Over the years, Tower of Power‘s rip-roaring horns have enlivened a host of recordings from artists as diverse as Elton John, Grateful Dead, Poison, Neil Diamond, Santana, and Aerosmith, but the group also has had a long career as one of the most smoking outfits in R&B. Now, Bump City and Tower of Power, the group’s first two Warner Bros. Records releases, have been collected as one expanded 2-CD set from SoulMusic Records and Cherry Red.
1972’s Bump City marked the Warner debut of the Oakland, California band. ToP’s second album (following East Bay Grease on Atlantic Records at the dawn of the decade) saw them move from the Bay Area to Memphis in search of a new sound. Vocalist Rick Stevens, saxophonist/flautist Skip Mesquite, saxophonist Emilio Castillo, trumpeter Greg Adams, saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, trumpeter/trombonist Mic Gillette, guitarist Willie James Fulton, drummer David Garibaldi, bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia, and percussionist Brent Byers enlisted Stax veteran Ron Capone to produce with the band. Though funk was the order of the day for ToP (“You Got to Funkifize” was the opening track!), the eclectic album also took in blues, soul, swing, pop balladry, jazz and doo-wop. Harmonies and strings gave ToP a sound far different than the typical funk band.
The well-received debut made it to a respectable No. 16 R&B/No. 85 Pop, but ToP’s next album would prove to be the band’s commercial breakthrough. Originally released in May 1973, the self-titled Tower of Power was recorded back in San Francisco. It welcomed a number of new faces to the band. Lenny Williams joined as lead vocalist, Chester Thompson assumed keyboard duties, Lenny Pickett replaced Skip Mesquite as lead saxophonist and Bruce Conte replaced Willie James Fulton. This new, 11-strong line-up’s first album together spawned three hit singles, “So Very Hard to Go,” “What is Hip?” and “This Time It’s Real.” All three songs established that the group’s songwriting – by band members including tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo, baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and drummer David Garibaldi – was as deft as its musicianship.
The new two-fer of Bump City and Tower of Power adds two bonus tracks, one for each album – single edits of “You’re Still a Young Man” (the band’s first top 30 hit) and “What is Hip?” In addition, Charles Waring supplies a new, detailed essay drawing on new interviews with Greg Adams and David Garibaldi. Donald Cleveland has superbly remastered both albums.
SoulMusic has taken on another three albums originally released on the Warner Bros. label with a three-albums-on-two-CDs package from Graham Central Station. Now Do U Wanta Dance/My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me/Star Walk collects the group’s final three albums for Warners, from 1977-1979. Graham Central Station was the brainchild of former Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham, and developed from his group Hot Chocolate (not to be confused with the U.K. group of the same name). Like Sly’s unit, GCS blended heavy funk with rock, pop and soul, and even gospel. “Can You Handle It” became the band’s first hit; “Your Love” gave GCS an R&B chart-topper.
Now Do U Wanta Dance (No. 18 R&B/No. 107 Pop) yielded a top 10 R&B title track, as well as choice covers of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” and Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Lead Me On.” Though the album’s No. 12 R&B/No. 67 Pop placement fell short of the crossover success Graham and Warner Bros. were hoping for, it shows off the group’s versatility even in a changing soul/funk/dance landscape. Follow-up My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me brought in tenor saxophone great Benny Golson (“Killer Joe”) as co-producer and horn/string arranger; Golson himself had been exploring fusion sounds as an artist at Columbia Records around the same time. The title track of the LP was another top 20 R&B hit and even inspired a cover from country’s Oak Ridge Boys; the ballad “Is It Love” pointed the way to Graham’s silky “One in a Million You” and charted at No. 65 R&B. In an effort to engage the disco market, Graham turned to Philadelphia soul titan Bobby Martin and arranger Ron Kersey for 1979’s Star Walk. Martin executive-produced the LP recorded in Oakland, California; Martin supplied the string chart for “Tonight” while Kersey handled the album’s horn charts and teamed with band member Jerry Martini for “(You’re A) Foxy Lady.” The latter became a top 40 R&B chart entry, and “Star Walk” made the lower reaches of the R&B top 100. Despite its convincing blend of disco and funk, Star Walk only cracked the top 50 R&B chart and No.136 Pop. Larry Graham would bounce back in 1980 with “One in a Million You,” of course.
Matt Bauer has written a new essay for SoulMusic’s reissue, and Donald Cleveland has remastered all three albums. Note that My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me has been split across both discs to fit all three LPs on two CDs. Three single versions have been appended as bonus tracks.
The label jumps ahead to the 1980s for a two-fer from Starpoint. The Maryland R&B sextet released ten albums between 1980 and 1990, and scored three hits on the Hot 100 and 24 entries on the R&B survey. Restless and Sensational represent the group’s commercial peak, from 1985 and 1987, respectively. Lead vocalist Renee Diggs was joined by four siblings – guitarist Ernesto Phillips, bassist Orlando Phillips, keyboardist George Phillips, and drummer Greg Phillips – and vocalist/keyboardist Kayode Adeyemo in the family band. (Renee was Ernesto’s girlfriend; Kayode was a family friend.) Writing and playing their own material, Starpoint first recorded for Casablanca’s Chocolate City imprint before moving over to Casablanca founder Neil Bogart’s Boardwalk Records, and then, Elektra. At Elektra, the band embraced the prevailing 1980s production techniques, taking on a glossy, electronic R&B sound.
Their second Elektra LP, Restless, was preceded by their biggest-ever single. “Object of My Desire” was a No. 8 R&B/No. 25 Pop hit, and the crossover recording for which they’d been hoping. It had been produced by Keith Diamond and Starpoint’s manager Lionel Job, and co-written by Diamond, Ernesto Phillips, and Ky Adeyemo. Diamond, fresh off the success of Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen,” contributed a number of tracks to the album, which reinvigorated Starpoint’s sound and style. Follow-up singles yielded another top 10 R&B effort, “What You Been Missin’,” and the title track “Restless,” which made No. 11 R&B. On the strength of its hit singles, Restless peaked at No. 14 on the R&B Albums survey and remained on the chart for over a year. Five bonus single versions have been added.
Despite Renee having been tragically diagnosed with multiple sclerosis during the Restless tour, the band forged ahead. With Keith Diamond too busy to return, however, Preston Glass – a collaborator and protégé of Narada Michael Walden – was enlisted to produce the album that became Sensational. Glass encouraged Starpoint’s versatility, taking in balladry, dancers, pop, and rock. Though it only made No. 89 Pop, the pulsating, Glass-penned “He Wants My Body” became another top 10 R&B smash, and Sensational cracked the top 30 of the R&B Albums Chart.
Following 1990’s Teddy Riley-produced Have You Got What It Takes, Starpoint disbanded, but this two-fer captures the group at its peak. Ernesto Phillips died of a stroke at the age of 50 in 2004; Renee Diggs died less than a year later at the same age, from a heart condition. Donald Cleveland and Charles Waring have again supplied remastering and liner notes, respectively!
All three titles are available at the links below!
CD 1: Bump City (Warner Bros. LP BS 2612, 1972)
- You Got to Funkifize
- What Happened to the World That Day?
- Flash in the Pan
- You Strike My Main Nerve
- Down to the Nightclub
- You’re Still a Young Man
- Skating on Thin Ice
- Of the Earth
- You’re Still a Young Man (Warner Bros. single 7612, 1972)
CD 2: Tower of Power (Warner Bros. LP BS 2681, 1973)
- What is Hip?
- Clever Girl
- This Time It’s Real
- Will I Ever Find a Love?
- Get Yo’ Feet Back on the Ground
- So Very Hard to Go
- Soul Vaccination
- Both Sorry Over Nothin’
- Clean Slate
- Just Another Day
- What Is Hip? (Warner Bros. single 7748, 1973)
- Now Do U Wanta Dance
- Last Train
- Love and Happiness
- Crazy Chicken
- Stomped Beat-Up and Whooped
- Lead Me On
- Saving My Love for You
- Have Faith in Me
- My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me
- Is It Love?
- Boogie Withcha, Baby
- It’s the Engine in Me
- Turn It Out
- Are You Happy?
- Is It Love (U.S. Single Edit) (Warner Bros. single 8865, 1978)
- (You’re a) Foxy Lady
- Star Walk
- The Entertainer
- Sneaky Freak
- (You’re a) Foxy Lady (U.S. Single Edit) (Warner Bros. single WBS8816, 1979)
- Star Walk (U.S. Single Edit) (Warner Bros. single WBS 49011, 1979)
CD 1, Tracks 1-10 from Now Do U Wanta Dance, Warner Bros. LP BS 3041, 1977
CD 1, Tracks 11-14 & CD 2, Tracks 1-4 from My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me, Warner Bros. LP BSK 3175, 1978
CD 2, Tracks 6-11 from Star Walk, Warner Bros. LP BSK 3322, 1979
CD 1: Restless (Elektra LP 60424-1, 1985)
- Object of My Desire
- One More Night
- See the Light
- Till the End of Time
- Don’t Take Your Love Away
- What You Been Missin’
- Object of My Desire (Vocal/12″ Version) (Elektra single 0-66891, 1985)
- Restless (Vocal/Extended Remixed Version) (Elektra single 0-66891, 1985)
- What You Been Missin’ (Vocal/Male Version) (Elektra single 0-66875, 1985)
- Object of My Desire (Instrumental Version) (Elektra single 0-66891, 1985)
- Restless (Dub Version) (Elektra single 0-66891, 1985)
CD 2: Sensational (Elektra LP 60722-1, 1987)
- He Wants My Body
- Prove It Tonight
- Another Night
- The More We Love
- Touch of Your Love
- Second Chance
- He Wants My Body (Vocal/Extended Remix) (Elektra single 0-66798, 1987)
- Touch of Your Love (Vocal/Extended Remix) (Elektra single 0-66787, 1987)
- Another Night (Dub Version) (Elektra single 0-66798, 1987)
- Touch of Your Love (Dub Version) (Elektra single 0-66787, 1987)