tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 2, 2013 1:00am-1:30am EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with two of the founding members of tower of power. over the years, they have toured constantly and released more than 20 albums. their latest is called "hipper than hip." it features the or and section that defines their distinctive sound. tower ofation with power, coming up right now.
whatever happened to the bands with the great worn sections? >> were there that many? tavis: more than there are today. >> that's true. i guess they gave up. less music in the schools, there are fewer horn players coming out. guys want to play guitar and synthesizer. link -- ihink that think you are right about that. it is a serious indictment. what kills me is that the data is so clear on what music education does for children all the way around. not just for their tone or there is a, but the performance in the key subject areas. >> math and science, we can use
some mathematicians. clearly in my children. my wife homeschools. we got them into music and immediately, all of their subjects got better. unfortunately, it means everything and one of the first things to go as the music program. -- is the music program. tavis: why did you choose to homeschool? >> we are church people. we are believers. we wanted to make sure that our .hildren were specially guided you don't get that in schools. good at it.ery i don't think it is for everybody. if you are not good, you can hire other people to help you do it. my boy, they told us he is going
to struggle. in kindergarten. now he is in the engineering program at asu. my daughter is a high school student at community college. she homeschooled until she was 17. it has really paid off for us. they have a firm foundation. take me back and tell me how you started getting so proficient. >> i started out as an oboe player. i went to berkeley high school in berkeley, california. i went off to college. you know, i wanted to play r&b,
rhythm and blues. you are not going to do that on the oboe. sax.tched over to lots of good tenors, but nobody played bari. i learned to play the baritone sax, self-taught. i was ready to go, i met emilio at the pleasant county fair. 4 weekend, 1968. not just being proficient, but a lot of soul. where did that come from? it is one thing to make the switch to the instrument. that is not just practice. berkeley is a very integrated
town. i was fortunate. i hired the musical training to be a good musician. trained and found the doctor. soul music in the bay area, it the most popular disc jockey in the bay area. tavis: this argument cuts both ways. given that it was such a soulful town, you got sly and everyone else out there doing their thing. what gave you the courage to think that you and this band could cut into that? >> because we are a white manba? tavis: i wasn't going to go
there, but some of the most soulful white folk i know are in oakland. you had to have hutzpah to believe that you were good enough to play. >> i saw it personally. there was a band in the bay area called the spiders. i saw them play, and it was like i put blinders on. wel music became my life. pattern ourselves after them and that is who we were when i met him. he was a roadie for the loading zone. we were a slick soul band. wanted to borrow the organ, they sent me over to interview me.
he asked me what we were like. the spiders had just kicked the loading zone's butt. they were amazing. the spiders took it to them. said, you can use the organ. afterwards, he says that band of yours is pretty good. only one thing wrong. your horn section needs a little bottom. by the way, i play the baritone sax. tavis: just drop that in there. >> i saw this great band doing it. he came into the band and he was the first hit the that i ever and he wanted to change our lifestyle. that is what was happening at the time.
we wanted to get to the fillmore and we knew that we were not going to get in there with a name like the motown's. this recording studio and this guy had put a list of potential band names on his desk. what about tower of power in e that was it. tavis: since you mentioned the fillmore, anybody who is anybody then and now still want to play the fillmore. you first got in their winning a contest? >> we auditioned. auditions were you had to get your spot a year ahead of time.
right about that time, we got busted for being underage. we played clubs for years underage. the alcohol and beverage control put out a letter saying if you hire these kids, we are going to take your liquor license. by the time the audition rolls around, nothing happens with this audition, i am going back we literally played like our lives depended on it. and it all did worked out, obviously. they were not used to big horn bands. they were the usual psychedelic bands. the first thing we did was hit a james brown tune.
[singing] walking out, they heard that and they made an about-face. popped out inad the back and it was bill graham. he always liked rhythm and horns. i flew to detroit the next day. if nothing happens, i'm not coming back. he was devastated. he said, you've got to come back. they dug it. who? bill graham. hock the organ and send me a ticket. [laughter] tavis: let me ask you to set your modesty aside just for a second. the me what you think contribution over these 45 years of this band tower of power has been to the business?
people playingg, real music. literate lyrics, musical songs and high performance levels. all of those things, trying to serve our fans and do what we do. there were trends through the years. we thought it was disco that was our lives. tavis: blame it on disco. >> smooth jazz, whenever we deviated which we tried a few times, it never worked out for us.
we stick to our guns now, and a high level of musicianship. tavis: the flip side of that lowest configuration. you tell me a lot tower of power the high point in ? we had rick stevens saying that you're still a young man. tavis: i suspect that over 45 years, this is to be expected. how does a band keep its ?ignature sound in
when the times are changing, how do you keep that? the sound nucleus has to give credit to rocco. i was drawing that sound out. we had that style of play. it always sounded like tower of power. are gettingompanies frustrated saying, why can't you sound like so and so? we would try, but it always sounded like tower of power. as soon as we realize that and we have a unique
way of writing and approaching the way that we put the songs together. who is in the organization, i am drawing that sound. all of your fans will agree that you are still a young man. that is the top. everybody knows one of your biggest hits. i tell myself about that every day. i am still a young man. i guess we all do that. >> when doc approached me, he said what you do to the songs we are playing is amazing. i would change the rhythm and the harmonies. what you do with these songs is
amazing. own?on't we write our i was happy. we had a great band and making good soul music. i had been in this relationship with this woman that was 24. she was six years older than me. she would break up with me and come back. why do you want to be with me? go be with girls your own age and i said no, i want to be with you. tavis: we all know that story. >> why don't we write a story about an older woman telling a young guy that you are too young for me. we were listening to curtis mayfield. he had this record out called this is my country.
really high. we loved it. we have to write a great trumpet intro because we had this guy nick gillette. we wrote the trumpet first. intro atback to the the end. it was really the most famous thing about that tune. it is that song. tell me about the process when a song is written. tell me about the process for laying down those horn licks. >> you get a title, you get a groove, you get a phrase, anything you can build upon.
that one was inspired by the curtis mayfield tune. and the song was also inspired by cheech and chong, he was in the band and cowrote that tune. we worked with them through the years. we get inspiration from wherever it is and build upon it. songke sure that when the is done, it is up to your standards. and we give it to the boys. they add a little magic to it. we raised that one ourselves. now we have a guy that raises the horns.
sometimes we have them play this line and to harmonize or whatever. tavis: tell me about "hipper than hip here co. >> it comes ." cds, live recordings that we did in long island. tookthey did was, they bands from warner bros. at the time and put them in a recording studio called ultrasonic sound. they did a simulcast on the radio station. every weekend is a different act. we were one of those weekends.
a great booklet goes with it. look at this, listen to this, i got this off of the radio. i hear the band every night. you need to ok this. i will sit down and listen to these songs. it is not that i forgot, but the realization of what an aggregation it was in 1974. lenny williams was killing it, lenny pickett was astounding. chester thompson on the organ. fabric, a sole fabric that was really exceptional. it is coming out in november and we are proud of it. tavis: you mentioned a couple
like james brown. i am curious, not just to influenced you, but is there a particular person or persons whose vote of approval of what you do has meant so much to you over the years? programuval was on this . we were talking about whether or not he read reviews or critics and he said, i haven't done that since i was 22 or 23. i wanted to know why. he said that marlon brando came to him one day and had seen one of his movies. he said, kid, you are good. since then, he didn't read nothing. marlon brando told me that i was a good actor and if he said that to me, i haven't had to read or
listen to what nobody says. approval you have received over the years, is that all you needed to hear. we have a song called "digging on james brown." we did a show with james brown, actually several. said, i really like that james brown song. we thought maybe, we will see you in court. he liked it and that meant a lot to me. >> we headlined a weekend at the fillmore auditorium. we were having this feud with bill graham. it shows you how great he was.
-- way toe best actor open up. we were really hitting it hard. we are playing and the fourth was standing in the doorway of the dressing room. aretha was wearing the tight white dress and the turbine. she is trying to get out of the way, but there were people here ri. -- here. we are nose to nose and she says, tower of power. my favorite band. i just about melted. tavis: when the queen tells you that and james brown tells you that, you don't need to hear from nobody else. hip" coming out
later and you want to get your hands on this project. that is the cd and dvd. 45 years of doing this good music. that is our show for tonight. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with best-selling author and lamotte. that is next time, we will see you then.