Horns of Plenty

Tower of Power leader Emilio Castillo puts together a live album while Rhino reassembles his past

The Motowns eventually metamorphosed into Tower of Power, with Castillo on second tenor sax and backing vocals. Though his immaculate sense of rhythm helped build a horn section that was the envy of the pop world (and one that played such memorable sessions as Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back"), Castillo downplays his own instrumental skills. He tends to think of himself more as a fan of songs and great vocalists than an aficionado of sax players.

The band's saving grace might have been the fact that it was always a bit of an outcast on the trendy San Francisco scene. Castillo recalls the band's big break as a Tuesday night audition at the Fillmore Auditorium when the hip crowd saw TOP in ugly velour shirts and ratty bell-bottoms and started walking out en masse, but the band made the audience turn around with a smoking version of James Brown's odd-metered "Open the Door." At that point, the door to Fillmore impresario Bill Graham's office flew open. The hungry band of fashion-challenged musos from Oakland had been accepted by the hippie crowd.

"We were a slick soul band that kinda went to bad seed, went to the Fillmore," Castillo says with a laugh. "It was just kind of the right time for us, the butterfly came out of the cocoon. It blossomed into this hip kind of soul band, and there weren't many of those around."

Salter of the Earth: Sheryl Crow took advantage of her tour stop in the Valley last week to do some recording at the Salt Mine on Monday, March 29. With producer Rick Rubin on hand, Crow laid down vocal overdubs on a cover of Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine," for the forthcoming Adam Sandler film Big Daddy, slated for release this summer. Crow has been working on the track during her tour, and Salt Mine honcho Don Salter said he "got the impression that she hadn't heard that much of it" before Rubin played the tape for her. Rubin's obsessive sense of detail showed itself in the fact that he found it necessary to have a mike cord Fed Ex-ed in from L.A.

Salter says that he initially "didn't even recognize the song" in this incarnation, which he says is based around a jangly acoustic guitar rhythm, Hammond organ, and horns with a mariachi flavor. The ever-diligant Salter prepared for the session by cleaning the studio's toilets himself, but his plan to preserve the memory of the recording with a photograph fell through when Crow and Rubin failed to show up the next day for a scheduled second session (presumably because it would have cut a bit too close to Crow's show that night at Union Hall).

Haute Beats: Mr. P-body, producer and club DJ extraordinaire, offers his second in a series of cultural collisions between the fashion and music worlds, when he brings "Funk and Fashion" to Scottsdale's Meqca Eurolounge and Discoteque on Wednesday, April 14. He describes this marriage of dance and design as "Fashionably Loud, without MTV and Cindy Crawford."

Beaming Up: Tempe punk-pop quintet Pollen walked away with victory at the regional finals of Jim Beam's third annual Back Room "Band Search Rock Edition" on March 25 at the Hard Rock Cafe. Pollen outpointed Bit o Jane, Nevershine, the Zack Phillips Band, and Jenna Music (how did an L.A. band sneak in there?) in the contest, which featured 15-minute sets from each of the competitors.

The most awkward moment of the contest came when Jenna Music's one-named lead singer Jenna (I guess that explains the band moniker, huh?) began to fondle her exposed midsection while singing something along the lines of, "You don't know what you get, until I get your fingers wet." One got the feeling that Jenna was sending the judges a message with that one, but it was not enough to compensate for the group's rather pedestrian bloozy rawk. Back to the Viper Room, darlings.

In happier news, Pollen will advance to the national finals, scheduled for May 13 in Chicago, where they'll compete against four other regional finalists, and, presumably, get some free bourbon.

--Gilbert Garcia

Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: ggarcia@newtimes.com

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