I vividly remember the first time listening to Tower of Power. It was in one of the practice rooms off my high school band room and a friend of mine who was a longtime ToP fan had brought in a cassette of Back To Oakland. What’s funny is that it was a similar experience to my first time listening to Stevie Wonder’s song “Uptight (Everything’s All Right)” – absolutely mind-blowing and life-altering. I was hooked and there was no going back.
Since then, I’ve seen them in concert dozens of times, spent countless hours listening to their music, and even had the huevos to send out inquiries about having my old band, Mama’s Boomshack, open for them when they played in New Hampshire (surprise surprise, I got shot down, but it’s one of the most treasured rejection messages I’ve ever received).
So every new Tower of Power album is an event for me. Last year, they released Soul Side of Town, which I love enough to comfortably say I’d place in their top five albums ever. This year, they’ve released its sister album (having been recorded during the same sessions as Soul Side of Town), entitled Step Up.
How in the world does a band that’s older than me (to paraphrase bandleader Emilio Castillo, they’re a soul band playing soul music since 1968), still hold such an important place in my heart?
Part of it is that they’ve become the soundtrack to over half my life. Since high school, they’ve been a musical touchstone I keep returning to from whatever other adventures I have – my own musical HQ. Another is that while some of their songs are specific and fit into a certain time and place, a lot of them continue to be as relevant today as they were years ago. Take the songs from their first album, East Bay Grease (released in 1969)… There’s a song about love (“Sparking In The Sand”), about financial hardship (“Back On The Streets Again”), about loss (“Knock Yourself Out”), about people getting lost in excess and losing themselves (“Social Lubrication” and “The Price”), and then there’s the person who just can’t help themselves (“The Skunk, The Goose, And The Fly”). It’s all there.
All of this to say this… If you’re in the market for another musical touchstone – a place that’s a deep well you can go back to over and over again as well as get fresh water – you could do a lot worse than to try out a classic like ToP.