Stephen 'Doc' Kupka

ASK DOC - March, 2007

The Funky Doctor answers YOUR questions


From Bob Murphy:

I was the fortunate one who had his 50th birthday announced by the band at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia back in early October 2006. What a great thrill it was to have that happen and after the show I was able to meet and talk to each band member. All of you were complete gentlemen, good senses of humor, friendly and down to earth. I don't think anything will ever TOP that experience. My wife Judy orchestrated the whole thing and I am eternally grateful for having her in my life.

Now to my question!

I was a Tower of Power fan long before I ever knew it, in large part due to the work the horn section did with Little Feat. Can you share anything about what it was like working with Little Feat and what did you think of the songs that the horn section was a part of?

Hi, Bob. We met Little Feat on the Warner Brothers European tour of 1975.  Back then it was a big party and we became fast friends.  I was particularly close to Lowell George.  Playing on their records was always fun… great Greg Adams arrangements and great material.  One standout was “Spanish Moon”, which turned out to be one of the greatest sessions the TOP horns ever did.  At the time, playing on the “Return to Columbus Live” album was a great career boost for Tower of Power.


From Ron Pedersen:

Most of us fans know about TOP, Strokeland, James Brown etc.   Is there a little-known song or CD that just blows you away every time you hear it that you think most of us don't know about, but should?

Thanks for keeping it funky for all these years.

Of obscure TOP songs, the one that blows me away is “Below Us All the City Lights”.  A few obscure soul tunes that I like a lot are “I Can’t Stand It” by the Soul Sisters; “Work Out” by Jackie Wilson (maybe not so obscure); and “Does Your Mama Know About Me” by Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers.   Thanks, Ron.

[Note - Doc says that "Does Your Mama Know About Me" was the inspiration for "Still a Young Man"! - Ed]


From George Hebard:

Hi Doc. I've been enjoying TOP since we were all lads and want to thank you and the band for singing Happy Birthday to me before one of your shows in Boston last year.

What do you think about the horns backing up James Morrison on his big hit CD from last year, especially on "You Give Me Something". The first time I heard it I thought that it was TOP. I was just wondering what you thought of it?

Hi, George.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Any time that a horn section sounds like ours, I take it as a big compliment.  I would like it even better if it was the Tower of Power horns doing those sessions, but I’m grateful that our sound is popular among horn players.


From Dennis A. DiMarco:

Doc, I have been listening to TOP since "Back to Oakland", seen TOP in concert 5 times and, even at age 54, still think you guys are the best. Dave Garibaldi has been my fave drummer for 30 years.  NO ONE can touch him. My question is:

Are you satisfied with album mixes these days?  If you listen to Back to Oakland (in my view, the gold standard of mix levels), yes, it's all analog, but the fantastic, brutal "in your face" clarity of Dave's snare drum, hi hat, cymbals, your bari sax, etc. etc. makes today’s mixes sound like crap. Drums sound like 5 gal sheet rock mud pails and it seems like all emphasis is on vocals. Are we on the same page?

Yes, we are on the same page, although I’m much more interested in the quality of the songwriting than the actual mix.  Fads come and go.  For instance “make the horns sound wet” … “make the horns sound dry” … “big”… “tucked in” or whatever.  It’s a similar thing with drums.  Heavy toms and lots of big overwhelming drum sounds or more of a click type sound?  What I like best is clarity and separation.  What I like least is the drone of two or three guitars and bass on the low end with no separation.  To me, analog or digital makes no difference, although it will be mostly digital from here on. Thanks, Dennis.


From Gabor Szepesi:

Hi Doc! The first time I saw you was at the Colonial Tavern in Toronto in the early 70's. That show was magic and to this day is one of the top ten shows I've seen.

I feel odd telling you this because I know how many times you hear it. I was on the road for ten years ripping plenty of licks from you guys and have owned a regional touring sound company for the last 25 years. Music needs people like you. You play great arrangements with lots of beef, but manage to not lose the attention of people that shut down when parts become more advanced than Mel Bay Book One. My wife fell asleep when I took her to see Bill Evans. Too many notes. This is the same person that would clothes-line you to get to the dance floor first when a Tower tune starts.

Thanks for thousands of great moments.

Can you point me in the right direction to find more tracks that feature the Hammond B3 played as in Squib Cakes on the "Live and in Living Color" album with Chester Thompson?  Or as Roger Smith plays when you give him a tiny bit of rope on your live gigs?   I can't think of many things that are sweeter than a B3 comping under a great horn section.

Try to reach Roger Smith on the Tower site or Chester Thompson on the Santana site.  They could give you some real advice on this.  Look through the old racks for Jimmy Smith or any of the great jazz B3 players. [Note - the official Tower of Power site is still under development as of this writing. Stay tuned and check back at - Ed]

[Note - Strokeland has many of the best B3 players in the world featured on our releases right here on this site. Check out Alias Smith and Lane's "Smile and Nod"; any of the Strokeland Superband CDs (especially "Kick It Up a Step"); Roger Smith's "Rosco's Place"; the Zen Blues Quartet; Patrick Allen's "bout time!" and many more. SPECIAL NOTE - Doc's upcoming Strokeland Superband release "Bumped Up to First Class" features both Chester Thompson and Mike Finnigan, two of the greatest B3 players of all time in our opinion! - Ed]


From Rob Yarmo:

Hi Doc,   I've been a TOP fan for over 35 years and seen you over 200 times in over 50 different locations! Thanks for all of the years of great music!! Two questions for you:

1. Have you ever considered doing some of your various Strokeland material with TOP??  ( Kick It Up a Step? )  I own all of the stuff that you've released and love most of it! Much of it would fit the band.

A lot of the Strokeland material is songs that were submitted and rejected by TOP.  "Kick It Up a Step", "It May Be Very Good"; "Bittersweet With a Ray of Hope"; and many more.  As a matter of fact, that’s the reason Strokeland Records got started in the first place.  Now, to my delight, the powers that be in TOP wish that some of those songs were recorded by Tower of Power.  But very rarely if ever and probably never would TOP cover a Strokeland song on a new studio album.

2. I'm not going to see Tower of Power again until Vegas in February. Have you altered your set list since Bruce came back? It hadn't been altered much in a couple of years.

Since Bruce came back, we’ve relearned "And You Know It" and "Can’t Stand To See the Slaughter"; and there are several more guitar solos in the set than ever before. Thanks for writing, Rob.


From Bobby Dowler:

Doc, you great musicians did a couple of rare songs entitled, “It's Not Enough” and also “Hang On”.  Would you ever produce these in the future

Hi, Bobby. It would take a major artist wanting to sing one of them with Tower being the backup band for us to ever cover any song we recorded in the past.


Keep those questions coming!   Thanks for the support and come check out the Strokeland Community!


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