Edward McGee - lead vocals; Lenny Pickett - tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet, flute; Emilio Castillo - tenor saxophone, vocals; Stephen Kupka - baritone saxophone; Greg Adams - trumpet, flugelhorn; Mic Gillette - trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, vocals; Chester Thompson - keyboards, vocals; Bruce Conte - guitar, vocals; Victor Conte - bass; Ron Beck - drums; Barry Finnerty - Guest guitarist
Part of a multi-night stint at New York's Bottom Line club in New York City recorded for broadcast on the King Biscuit Flower Hour, this is another killer set from Oakland's Tower Of Power. The band, which emerged out of the San Francisco music scene in 1971, was already on its fourth lead vocalist and had seen numerous personnel changes by the time this show was captured. But the famous five-piece horn section of Lenny Pickett, Emilio Castillo, Stephen Kupka, Greg Adams, and Mic Gillette are intact, and that is driving force behind these tracks.
The band's astounding musicianship has always been its calling card, but a number of hits (including the soulful ballad "You're Still A Young Man," "So Very Hard To Go," and the absolutely funky "What Is Hip?") helped along the way as well. This show was from a tour promoting the band's first LP with Columbia Records, Hard Times In the Land Of Prosperity.
This recording, which was aired on the King Biscuit Flower Hour, got the popular band even more national radio exposure. The title track to the soon to be released We Came to Play is among the highlights of the show, and the band proved to naysayers that Tower Of Power still had all the power and the glory they had a few years earlier when the original rhythm section and lead vocalist Lenny Williams were still in place.
Opening with the incredibly funky "Soul Vaccination," the band balances the commercial radio hits with the longer jazz-inspired jam tracks, such as "Oakland Stroke" and the slammin' "Knocked Yourself Out," which runs a lengthy 24 minutes but never fails to be exciting. While the set-list is similar to the others recorded during this 2-day run at The Bottom Line, this performance is perhaps the most fiery as it includes guitar virtuoso Barry Finnerty sitting in.
Walking through a door that was opened by Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago in the late- 1960s, Tower of Power emerged at the onset of '70s as the west coast answer to the horn-driven rock movement. But whereas the other aforementioned groups paid a heavy debt to the big band and jazz sound, TOP based their music around the soul and funk sound of James Brown, Motown, and Stax.
The original incarnation of the band came out of a funk band formed in 1968 by saxophonist Emilio Castillo, baritone saxophonist Stephen "Doc" Kupka, and trumpeter Mic Gillette called the Motowns. This power trio of horn players moved to the Bay Area soon after, and by 1970, had formed a new group called Tower Of Power. By the time TOP was playing gigs in San Francisco clubs, they had grown to 11 pieces. They were signed immediately by Bill Graham, who placed them on his own San Francisco Records label (moving them the following year to a more lucrative contract on Warner Brothers Records). They would remain on Warner until these Bottom Line shows were recorded, which marked a move to Columbia Records.
Tower of Power has remained together since its inception. The band has been essentially Castillo and Kupka recording and touring as TOP, with as many as 63 other members over the years. The current lineup actually has regrouped Castillo, Kupka, Presti, and Garibaldi, from the 1970 original version.