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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tower of Power - I am just a fan...

Here is a great picture of the early 1970's version of Tower of Power. This band had a huge impact on me when I was an impressionable young trombone player. They are still very active - as a matter of fact, they will be playing at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond IN next month (Hell, I might go see 'em even though it is on a Thursday night).

TOP took James Brown grooves and added a little more melody and complexity. The famous TOP horn section invented a new approach to funk licks - staccato, man! They would just spit that shit out. BATTA BOP. And the Funky Doctor on that bari sax was (and is) a force of nature. Out of the folks that passed through the band, the most famous might be Lenny Pickett, the sax freak that leads the Saturday Night Live band in New York. I can remember seeing the guys live in 1974 at the Keystone in Berkeley. This was not a huge venue - it could hold 200 or so comfortably - but the night I was there I think there were 400 people jammed in. Folks were smashed together and bopped up and down in a mass to the acid funk of TOP. Stunning experience. Lenny Pickett was wearing a white tuxedo and was dancing frenetically the entire night (he danced while he was playing, he danced even harder when he wasn't playing). I still listen to their classic tunes - "Down to the Night Club," "What is Hip," "Soul Vaccination," "Sparkling in the Sand," "The Skunk, the Goose and the Fly."

I last heard TOP at a concert in the Chicago area several years ago - they were the opening act for Ray Charles. The horn section was still kicking it, but the lead vocalist had more of an arena rock style - I wanted Rick Stevens and Lenny Williams. I still enjoyed the show, but it wasn't quite the same.

Some people might say that TOP hasn't done a thing that James Brown didn't do first (and did better). That is a defensible position. But TOP at its best is a crazy tight outfit that knows how to bring the funk. I am, and always be, a fan.

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