Alex Kluft: What was the first album you bought?
Emilio Castillo: ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. and the M.G.s
AK: Who are your earliest influences?
EC: When I was a young boy I was really influenced by The Platters, Bill Doggetts, and Elvis Presley, that was when I was 11, and then when I got into music, it was the British Invasion. I was really into the more soulful British groups like the Animals, the Rolling Stones, and The Kinks. Then when I was 16 I had a complete mind change and soul music became my sole focus. I saw this band called The Spiders and they were such a great band and I hired a trumpet player the next day, I had a tenor [Sax] player already, and I was playing Alto [Sax], from that day on I wanted to have a horn section play really tight soul music. I listened to singers a lot. I love soul singers so Sam & Dave, Otis Redding was huge to me, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and the impressions, and the Isley brothers, a lot of Chicago soul.
AK: Out of all of the T.O.P. lineups do you think there is one that stood out the most?
EC: I would say the lineup that is on the “Back To Oakland” is probably the most profound lineup we ever had. It had members that went on the be world class; Chester Thompson, Lenny Pickett, Bruce Conte, Mic Gillette, Greg Adams, David Garibaldi, Rocco Prestia… These guys are one of a kind in their field.
AK: What was the most memorable part of the 40th anniversary concert?
EC: The most memorable part of that whole week was the rehearsals [laughs]. We had the greatest rehearsals. We rehearsed 8 hours a day for 3 days. Many past members came in and Sam Moore came in, old crewmembers, and road managers. You wouldn’t believe the people that we hadn’t see in so long and. Not only that, but to see them all together again interacting and then to play with them We played with them on all of these songs that we hadn’t done in a while. I was three feet off the ground the whole week.
AK: How long has the current lineup been together?
EC: A lot of the guys have been in the band for 10 or 12 years. Rocco and I have played together since we were 14, four years before Tower Of Power, but he has out of the band for a number of years. David Garibaldi is back in the band for the fourth time, and the last time he was out was for 18 years, but he came back 98’. Doc and I have been together the whole time. Doc always jokes around and says I’ve been here the whole 44 years except for a few days off for bad behavior. [Laughs] Then I have a trumpet player shoe relatively new Sal Cracchiolo and my guitar player [Jerry Coretz] has played with us a couple of years.
AK: Larry [Braggs] is one of the best vocalists I’ve heard, how did he become a part of the band?
EC: We had a great singer. Brent Carter who is now with Average White Band, but he sits in with us a lot. We had run our course with Brent. We were looking to up the level of intensity a bit and we got this guy who had a really fabulous voice, but unfortunately he had no work ethic and no ability to in terms of how to use his voice and to entertain. He wasn’t even in for a month and we needed someone bad and somebody told me about Larry so I called him up. Larry thought it was joke. I said, “This Is Emilio from Tower Of Power and I’m wondering if you are interested in the lead singer position with our band.” And he goes “Sure” and “Ok if you are send me a cassette. And “I said we don’t need to produce a demo or anything like that, I’m very good judging singers, I want to hear your range and your soulfulness, and I’d like to hear you sing something up tempo and something slow.” So he sent me something, I listened and I could immediately tell he had a great range and was reasonably soulful. I told him to meet my guitar player, because he lived in the next town over. My guitar player at the time was Jeff Tamelier, who is a knowledgeable soul music musician, and I knew that if he told me the guy was good I could trust him. It was during that time that particular singer that was in there for a short time completely went nuts and we had a gig that weekend in Reno, NV. I called up Jeff and asked “How Did it Go With Larry?” And he said, “I think we can work with this guy.” I called up Larry and said, “You know those six songs you learned, I want you to learn 10 more and show up in Reno this weekend. And it was kind of like baptism by fire. I’ll never forget, my mother was there at the show and she came up to me and said, “Who is that singer?” And I said that’s Larry Braggs; we got him at the last minute. She says, “Don’t lose him.”
AK: What was the first show you did with Average White Band?
EC: The first show we did was a long time ago, I don’t remember, we did so many shows with them.
AK It seems like TOP is always on tour, how many dates a year do you do on average.
EC: Were out about 200 dates a year, but a lot of those are off days or travel days.
AK: What about the first tour you did with them?
EC: We toured the Northwest, I’m sure if that was the first time, but it was one of the early ones. I remember going in the dressing room and hanging out with them. They were saying “You guys are such a high energy band, we feel like were playing too slow when we come on after you. I said, “Are you guys kidding me, you got the hits man.” So we definitely have a mutual admiration for each other.
AK: Do you plan to do a new album in the next year or so?
EC: Were in the process of doing it now. Were very slow, and I’m also recording way more than I need. I’m going to try to record 25 songs and pick the best 12. I have 14 basic tracks completed and am getting ready to put on some background vocals. Then I’m going to do some snap shots with the band where we just kind of jam and make some musical transitions between the songs, and booking for the cd and see what comes up. Then were going to go in and cut more songs. I have a multitude of original material, but I don’t expect to be out until the end of 2013 at the earliest.
AK: How do you come up with a set list for each show?
EC: We have a large selection of songs that we can do. To keep the boredom factor in check. I have two completely different 90-minute shows. I think there’s five songs in each show we repeat, but for the most part the whole set is different, and I revolve those sets nightly and then when were doing 2 set nights and were doing a location where its four nights in a row. Ill do 2 completely different sets and each night I’ll change the ballad and maybe 2 other songs and revolve over the four nights. The set will change, and the show will change.
AK: Do you have a favorite TOP son?
EC: I have a lot of favorites, but I’m very proud of and enjoying playing live “Only So Much Oil.” When I wrote it there was a big oil spill in the Bay Area, all these birds were dying because they were covered in oil My partner Doc told me that when he was a young boy that he got called to the principal’s office. I guess he was just acting up. The guy told him “Is something bothering you Steve?” and he said “Ya, what are going to do when we run out of oil,” and he said “Go back to class Steve,” but Doc said “I want to write a song about that, if you think about it at some point what are we going to do, it’s not going to last forever.” We wrote that song then, and now its 40 years later and its more pertinent today then I ever was. I’m proud of it musically, the chords, the rhythm, the bass part, the organ solo, the tenor solo, the lead vocals, the lyrics, everything about it.
AK: Do you have a favorite venue to play in Chicago?
EC: I like the House Of Blues. For me, I play so many venues, it’s hard for me to say this is my favorite, in some cities I have one, but in Chicago it doesn’t matter much. We don’t get there as often as I’d like, but the last few times we played there, it was at the House Of Blues, and it was great.
AK: What do you like playing about Chicago?
EC: I think Chicago’s a phenomenal city. I’m from Detroit, there’s a lot similarities between those two cities I think except for the fact that Detroit has been depressed for the last 40 years, and Chicago completely reinvented itself, and is a thriving city. I enjoy going there and seeing what a great city looks like, and how it operates. You guys should be very proud of your city.
AK: Its been 43 since TOP began, what keeps you going after all these years?
EC: For one thing, we learned along time ago to stay true to ourselves, and not try to do what’s popular, do something to get on the radio, follow any trends. We make music the way we want to make it. We make it to please ourselves, and they may sound selfish, but when do that our fans really dig it. By virtue, that fact makes it really easy for us to go to work on a daily basis, because were doing exactly what we want to do.
AK Have you gotten to see Berklee School Of Music’s Tower Of Power?
EC: Yes, many times, and it’s flattering. Over the years they’ve done a lot of ensembles there and classes. I remember playing Paradise Ballroom years ago and all of them would come, and the various students based on what they played would sit in front of that musician, so all the bass players would be in the middle , and all of the horn players stage right, all the keyboard players over on the other side, and all the drummers trying to get on the side of the stage. There used to be ensemble like that down in Miami, FL. It’s a great compliment.
AK:Who are some of your favorite horn players?
EC: To be real honest, I’m not much of a horn play, I don’t listen to a lot of horn players. People ask me what are your favorite sax players, I have a list and I can give it to you, but I’m way more into songs and singers, but if I had to mention sax players I would say Arnette Cobb, Hank Crawford, Mascio Parker, David Sanborn, and Michael Brecker.
AK: What about for songwriters?
EC: Burt Backerack, Lebring Stoller, Doc Pummus, Cindy Wheel and Barry Mann, Carole King and Jerry Goffin, Curtis Mayfield, all the Motown writers, Steve Cropper and all of those songs they did out of Memphis. I’m just a huge fan of great songwriters