By Rita Charleston
For the Times
Legendary funk-soul band Tower of Power will take center stage at Glenside’s Keswick Theatre on this coming Friday and Saturday. Also on the bill and in concert will be the Average White Band.
Touring and releasing albums almost non-stop since they first emerged on the Bay Area music scene in 1968, Tower of Power is still bringing the funk more than 40 years later, and are in demand as the backing band for legendary artists including Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville and Santana.
Larry Braggs has been lead vocalist with the band since October 2000, but getting the gig wasn’t that easy, he said.
“Over time, there had been a lot of lead singers in Tower, but at the time I was trying to join up, every other singer they auditioned tried to duplicate what others before them had done. I just decided to be myself.”
But Braggs didn’t realize how difficult it would be to become part of the band.
“When I joined Tower it didn’t take me long to realize I was not the musician I thought I was. In every other band I was always the front man, the focal point, the one who took everyone else to another level. But that’s not how it worked with Tower. Singing is kind of the last element in the equation. You don’t get that impression watching the band. Within the band, though, trust me, that’s how it is. It’s very humbling.”
Still, no matter how humbling it might have been, Braggs, 41, a native of Mississippi, always had confidence in his abilities, noting that he always loved singing and knew he’d grow up to do it professionally one day.
“I started singing in the second grade but didn’t know it would become my career until I reached college,” he explained. “That’s when a friend of mine told me that no matter what else I might do, nothing in life would make me as happy as making music. And I knew he was right. Certain people are just built that way, and making music brought me so much joy that I knew I had to do it for as long as I could.”
So when the opportunity to sing with Tower came about Bragg was excited — until he realized he would be on probation.
“When the singer before me was fired, they called me to join the band — temporarily,” he said. “They fired the guy they really wanted and asked if I could do the shows that were coming up, and I said sure. But that meant I had to learn eighteen to twenty songs to sing with them quickly and without any rehearsal or anything. I just came in as a replacement until they could find someone they really wanted.”
With any other man, that might have been a hard pill to swallow, but not with Braggs.
“I know there were comparisons and a lot of them,” he said, “but I didn’t care. When musicians are looking for a gig they just do what has to be done. Sometimes when a band is looking for a singer, they’re looking for the perfect person. But I didn’t think about how that would work. I was just trying to learn all the songs I could when I was on tour with the band and keep going. And on that tour I could see the audience loved me and were very, very happy with my performance.”
That was 12 years ago, and Braggs and the Tower of Power are still going strong with each other. The band itself celebrated some 44 years together. And the reason they are still gong strong is a little bit of a mystery.
“But I think it may be because people still attach memories to songs by the band,” Braggs said. “Over the years, Tower has set incredible standards and have achieved a sort of a cult status. It’s a musicians’ band — musicians play in it and musicians come to see us. Berklee College in Boston even has a course dedicated to the dynamics of the band. The Tower name is known around the world.”
As for Braggs himself, he has a major goal: “To make the group forget every singer they’ve ever had. Over the years, I’ve been in many bands, and this is another step up on playing on yet another level. But I still don’t consider myself a success.”
And when will he accept the title?
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Today, I’m just a hard-working singer who’s still perfecting my craft. But I know one thing for sure. Real success will come when I have the ability to give back to the community and make the world a much better place to live in.”
For times and ticket information, call 215-572-7650.