‘He really made it sound class': Tower of Power found its initial groove with assist from a Stax legend

Tower of Power burst out of the Oakland scene more than 40 years ago with Bump City, a gritty outburst of soul powered by the group’s silky smooth initial hit “You’re Still a Young Man.” They captured that Deep South vibe with the help of a Memphis master, Steve Cropper.

Cropper, who served as mixer on Tower of Power’s 1972 Warner Bros. debut, listened closely to the song — which co-founding saxophonist Emilio Castillo says the group had already been playing live regularly — and made a key suggestion that changed everything.

“(Cropper) brought in a piano player Jay Spell, a blind kid who was mentored by Ronnie Milsap, to play on (“You’re Still a Young Man”) and some others,” Castillo tells the New Haven Register. “He really made it sound class, and we put some violins on it and a big, high trumpet intro, and it came out great. It’s a little different than the real funky stuff we were doing mostly, but obviously people liked it.”

“You’re Still a Young Man” would become one of Tower of Power’s highest charting song on the pop charts, rising to No. 29 — and the first of its five Top 30 R&B tracks. Castillo and Company are looking to build on that legacy with a forthcoming studio album. Castillo says Tower of Power has already recorded basic tracks for 14 songs, with hopes to work on still more. The new project could be out by the end of the year.

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