castillo.
After meeting in 1968, Castillo and Kupka formed the band that would become Tower of Power. According to the SF Chronicle, the band formed “with the express mission of getting to play at concert impresario Bill Graham’s famed Fillmore Auditorium” (Vaziri). Initially named the Motowns, the group changed its name in 1970. By this time, Greg Adams, Mic Gillette, Skip Mesquite, Francis “Rocco” Prestia, Willie Fulton, and David Garibaldi had joined the band.
In 1970 Tower of Power was signed to Graham’s San Francisco Records, released its first album, East Bay Grease, and achieved its dream of playing at the Fillmore.
Album cover of East Bay Grease (1970), Tower of Power’s first album.
- Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612. As an iconic Oakland band, it’s no surprise that the Fox Theater, one of Oakland’s most iconic venues, is a haunt of Tower of Power. The band has played at the Fox many times over the years, including two homecoming shows in June 2018 after celebrating Oakland’s first Tower of Power Day at City Hall.
- Nightclub on Broadway and 4th Street, Oakland, CA 94607. Tower of Power started off playing at small venues in the East Bay. It played at the nightclub on Broadway twice a week at the beginning of the band’s career. According to the East Bay Times, “‘Bump City’ and the 1972 song ‘Down to the Nightclub’ are about the clubs that the band played during its evolving years” (Mahler).
- Doc Kupka’s Apartment, 48th Street and Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA 94609. According to an interview in the East Bay Times with Castillo, “He and . . . Kupka wrote ‘Flash in the Pan,’ and ‘You Got to Funkifize’ at Kupka’s apartment at 48th and Telegraph Avenue” (Tadayon). While the band’s performances took place in venues, the writing and artistic work had taken place behind the scenes in the musicians’ homes. Doc Kupka had lived in this apartment on the corner of 48th & Telegraph in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland during Tower of Power’s early years.
~ by Amanda Wheelock ~
Mahler, Les. “Did you know that Tower of Power was really born in Fremont?” East Bay Times, 20 Jan. 2006, https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2006/01/20/did-you-know-that-tower-of-power-was-really-born-in-fremont/.
Tadayon, Ali. “City honors funk bank Tower of Power for ‘Oakland Sound.’” East Bay Times, 31 May 2018, https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/05/31/city-honors-funk-band-tower-of-power-for-forging-oakland-sound/.
Vaziri, Aidin. “How Tower of Power endured tragedy to celebrate 50 years as Oakland’s funky ambassadors.” SF Chronicle, 29 May 2018, https://www.sfchronicle.com/entertainment/article/How-Tower-of-Power-endured-tragedy-to-celebrate-12951061.php.
This article provides useful and interesting information on the band’s formation and how it has made it for over 50 years. It includes a great interview with Castillo.
Tower of Power’s official website is a great source of information on the band’s history and music.
This website includes background on the band including a complete discography.
Image 3: Tower of Power in 1975
Image 4: Tower of Power performing in Japan. 2018.
Image 5: Tower of Power performing at NPR’s Tiny Desk. 2018.
Image 6: Tower of Power onstage in California. 1974.