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‘The gift that keeps paying’: Tower of Power’s Christmas show

The International Brotherhood of Horn Bands exists only in a Las Vegas showroom, and in the mind of Tony Davich.

The great singer in Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns periodically announces that any horn band must meet the made-up organization’s bylaws to play one Tower of Power song every calendar quarter. The crowd at the Copa at Bootlegger Bistro laughs through the speech, during which Davich claims the IBHB is closely affiliated with the Illuminati and Freemasonry.

Again, a fictional alliance. But Santa Fe brings the truth with “This Time It’s Real,” or “Get Your Feet Back on the Ground.”

Tower of Power co-founder Emilio Castillo is asked about the organization, and Santa Fe’s nod to his band during their shows. He laughs and says, “I have never heard that they do that. But my birthday was Sept. 24, and I get this video from (Santa Fe founder) Jerry Lopez, who in the middle of their show had the entire venue sing ‘Happy Birthday, Emilio.’ I mean, the whole place was singing.”

That is real brotherhood, as Tower of Power rolls into Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center at 6 p.m. Sunday for its first “Holidays and Hits” show in Vegas (tickets and intel at TheSmithCenter.com).

Castillo started Tower of Power along with fellow sax master Stephen “Doc” Kupka in Oakland in 1968. The band’s DNA is in such favorite Vegas bands as Santa Fe, the Lon Bronson Band, David Perrico’s Pop Strings and David Tatlock’s Soul Juice Band.

On the international stage, Tower of Power has performed with a kaleidoscope of superstars, among them Aerosmith, Otis Redding, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Labelle, Huey Lewis, Little Feat, Heart, Michelle Shocked, Paula Abdul, Santana and Stevie Nicks.

But as it closes its 55th year of continual recording and touring, ToP has never recorded a holiday release or played a Christmas show until this year. “It’s Christmas,” the band’s first holiday EP, is out now, featuring the band’s take on such classics as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Silver Bells” and “O Holy Night.”

The original track “It’s Christmas (A Long Way from Home),” by Castillo, Kupka and Joe Vannelli (the ace musician/producer brother of pop star Gino Vannelli) is on the EP, too. A full album, including a vinyl version is due in 2024. Until then, the holiday EP is available exclusively on CD and “Holidays and Hits” shows.

The idea of Tower of Power playing Christmas tunes came from manager Ivory Daniel, who told the band, “You guys are making a Christmas record. Believe me, this is the gift that keeps on paying.” Mariah Carey, Johnny Mathis, Mannheim Steamroller and Michael Bublé, among many others, would concur.

“We’re so proud of it right now, but we didn’t have everything ready for this Christmas to do the vinyl and full streaming and everything,” Castillo said. “So we have the six on EP, and then next Christmas, it’s the full-tilt boogie, you know what I mean (laughs).”

Tower of Power is also planning a full-symphony tour next year, backed by 80 musicians. There is life in this outfit, 55 years on, even after a robust career. Castillo recalls the days of another lifetime, when they backed The Faces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood on the band’s final tour of 1975. “Rod was a die-hard Tower of Power fan, even back then.”

Castillo takes in the band’s longevity, and all the musicians they have inspired.

“I feel amazement, and immense gratitude,” Castillo said. “I’m just really enjoying it at this point in my career. It’s a great band, we’ve got great fans, we do great gigs. We are doing really well these days.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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