Stephen 'Doc' Kupka

ASK DOC - November, 2009

The Funky Doctor answers YOUR questions


From Ken:

Hello Doc:

I'll get to the point first and ramble later.

My question:

Was "I Got the Chop" written in D-flat to accommodate the baritone part? I'd say that is the greatest baritone line ever put on a recording that got radio play. I'll go a step further and say that you changed baritone playing way similar to how Larry Graham changed bass playing: more percussive and more pointillistic. Do you remember what first inspired that style? "Cold Sweat" perhaps or some other James Brown tune?

Now my ramble:

My musical paradigm changed permanently the first time I heard "Tower of Power": the breakdown and outro on "Soul Vaccination" got me headed in a totally different musical direction as a teenager, back in 1986. The bari lines in tunes like "I Got the Chop" and "Ebony Jam" (to name only two) are real chop busters, the definitive funk/commercial baritone style and really ought to be part of any young, aspiring professional baritonist's practice routine. They did me a world of good. Maybe you could publish an excerpt book? I played for many years in Edmonton, Alberta, trying to do the spirit of Earl Seymour justice, and I played a ton of school band clinics along the way to make ends meet. My favorite demo piece for the kids was a frankensteinian mash up of "Ebony Jam", where I would play the bass part, horn melody and all the bari pops in between. Kinda like the Bach cello suites, but for baritone sax!

Your music has always been a great inspiration to me, from your beautiful use of Maj7 chords in funk to your free-associating lyricism - you and Gil Scott Heron would make a great album. You set forth on a heroic musical journey, slayed some monsters and were probably tempted by some sirens along the way, but what a wonderful and lasting legacy you have created for yourself. Your music and your style of playing definitely inspired me to take on some serious challenges (like dropping out of grad school to start a 9-piece R&B band, write some tunes and record a CD!!!) that have led me on a terrific life's journey. Thanks for your role in that. Now I teach chemistry in Budapest - I missed your show at Milenaris in 2008 by a few weeks. I hope you can make it back.

Best wishes,


I Got the Chop was actually written in the key of B, then modulates to Db during Lenny Pickett’s solo. B is a fairly weak baritone key, so the song was not written to fit the baritone, however, that being said, Greg Adams is a fabulous arranger and knew how to make the baritone sound good in any key. It knocks me out that a song in the key of B inspires this kind of great reaction from you. "Cold Sweat" definitely inspired my style of playing. It was one of the first four tunes I learned when I joined the band. Thanks for writing, Ken.


From Bobby Dowler:

Mr. Kupka, when do you expect and your next recording project on Strokeland Records "Doc Goes To Vegas" to be released? Thank you, sir, and I always look forward to your company's CD's.

Bobby Dowler

Hi, Bobby. "Doc Goes Vegas" is in development. It is slowed down by the fact that the only major work I get done on it is when I’m in Las Vegas, but by the next time Tower plays Las Vegas, we will have gotten all the material ready to go. Then we can set a timeline and actually put it together. The next Strokeland project will be a remix of “The Life and Times of Frank Biner”, which Frank and I recorded in Toronto in 1983. That CD contains just marvelous material, and I’m looking forward to getting it out there mixed properly.


From Bob Jones:

Hi, Doc!

I've been a fan of TOP and many horn driven soul bands for years, but being an east coast guy (sorry), I never saw you live until 5 years ago when I took my 15 year old son to hear you at the Handlebar in Greeneville SC. I bet you don't even remember that place! I think it was early in Iron Mike's tenure. I've been a manager for a long time and make presentations to big wigs, but when I saw you with your cheeseburger, the best I could do was wave (bet you don't remember that, ha!).

It seems that Tower hasn't been this popular since the early seventies. Any chance for another live DVD after the 40th anniversery DVD? How about "Soul for Lovers" and record the classic ballads with the current lineup? And there's gotta be a GASII !!! We bumpsters all like your original tunes better, but somebody likes GAS alot it if it hit #3 on the jazz charts!

Bob Jones aka Hipster

Hi, Bob. I remember the Handlebar in Greenville, SC very well. The Tower DVD is very close to being done and looks and sounds fabulous. Someone once mentioned that people in the Orient really like the ballads best, so that might be a thought in the future to do a CD of great ballads.


From Steve Booth:

Hi Doc,

In addition to awesome horns and rhythm, TOP songs have interesting, insightful, clever, memorable phrases in your lyrics that mix great with the sound.

How have you been influenced as a lyricist? Who do you think writes interesting lyrics today? How are you able to touch on a political or philosophical topic without becoming strident or offensive? Given current events do you feel prophetic with the songs: ‘Credit’ and ‘Oil’?

Look forward to seeing you next time TOP is at Jazz Alley!

Steve Booth

As a lyricist, my main influences were Rodgers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, and Leiber and Stoller. I loved those songs “Searchin’” and “Shopping for Clothes”. One of the hardest things to do is to write something meaningful that still works in song form. Check out “Colin Powell” from Bumped Up to First Class as an example of a song that’s both funny and meaningful at the same time. Thanks, Steve.



A statement to Strokeland fans from Doc Kupka:

I want it to be known that as a celebration of Halloween 2009, I will resurrect a song I wrote many years ago called “You Make It Seem Like Halloween” and want you fans to keep emailing in to ask for a progress report on my Halloween song.

Until next time,


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