Stephen 'Doc' Kupka

ASK DOC - November, 2007

The Funky Doctor answers YOUR questions


From "Hipster":

Hi Doc,

I'm a long, long-time fan of Tower -- now into Strokeland. As you are the songwriter for both, what makes the two sound so different? Is it the charts, the musicians, or both?


Strokeland is an attempt to sound like early Tower. I love that R&B sound that we used to get.

In Tower of Power, the choice of tunes is determined by a multitude of factors -- not just the ones the Funky Doctor likes best. As for Strokeland, I have total control over the material.

Also, TOP only uses the people who are currently in the band. In Strokeland, I have the luxury of using Tower of Power greats, past and present, so you will be able to hear Lenny Pickett's solos on all my R&B projects. Another plus with Strokeland is that Lee Thornburg is finally getting his due as a horn arranger. He and Mic Gillette are now the main Strokeland horn arrangers. Thanks for writing.


From Doug Allemang:

Hi Doc,

What's the story behind your "signature" hat? I am convinced that if I found it abandoned in a parking lot somewhere, I would immediately recognize it as yours. What's the story?

Thanks, Doug Allemang

"The Hat" Packed for the Road
Photo by Bryan Finch 06/2006

Hi, Doug. One time, years ago, I tried wearing one. At that time it was a Stetson "Ivy Leaguer". It caught on in a big way, and after a time, if I didn't wear one people missed it. So now, I wear a hat at every gig. The hat has reached the status of having its own case and is shipped with the rest of the equipment.

The hat I wear now is a Bailey. I have to buy a new one every six months to a year because the sweat makes them shrink. Someone suggested that I have my own line of hats to sell, but when I found out that Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach, tried that and failed, I decided to leave that alone.


From Steve Troxil:

I don't know who to contact about this, but I am greatly disappointed that East Bay Grease music is not being played in the East Bay. I spent my entire musically-conscious life in the East Bay, and although I now live in Vacaville, CA, I still consider myself a Bay Area denizen, and would travel in a heartbeat to Oakland, SF, or the vicinity to see Tower of Power, The Strokeland Band, or any semblance of the two. Why the hell don't I see the bands booked solid in the East Bay? We love this music; it is deep in our souls. Don't let us lose our funk! Spend some time with us in the Bay Area.

Steve Troxil

If they book us, we will come. There's no place I like playing better in this world than the East Bay. As for Strokeland, we're beginning to make plans to do a live DVD, and if that works out, perhaps some live shows. It would be wonderful to do it in the East Bay, but that remains to be seen. I wish we had more fans like you. Thanks, Steve.


From Sam Frazier:


I've listened to TOP for quite a while, and I've always notice that the Doc has such a "fat" sound. I am playing on a low line Yamaha 5C, and I am not getting the projection that I desire. However, I don't know if I should get a metal mouthpiece because I hear they shape your mouth in a tighter "O" than your average hard rubber model.

Also, I am primarily a clarinet player, and more specifically, a bass clarinet player, so I am used to playing on hard reeds. I feel that using medium/hard strength (3 Lavoz,Hemke) reeds is also causing a loss in my projection, but I like the control.

So, I would like to know of a good setup that provides a nice dark, full (fat) tone and give me good projection with a heavier strength reed. Or should I try softer reeds?

Thank you very much, Sam Frazier

Hi, Sam. I started with a Brillhart mouthpiece and after a few years, switched to a Berg Larsen 120/1 with a 2-1/2 reed. A player I respect named Snooky Flowers said that the key to a fatter tone was to widen the mouthpiece lay while using a lighter reed. So, in progressive steps, I moved to a 120/1 and a 2 reed, and then a 130/1 mouthpiece with a 1-1/2 reed.

So, what works for me is a wide-lay mouthpiece and a thin reed, which provides me flexibility. I always used a metal mouthpiece because I liked the edge that it got. The reeds I use are Rico Plasticover, which work better for me than the regular reeds. If you play through a mic, make sure you and the soundman are getting along.


From Mark Rosenbohm:

I just wanted to let Doc know that I painted this portrait of him after catching the show in New Orleans recently. I'd be happy to send him a printed copy of this if he's interested. [See portrait above to the right on this page. - Ed]

I've been a fan since the mid 70's. Thanks for so many years of the funk!

Mark Rosenbohm -

Mark, I love that portrait you did of me. Thank you so much. What an honor.


From David W. Tyler, PhD:

Good day to you,

Doc, I've been a ToP fan for almost as long as the band has been around. Let's put it this way: When I first started listening to ToP, your wardrobe was... different. :)

I don't have a question. Instead, I just want you to know how much I respect you, Emilio, Dave, and the rest for keeping your dream going. With a son who's a pro, I know it can't have been easy.

Also, I deeply admire your creativity, and how you and Emilio have managed to create such an unmistakeable ToP "sound" and "style." I put your stuff, both songs and arrangements, right up there with other deeply original pop composers like Burt Bacharach and Becker/Fagan. _Thank you_ for all the hard work and drive you've put into sharing this deep well of creativity you have.


David W. Tyler, PhD

PS: Although I work with lots of other PhDs, I've always been "Doc" at work, which pleases me to no end. Alas, no one refers to me as "The Funky Doctor."

Thank you so much for the kind words. I love getting comments from real doctors. Hopefully, you'll come and introduce yourself sometime. I'd love to meet you.

[Note: The Funky Doctor is as "real" as they come. - Ed]


From Bobby Dowler:


Sir, will "Doc Goes Hollywood" be out before Christmas? Sounds like it is to be a great gift item for friends and family. Thanks for the update on this gem of a recording project.

Bobby "Silver" $

The musical part of "Doc Goes Hollywood" is done, but we want to give it a long lead time due to Bill Ross's Hollywood connections and such. It won't be out by Christmas, but hopefully it will still be in full swing for next Christmas. This is a project that I'm very proud of. Thanks, Bobby.


As always, thanks taking the time to write and please keep the questions coming. We have a lot of great new things in store for the holidays.

Until next month,


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