Tony Guerrero & Greg Vail

Tony Guerrero

Since his first solo release in 1988, Tony Guerrero has established himself in a variety of areas. His work as a contemporary jazz flugelhornist, trumpeter, composer, and producer has garnered him both critical success and a worldwide audience. He has toured the United States and much of the world as a headliner in major jazz festivals, concert halls, and clubs and has enjoyed commercial radio success not only with his own releases but with music he’s written for other artists. To date, he has released twelve solo CDs, some of which have charted on the Billboard Top 20, as well as a variety of special releases. He has appeared on around 200 albums as either producer, composer, arranger or as a musician performing on either trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, guitar and more. Guerrero’s work as a musician and composer can also be heard in movies and on television.

Guerrero’s resume reads like a who’s who of contemporary music. He’s worked with a diverse roster of artists, including jazz legends Freddie HubbardTom Scott and Joe Sample, rock icons Brian WilsonPaul McCartneySlash and Billy Idol, pop sensations Chance the RapperThe Jonas Bros and the quadruple-platinum soundtrack to Disney’s High School Musical, as well as Hollywood icons Dick Van DykeJane LynchMerv Griffin and more. (See below for details or visit his Resume for a complete list.)

 

Greg Vail

“Whether blowing a tenderly passionate soprano sax, firing up his exciting and playful alto, or edging into a more aggressive stance with his brilliant technique on tenor sax, Greg Vail is a show stopper nonpareil, and one of the most dynamic saxophone players on today’s instrumental scene.” – Jonathan Widran (National Jazz Author)

I’ve had the opportunity of working with some prolific names in the jazz, contemporary jazz, pop, and Christian music scenes over the last few decades as well as recording six solo instrumental CDs with a discography of 100’s of CDs in varied genres to date.

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Erin Stevenson

Houston we have a problem cause this rocket’s finally ready to take off and change the atmosphere…which is exactly what she does every time she opens her mouth to pour out her heart through song.  Either she’ll win you over with her natural southern charm or her undeniable talent and infectious energy.

“One morning I woke up bored and tired of living a purposeless life.  I walked into my boss’s office while working for NASA and told him to fire me.  I laid my CD on his desk and told him to listen to it, and if he felt like I sucked I’d return to work the next day with a smile on my face…that evening I received my notice…the next day I was asked to tour with Janet Jackson.” But that’s not where her story begins. 

At the tender age of 10 she was a member of “Girls Tyme”, a prepubescent group of girls who later became Destiny’s Child.  Her first single reached to number 5 on the Billboard Dance Charts in 2006 and she’s had several songs featured in major films.

Erin has been blessed with many gifts including a sultry voice, electric dance moves, producing and songwriting, and the ability to deliver breathtaking performances with her feisty personality. This has led her to starring in her own right opening for or background singing for Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Duran Duran,Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Ciara, Rihanna, Yolanda Adams,

Jaime Foxx,…to humbly name a few.

Some have even dubbed her the hardest working undiscovered star, but undiscovered she’ll be no more.  While rehearsing and touring for other mega talents by day, Erin was brewing her own storm by night.

In 2017 Erin released her debut single entitled “Naked” and in 2018 her single “Hangin” made the top 10 on the UK charts and charted on the soul charts in the United States. Due to the demand to hear more, she’s finally figured it out and is ready to give the world all of her…starting with her single “MAKE IT LAST FOREVER” which was released on Valentine’s Day, which charted on the digital radio charts and indie radio charts, and her next single “Juicy” is set to be released on August 30th.  She effortlessly fuses a retro 80’s/90’s r&b sound, with current melodies, and infectious hooks.  Erin’s music is guaranteed to soar straight to your heart and infect your soul.

“I just want to sing, sing about something that matters, and have fun while doing it.  Here goes everything”…Erin

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DW3

To borrow from a classic quote about the late great James Brown, DW3 is today’s hardest working band in soul business, working fans into a dance and romance frenzy with their R&B, old school funk, jazz and Latin-fired magic via a whirlwind of nearly 250 live performances a year throughout the U.S. and beyond. Since 2003, brothers Eric and Billy Mondragon and close family friend Damon Reel have set the high energy mood on cruises (Smooth Jazz Cruise, Dave Koz Cruise, Soul Train Cruise & 80’s), at jazz festivals, showrooms and clubs, including hundreds of performances at their longtime home base of Spaghettini in Seal Beach, CA. They also played a key role on Dave Koz and Friends’ Grammy nominated Summer Horns project.

With four Billboard charting hits – including “I Got You” (featuring Gerald Albright) and “Let the Music,” “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “California Dreamin’” from their hit 2013 & 2015 albums On the Floor & Vintage Truth – DW3 have also established themselves as a popular national recording group. The three chose to self-title their latest Woodward Avenue Records recording to reflect the culmination of their steady and inspiring evolution from ultimate, first call party band to multi-faceted artists, songwriters and producers fulfilling their own singular musical vision.

While their previous albums were produced by greats like Paul Brown (On the Floor, 2013) and the late Ricky Lawson (Vintage Truth), DW3 marks a major breakthrough as the first time Eric (vocals, keyboards), Billy (vocals, percussion) and Damon (vocals, engineering, editor) have helmed an entire project themselves. Since the release of Vintage Truth, the group has spent their rare down time from the stage building their own state of the art recording studio (complete with rehearsal space and a listening room) in El Monte, CA with the help of the Rico Caudillo, owner of ESS Labs, a prominent headphone and speaker company DW3 endorses.

To help them flesh out their vision, they invited high-octane urban jazz power to the mix with guest saxmen Boney James, Richard Elliot and Eric Darius and some of the world’s biggest studio guns. These include Bryant Siono (bass, guitar), Steve Carias (bass, keys, drum programming), Charles Streeter (drums), Carnell Harrell (keyboards), Rick Marcel (guitar), Brandon Brown (bass), Bobby Avila (harmonica, guitar, bass) and the three piece C-town Horns. Siono, Carias, Streeter and Harrell also served as co-writers and/or co-producers. The project also features a guest lead vocal by R&B Soulstress Rebecca Jade. Along with Rocky Padilla, co-producer of “Straight from the Heart” and Eric’s son Eric Mondragon, Jr. co-engineering.

“We’re really excited about this album,” Damon says. “It took a lot of hard work and perseverance to get this amazing studio up and running and dive into the process. We’re grateful for everyone who worked with us to get us to this point. After years of being known just as a “Party Band” On the Floor was our intro to the Smooth Jazz world and earned us a lot of respect from that community. Ricky’s production on Vintage Truth took us to the next level, and now we’re able to take our artistry even further as writers, producers and arrangers.”

“Sonically, our concept was to capture the same types of vibes we convey onstage,” Billy adds. “We’re a high energy live ensemble that also love lush, sensual ballads, and we kept that in mind when we were recording these new songs. We’ve had a lot of success with covers, and when we do our cover tunes, we’re all about the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, and our original material captures those eras with a fresh flavor. The album’s got a lot of grooving dance beats with some cool, smooth stuff in there to create the perfect balance. Our challenge was to integrate our old style with a fresh new sound and contemporary melodies. We still love doing classic songs, but the whole point of composing is to draw from those influences to move forward creating our own unique flow.”

The set list for DW3 offers a perfectly artful balance between smooth, seductive ballads and up-tempo dance/funk jams. If you’re in the late night, slow swaying candlelight zone, the band’s got your number with the silky and sensual, blues tinged ballad “Like There’s No Tomorrow” (featuring Rebecca Jade) the hypnotic, slow simmering “Your Body” (featuring a silky solo by Boney James), the sexy and sultry “Groove You” (also spotlighting Jade), and two compelling versions of DW3’s re-imagined Con Funk Shun classic “Straight from the Heart” – the second a stripped down, nearly a capella version featuring DW3’s sparkling vocal harmonies and the passionate sax intensity of Eric Darius. When you’re ready to groove, hit the 80’s spiced, synth-funk driven “Now That I’ve Found You,” the spirited, high octane party anthem “Let’s Have Fun Tonight” (featuring Richard Elliot on sax and EWI), and “Never Gonna Stop,” which Billy calls the band’s “El DeBarge meets Michael Jackson with a new hip, fun flavor to it.”

Hailing from East L.A, California and growing up in the Los Angeles areas of El Sereno and Lincoln Heights, Eric and Billy began their musical careers in high school by playing club dates with their parents; their father is a bass player, and he and their mom are singers. DW3, an outgrowth of that original family band, which took the Mondragon’s sound and professionalism to the next level, has been an evolving collective of musicians since then. Damon, born in South Central L.A, also had musical influences by his parents. His mother and father have been playing and singing in the church for over 40 years. The core (Down With 3) members since 2003 are Eric, Billy and Damon. They became an integral part of the contemporary Urban Jazz scene in 2004 when they played on the first Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise and were subsequently booked as resident performers at Spaghettini. Their first independent album release was Live at Spaghettini (2006), which they followed in 2008 with Life, Love and Music.

While performing everywhere from the Newport Hyatt Jazz Festival, Mallorca Jazz Festival Brian Culbertson’s Napa Valley Jazz Getaway to Bagdad, Iraq for the US troops. DW3 has expanded their harmonic horizons performing with and singing background for numerous jazz and R&B legends and popular contemporary artists including, Marcus Miller, Brenda Russell, Patti Austin, Bobby Caldwell, Sheila E, Jonathan Butler, Jody Watley, Brian McKnight, David Pack, Evelyn “Champagne” King and the late great George Duke.

“We are so blessed to have worked with so many incredible artists and musicians over the years,” Damon says, “and that continues on our new album with Boney, Richard, Eric, J. Lo’s drummer and bass player and guitarist who have played with The Jacksons, Kool & The Gang and many others. The three of us are particularly proud of this new album because it was a homegrown effort, with all songs joining together to form a cohesive vision while also having its own thing.”

Billy adds, “I love all the different styles we’ve got. Sometimes when you listen to full albums, you’re hearing the same thing over and over, but here, we’re still interested from one song to the next. It’s definitely not the same old thing. Echoing his band mates, Eric says, “That’s why we wanted so much variety and chose only the best of all the songs we had. We wanted to keep everyone as excited listening to it as we were recording it. So many artists these days only release individual tracks or EPs with streaming in mind, but we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to provide full length CDs to our fans and totally embrace the old school charm of a full-on album project.”

 

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Jazz Funk Soul

“Chuck Loeb – we could not have continued this journey that you have helped us begin without the spirit that you left with us. Your memory, musicality, and Zen-like quality was imparted on both Jeff and I so much that all we need to ask is ‘What would Chuck do?’ We miss you dear friend. By continuing we will always honor your memory.” – Everette Harp

“Getting to know Chuck and working with him in JFS (Jazz Funk Soul) was really a blessing. I miss him very much but I’m so glad I had the chance to get to know him both personally and musically. He was a very sweet guy who was very funny and a pleasure to work with. He was incredibly musical and had superior chops, both as a songwriter, producer and as a jazz guitarist. We had a great relationship as co-writers and he would always inspire me to come up with my best ideas because his musicality was at such a high level.” – Jeff Lorber

“Chuck, you’re one of the best musicians and best people I’ve ever met. I speak in present

tense because you are not gone, you just are not here. I miss you and look forward to

making music with you in heaven. “- Paul Jackson Jr.

There are certain musicians for whom music is a calling and necessity. The evidence is heard in their inspired creations and witnessed in the gravitational force of their performances. Contemporary Jazz pioneers, Grammy winning pianist/keyboardist Jeff Lorber, Grammy nominated saxophonist Everette Harp and the late guitarist and multiple Grammy nominated Chuck Loeb, are three artists who exemplify this notion. JazzTimes Magazine describes the threesome as “..A hefty, and very tasty helping of jazz, funk and soul…with the ability to blend their styles seamlessly” while AllMusic touts “…Creatively vibrant unit with a shared vision.” In 2014, after logging many miles on the road with one another, Lorber, Harp and Loeb formed Jazz Funk Soul with the mission of recreating on record the spontaneity and explosive chemistry of their live shows. Revered as three of the primary architects of Contemporary Jazz, the threesome’s credits collectively include millions of records sold, a Grammy win and multiple nominations and performance credits with some of the biggest names in music including U2, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, The Isley Brothers, Billy Joel and Chaka Khan. Jazz Funk Soul’s eponymously titled debut came in 2014 and was followed by More Serious Business in 2016. The world mourned the loss of guitarist, producer and composer Chuck Loeb, affectionately dubbed as “The Clark Kent of Jazz Guitar,” on July 31, 2017. Loved not only for his superb musicianship by musicians and fans alike worldwide, Loeb was equally adored for his gentle and beautiful spirit. Life And Times, to be released on Shanachie Entertainment on January 25, 2019, celebrates the eternal inspiration and legacy that Chuck Loeb left behind and unites Lorber and Harp with guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. Jackson’s credits include work with everyone from Quincy Jones and Patti LaBelle to Michael Jackson and Daft Punk.

Life And Times is an impassioned and celebratory set that swings from the opening note to the album’s final chorus. Each a dazzling virtuoso, accomplished bandleader, composer, arranger and producer in his own right, Jeff Lorber, Everette Harp and Paul Jackson, Jr. unite in the name of Jazz Funk and Soul to offer ten memorable originals that defy category. Their irresistible recipe is simple – gorgeous melodies, unforgettable grooves, exhilarating solos and charged interplay. Life And Times assures us that the journey continues and reaffirms the precious gift of all of our Life And Times. Jazz Funk Soul’s newest adventure opens with Jeff Lorber’s jet-fueled and jubilant “Exotic.” “Blacksmith,” which Lorber penned with Everette Harp, is a soul-drenched composition that is graced by the addition of a robust and rock-steady horn section arranged with fellow saxophonist David Mann. The duo also co-wrote the breezy and delightful “Room W Vu.” Everette Harp composed the beautiful impassioned and upbeat excursion “Walkin’ With You” while the album’s first single, Lorber’s “Windfall,” is a blues-infused swinger and gospel tinged romp that elevates us higher. The album’s title track is a sweet ditty perfect for the soundtrack of our Life And Times at any given moment.

Paul Jackson Jr.’s “Fifth Ward” is a lush R&B ballad while his shared compositional credits on “Sunset Rock” offer a smooth sailing escapade that shows off Lorber’s agile chops. Jackson and Lorber also co-wrote the ultra funky “Where You’re At” and the soul-struttin “Cadiwampus.”

Pianist, composer and producer Jeff Lorber has been a major innovator on the creative music scene for over three decades. Along with maestros Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample and Bob James, Lorber is a groundbreaking Fender Rhodes pioneer. Having produced for everyone from Dave Koz to Kenny G, the Grammy nominated pianist’s long running acclaimed ensemble, Jeff Lorber Fusion, was a major force in Contemporary Jazz’s early beginnings. The Berklee College of Music alum’s 2014 CD Prototype with his Jeff Lorber Fusion scored a Grammy for ‘Best Contemporary Instrumental’ album.

Everette Harp’s soulful and trademark blend of Jazz, R&B, Funk and Pop have made him a favorite among fans, fellow musicians and critics alike. Harp’s impressive career that has allowed him to collaborate with everyone from Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Anita Baker, Luther Vandross and Patti Labelle to George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Billy Joel and Kenny Loggins. Harp has left an indelible imprint on the scene with his own unique, muscular and soulful approach. His work on TV has brought his saxophone into the homes of millions who have heard him playing the theme songs for such popular TV shows as Entertainment Tonight and Soul Train. He also holds the distinction of being a former member of the posse on the first Arsenio Hall Show. A graduate of North Texas State University, Harp also hosted the radio program Smooth Jazz Odyssey with Everette Harp for a stint on WLOQ in Orlando, FL. His most recent solo release is First Love.

Los Angeles native Paul Jackson, Jr. launched his own solo career in the late 80s. His distinctive musical style and technical prowess have made him a favorite among live audiences. First call for numerous musicians, Jackson has recorded with an impressive roster of musicians including Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson and Bob James, among many others. He has also lent his guitar work to several film scores including “Get On Up,” “Zootopia” and “The Color Purple.” The guitarist is also featured on Daft Punk’s CD Random Access Memories, which scored five Grammys in 2014. Paul Jackson Jr.’s latest solo CD is Stories From Stompin Willie and pays tribute to his dear friend and music icon George Duke.

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Lalah Hathaway

…Ask her to describe her voice and she might say it feels like, sounds like, soul. But when it comes to defining the essence of music, itself, Lalah Hathaway can go on and on…

“Music is so textured and layered,” she says, “and it is an absolute entity in my life. It’s three-dimensional, it’s tangible, and when I die, I’ll say goodbye to it, just as I will to everyone standing around my bed.”

In the four years since she’s blessed the people with a set of songs, she’s been “working, writing music and living a very, simple life. Many people think that you’re just lounging between albums, but that time for me was about trying to find a place to land that will give you the opportunity to create something artful, something mindful,” Lalah notes.

With SELF PORTRAIT, (Stax Records/Concord Music Group), her fifth studio album, including the Joe Sample duet, and on which she co-wrote and co-produced, Hathaway is poised to express who she is, where she is, today, at this very moment. For starters, she is an artist, of course, but she’s also a devoted daughter, culture junkie and a good friend, even. But not necessarily in that order.

“This album is like a movie of my life over the last couple of years,” she says. “The portrait I see of myself is of a very confident, smart woman who is extremely funny, independently wealthy and well-traveled – all things that I am to a small degree., she laughs. “Every day, I realize that I’m walking toward the woman I’m going to be. She’s there. I can see her. ”

Leading the 12-song collection is “Let Go,” a dance-oriented, up-tempo number she produced with Rex Rideout and wrote alongside Rahsaan Patterson. And just as the title suggests, the song is about acknowledging and releasing whatever’s not working to make room for the next experience. “I’ve had to let go of quite a few things, quite a few situations and a couple of mindsets,” she admits about the origins of her first single. “Every so often, I have to remind myself to just let some stuff go – from people and relationships to an old pair of jeans.”

While it might seem that “On Your Own,” which re-teams her with Rideout and Patterson, is inspired by a past heartbreak, in fact, the idea for the song came to her in a dream. “My father was singing to me and telling me that I could make it on my own,” she reflects. Keeping in step with the theme of family, she journeys back to her childhood with “Little Girl,” which she co-produced with Rideout and penned with Patterson and Sandra St. Victor. When she reminisces about growing up under the watchful eye of her mother, she’s always felt the presence of her father in her life.

On “That Was Then,” which she produced with Rideout and written with St. Victor, Hathaway recalls her former self and how much she didn’t know way back then. “I called Sandra in Amsterdam on a Tuesday and said, ‘I don’t know what to write,'” she says. “She was there, helping me craft the melody, by Friday. She’s a baaad girl.” Closing out the album is the Hathaway-produced, “Tragic Inevitability,” a song that stands out for her because of its fluidity. “My friend told me that she got some love while listening to this song, which horrified me and made me happy at the same time,” she remembers. “The track was sent to me by two cats from Amsterdam, Wiboud Burkens and Manuel Hugas, whom I met with Sandra. I just wrote the words that came to me.” As she sings about the things that will no longer be, you might actually feel soothed because, after all, the only constant is change. Life is funny that way.

Born to Donny Hathaway, one of the most influential soul artists of the eighties, and Eulaulah Hathaway, an accomplished musician in her own right, the Chicago native first put pen to paper, “with the music,” as a 10th grader. Later, as a student at Berklee College of Music, she recorded her self-titled debut in 1990, which spawned the hits “Baby Don’t Cry,” “Heaven Only Knows” and “I’m Coming Back.” She returned four years later with A Moment, followed by the much-lauded The Song Lives On, her duet album with Joe Sample in 1999, the same year she began growing her now-signature, cinnamon-hued ‘locs. By 2004, she’d deliver her fourth album, Outrun the Sky, garnering Hathaway her first number one single, the Rex Rideout-produced cover of Luther Vandross’ Forever, For Always, For Love, which was also featured on the critically-acclaimed Vandross tribute album of the same name.

Although she has created a space for herself, it’s not surprising that Hathaway remains connected to her late, great father and his classic sound. “I am his daughter,” she says, softly, “and that’s the truth of who I am, every day. When I was 15, and then, 20, I didn’t get why people were asking me how I felt about him and his music. But when I turned 25, I began to understand. Like my father, I want to leave a legacy of music that makes people really feel something, whether it be happiness, sadness, grief or heartache. I also want them to appreciate my humor which I know can be difficult to interpret in a song.”

In the meantime and between album projects, Hathaway – who’s recorded collaborations with Marcus Miller, Meshell Ndegéocello and Mary J. Blige, among them – keeps her creativity nourished by taking to the global stage and contributing her voice to Daughters of Soul, a musical mélange founded by comrade, Sandra St. Victor, and featuring Nona Hendryx, Joyce Kennedy as well as Indira and Simone, daughters of Chaka Khan and Nina Simone, respectively.

So, how does she hope her latest offering will be received?

“I don’t necessarily need to fit into what’s happening now,” she says of today’s marketplace, “but I want to stand with it, on my own thing. I would really love it if people need the record. I put a lot of myself into this album, so I hope people can hear me and understand who I am.”

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The Rippingtons

The Rippingtons are a Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz group, founded by guitarist and composer Russ Freeman in 1985. The group has passed the thirty year mark, and continues to innovate. Under Freeman’s production, the group has released 22 albums, all of which have attained top 5 Billboard status, with 5 of them reaching #1. Their debut album, “Moonlighting”, which Jazziz magazine has called “the number one most influential contemporary jazz album of all time.”

The group’s influences are wide-ranging, from instrumental pop, to rock, to world music, to EDM, to R&B. Some artists having recorded with the Rippingtons include Arturo Sandoval, Jeffrey Osbourne, Kirk Whalum, Kenny G, Dave Grusin, the late Joe Sample, Dave Koz, David Benoit, Patti Austin, Peter White, Rick Braun, Zak Wylde, and many more. The Rippingtons were chosen Best Group 2000 by Billboard BET, and Best Group 2 years in a row, 2001 and 2002 by the Oasis Awards, in addition to Achievement in Video 2001.

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Tower of Power

“We knew when we went into the studio, we were going to make the best record that we could make – the best album of our career. And we did. We took it to another level.” – Emilio Castillo

With a landmark 50th anniversary album, 2018’s Soul Side of Town, still visible in their rearview mirror, one would think Tower of Power (or TOP, as it is more often referred to by its global legion of fans), the much- lauded creators of their own horn-based, hybrid brand of East Bay soul/funk/R&B/rock, would take a well- deserved breather. But that is not in the band’s DNA, nor that of its founder and ringmaster, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Emilio Castillo.

Beginning with East Bay Grease, their 1970 album debut on legendary impresario Bill Graham’s San Francisco Records, the tireless unit has released 26 albums, been responsible for such classic hit tracks as “What Is Hip?,” “You’re Still a Young Man,” “So Very Hard To Go” and “Down To The Nightclub,” among so many others. TOP’s horn section, the heart of the band, have long been sought after sidemen, appearing on recordings by top artists ranging from Elton John, Aerosmith and Bonnie Raitt to Otis Redding, Santana and Heart. TOP paved the way for other high-powered brass rock/R&B hit artists of the 70s like Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Now, with their latest album release available on both on CD and LP, Step Up, the band forges on into the next decade of the 21st century, keeping to its continuous hardcore tour schedule (200 days a year!) and ongoing reinvigoration with the continual addition of new talent, most notably the phenomenal young lead vocalist, Marcus Scott, among many others. Marcus replaced TOP’s longtime lead singer, Ray Greene, who makes his final appearance with the band on Step UpAlso taking his bows on the new album is 30-year TOP veteran bassist Francis ‘

The new album came together in a somewhat unusual manner, Emilio says. In 2018, after spending a few years crafting a large body of new songs, TOP headed into the studio with Joe Vannelli, the GRAMMY®-nominated producer with a long string of R&B, jazz, rock and pop credits. Between the writing, arranging and recording, says Emilio, it was a long and careful process – six years in the making.

“We knew when we went into the studio, we had so much great material, much more than one album,” says Emilio. About halfway through recording, he continues, Artistry Music [an imprint under Mack Avenue Music Group], the band’s new label, “loved what they were hearing so much, they wanted to put all the material out on one album for the band’s 50th anniversary.

two great albums instead – Soul Side of Town for the anniversary and then Step Up for this year as we move forward.”

It’s been a long and sometimes bumpy road for Emilio and TOP, who says he feels fortunate to have found his calling in life and stuck with it, shepherding his ever-evolving band through the decades, keeping a dedicated fan base all the while.

In the early 60s, at a time when many kids were picking up electric guitars and listening to early rock and the British Invasion, Emilio was listening to R&B, jazz and blues. He asked his father to get him a saxophone instead and he never looked back.

“It was because of my father,” he says. “My dad was a bartender and he worked in joints that had bands with horn sections! I listened to ‘Harlem Nocturne,’ ‘Night Train,’ ‘Gigolo’ – songs like that were my early influences.”

Rocco’ Prestia, who is stepping back from life on the road and whose driving fingerstyle funk is

ably replaced on tour by Marc Van Wageningen.

“But we decided we were going to do the Michael Jackson thing,” Emilio laughs. “You know, where you record

way more than you need and pick the best 12. So, we ended up with

He started his first band when he was 14 and says he has always had a band ever since. “I’d be lost if it wasn’t for the band,” Emilio laughs. “I play sax, but my instrument is the band. My talent is to help great musicians bring their sensibilities together.” The sign of a great bandleader, he observes, is to “not hog anything for yourself. You want to bring people in, create unity.”

By the summer of 1968, Emilio had already played in several bands when he met Steven ‘Doc’ Kupka, the baritone sax player and songwriter whose soulful style and Bohemian personality have become a defining part of the band’s songwriting, image and sound.

“Doc was the first hippie I ever met,” Emilio laughs. “He’s an old-school guy, an old soul. He just thinks differently.” Along with longtime drummer Dave Garibaldi, the three form the consistent core of TOP.

From the band’s debut up to Step Up, the TOP sound remains true to Emilio’s original musical vision: reach inside the deep, multidimensional well of what is broadly called soul music and bring together all its diverse components in a singular, emotional sound. With the exception of a brief attempt in the late 70s to chase the disco trend, the band has stayed true to that aim.

“Our label at the time leaned on us and they gave us a ton of money,” he says ruefully. “But we learned a hard lesson. It wasn’t us and we never again tried to change our sound. We thought we could sound like other bands? No. TOP has its own sound and it’s a blessing not a curse.”

Since that time, many great players have come and gone through TOP’s ranks, including Lenny Williams, the band’s lead vocalist on its classic early 70s hits. Anchored by Doc Kupka’s baritone, the renowned Tower of Power Horn Section has long been considered by many the best in the business and features 1st tenor saxophonist Tom Politzer and trumpeters Adolfo Acosta and Sal Cracchiolo.

, who will soon celebrate 20 years with the group.

Through the years, TOP has always been difficult to slot into established music business genres: soul, funk, pop, rock. It incorporates all of those into its own unique and easily recognizable signature sound.

“I don’t think in terms of genres,” Emilio says. “But the rest of the world does. Originally, we were called a soul band. And we do make original soul music. Then, because of Garibaldi, people started saying we were one of the greatest funk bands in the world. But funk is only a small part of soul music.

“Soul music encompasses so much,” Emilio continues. “It has those great love ballads, the ones that put you through an emotional wringer. It has shuffles, medium-tempo love songs – so many different aspects and ways to express them. We’ve incorporated and interpreted them all in our own East Bay way.”

The bottom line for the band is wanting the audience to feel TOP music with both body and soul. “Basically, what we try to do with our music is to move you physically and emotionally,” he says. “When you go to our show, you should leave both sweaty and emotional!”

•••
Emilio Castillo comments on his choice tracks on TOP’s new album, Step Up:

Any Excuse Will Do – “Doc wrote this one with Lenny Pickett and Dave Eskridge did a fantastic job arranging. It’s up, it’s funky, it’s got really clever lyrics – that’s Doc – and it talks about all the various hatreds in the world. There’s just such tremendous musicality in this one throughout, especially at the ride-out.”

Addicted to You – “A medium tempo love song with lots of soul and those beautiful, expansive string and synth parts. Ray Greene handles the lead vocal nice and smooth. Old school.”

Who Would Have Thought? – “A confessional,” he laughs. “It’s about a guy who’s ‘fessing up to being the cause of the demise of his relationship. It’s really a different kind of track than TOP would normally do, but it works.”

The rhythm section is still powered by the original team of funkmasters: Garibaldi on drums and Francis ‘Rocco’

Prestia on bass, who have both been with the band since the debut album. Rounding out the 10-piece unit is

gifted guitarist Jerry Cortez (nearly a decade with TOP) and soulful keyboardist/Hammond B3 specialist, Roger

Smith

Step Up – “Just a super funky track. Pure TOP, the band is kicking and it makes you move. It’s got a killer B3 solo by Roger Smith and some fantastic guitar work by Jerry Cortez takes you out.”

The Story of You and I – “Again, Doc is just such a great lyricist. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about him. The lyrics on this one are so heartfelt and real – reminds me of Ray Charles, lyrically just not rhythmically.”

Tower of Power · Step UpArtistry Music · Release Date: March 20, 2020

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