Tower of Power are the elder statesmen of soul. Founded by Emilio Castillo in 1968, Tower of Power have become a mainstay of the international jazz and soul scene. “You get to a certain place in your career, in the elder statesman category, and people start throwing around words like ‘legend.’ But we’re still the same people, making music and enjoying ourselves,” says Castillo.
But it wasn’t always that way. When they first started out, Tower of Power couldn’t get a gig. “For a lot of years they shunned us. They treated us as these guys who don’t fit – especially when the whole smooth jazz thing was really in vogue. We weren’t cool enough. But then a few festivals took a chance on us.” He laughs. “We were like a wake-up call. You’re listening to these smooth jazz artists all day, and then we come out and get ’em on their feet and get ’em sweating.”
Forty years playing on the festival circuit doesn’t come without a price. Castillo and ToP are on the road more often than not and aren’t getting any younger. But any concerns about the future are brushed off with a laugh and a nod to Castillo’s musical role model. “I’m going to be 65 in September, and we’re doing it better than ever. When people ask me if I ever think about retiring, I say no. There’s no retiring in the Bible, and B.B. King was the Bible. He passed in the perfect way. He played until the very end. We toured with him a few times in the past ten years, and I’d see him get off the bus. He could barely get down the stairs. I’d think, ‘Man, this guy is old.” And then he gets on stage, and the lights go on, and it was this whole other person. The energy coming out of him was unbelievable every time he did this phenomenal show. I aspire to be like that.”
Tower of Power arrive in Vancouver as part of this year’s TD International Jazz Festival and play the Vogue Theatre on June 29. ToP haven’t been in Vancouver for a few years, so the stage is set for a killer show. “They’re just hungry for it,” says Castillo. “We do a lot of gigs, and some gigs are repeaters – they’re automatic. But those audiences aren’t hungry for us because they get us every year – unlike Vancouver. The energy in Vancouver will really make it easy to go the extra mile and put on an exceptional show.”