• The Funkiest Doctor on the planet, Doc Kupka, The mighty Tower of Power

    By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on June 14, 2017

    HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) —  In the summer of 1968, tenor saxophonist/vocalist Emilio Castillo met Stephen “Doc” Kupka, who played baritone sax. Castillo had played in several bands, but Castillo’s father told his son to, “Hire that guy,” after a home audition. Together, they became the backbone of Tower of Power. Within months the group, then known as The Motowns, began playing various gigs around Oakland and Berkeley, their soul sound relating to both minority and rebellious listeners. Castillo wanted to play Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, but he realized he would never get in with a name like The Motowns. The band agreed on Tower of Power and the name stuck.

    Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka has established himself as a preeminent songwriter of the first order, in addition to touring the world for over 49 years with the legendary East Bay Soul band, Tower of Power.

    In the 1990’s Doc realized that he was producing far more great songs than Tower of Power could record and formed Strokeland Records with the help of Andy Ebon in 1998. Doc’s first Strokeland project was, “Kick It Up a Step,” a great collection of original songs in the early Tower of Power style, and Strokeland Records was off and running.

    Since then, Doc has produced a collection of releases, including, “Doc Goes Hollywood,” a departure from his trademark East Bay Soul style, featuring his original songs in the style of the Great American Songbook that he had dreamed of recording for years. “Doc Goes Hollywood” paired Doc with William Ross, music director for Barbra Streisand and first-call Hollywood film composer and arranger, who arranged and conducted a live orchestra for the project.

    Doc said in his official TOP Biography:

    Love is patient and kind. That’s my philosophy. Making things better for you if you’ve been to our show– that gives me a joyous feeling. It’s a beautiful thing and I know it was meant to be. Having a vibrant career that meets my creative and artistic needs also brings me joy. And being this old — that really works me! The sum for us has always been greater than the parts. Because when we click there isn’t a band in the world that can beat us. It’s us veterans getting that charge from the young guys – they’ve really kept us old guys going.  Way back then, I never thought this far ahead.

    It was a different kind of one day at a time! So, when the band celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1993, I started thinking about what our longevity has meant to me, how we could keep this thing going. That’s when you start treading on iconic turf – like eligibility for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

    Some musicians are great at jazz but can’t play rhythm-and-blues. We’ve enjoyed the best from both worlds. Over the years I loved playing with so many guys, especially Lenny Pickett, Chester Thompson, Mic Gillette and Greg Adams. And I think our current configuration is one of our best, ever.

    I’m proud of so many things. I’m proud of the way the horn section evolved with Greg’s horn arrangements, and the fact that we rarely deviated from our sound, or copped to trends. The horn section has always had its own style, its own character — cutting the notes short, snapping them off, clicking and bumping against the rhythm section. Technically speaking, it’s not the way you’re supposed to play, But that’s Tower of Power.

     

     

    In 2016, Doc called on Ray Greene, former Tower of Power lead singer, and produced, “Nature Doesn’t Legislate,” a socially-conscious collection of songs that continue his legacy of first-rate songwriting and working with the very best musicians.

    Doc said, “On the new record, there are clever songs like Football After Church, I Guess the Old Folks Were Right After All and Virtual Reality Heaven. When everything got better I appreciated it so much more. Don’t take anything for granted, it’s all so fleeting – that was the biggest lesson.”

    Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, lifelong TOP friend had an opportunity to speak with Doc as he was on his way to a gig with Drummer Supreme Herman Mathews at the wheel.

    AC: If you were to write a song today about your life with TOP what would be the title?

    DOC: After 49 years, I have written hundreds of songs, if fact that is what I do in my spare time. I write songs of all styles and genres, for example I have a few country tunes, “Does He hear my drunken prayer?” and, “Two income Families down to One”.So, If I did write a song about my life with Tower of Power it would be something like, “It takes more than talent” …

    AC: Regarding lyrics, you are known to carry a little note pad for phases that can be interesting, urban and lyrical, how did that all come about, do you still have you ear to the street?

    DOC: My Mom was good with words, I may have gotten that from her. Back in the beginning I had a mentor named Ervin Moore, he was good with words as well, this is how I came up with, “Knock yourself out” and “On the serious side”. I am working on a song with Roger Smith called, “Where the Melody Be at?”

    AC: What do you want fans to know about you that they really don’t know?

    DOC: I am really into The Great American song tract type of tunes, we pursued that genre in some of our Strokeland productions. I’m a pretty simple guy, when I’m not on the road, I write music all the time, go to recovery meetings and drive around in my Toyota Camry, (I love my Camry) Always writing down cool one liners, Huge Oakland Raider fan, I have a friend in the organization who keeps me in the loop. Enjoy spending time with my wife of 27 years Yvonne and my Son.

    AC: History is written by the survivors, you are a survivor, how do you remember former band brothers as Mic Gillette, Skip Mesquite, Rufus Miller, most recently Edward McGee?

    DOC: They each played a role in the band and in my life and I miss them and respect them for being a part of our journey. The passing that impacted me the most was Mic Gillette, he was a friend, collaborator, incredible musician, (who got nervous allot) Guess all things happen the way they are supposed to, we just do our best to keep going forward. When cats leave the band, we have always been fortunate to get new players who bring something exiting to the table. Our new singer Marcus is a good example of this.

    AC: You speak of Huey Lewis saving your career, what part did Bill Graham play in the bands success?

    DOC: Huey took us out in the 80s when we were down but never out, Emilio even had a day job. He took out us out on three world tours. He would talk up the band from stage, we would bring the rhythm section and play little club dates along the way. Bill Graham literally made our career, he signed us mentored us along the way, we would not have happened if it wasn’t for Bill, in fact I named my son after him, that is how much I appreciated the man.

    AC: Mic told me the turning point for the horn section was working with Sir Elton John, I understand from Mimi that they used your horn-scoops on Get Back Honky cat, is that true, what was doing those sessions like?

    DOC: The Elton John sessions made us legitimate recording professionals, the horn section was given serious respect and we started getting calls to sit in with lots of major acts.

    AC: Over the years TOP has lost cats like Ray Green, Chester Thompson, David Mathews to Santana, Larry Braggs to The Temptations, Brent Carter to Average White band, how do you feel about this?

    DOC: Santana took us out back in the day, he helped us out, I guess we had a chance to help him out by him getting Chester Thompson and more recently Ray Greene. TOP can be a training ground for other good gigs. I am still very close to Brent Carter who is doing great with The Average White band.

    AC: If you were not in TOP what band would you have loved to be in? Memorable collaborations?

    DOC: James Brown, Otis Redding, Howard Tate, classing R&B acts. We have played with The Rolling Stones, Little Feat, Linda Ronstadt, the list goes on. I’ve sat in with Bruce Springsteen, some award shows.

    AC: Most memorable gigs?

    DOC: We did The Rose Bowl with the USC marching band, opened for the Rolling Stones in Cleveland, Headlined the Oakland Coliseum with Gladys Knight and The Pips, so many and we are still doing it.

    AC: I’m told by industry people that the best shot Tower of Power has to make it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the Horn Section. How do you feel about this, why do you think the RRHOF is so selective?

    DOC: We know the Rock and Roll Hall of fame people, allot has to do with selling tables for 2,500 bucks to friends and family members. If we had say Sir Paul McCarthy, Sir Elton John, heavyweights like that calling the RRHF and saying they want TOP in, it could work to our advantage. Look at a big act like Journey and how long it took them to get in? What is good for us is Chicago just got in and they are a horn band, so you never know, but on the real, what we do, we do for the fans. We have musical longevity.

    AC: Shifting gears a little, how were you impacted by David Garibaldi’s serious accident, how did that go down what was your reaction?

    DOC: It was like a bad acid trip, we were ready to gig, suddenly we heard sirens and screaming, we heard some guys got hit by a train, we the were told it was DG and Mark, the bass player who was filling in for Rocco, we cancelled the gig right then and there. DG is getting better is seems that there is no medical protocol for surviving getting hit by a train, Mark got it worse than DG, buy hey, they got hit by a train! DG is the most in shape cat in the band, he works out is a runner, eats right, a strong guy. I understand has another eye procedure scheduled and he has said, he hopes to be back around November.

    AC: Facebook friends and fans want to know about your record label Strokeland records, what can they expect from the label in the upcoming year?

    DOC: I’m working with Jeff Tamalier on a new album, doing a Frank Biner 2 album CD. Been working with a Hollywood heavyweight William Ross on a few things. Would really like to get some of the Strokeland music licensed to TV and Movie projects.

    AC: What would you like to say to your fans?

    DOC: Thank you for coming to see us live, we will keep doing it to the best of our ability, your love loyalty and friendship inspires us to keep on keeping on. Please leave comments on my Facebook page, I read everything!

    AC: What would you like your legacy to be, how would you like history to remember you?

    DOC: A guy who wrote great songs, who loved the music and worked hard at making it happen.

    Philly Brian Rachlin & Leo Sacks Contributed to this article


    Comments
    George Buddy Wall June 14, 2017

    I’ve been a TOP fan since 1973, and will be a fan until the day they cease to exist. Their timeless music resonates across so many genres. Doc has always been a fantastic musician, as well as the other band members. Keep writing and playing Doc, the world wouldn’t be the same without your talent.

    Alex baca June 14, 2017

    Ive been a fan since 1973 that yr i wanted to be a sax player and have done so playing music for 40 yrs plus w all types of people and still playing family has always come first before my music but always find the time to play in a band thank you and the tower for all the wonderful tunes and memories thru the yrs. Most sincerly alex baca from salt lake city ut.

    Kathleen Valdez June 14, 2017

    Love TOP! My husband brought me to your concert at the Pleasanton County Fair in 1983 – have been a fan ever since. Look forward to seeing you at the Sonoma/Marin County Fair on Wednesday 6/21/17! Love you Love you Love you!

    Linda chambers June 15, 2017

    I went to high school with Brent Byers,, so that tells you about how old I am.
    I’ve been a Tower of Power fan for all of these years and love you more every day.
    I love watching the Golden State Warriors and listening to Tower of Power in the background. You just can’t miss those horn licks!
    Thank you for sharing your talent with the world! God bless you!
    .

    David B June 15, 2017

    Had the privilege of meeting Doc back stage At the Celebrity Theatre one of the baddest Baritone sax players l grew up listening to u r a legend , the best to you.

    Robert Van den Akker June 15, 2017

    You and Tower have given me a reason to live for my 73 years and I will see you again this year at Jazz Alley, Seattle. I’m very grateful, Doc.
    Robert

    David B June 15, 2017

    Going down memory lane l remember buying 2 tickets back in 1973 to go hear the legendary TOP at the Phoenix Convention center l was only 13 years old and man what a show did they put on thats one memory I’ll never forget talking about a group with such energy man u guys respectfully still put on a great show l am totally inspired by your horns and arrangements , l look forward to attending one of ur concerts when you come back in town wishing you all the best T.O.P

    James Rea June 15, 2017

    You guys are my favorite band ever. I live in st paul mn. me And my friends grew out listening to top seen high school days. We even fly to laughlin nevada to see you. Keep going for as long as you can. Love you guys one song of your is Still a young man I have as one of my funeral song. So when I go I’ll still TOP On my mind God bless and thanks for all your good music if your ever get to st paul mn my friends would enjoy playing with you thanks again.

    Bradley Broussard (That Crazy Tattoo Guy) June 22, 2017

    I’m the guys biggest fan and I’ve got the tats to prove it!!!…Ask anyone in the band and they’ll attest to this fact!!!…Have 80 plus shows under my belt and won’t stop seeing them until they retire…And none of us wants that to happen any day soon!!!!

    Larry from Vacaville June 25, 2017

    I have been a “fanatic” of T of P ever since 1970. I have seen TOP over 50 times at 19 different venues thru out Northern California. I was over joyed when the band signed my license plate ( BMPCTY5) at the Raddisson in Sacramento a couple of years ago. I hope I was the one who helped TofP get the gig at the California State Fair in 2016, when I had fellow “bumpsters” flood the State Fair with emails to get Tower of Power to play there, during the Fair. Now all we need to do is do the same to the ” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Doc, I have enjoyed every concert that I have been to with TofP playing at! I will continue to follow them in the future! Doc, keep bringing on the creative music! Thank you …I can hardly wait to see you guys again.

    Bob "#1-T.O.P.-Fan" Henson aka "#1" July 1, 2017

    Great article, AC! Of course (and needless to say) I was really looking forward to this one, as I’m sure all the fans were. Now out of all your wonderful interview articles we can finally say, “THE DOCTOR IS IN THE HOUSE!” You and I and our tightly knit group of T.O.P. fans (Burchie’s Bumpsters) started pushing for Tower, Doc, et al to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 20 years ago. You just kicked it up a step. Let’s get everybody on the bus! Thanks Doc for all the years of great music. Keep on keepin’ on!

    Cheers to ya, #1.

    Mike Ciaramita July 3, 2017

    Back in 1969 me and several buddies went to see Santana in Milwaukee and TOP opened for them and we had never heard of them, but once they opened wirh Knock yourself out, we were so blown away didn’t care if Santana played or not. I’m not being disrespectful to Santana, but the funky horns took the sellout crowd by storm. Been diehard fan for 49 years and my kids know when I die play TOP and party at my funeral. Best band ever!

    Mark Bradley July 10, 2017

    Tower has been my favorite band since I first heard them back in 1970-71. A high school friend brought the Bump City album to my house one night and I was blown away. Being a drummer at the time and hearing Garibaldi, I said THAT’S how I want to play. From that point on I did nothing but study Garibaldi’s unique, intricate style. I would slow albums down to 16 rpm, transpose every drum part and then work on those parts. I played professionally for years thanks to the influence of Tower of Power. My message to the band is, Keep Pushing Hard! Thanks for all the years of the enjoyment I’ve experienced listening to your music! You ARE one-of-a-kind! God bless you all!

    Kirk Peters July 12, 2017

    What a wonderful interview! A couple of my floor mates at the University of Massachusetts invited me to hear TOP at a 1976 concert at the Fine Arts Center. I was hooked for life. My TOP concert tally for me registers 34! My youngest son, age 11, has been to 10 TOP concerts! Other than their music which speaks to my soul, I so appreciate the multicultural fan base and the age diversity of the concert crowds (I am black and now 60 years old!) In this day when we so easily divide ourselves based on race, socio-economic standing, and age, Tower of Power is a great example of music bridging our self-imposed divides. And as a newlywed, my wife (who is Russian) is a new convert. She’s attended 3 TOP concerts with me in the past 18 months We can’t wait to see TOP and in particular, David Garibaldi, at their usual New Year’s Eve concert.

    Stan parker July 29, 2017

    I’ve been a fan since h.s. (1970’s). Loved you guys then as I do now. Try to see you when ever ur near or in New Jersey. My 30 year old daughter lives you to death. She first got a taste when my was pregnant at the stone poney in Asbury park n.j. one of the best shows. She wants you to perform at her wedding, lol

    We were right on top of you. Don’t know what I would do if this ride were to stop. Best of luck, stay healthy. Keep doing what you do.
    Stan parker Asbury park h.s class of 1971

    Jerry Pittman September 12, 2017

    Doc,
    I first saw TOP at the Whiskey aa-go-go in Hollywood on the sunset strip in the late sixties. (Could have been in the early 70’s) Rick Steven’s was singing lead. I have seen the band countless times and I will be at the Cal state fair in Orange County later this month to catch you guys for the umpteenth time. Love TOP.

    Jerry Pittman

    ROBERTO BACA September 27, 2017

    When will TOP play here on Guadalajara?

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