The funkiest alumni association in the world?
April 20, 2020 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Tower of Power is a funk and soul band from Oakland, CA that's been around since 1968. The current version of the group still is led by founding members Emilio Castillo and Stephen "Doc" Kupka, but as you might expect for a band with a half-century of history, they've had quite a few members over the years. With such a large number of alumni, they recently did something that's hard to imagine too many other bands pulling off. Last week, they released a video featuring SIX of their former lead singers - Tom Bowes, Larry Braggs, Brent Carter, Ray Greene, Ellis Hall, and Hubert Tubbs - who collectively span more than 40 years of their history, collaborating on what they're calling a "socially distanced" version of TOP's signature song "What Is Hip?"
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner (20 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man I did not know that they retired Rocco:

Asked for an update on Rocco Prestia’s status in Tower Of Power, bandleader Emilio Castillo sent BP the following statement: “While touring in Europe in October of 2017, Rocco was hospitalized in Hengelo, Netherlands. We were forced to play a few gigs with no bass at all before finally getting Dewayne Pate flown out from the States to fill in. This had happened several times over the last few years, and we were forced to make a difficult decision.

“Our plan at that time was to use Rocco only when the air travel was an hour or less, and we also decided that if he was hospitalized again, we would pull him off the road permanently. Soon after, he was hospitalized in Las Vegas, and so we made the decision to use Marc van Wangeningen from that point on.

“Marc had filled in countless times for Rocco and, as is prone to happen, we all got very comfortable with him playing with us. Rocco played some songs with us at our 50th Anniversary Celebration in June, but we now think of Marc as our bass player.”

Rocco will remain on the band payroll.

posted by thelonius at 6:01 PM on April 20, 2020 [12 favorites]

Tremendous, thanks for posting. Man, those voices...
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:10 PM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

This. This is hip.

I had the pleasure of seeing ToP during the Tom Bowes era (I still really dig Monster on a Leash and I also love, love, love this song (and all their early 70s hits).

Can you imagine a full-on ToP reunion, with, like, Chester Thompson and Lenny Pickett?

This is so fabulous. Thank you for posting it!
posted by kristi at 6:15 PM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

The lack of an “Oakland” tag on this entry will remain a crime against Metafilter as long as it remains. ;-p

Seriously, from lockdown here in Bump City, thanks.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:40 PM on April 20, 2020 [11 favorites]

They sound great.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:51 PM on April 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sorry, Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey - guess I just lost my head there. "Oakland" tag added!

kristi, I too enjoyed Tom Bowes' time with TOP, was fortunate to see that lineup perform live, and think he's one of the band's more underappreciated singers.

Re: a full-on reunion, you might want to check out the album or DVD of TOP's 40th anniversary show, in which both Thompson and Pickett (and a lot of others) took part.

And yeah, thelonius, it is a bit sad that Rocco no longer tours with the band, but his health apparently got to the point where it just was no longer feasible. It's very cool that he's still getting paid, though. And I saw them a couple of years ago, right after they announced Marc van Wangeningen as a permanent replacement, and they still sounded just like Tower of Power, so at least the music does not seem to have been affected all that much.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 6:54 PM on April 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

As much as is possible, Marc is a worthy replacement for Rocco. He's a fantastic bass player in his own right.
posted by rocket88 at 7:35 PM on April 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is just lovely.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:27 PM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah this was incredibly dope. How can anyone be this cool for so long? The mind boggles.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:45 PM on April 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love the socially distant "What is Hip," but that Tiny Desk Concert is something else, especially the version of that selfsame and timeless tune.
posted by vverse23 at 9:38 PM on April 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had no idea they still had two founding members! They are a Bay Area institution for sure.
posted by fshgrl at 10:30 PM on April 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

In late 1984—around New Years— I was lucky enough to have dinner with the ToP guys at Nikos in SF and, after dinner, travel with them to the Oakland Coliseum where they performed in concert as the horn section for Huey Lewis and the News. This was right about the time Huey Lewis was becoming incredibly popular. Great folks, great dinner, GREAT concert and a very memorable night.
posted by bz at 11:53 PM on April 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

Thanks for this gift of such a fun way to jumpstart my morning. Way hip!
posted by mightshould at 4:27 AM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Had no idea who they were when I went to a tribute show at the Ashby flea market sometime in the late 90s and some old dude selling oils shamed me into buying a bootleg cassette of a live 70s show, like a fucking Deadhead.

It was a pretty formative experience all around.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:28 AM on April 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

fshgrl, I am pretty sure that drummer David Garibaldi is considered an original member as well, but he's also been in and out of the band a couple of times, and from what I understand, is not as involved in the group's management and direction as Kupka and especially Castillo, who seems to do the lion's share of the bandleading and serves as the group's public spokesman. (Castillo and Kupka also are the only band members to perform on every TOP album.)

And thanks for posting the link to the Tiny Desk concert, Mikey-San. Definitely worth checking out, and a nice showcase for current lead singer Marcus Scott, a young man from Memphis who definitely is the real deal.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 6:55 AM on April 21, 2020

There was a time when the TOP horns played on every album, or at least it seemed like it. We need to bring that time back.
posted by tommasz at 7:44 AM on April 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

Y'all, I'm dancing at my desk. Thank you!
posted by corvikate at 10:49 AM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

There was a time when the TOP horns played on every album, or at least it seemed like it. We need to bring that time back.

posted by eckeric at 11:09 AM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was introduced to Rocco because my bassist roommate drove six hours to buy music gear and brought home BASS DAY '98 on VHS. That's also how I found Victor Wooten. They played What Is Hip, and I remember us talking about how percussive he was. lol college
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:18 PM on April 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

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