Tower of Power: "I Was Floored By Hipper Than Hip Myself"

Categories: Q&A

As the legend goes, in 1974 the commercially successful jazz and soul symphony band Tower of Power played a studio session in Long Island on the radio station WLIR. This might have been just one of countless performances in the history of a band that's conquered the ups and downs of the music industry for 45 years, but there seemed to be something special about this show. Their rhythm was on point, each song hit a little bit harder and more precisely than the last--in short they left listeners wanting more by the end of the set, or at least a chance to experience it all again.

Since that performance, the winds of change have brought many different faces to the line-up of TOP, but their drive and passion for music has always kept the core musicians grounded. Now, after nearly forty years, the band has stumbled upon the original master recording of the unique Long Island performance that was seemingly lost in the annals of TOP history, and die-hard fans can get their long-awaited fix with the release of Hipper than Hip.

"I was kind of floored by it myself," says TOP founding member Emilio Castillo when recalling the day he listened to the lost recording for release approval.

TOP has always prided themselves on their live performance, and while Hipper than Hip is a hell of a way to put one of those performances on repeat, the R&B boys will be live in the flesh at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix on Friday, December 20 for one of their last performances with current lead singer Larry Braggs before he retires one week later.

Prior to their show, Up on the Sun spoke with Castillo about their new live album, replacing a lead singer yet again, and the bottom line for TOP's continued success.

I recently listened to the new Hipper than Hip album and I thought it was very unique.
I was kind of floored by it myself. I listen to the band all the time; people will come through the line when we're signing autographs and give me discs. When they called me about this one, I was only home for a few days and they said they needed me to approve this. I saw it was a two-disc set and I thought, "Great, I have to sit here for three hours and listen to this thing." [Laughs]

I wasn't even five minutes into it and I was thinking, "Man, we were hitting hard." I remember that I listened to the whole thing and I was stunned. I took it to sound check two days later and I told the guys that they needed to download this because it was coming out as a new album.

What was the idea to release it nearly 40 years later?
It wasn't my idea. Warner has had those tapes in their vault all these years. It was for a concert series called Warner Bros. Month. They were bringing in a Warner act every weekend to simulcast it on the radio for WLIR in Long Island. They did the concert from Ultrasonic Sound, which is a recording studio, and they had a live audience in the studio. We were wired in there so they recorded the whole thing. I've heard bootlegs of this over the years, but this is the actual mastered and mixed.

What is your favorite instrument to play?
You know, I don't even consider myself that great of a player. I'm the sax player of the second tenor player in the band, because all I do is play parts. I don't solo or anything like some great saxophone player. I can play parts well, and I play in a section well. I write on guitar and piano, but I don't play either of those very well, but I have a good knowledge of chords and I'm able to get around on it.

My main thing is being the band leader, and I facilitate great musicians. I have a great knowledge on music; I know how to make a band sound. That's really my main deal. I work a lot with the rhythm section. I'm really meticulous about the horns and the background vocals. My other thing is producing the records and writing songs with my partner Doc [Stephen Kupka]. We've been the main song writers since the band started.

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