Stephen 'Doc' Kupka

ASK DOC - February, 2008

The Funky Doctor answers YOUR questions


From Rick Milan:

Hi Doc,

I understand your upcoming CD, "Doc Goes Hollywood" will be somewhat of a departure from your usual East Bay Soul songwriting and musical style. Can you tell us more about what to expect?

Rick Milan - Roanoke, VA

Hi, Rick.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Great American Songbook and Broadway show music, so it has been an ambition of mine for years to do a CD of original material in that style.

This project did not materialize until I met William Ross several years back at a school function because our children attended the same school. Once I did and found out he was a Tower of Power fan, we clicked musically in a big way.

I started digging up those types of songs that I had written in the past -- songs that I liked a lot, but I would be hard pressed to get Tower of Power to record them. Bill and I wrote a few songs and he began to orchestrate this project. As you will see when you hear the CD, he is a brilliant musical craftsman. It has taken almost four years since the time "Doc Goes Hollywood" was conceptualized until it will be released in March.

I am extremely proud of this project, but don’t worry—my next Strokeland project will be some hard-hitting R&B. Be sure to check the website for all the influences and sources of inspiration for each of the songs. That will be posted when the CD comes out.


From Rich Levenberg:


I've been a fan for 35 years. Is Tower coming to New Jersey in '08? I need to see you again.


Hi, Rich. We will be in the Northeast between March 29 and April 12. I don’t see New Jersey on the list, but we’ll be close. Hope to see you there. You can check the Tower of Power website for future dates and remember, if they book us, we will come.


From Adam Beach:


Happy New Year! I've been playing saxophone for decades, mostly tenor and alto. I played baritone in high school and just re-obtained one a few months ago.

When playing the bari, especially when I play "Squib Cakes"-like stuff with low, popping notes, I break reeds almost immediately. I'm playing on a hard rubber Vandoren mouthpiece which equals an “8” on the Otto Link scale, and I'm using 2-1/2 Rico Royal reeds. It sounds great for lite, jazzy, Gerry Mulligan noodling, but as soon as I go low I'm instantly out another $5!

I've talked to Eric Drake who manages the Sax Craft store on University here in Berkeley and he seems to think my mouthpiece could be the problem. Since your sound/playing is what I'm aiming for, I thought I'd ask you for your advice. Have you had similar problems? What set-up do you use? Is there an approach to playing that you advocate...?

Thanks for your time. And thanks for Strokeland!


Dear Adam, here’s my dirty little secret. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, I played well over half the gigs with Tower of Power on a broken reed.

However, I do use Rico Plasticover reeds which hang in there – even when cracked. I don’t play as many gigs on cracked reeds these days because I have a Rico endorsement, but they play in many cases just about as well as a non-cracked reed and I recommend them highly.

As for mouthpieces, as you probably know, I play a Berg-Larsen 130/1 SMS. My advice about that is to play the mouthpiece you feel most comfortable with. I don’t have any evidence that reed breakage is due to what mouthpiece you play. The approach to playing I advocate is to play hard and snap off the notes. Good luck in the future.


From Greg Cooley:


I loved the way TOP and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave Jan Hesselink the opportunity to play "Diggin' On James Brown" with the band on July 8, 2007 in Enschede, Holland.

My wife and I have attended your concerts at Glenside, PA for the past two years and we loved every minute of the TOP shows. My wife and I, as well as my stepson and his fiance, have tickets for Saturday 4/12 at Glenside PA. (7th Row Left Side, Closest to the Horns).

I play tenor sax in a soul band in Baltimore and we do "Diggin' On James Brown" which is my absolute favorite. I choose not to say the name of our band because I don't believe in getting free plugs using your email forum.

Nevertheless, the question I have is would TOP like to have a "Guest" tenor sax on 'Diggin' On James Brown", and if so, I would be honored. If it against TOP policy, I understand.

All my best,

Greg from Baltimore

Hi, Greg. You’ll forgive me if I don’t remember to check the seventh row on the left side at the Keswick, because at my age, I just know I’ll forget. Good luck with your band in Baltimore. I love that there are still lots of soul bands around. If you email back, please say the name of your band, because I would love to give you a free plug on our website. Tower of Power has a policy of not letting people set in that we haven’t heard, but I hope you keep on rockin’ in the years to come. All the best.


From Jim Cardinal:


I am a huge fan of TOP! As a matter of fact, my wife and I saw them last night in Mississauga, Ontario Canada. It was a fantastic show, as always. That was my fourth time seeing the band live. I am not writing you just to say how much I enjoy their music, that would take too long. I am writing you with a request.

Has the band ever though of doing a "Fan Excursion"? What's a fan excursion? It's a 3 or 4 day event where the band plays in a resort type location where they get to meet and mingle with their fans and play concerts in the evening.

It's not an original idea (as much as I wish it was). There are other bands out there already doing this. One in particular is Little Feat. This year will be their 6th annual excursion. It's held in a 5 star resort in Negril Jamaica. They arrive with their friends and families (and the fans) and enjoy 4 days of fun, sun and great music. They have many activities such as golf tournament, acoustic blues night, meet the band for autographs, drum clinic, afternoon jazz concert etc. This year will be my fourth time going and it's always been spectacular. [...]

Each year my wife and I say how great it would be if Tower of Power ever did this too!!!! I know that the band (Little Feat) enjoys themselves as much as the fans. I know because they told me. The band gets time to enjoy a beautiful resort with their family while playing to their most die-hard fans. It's a wonderful way for the band to show their appreciation to those fans who have supported them throughout the years. I have been meaning to send you this request for a few years now, just never got off my ass to do it, until last night. [...]

I know you would not have a hard time selling out the resort. People would come from all over the world to experience such an event with TOP. I have met Little Feat fans from Germany, UK, Belgium, Canada and of course the US at the excursion. You may have had this request in the past, or maybe not. I am requesting that you take this seriously and see if the band might be interested in this type of event. Hope so!


Jim Cardinal

Dear Jim, I would be all for a fan excursion tour, but that takes booking it and setting it up. If someone did that to Tower of Power specifications, I’m sure it could work out. If they book us, we will come. Hope to see you in the future.

[As much as the band likes to play certain locations and types of events, it's all up to the event promoters or venues to book the band to make events like this happen. - Ed]


Thanks as always for the great questions. We've actually been looking for more good questions lately, so please send yours in and I'll try to answer.

Until next month,


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