According to Emilio Castillo, tenor sax player and founding member of Tower of Power, the band enters the “Oakland Zone” when it’s “clicking on all 10 cylinders.” That’s when the fans start jumping up out of their seats and grooving to one of the longest-running and most cherished acts in American music. You can be sure that as soon as the band takes the stage at the Granada on Saturday, September 23, the Oakland Zone will be closer than Goleta, and funkier. This stop on the group’s seemingly endless road — “We’re a working band,” said Castillo, referring to their nonstop touring schedule — will be marked by the return of drummer Dave Garibaldi, who is recovering from a train accident, and by the group’s fast-approaching 50th anniversary, which will be celebrated in suitable style at the Fox Theater in Oakland this spring.
Asked about Tower of Power’s remarkable persistence in the face of so many shifts in musical taste over the years, Castillo pointed to an unlikely source of ongoing popularity: school music teachers and marching bands. “Lots of musicians who formed horn bands in the 1970s ended up working as teachers,” he told me. “And suddenly there were kids out there who, instead of learning John Philip Sousa marches in band class, were learning to play ‘Squib Cakes.’” What makes this music so durable? The answer is simple: “It feels good to play,” said Castillo. “It’s fun for kids, especially with lots of people. Put 14 or 20 people together on one of our numbers, and they’re grooving.”