Tower of Power: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

  • 🎬 Video
  • ℹ️ Published 4 years ago

Aug. 13, 2018 | Felix Contreras -- When the 10 members of Tower of Power were in place behind Bob Boilen's desk, strategically positioned around the band's famous five-piece horn section, their first collective blast three beats into the sound check literally made the video crew jump. It was more a force of nature than a sound, and an impressive display of the "five fingers operating as one hand" concept of band cohesiveness.

From the group's beginning in Oakland in 1968, its soul disciples stood out from the peace-and-love scene in the San Francisco Bay. Their dedication to the horn-driven soul heard on recordings from the Stax and Atlantic record labels evolved to such a sophisticated level as to make the Tower of Power Horns an entity unto themselves. Eventually artists as diverse as Santana, the Grateful Dead and even Elton John enlisted them to give their music an authentic connection to the scene.

I have to confess that this show was mostly a labor of self-indulgent love, since I've been a fan since about 1972. So it was a joy to listen to the unmistakable sounds of my youth as the band delivered both "What Is Hip" and "So Very Hard to Go" with so much vitality, it sounded as if they were just written last week. During the performance of the title track from their new album, "The Soul Side of Town," the playing, the passion and the precision remains unchanged after all the years.

1968 was one hell of a year musically, as we've seen from this year's many anniversary celebrations of albums, events and bands. Add Tower of Power to that shortlist of artists for whom that moment was an early rehearsal for what would become a five decade career. A band this big will inevitably have some members come and go, but it's important to note that the original songwriting nucleus of bari saxophonist Stephen "Funky Doctor" Kupa and bandleader/tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo continue to write and perform, as does original drummer David Garibaldi.

I want to write that the band has become an institution. But that conjures images of stuffy old men looking down professorially on youthful funksters, occasionally showing them how it was done in a long-lost golden era. Instead, Tower of Power remains as vital and full of life-affirming funk and soul, if not more, as they were in 1968. The band's dedication, hard work and connection to us long-time fans prove that a good idea is timeless. If you need proof, just watch this video.

Congrats, fellas. It's been a very soulful 50 years.

Set List
"On the Soul Side of Town"
"So Very Hard to Go"
"What Is Hip?"

Producers: Felix Contreras, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern, Becky Harlan, CJ Riculan; Production Assistant: Catherine Zhang; Photo: Samantha Clark/NPR.

💬 Comments

So proud that my uncle wrote the horn parts for On The Soul Side of Town. Love you, Uncle Dave!

Author — Mary Hales


Respect and RIP to original electric bass player, the legendary and highly influential Francis Rocco Prestia Jr. (March 7, 1951 – September 29, 2020). Prayers and condolences lifted to his immediate family, the TOP musical family, and the entire TOP fan nation. 2020 is reaping a bitter harvest indeed.

Author — Richard werkNprog Hall


Extremely impressed by this young lead vocalist. He brings a ton of energy and range! Hard shoes to follow that preceded him and he nails it.

Author — Signalsoldier


Drummer and bass player are like the engine in a car, you can't see them but they are there making things move.

Author — Francesco Castro


shout to the audio engineers in capturing this sound so well!!!

Author — kenneth lambert


I’m an old geezer too, so this is written with much Love....ain’t it nice to see these guys remembering all the notes, all the moves, all the harmonies, all the soul, all the grooves and all the fun

Author — Christoph Butler


Not many people can do justice to Lenny Williams songs but dude over here is hitting every note ✊🏼

Author — Ray Harvest


There's no smoke and mirrors . These guys know what the song is asking for and they could do this on any street corner . Tremendous musicianship .

Author — Francis Madigan


What a band! What a singer! What a guitar guy! What a keyboard's groove! Thx NPR! Hit me in my Soul"

Author — Rochester Rsx


The band is so tight you couldn't sneak sunlight through them.

Author — Dale Rieger


And obscured back there is one of the greatest drummers of all time.

Author — John Newell


Man, that singer has some serious pipes, almost as powerful as the horn section.

Author — Duane Wilson


Rocco Prestia & David Garabaldi will always be one of the greatest rhythm sections in any genre of music. There was no faking that groove, soul and feel.

Author — Carlos Iniguez


Recently learned that Tower of Power is revered by Japanese "Groove" musicians. Tokyo Groove Jyoshi especially love to play "What is Hip" and refer to it as T.O.P.'s masterpiece. Mostly female, session musicians play it with all the respect it deserves.and man, can they play. Give a listen. No regrets. Guaranteed.

Author — leschab


This is one solid band. The Tower of Power is Electrifying! :)

Author — arbutuswatcher


Tower of Power.
One of the truly great Bands in all of ever.
Oakland pride!!

Author — Gar Lowe


These guys played at my high school prom in 1971! Nothing better than East Bay funk.

Author — Steve Earnshaw


It's so great to see a young singer with SOUL. That guy is great, he's also the luckiest man in the world to sing with this band.

Author — Shaun Kelly


Best group ever ..real musicians playing not faking there Lil Nas.on the Grammys ..sad..
As a pro musician myself .. I totally appreciate your talents
We need more live music like this today ..🎷🎺🎶

Author — Chaz Gunter


Saw this band April 3, 1971 at the Fillmore East, opening for Rahsand Roland Kirk and Santana. Still got it.

Author — snapperhead2