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Tower of Power’s horn line still as impressive as ever

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POSTED June 22, 2010 2:52 a.m.
Was that a Huey Lewis sighting at the San Joaquin County Fair?

I can’t confirm nor deny that the fellow seated on the third or fourth row of the Tower of Power concert with the light brown hair and wearing sunglasses was none other than the ’80s rocker.  Yet I wouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, the Tower of Power horn line did plenty of work with Huey Lewis and the News during the band’s heydays.

Lewis was featured on a track in Tower of Power’s 2009 CD “The Great American Soul book.”

He’s probably better known for his work on original Back to the Future movie. Lewis had a cameo role in the 1985 blockbuster and he and his band came away with a hit song, “The Power of Love.”

The band had numerous hit songs during that time, including “Do You Believe In Love,” “Hip to Be Square,” and “I Want a New Drug,” to name a few.

Tower of Power ruled the music scene during the early to mid ’70s. The East Bay band with its distinct horn line – only the early Chicago brass sounds and Phoenix Horns of Earth, Wind & Fire come close – was founded 42 years ago by Emilio Castillo (vocals, tenor sax) and Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone sax).

While they’ve grown older, their “Urban Soul Music,” as Castillo calls it, remains ageless.

 The crowd Saturday was made up of mostly Baby Boomers, who were reminded of those days of yore, listening to the hit parade of Tower of Power songs – try “What is Hip,” “Soul Vaccination,” or “Time Will Tell” – on their AM transistor radios.

On this uncharacteristically cold and blustery mid-June evening, those filling the fair’s Main Stage wouldn’t dare let the band slip away without hearing “You’re Still A Young Man.”

During the encore performance, Mic Gillette, who rejoined Tower of Power about a year ago – he was an original member of the band – belted out the familiar trumpet solo in the intro of the song.

Not too long ago, he and his family lived right here in Manteca when Gillette was working on his 2005 solo CD “Ear Candy” featuring many of his Tower of Power band mates.

I interviewed Gillette back then, sitting at his home near Shasta Park that featured several Gold Records in the front room. He had earned them during his work with various recording artists.

One of my reasons for doing a story on Gillette was to recognize his volunteer services to the various music programs throughout Manteca Unified. He enjoyed playing alongside students during football games and even helped out with several benefit concerts.

For this, he credited his dad, Ray Gillette, who taught music to youngsters, for setting the example of giving back to the community.

Gillette took up the trombone to honor his father, who played alongside Stan Kenton, Harry James, and Tommy Dorsey.

Mic Gillette currently lives in the Calaveras County town of West Point, where he still offers his services to youngsters at the local schools.

For me, it was a treat to once again see Gillette playing with Tower of Power.

He was joined by Castillo, Kupka, Rocco Prestia (bass), David Garibaldi (drums), Roger Smith (key board), Tom Politzer (tenor sax), Adolfo Acosta (trumpet), Jerry Cortez (vocals, guitar), and lead vocalist Larry Braggs.

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