Lenny Williams - lead vocals; Francis "Rocco" Prestia - bass; Bruce Conte - guitar, vocals; Chester Thompson - keyboards; David Bartlett - drums; Emilio Castillo - tenor sax, vocals; Stephen "Doc" Kupka - baritone sax, vocals; Lenny Pickett - flute, clarinet and saxes, vocals; Greg Adams - trumpet, flugelhorn; Mic Gillette - trumpet, trombone, vocals
Vocalist Lenny Williams, who had been in Tower of Power for less than two years, was about to depart when the band played this headlining New Year's Eve show at Winterland that also featured an MG-less Booker T. Jones and the Sons of Chaplin.
After ringing in the New Year with "Auld Lang Syne," the band kicks into "Oakland Stroke," a funky exercise that features the extremely hot musicianship of the band. That track opened and closed the band's Back To Oakland album, a landmark R&B record and their fourth as a band. Moving through old and current (for the time) material, TOP rocks hard with songs like "This Time It's Real," "Don't Change Horses," "So Very Hard To Go," and "You're Still A Young Man," before closing with the infectious "Down To The Night Club."
Soon after, Williams would depart and return to a solo career that was just about to begin when he was sidetracked in mid-1972 and asked to be the group's lead vocalist. Williams would have hits, but never match the success he had in Tower of Power; the band, likewise, would never have a lead vocalist with as much cross-over appeal as Williams, and never sell as many records.
Walking through a door that was opened by New York's Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago (from—where else—Chicago) in the late-1960s, Tower of Power emerged at the onset of the '70s as the West coast answer to the horn-driven rock movement. But whereas the other aforementioned groups paid a heavy debt to the big-band and jazz sound, TOP (as they were known) based its music around the soul and funk sounds of James Brown, Motown, and Stax Records.
The original incarnation of the band came out of a funk band formed in 1968 by saxophonist Emilio Castillo, baritone saxophonist Stephen "Doc" Kupka, and trumpeter Mic Gillette called The Motowns. This power trio of horn players moved to the Bay Area soon after, and by 1970, had formed a new group called Tower of Power.
By the time TOP was playing gigs in San Francisco clubs they had grown to 11 pieces and included acclaimed arranger Greg Adams (on trumpet and flugelhorn); the smoking-hot rhythm section of drummer Dave Garibaldi and bassist Frank Rocco Presti; and vocalist Rufus Miller. (Future Saturday Night Live band director Lenny Pickett would join soon after this recording was made on sax and flute).
They were signed immediately by Bill Graham, who placed them on his own San Francisco Records label (moving them the following year to a more lucrative contract on Warner Brothers Records), and booked them on a regular basis at his Fillmore East and West theaters.
Rufus Miller left after the first album, East Bay Grease, was recorded, but appears on this recording. The next vocalist, Rick Stevens, remained through the second album, Bump City, but was replaced just prior to the third album by Lenny Williams due to his problematic drug habit. It would be on its next album, Tower of Power, with vocalist Lenny Williams, that the band scored its biggest radio hits: "What Is Hip?" and "So Very Hard To Go."
The band has remained together since its inception, with Castillo and Kupka recording and touring as TOP, and over 60 musicians passing through the band's ranks over the years. Currently, Tower of Power has re-grouped with original members Castillo, Kupka, Presti, and Garibaldi working with the band.