Rock and Roll 101: Tower of Power Remembers the Bottom Line

Rock and Roll 101: Tower of Power Remembers the Bottom Line

Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky closed the Bottom Line’s doors in 2004 after 30 years.

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Last Edited by: Chris MUG5 Maguire March 5th, 2013.

Opened 39 years ago, the Bottom Line, like Kenny’s Castaways and Café au Go Go, was an intimate Greenwich Village club that hosted major rock, jazz and blues artists. Owners Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky closed the Bottom Line’s doors in 2004 after 30 years as a launching pad for young musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Johnny Winter and Patti Austin recorded live albums from its tiny stage; Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, Carly Simon, James Taylor and Van Morrison all performed there.

But as lesser-known artists were booked into the 400-seat club, crowds dropped off to the point that Pepper and Snadowsky could no longer pay the rent. New York University, which owns the building, eventually turned the site into classrooms.

Tower of Power, the funky West Coast R&B group that scored hits in the ‘70s like “You’re Still A Young Man,” “So Very Hard to Go” and “What is Hip?” were practically the Bottom Line’s house band; in 25 years they appeared there 30 times. AltSounds asked saxophonists Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka of Tower of Power to recall what was special about the Bottom Line.

WATCH // Tower Of Power - So Very Hard To Go (1973)

AltSounds: What were your first appearances like?

Emilio Castillo: They treated us like crap. It was like, “This is New York, fellas.” We asked, “Can we get something to eat?” and they wanted the money up front. And we just couldn’t believe the prices. “Don’t we get a discount at least?” “No.” And then somebody else wanted a pitcher of Coke and they were gonna charge us. So we went outside and got a Coke and they wouldn’t let us bring it in!

Doc Kupka: The owners were nice but notoriously tight. One time when they gave us a little bit of a raise I remember going to Allan Pepper and telling him, “Thanks for helping all of us break even.” They were nice guys but they were very hard-nosed business people.

Emilio Castillo: After a while we did really good and Allan would come backstage and say, “Guys, it’s great to have you back” and everybody loved us, including the staff. You know, we brought people in and they drank and they partied and they spent money. Keith Hernandez would come in there, he would drop tons of dough. A lot of famous people would come in, the whole scene was happening. We loved it.

AltSounds: You had to deal with a very small stage.

Emilio Castillo: There’s these two pillars on the stage. We’re a 10-piece band, so we’re workin’ ourselves around these pillars. Those were the days when we were all drinkin’ and usin’ so we were out of our minds. We hated those pillars. Except on the nights when we were really drunk, then you can lean on ‘em.

Doc Kupka: It always took a long time to do sound checks. Equipment wasn’t the best. That being said, it was more than made up for by the excitement we felt from the crowd in an intimate setting like that. Being so close to a crowd, you can pick up the energy.

Emilio Castillo: We did some weird things. I remember we would step off the front of the stage and walk out onto the tables. I think about that now, I think, we were insane.

WATCH // Tower Of Power - "What Is Hip?" (1973)

AltSounds: Did you play with anybody memorable there?

Emilio Castillo: Jaco Pastorius, he played with Weather Report. He was a famous jazz bass player and he was also a very famous drug addict. He was a huge fan of the band. I let him sit in one night. He started playing a solo and he wouldn’t stop. Finally I had to turn around and yell at him “Stop!” and he wouldn’t stop. I went over and grabbed him and made him stop.

A couple of nights later Jaco walked across the street and went into Tower Records and tried to steal his own albums. He started to walk out and he explained to them, “You don’t understand, I am this guy.” And they arrested him.

AltSounds: Did you share the bill or were you booked to play the whole night?

Emilio Castillo: We shared the bill a few times but eventually it wasn’t necessary. One thing about Allan and Stanley, they weren’t gonna spend an extra dime if they didn’t have to. What really worked was they would have a comedian open. Chris Rock opened for us. He was nobody then, but I remember him. He would get ‘em laughing and then we’d come out.

WATCH // Santana with Tower of Power - "What Is Hip?" (2006)

AltSounds: When was the last time you were there?

Emilio Castillo: When the place was threatened, we hadn’t played there in years. And we went back and did a show to help them out. Stanley sort of poured out his heart to me about what a raw deal they were getting, thanks for helping and all this stuff. And then the last time I was there, I was in the Village and I found myself near the Bottom Line so I went over there.

And Allan comes down and we sit and talk and he was really angry. By this time, the word is out that they hadn’t paid their rent in two years. And Allan was really bitter. It was weird ‘cause he talked to me as though I didn’t try to help him and where was I when he needed help. I was like, does he have brain damage or what? So that was kind of an uncomfortable deal: “Good to see you Allan.”

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