10 Albums That Changed My Life: Emilio Castillo of Tower of Power

Emilio “Mimi” Castillo, band leader and saxophonist of Tower of Power, picks the 10 landmark albums from his personal record collection for Goldmine.
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Tower of Power's Emilio Castillo, photo by Rob Shahanan

Tower of Power's Emilio Castillo, photo by Rob Shahanan

For more than 50 years, Tower of Power has been bringing its soulful brand of funk to hit records and energetic live shows. In 2018 the nine-man band — plus guest/alumni singers and players and a full string section — returned to where it all began: Oakland, California. There they played a two-night concert celebration, documented on a new album and DVD, 50 Years of Funk & Soul.

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Band leader and saxophonist Emilio “Mimi” Castillo runs down 10 landmark records from his personal collection for Goldmine. — Bill Kopp

  

The Platters, The Platters

The Platters, The Platters

That’s one of the first records in my remembrance, when I was a little kid. My mother said that at six years old, I would be sitting on the toilet singing “Only You,” verbatim. I just loved the Platters.

  

Bill Doggett, Everybody Dance the Honky Tonk

Bill Doggett, Everybody Dance the Honky Tonk

My father was a bartender in Detroit, and my parents were nightlife people. They had Black friends. My dad dug people like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington; I was exposed to all that as a kid. I remember seeing my parents dancing in the living room when they brought that Bill Doggett record home. I loved the saxophone, and I thought the record was hopping!

  

Nat King Cole, Unforgettable

Nat King Cole, Unforgettable

Once again, it was an album that my parents had. My dad loved singers; I guess that’s where I get it from. People ask me, “Who’s your favorite sax player?” I say, “It’s not really my thing. My thing is singers; it always has been.” And Nat King Cole is one of the finest. I love songs, great lyrics and great melodies. Those songs by Nat King Cole were phenomenal.

  

Booker T &the M.Gs-Green Onions

Booker T &the M.G.’s, Green Onions

Green Onions is the first album that I bought. You just heard it, and it was like, “Man, that’s cool!” After I bought it, we had a party. Kids came over to my house, and we were all dancing in the backyard by the pool. Years later, (guitarist) Steve Cropper produced Tower of Power’s second album, Bump City, uncredited. He also produced 1978’s We Came to Play!

   

Otis Redding, In Person At The Whisky a Go Go

Otis Redding, In Person At The Whisky a Go Go

That album is pure energy. Listen to “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and your heart will race. We played rock and roll when we were teenagers, but by the time I was 16 and I heard this record, I discovered what I wanted to do as a band: Soul music.

  

Sam & Dave, Double Dynamite

Sam & Dave, Double Dynamite

I remember I went to see Sam & Dave at Basin Street West in San Francisco when I was 16; I was right up front. They had a 13-piece band. When they did “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” they did it so slow that you could fly to Tokyo and back between the two and the four. It was unbelievable. I think this record changed a lot of people’s lives.

  

The Spinners, Spinners

The Spinners, Spinners

Thom Bell was the producer; I studied that record like going to college. One day, I listened to the bass parts. Another day, I listened to the tom toms. And the backgrounds one day, and the strings, and the guitar. It changed the way I produced records.

  

The 5th Dimension, The Magic Garden

The 5th Dimension, The Magic Garden

This is one of the greatest albums ever made. Jimmy Webb wrote most of the songs. Right when Stephen “Doc” Kupka and I started writing, he turned me on to that record. He had a background in Broadway show music; I had never listened to that stuff. We listened to the entire album over and over.

  

The Impressions, This is My Country

The Impressions, This is My Country

That album has a song called “My Woman’s Love,” and it has a really high, beautiful trumpet intro. We loved it. Doc had come to me and said, “What we’re doing with other people’s songs is amazing, but why don’t we write our own?” I said, “We can try that, but we’ll have to write a trumpet intro like Curtis Mayfield’s “My Woman’s Love.” That’s how we started “You’re Still a Young Man,” the first song we ever wrote.

  

Ray Charles, A Portrait of Ray

Ray Charles, A Portrait of Ray

That’s an album of all ballads. One day many, many years ago, I put the album on. My girls — who were eight and four — asked their mom, “What’s the matter with Dad? He keeps listing to that sad record!” It’s so moody; I love it.  

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