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May 18, 2011

Another Exclusive SMILER interview

Doc Kupka from The Tower of Power talks to SMILER

posted by Mike Walton

This interview was originally intended for a SMILER magazine but as the last issue is now out we thought we would post it in the news section as it would be a shame not to use an interview from yet another music legend..

Doc Kupka from The Tower of Power talks to SMILER
For over 40 years, Tower of Power has been creating their own kind of soul music. Since 1968, Tower of Power has delivered their unique brand of music to their fans, appearing before sold out crowds as they tour the world each year. Tower's rhythm section lays down a groove like no other band. The band’s horn driven sound is unique, and the way they approach everything, from writing and arranging to mixing and performing, is totally their own. Combine all of that with an outstanding lead vocalist and you have one of the most dynamic groups of musicians to ever hit the stage.
Stephen "Doc" Kupka (a.k.a. "The Funky Doctor") Born 25 Mar c.1946, in Berkeley, California United States is an American baritone saxophone player and composer, best known as a founding member of the band.
In 1968 Kupka met Emilio Castillo and joined his soul music cover band 'The Motown’s, based in Oakland, California. Kupka convinced Castillo to start performing original songs, and they changed the band's name to 'Tower of Power'. Kupka has been with Tower of Power ever since, and is also responsible for co-writing (with Castillo) many of the band's best-known songs.
According to his bio on the Bump City site, the "Doc" plays a Yamaha YBS-62 baritone saxophone, Berg Larsen 130 facing metal mouthpiece, and Rico Plasticover 1.5 strength reeds. Kupka has also recorded with numerous other artists, including Rod, The B52’s, Chicago, Dan Fogelberg, Heart, Elton John, Huey Lewis and the News, Little Feat, Elkie Brooks, and Bonnie Raitt.
In 1998, Kupka founded Strokeland Records along with Andy Ebon as a platform for his own songwriting. Strokeland Records grew to include numerous other soul, jazz, and funk artists. In 2006, Steve Finch took over as Director of Operations for Strokeland Records, as Kupka began work on two new releases: "Doc Goes Hollywood", a collection of his songs written in the "Great American Songbook" style; and "Bumped Up to First Class", a new collection of Kupka's classic soul songs in the early Tower of Power style.
It is always a pleasure for SMILER to speak to real legends of music like Doc Kupka and hear direct from them how Rod’s recordings evolved The Tower of Power played on tracks on two of Rod’s recently re-vamped albums A Night On The Town and Body Wishes with this in mind lets meet Doc….

1-With over 40 years in the music business you have helped make the Tower Of Power name legendary but who were your personal influences?

When I was young, I really liked the music of Richard Rogers and the stuff that Leiber and Stoller wrote for the Coasters and Elvis. A little later on, I got into Sam and Dave, Otis Redding and James Brown. At that point, I switched from oboe to baritone sax and decided to make Rhythm & Blues my career.

2-I was reading your discography on your website, Wow! The Horn section has played on over 300 albums!! But do any stand out as personal favourites?

One of my favourite recordings was with Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville singing “When Something is Wrong with My Baby” in 1989. Other standouts are Elton John’s “Caribou”, Santana, some early David Foster recordings, anything by Huey Lewis, and of course, Rod Stewart.

3-A couple of ex-Tower Of Power members Jimmy Roberts and Michael Cichowicz are well known to SMILER readers as past members of Rod’s touring horn section did you keep in touch with them while they were with Rod?

You should not forget about Lee Thornburg, who was a major Tower player after he was with Rod. I talk to Jimmy Roberts and he is a good friend, I see Michael Cichowicz in Chicago occasionally, and I make music with Lee Thornburg whenever I can.

4-What did you think of Rod and his music before you were approached to record with him?

I thought Rod was a great entertainer, a great singer, and I appreciated that he could sing rock and soul music equally well. And since I love the Great American Songbook, I really appreciate his latest recordings.

5-Producer Tom Dowd is another music legend, had you worked with Tom before A Night on the Town and what was he like to work with and how did you get involved?

Tom Dowd has produced and recorded some of the greatest music ever. I was a thrill for me to work with him, but unfortunately, it was only that one time, As for getting involved They called. I showed up.

6-Tom introduced Rod to many of his musical heroes Steve Cropper, Booker T & The MG’s ect for the recording of the two albums Atlantic Crossing and A Night On The Town, do you think with the voice Rod possessed it was the right direction for him to go in, very different from the music he was doing with the Faces.

It was a fabulous idea for him to make that album. I already knew from our touring with him that he sang that kind of stuff great.

7-A Night on The Town was recorded with a fantastic set of musicians have you got any memories of the recording session and the other musicians?

We recorded the horns separately, so what I remember was trying to make the horns sound good because it was such a high-profile session.

8-How did you get on with Rod?

I liked Rod a lot and still do. I remember being slightly intimidated by being in the presence of rock royalty.

9- Were you pleased with the finished versions of the two tacks you played on Big Bayou and Pretty Flamingo?

As a horn player, I always would like the horns to be higher in the mix, but other than that—great.

10-Did you know a collector’s edition of A Night on the Town was released this year containing early versions of both tracks if so have you heard the tracks?

I listened to the tracks but since these versions of the songs don’t have the horns on them, I really have nothing to add..

11-You teamed up again with Rod seven years later for his 1983 album Body Wishes for the two tracks Ghetto Blaster and Move Me, Tom Dowd was again drafted in –in Rod’s words ‘He came in at the last moment to save it from going down the toilet’, so was it anything to do with Tom that the Tower Of Power were drafted in?

I am unaware of how the session actually got set up, and have no specific memories, other than that we did it.

12-The Horns were amazing on Ghetto Blaster what a fantastic track! were you happy with the finished track?

I never heard the final mix at the time, but I was happy when the recording was done and was glad that a portion of the proceeds went to the charity World Vision.

13-Rhino records have just released an album Rod Stewart Sessions 1971-1988 and early versions of Ghetto Blaster is on it and Move Me is also available to download, have you heard them?

I haven’t heard the Rhino records release but the early versions don’t have the Horns on.

14-After Rod’s recent success with his Great American Songbook albums, he also pinched one of your album titles SoulBook and covered a collection of soul classics do you think with the soulful voice Rod possesses this is the way for him to go?

I think it’s fabulous that Rod recorded that, and I’m honoured that he pinched our title, “Soulbook”. I think it’s very appropriate for Rod to sing all styles of music since he does them all so well.

15-And talking of your SoulBook you had some really powerful vocalists on that album from Joss Stone to Sir Tom Jones did you enjoy making that album?

Our “Great American Soulbook” CD got off to a slow start, but once we got it rolling, it was a pleasure. Recording the horns came later in the process, so for me personally, it was very fun. We would have loved to have had Rod sing on it, but didn’t know how to make that happen.

16-For any of our UK readers who are yet to discover or want to hear more from The Tower of Power what would you suggest they listen to?

I would suggest they listen to any of the old Warner Brothers records, and in fact, there’s a collection on Rhino of most of our songs. We have a live DVD of the current lineup which was very well done, and shortly, we will have a live DVD of our 40th Anniversary Show at the Fillmore. Any of them will give a good showing of Tower of Power’s music.

17 -Thank you for giving us this interview is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

I want the readers to know that playing with Rod Stewart was a highlight in my career and I would love to do a Tower of Power / Rod Stewart joint venture if the lawyers and geniuses would allow it.

For more information on The Tower of Power go to
Check out Doc Kupka’s own Strokeland Records for Doc’s own solo projects and music from many of his world-class musician friends at

© 2019 SMILER Magazine

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