Power plays that funky music

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.

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