After decades of creating feel-good, spirit-raising, original soul and funk music, for the first time last year Tower of Power released a classics cover album, "The "Great American Soulbook."
As America's premier soul ensemble, Tower of Power naturally delivers a superb collection of songs by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Billy Paul and James Brown.
A number of artists have produced similar projects in recent years, but none can compete with the power, polish and exuberance of Oakland's finest.
Tower of Power
"It's turned out pretty successful," reports TOP founding member Emilio Castillo.
"We haven't charted for years and this album charted on Billboard for 18 weeks. After 30 years of being off the charts, that's pretty good for us. We actually didn't want to do this record."
It turns out that the musicians were reluctant to record a covers project.
Tower of Power performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. John Cruz is the opening act. Tickets are $55, $45 and $35 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
"A lot of artists have done it," Castillo explains. "We don't like to chase trends, but our manager thought it was a good opportunity to give the fans something different. He ran it by some of the promoters we work with, and they said, of all the acts in the world that are going to do a soul remake, Tower of Power is the one who should do it. We reluctantly said we'd give it a try. Once we got into it, we realized we could put our own stamp on it and make it more of an original project. We're very proud of it now. Maybe we'll do a Volume 2 and 3."
The album mixes '60s hits like Otis Redding's "Mr. Pitiful," with less familiar tunes like Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's "Loveland."
"Being a bunch of soul music lovers and connoisseurs, we had some different schools of thought," he continues. "Some thought we should be doing very popular releases, and others like myself thought it would be slick to do songs that were more obscure, but were great songs. So we did both, songs like 'Mr. Pitiful' and 'Precious Love,' and then songs like 'Loveland' and 'You Met Your Match' and the James Brown medley, stuff that wasn't so well known. We made big lists and battled it out between ourselves."
Among the guest stars adding to the album's allure is Tom Jones singing Sam & Dave's "I Thank You."
"He's a fan of the band and we had done some touring with him the previous year," Castillo notes. "Once he was on board then we had Joss Stone sing on two songs, and Sam Moore lives in my hometown and Huey Lewis is an old friend."
"Star Time," a hot medley of James Brown hits, and Billy Paul's classic "Me and Mrs. Jones" showcase the talent of TOP's terrific lead vocalist Larry Braggs. "We're just so proud of him," says Castillo. "He can finesse the ballads and get down gritty on the up-tempo funk stuff and sing an R&B mid-tempo tune. He's got it all covered."
Originally known as the Motowns, Castillo and his young band mates began playing San Francisco's East Bay in the mid-'60s, building an enthusiastic following for their spirited music. While bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane spearheaded San Francisco's psychedelic rock revolution, Tower of Power pumped out soul music in Oakland.
"At that time the Bay Area was a music Mecca," he notes. "(Promoter) Bill Graham single-handedly raised the collective ear of the entire nation by exposing the Bay Area to some of the greatest music of all time. Not only the psychedelic and bands like ours, but on any night at the Fillmore you might see Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Buddy Guy on the same bill. It was just a great time to be in the Bay Area and we were blessed to be part of that."
Cutting their first record in 1971, "East Bay Grease," the group hit the big time with a series of great albums from "What is Hip?" and "Don't Change Horses" to "Soul Vaccination."
World renowned for their superb horn section, over the years these funk kings have spiced up recordings by a host of artists including Elton John, Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Sammy Hagar, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson and Phish.
"I really enjoyed working with Elton John," he recalls. "The horns complemented his music at that time so perfectly. We did some great work with Linda Ronstadt; she sang a duet with Aaron Neville that won a Grammy. Working with Huey Lewis was always a great musical fulfillment. Huey was very instrumental in helping the band's career when we were going through a difficult time. And I loved all the work we did with Little Feat."
So how have they lasted 40 years, weathering decades of shifting musical styles?
"We learned a long time ago if we make music to please ourselves our fans generally like it," he responds. "We're not making music because it's popular now or to get into a certain airplay rotation, we just make our music our way and fans just love it."
To celebrate their 40th anniversary the band will shortly release a historic concert DVD and CD filmed at the Fillmore in San Francisco with around 30 former members joining in.
"People from 35 years ago came and played with us, and Sam Moore sang," he enthuses. "We had three singers and five keyboard players and five guitar players and five drummers and countless horn players. It was really something."
KPOA's "Morning Goddess" Alaka'i summed up Sunday night's Na Hoku Award ceremony, proclaiming, "Maui's in the house." And Maui's musicians were definitely shining, winning half of the evening's categories including Album of the Year (Amy Hanaiali'i), Hawaiian Album and Liner Notes (Uluwehi Guerrero), Male Vocalist (Willie K), Most Promising Artist and Contemporary Album (Anuhea), Slack-key Album (Jeff Peterson), Reggae Album (Ekolu), Jazz Album (Hula Honeys) and DVD (Raiatea Helm).
Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, who won for instrumental album for "Live" and Favorite Entertainer, played a prominent role, rocking out with Henry Kapono and Mick Fleetwood and the Wild Hawaiian Band, performing a beautiful solo instrumental tribute to passed elders, and joining Barry Flanagan, Kenny Loggins and Mick on a pretty amazing rendition of Matisyahu's anthem "One Day."
With Memorial Day in mind, Jake just released a moving new instrumental "Go For Broke," which honors Japanese-American soldiers who fought in the 442nd and other units during World War II.
"It's a song that's going to be featured on my next album," says Jake. "My heart's always been there for the vets. As a kid I lived next to Club 100 (Oahu's veterans' social club), but I only learned its significance later. I was in Japan and was thinking about them and I started working on this piece."
Jake will return to Maui on a monthly basis for a series of intimate summer shows in the McCoy Theater starting in July.
While participating in the Hoku festivities, he got to play for the first time with his idol, Eddie Kamae. "We did a workshop together and it was amazing," he reports. "We talked about what inspired us play, and for me it was basically Eddie Kamae. That was a moment I will never forget."
Longtime Mauians will probably remember percussionist/vocalist Estaire Godinez from her time playing here in the mid-'90s with the hip Latin jazz ensemble Passion and Grace. Since then she's played with Prince (for a year) and George Benson (for four years), and now she returns for a show Saturday evening at the Historic Iao Theater promoting her wonderful new CD, "This Time."
A primarily original collection, the album showcases her gift as a sultry singer of Latin and Brazilian-infused jazz. Singing in English, Spanish and Portuguese, Estaire has composed a number of uplifting, radio-friendly tunes.
"One of the biggest jazz stations in L.A. and one of the biggest stations in New York is playing it," she reports. "It's even charted in the Bay Area."
Besides the album's infectious melodies and sterling musicianship, listeners are attracted by its life-affirming lyrics.
"I'm singing from the heart," she continues. "Just say yes to life, to love, to positive energy. I want to inspire people to be the best they can, not what magazines or society says we should be. 'Latina Soy' is a song about how a lot of women are obsessed with being thin. Latina women, black women, we're curvy. I'm just saying it doesn't matter what color, be proud of who you are. Be happy with your body, love yourself."
* Estaire Godinez performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Iao Theater. The band includes brother Sal Godinez on keyboards, Bob Harrison on bass, L.A. drummer Donnell Spencer Jr. (who recently played with Rufus and Sly Stone in Tokyo!), and saxophonist David Choy. Tickets are $15 at the door.
Maui filmmaker Kenny Burgmaier presents a free jazz festival at the Ulupalakua Winery from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday featuring "Tropical Swing & A Touch Of Cool Jazz" with Henry Allen backed up by Gene Argel on keyboards, Paul Marchetti on drums, Doug White on bass and David Choy on sax.
Also on the bill, the David Choy Quartet, the Shiro Mori Quartet, and Benny Uyetake will play at the Ulupalakua Store and Grill. For details, call 878-6058.