In Their Own Words, as told to Leo Sacks*
This life is such an amazing process. I’ve been blessed on so many levels, I can’t count them all. My talent isn’t for me to define – that’s a job for other people. But they better do it fast – I may not live long enough! (Laughs.)
Being a so-called “legend,” well that’s flattering and all but believe me, I don’t spend a lot of energy thinking about it! (Laughs.) A lot of guys tell me, ‘I know all your licks.’ And I’ll tell them, ‘That’s nice, now learn your own!’ My thing has always been to steal and incorporate, then take those influences — Motown, James Brown, Memphis – to another level.
I’m proud I’ve had a vehicle like Tower of Power to develop a personal style. A lot of cats – great players – never get that chance. They bounce around bands and sessions; they don’t have the opportunity to cultivate a sound. So its been an honor and a privilege to be able to grow as an artist, as a player, in this band. Thank God I happened to be in the right place at just the right time.
In terms of my artistic growth, I think it’s fair to say I’m more relaxed and confident about my approach to music. It’s certainly easier to get from point A to B. And I think the same is true of my emotional growth. When we were younger, the highs were higher, the lows were lower. At my age now, you want to create a consistency in your music, and the way you lead your life. Finding that balance – it’s a matter of growing up, and we do it in our own sweet time. (Laughs.)
“Change” is a tricky thing when it comes to Tower of Power. The reality is, we are who we are. If we change the way we play, if we change our approach to the music, it won’t be us. A lot of that has to do with the way David (Garibaldi) plays, and the horn section plays, and the way I play, of course. Whether I’m ghosting, muting, going for that 16th note – our individual styles are so distinct. I love those moments on stage when we get into that “zone.” Your hands are right, you’re alone, the time is yours. That’s still the biggest nut for me, and when those times happen it’s always special. That’s the beauty of being in this band — we’re a group, and yet we’re individuals.
I’m always amazed at the way we perceive each other — or misread each other, is more like it. If you want to get to know me, good luck! (Laughs.) I can be very sarcastic, but that’s just to pass the time! Seriously, if I don’t like you, trust me, I’m not gonna mess with you! Do unto others – that’s my Golden Rule. Sometimes the truth is easy to see. The cause of my liver transplant, for instance. Other times we’re our biggest roadblocks. Am I a worrier? Well, sometimes it’s hard not to worry. Am I hopeful? That’s a little too desperate sounding (Laughs.) Am I optimistic? Yeah, that sounds about right; the glass sounds more half full that way!
Ultimately, reality — being realistic — is the big ticket for me. And yet, I’m a total fantasy guy. You wish, you hope, you stand back, you think how something could be, and then you think, What’s it really gonna be like? That’s pretty much me — fantasizing about what might never happen! (Laughs.) It’s like love at first sight-you let it happen, then six months later, you stand back and say, “Now what is this really all about?”
When I’m not playing, and I’m relaxing, taking care of myself, picking up kids, playing golf, reading fiction, my musical life is a world away. And that’s another gift from the band: using the tools that come from life’s lessons. That’s the real recipe for inner peace.
*Leo Sacks is a freelance record producer in New York. With Emilio Castillo, he co-wrote “Happy ‘Bout That” and “Stranger In My Own House” for Tower of Power’s Oakland Zone (Or Music, 2003), and the bonus track “Nothing Like It” for the European edition.