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Exclusive interview with Tower of Power's Emilio Castillo

Exclusive interview with Tower of Power's Emilio Castillo
Leighton Media for Tower of Power

Legendary band Tower of Power first got their start in 1968 when band leader and tenor saxophone met Stephen “Doc” Kupka, a fellow sax player in San Francisco and the rest is history. TOP has been making music for 45 years now, and in a recent interview with Castillo, he talked about how it all began and what the band is up to now.

TOP has a unique sound that seemed to come together naturally for them. Castillo found his passion for music at a young age because of his dad and has never looked back. “At 14 years old I got into a little trouble. My dad said: 'find something to keep you off the streets or you're never coming out of your room again',” he said. The day he got his first sax forever changed him. “We started the band that day and my life completely changed from that day forward. There was nothing else more important to me but the band,” he explained. “I wouldn’t even say it was about the music, but it was about the instrument is the band. That’s what I do. I’m a band leader.”

When it comes to TOP’s unique sound, Castillo said that the band grew into it. “Just when we learned our instruments, I got into a band called The Spiders. They were just a soul band in the East Bay. They were very, very good and very well arranged...Everyone talked about how tight they were. They were the tightest band from all the bands around. I patterned our band around them long after they broke up and were no more.”

One of TOP’s hit songs “What is Hip” is one of the most recognized songs in history, and is now being featured in a current commercial. Castillo explained that Doc came up with the title and wanted the song to be about people chasing trends, and everybody wanting to be hip. “So, we decided we would write it and invited our drummer, David Garibaldi, to sit with us and we all wrote it together.” He continued to talk about the times the band was living in. It was a time of hippies, pot and people searching for self-awakening, gurus and meditation. The song was written based on those things. “We picked those topics and made little versus out of them,” he said. “It’s a very elusive’re hip and then suddenly you’re not hip’s very similar in music when it comes to groups.”

Looking back on the band’s longevity, Castillo said “God is the total reason we’ve stayed together because we’ve made just about every mistake you can make.” The band continues to grow as a band, and they show no signs of stopping. In fact, there will be a new TOP album in the near future. “I have the basis for seventeen songs done...I’ve put background vocals on them, and I’ve got a couple of solos in there. I’m doing it around tours, so it’s going to take a while.”

TOP is one of the few bands who continue to push the envelope. Years ago, they toured with the legendary comedy due Cheech and Chong. Castillo said, “Cheech and Chong used to come out and make people laugh their asses off and then we would come out and kill it. It was a great show.” Castillo is excited to announce the upcoming Up in Smoke Tour, which will feature TOP, War and Cheech and Chong. The show is sure to attract a lot of people.

When it comes to Castillo’s personal success, he’s learned a lot over the years. He has some advice for up and coming musicians, although the advice can apply to anyone: “Stay away from drugs and alcohol…they are the sure road to nowhere. It nearly cost me my life, my career and my family. I sobered up in ‘88 and ever since then things have been going uphill. I also urge people to seek God out.” His motto is: “live right, feel right.”

Tower of Power is: Emilio Castillo (band leader, tenor saxophone), Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone saxophone), Francis “Rocco” Prestia (bass guitar), David Garibaldi (drums), Rom Polizer (tenor saxophone), Adolfo Acosta (trumpet, flugal horn), Larry Braggs (lead vocals), Sal Cracchiolo (trumpet), Roger Smith (keyboards) and Jerry Cortez (guitar)

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An important note: Bassist Rocco Prestia has been a part of Tower of Power since the band got its start. He’s a legendary bass player loved by his fans and looked up to by bass players all over the world. He is currently battling some health issues and is in need of a kidney transplant. It’s crucial that a donor is found quickly. If you or someone you know if interested in being tested, please send an email to: For more information:


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