Photos: Tina Abbaszadeh
“Tower of Power is a lifestyle.”
It was some time in 1972, either a birthday or Christmas, as I sat on my bedroom floor excitedly stripping the plastic wrap off a three-album set I’d gotten as a present. It was called, Fillmore: The Last Days and at 14, it was a very big deal to get a huge box-set like this.
There were many artists featured on this collection–recorded live during the last shows at the Fillmore West–that I was obsessed with: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Taj Mahal, Cold Blood, Santana and Hot Tuna, as well as several I was not familiar with or heard of. One in particular that I was shaken by before ever hearing a note of their music was thanks to Bill Graham’s ultra-cool introduction: “A bitch of a band from the East Bay.” I didn’t know what that meant yet, but I sure knew it meant something good. After one listen to that band’s only offering on the box set–“Back On The Streets Again”–I was addicted; I could not stop playing that one track over and over.
I didn’t know what kind of music it was and it confused and almost scared me as much as it excited me. There was a popping, insistent quality to it that made me want to move, and there was a brash, cocky feel to it that stirred a sense of finding buried treasure–they sounded like a gang of guys that might just be dangerous, and I wanted to be part of it. I felt like I’d discovered something no one else knew about and soon it was the only thing I listened to on that box set. Not long after that seminal moment, I procured both Bump City and East Bay Grease.
Fast forward 46 years. I’m standing behind the core reason I had that visceral reaction in my childhood bedroom, watching his hands and feet effortlessly produce that strange, magical, cooking sensation that so stirred my naïve teenage soul: David Garibaldi–Dominus Funkologist–is casually running through Tower of Power songs with assorted members of the band as they arrive one by one for soundcheck in the Fox Theater in Oakland for what will be two shows celebrating their 50th anniversary as a band.
With both current and past members of the band, they effortlessly produce the results of fifty years of honing and refining the template that started it all; intricate, complex, subtle and grooving like nothing and no one else, this is musical mastery and I’m almost too close to it to hold any illusion of keeping my shit together in place. It is like nothing I’ve ever been this close to and I won’t sleep tonight from the effect. Nor will I sleep at all tomorrow night after seeing their first two sets of the two-night run from the front row. A frontman, two back-up singers, two guitarists, three keyboard players, seven horns, bass, drums and a ten-piece string section–the sound gets into your tissues and your brain and owns your ass. Tower of Power is without doubt a force of nature that truly rearranges one’s cells. I feel like I’ve stood in front of a tornado…naked.
After leaving the theater, I spend the entire night driving around the Bay Area, nervously listening to Mötley Crüe, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Kiss–anything that seems like the antithesis of what I’ve just been immersed in for the last two hours, that might help wash it out of my system so I can sleep, but it doesn’t work. I’ve been funkifized by brass and beats so solid and twisted and funky that my heart is beating differently.
Maybe if I go to the one guy that might be able to explain it all to me, I’ll get some rest. So, I call the guy Jonathan Mover says, “Wrote the book.” My 14-year-old heart races once again…