It's Official: Tower Of Power Is The Greatest Horn Band

That's according to our latest poll of over 250 music fans, when we asked them to pick their favorite from a list of 10 great horn bands.

Tower of Power was the runaway winner, with more than 50% of the votes. Chicago was a distant second place. Earth, Wind & Fire narrowly beat out Blood, Sweat & Tears for third.

In addition to polling listeners for the best horn band, we also want to shine a spotlight on some of the unsung heroes of these bands: the horn arrangers.

Greg Adams of Tower of Power

Many guys shared arranging duties over the years in TOP -- including band founders Emilio Castillo and Doc Kupka. And if anything represents the sound of TOP horns it's Doc Kupka's low-down, greasy baritone sax. 

But it was Greg Adams, the East Bay trumpeter, who wrote many of those bari sax lines and many of TOP's signature horn charts.

After Greg parted ways with TOP, he started his own funky horn band, East Bay Soul.  Check out their latest album, That's Life

And here's a great clip of Greg and the TOP boys playing "What Is Hip" back in the day:



James Pankow of Chicago 

While Tower Of Power's horn arranger was a trumpeter, Chicago's is a 'bone man! Trombonist James Pankow -- a founding and still current member of Chicago -- wrote most of their greatest horn arrangements. 

From "Saturday in the Park" to "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" -- you can hear Pankow's catchy and fluid horn arrangements throughout Chicago's discography. Here's a fun live clip featuring Pankow on trombone:



Phenix Horns of Earth, Wind & Fire (and Phil Collins)

EWF's distinctive sound owes a lot to the four original members of the EWF Horns, now called the Phenix Horns -- Don Myrick on sax, Louis Satterfield on trombone, and Rahmlee Davis and Michael Harris on trumpet. These guys defined a new funk sound with their fast staccato runs and impossibly high brass.

And if the funky horns in Phil Collins and Genesis songs like "I Missed Again" and "Paperlate" sound familiar, that's because they were arranged and played by the Phenix Horns. Collins originally recruited the horn section for his classic album, Face Value.

According to producer Hugh Padgham, it was a little rocky at first because EWF founder Maurice White didn't want his horn section all over "some British bloke's" music! But their relationship blossomed over time and the Phenix Horns went on to do many things with Collins and Genesis. Here's a great video clip from one of their tours:



There's also great interplay between Collins and the Phenix players in the DVD Classic Albums -- Phil Collins: Face Value.

Finally, we also got a lot of write-in candidates for best horn band, in addition to the 10 that we included in the poll. Frequent mentions included:
Leave A Comment

Now it's your turn. Do you agree with the top 3 picks in this poll? What's your favorite horn band? Leave a comment and let us know!

And if you like this post, you might also like:
Little Feat And Tower Of Power Made The Ultimate Live Record
Elton John And Tower Of Power Rock This "Bitch"


 

20 comments

  • Rod
    Rod Fort collins
    Being a Chicago area native i was happy to see Chicago make a good showing. And BS&T was another pleasant surprise. I especially like the first iteration of the band with Al Cooper on organ. But TOP, my choice, is hard to beat. That said, another band, maybe not thought of in the traditional funk/soul/jazz sense would be Red Baraat. You can check them out here http://www.npr.org/event/music/146691937/red-baraat-tiny-desk-concert

    Being a Chicago area native i was happy to see Chicago make a good showing. And BS&T was another pleasant surprise. I especially like the first iteration of the band with Al Cooper on organ. But TOP, my choice, is hard to beat. That said, another band, maybe not thought of in the traditional funk/soul/jazz sense would be Red Baraat. You can check them out here http://www.npr.org/event/music/146691937/red-baraat-tiny-desk-concert

  • Steve Schwartzenberg
    Steve Schwartzenberg Milford, CT
    TOP is by far, the best horn band that has ever existed. All the other bands are very good but TOP is Tops! Now all they need is to be finally be accepted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

    TOP is by far, the best horn band that has ever existed. All the other bands are very good but TOP is Tops! Now all they need is to be finally be accepted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

  • Steven Wojcik
    Steven Wojcik Eastpointe, MI 48021
    I have no complaints with Tower Of Power being first or any of the other groups listed for that matter. There is a band which should have gotten some recognition but then they didn't get much recognition back in the day either, that band would be The Flock.

    I have no complaints with Tower Of Power being first or any of the other groups listed for that matter. There is a band which should have gotten some recognition but then they didn't get much recognition back in the day either, that band would be The Flock.

  • David Galloway
    David Galloway Nashville,Tn Music City
    I also love Huey Lewis and the News and also ' The Memphis Horns Section'.

    I also love Huey Lewis and the News and also ' The Memphis Horns Section'.

  • Mike J
    Mike J New Jersey
    Sorry been a Chicago fan since I saw them in Philly the week before the Live at Carnegie Hall concert. Took my daughter to see them 30 years later and now we're BOTH fans!

    Sorry been a Chicago fan since I saw them in Philly the week before the Live at Carnegie Hall concert. Took my daughter to see them 30 years later and now we're BOTH fans!

  • Duke
    Duke Virginia Beach, VA
    Cold Sweat Mom's Apple Pie Lighthouse

    Cold Sweat
    Mom's Apple Pie
    Lighthouse

  • Karyn
    Karyn Petaluma, CA
    The Son's of Champlin started it all.

    The Son's of Champlin started it all.

  • Rimas
    Rimas Chicago
    Karyn's got it right - the Sons, baby. Tho when i see the word 'horns' i also go back to the great Don Ellis and the trippy stuff HE did!

    Karyn's got it right - the Sons, baby.

    Tho when i see the word 'horns' i also go back to the great Don Ellis and the trippy stuff HE did!

  • Dan
    Dan Boston
    Had I been able to participate in this poll, I would have also voted for TOP. Saw them live a couple months ago and -- almost 50 years into the burn -- they're as tight as ever! Right now, praying for David Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen to make a full and speedy recovery.

    Had I been able to participate in this poll, I would have also voted for TOP. Saw them live a couple months ago and -- almost 50 years into the burn -- they're as tight as ever! Right now, praying for David Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen to make a full and speedy recovery.

  • JOHN
    JOHN MASS.
    TOP,TOP,TOP SIMPLE.

    TOP,TOP,TOP SIMPLE.

  • John Crute
    John Crute Richmond VA
    What happened to the other 70's horn band from the San Francisco / Oakland area - Cold Blood. (Valdez in the Country) They often shared members with Tower of Power. Though the vocals of Lydia Pense got most of the attention the horns of Danny Hull, Eric Padron, Larry and Jerry Jonutz were stars. Another band from Chicago in the late 60's and early 70's, although known for their pop hits, featured horns in most of their songs, the Buckinghams. (Check out Foreign Policy) Yes there were horns in Chicago before Chicago Transit Authority.

    What happened to the other 70's horn band from the San Francisco / Oakland area - Cold Blood. (Valdez in the Country) They often shared members with Tower of Power. Though the vocals of Lydia Pense got most of the attention the horns of Danny Hull, Eric Padron, Larry and Jerry Jonutz were stars.

    Another band from Chicago in the late 60's and early 70's, although known for their pop hits, featured horns in most of their songs, the Buckinghams. (Check out Foreign Policy) Yes there were horns in Chicago before Chicago Transit Authority.

  • David
    David Detroit
    Don Ellis Band had nice horns and very complex time signatures.

    Don Ellis Band had nice horns and very complex time signatures.

  • dan hawkins
    dan hawkins new orleans
    The Tower is #1!

    The Tower is #1!

  • Greg Funk
    Greg Funk Gulf Shores
    Your list is spot on! TOP is in my mind...”Best Band in the World” I have seen them @ 12 times.... never get tired of seeing them. 80% of people that attend are males, musicians or music files.

    Your list is spot on! TOP is in my mind...”Best Band in the World”
    I have seen them @ 12 times.... never get tired of seeing them. 80% of people that attend are males, musicians or music files.

  • Jason
    Jason Connecticut
    Tower as a band can cover all of the other bands with ease. NOT one of the the other bands mentioned can play Tower. I’d like to see Chicago attempt songs like Soul Vaccination, On the Serious Side, Only So Muc Oil, etc.

    Tower as a band can cover all of the other bands with ease. NOT one of the the other bands mentioned can play Tower.

    I’d like to see Chicago attempt songs like Soul Vaccination, On the Serious Side, Only So Muc Oil, etc.

  • Rich
    Rich New York
    If the criteria is best horn section, most intricate charts, best individual horn players, then, I agree, TOP is hard to beat. But, Chicago is the greatest horn band for one reason: best songs. These guys covered all styles of music, and although they had an insane number of pop rock hits during the original lineup’s run in the 70’s, their 13 (5 single and 4 double) albums of original studio material found Chicago diving into hard rock, R&B, funk, jazz, Latin, classical, even country styles. They approached the horn band concept uniquely by using brass as a melodic complement to the vocals, not just to punctuate the arrangements. Along with a horn section with an individual style and sound, three really good lead singers, Chicago also had great instrumental stylists in Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine, and Peter Cetera, a criminally underrated bassist unfortunately overshadowed by his rock ballad inclinations. There’s good reason why Chicago was playing sold out arenas all over the world while most of the other horn bands in consideration here were gigging in clubs.

    If the criteria is best horn section, most intricate charts, best individual horn players, then, I agree, TOP is hard to beat. But, Chicago is the greatest horn band for one reason: best songs. These guys covered all styles of music, and although they had an insane number of pop rock hits during the original lineup’s run in the 70’s, their 13 (5 single and 4 double) albums of original studio material found Chicago diving into hard rock, R&B, funk, jazz, Latin, classical, even country styles. They approached the horn band concept uniquely by using brass as a melodic complement to the vocals, not just to punctuate the arrangements. Along with a horn section with an individual style and sound, three really good lead singers, Chicago also had great instrumental stylists in Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine, and Peter Cetera, a criminally underrated bassist unfortunately overshadowed by his rock ballad inclinations. There’s good reason why Chicago was playing sold out arenas all over the world while most of the other horn bands in consideration here were gigging in clubs.

  • Double G
    Double G Los Angeles
    Thanks for this article. TOP was my favorite band in high school, and the reason I play baritone sax. It's good to see the arrangers get some love! I gotta shout out Fred Wesley for those great P-Funk/JB parts.

    Thanks for this article. TOP was my favorite band in high school, and the reason I play baritone sax. It's good to see the arrangers get some love! I gotta shout out Fred Wesley for those great P-Funk/JB parts.

  • Skip
    Skip Atlanta
    There were some awesome horn bands in the 60s and later that were one or two-album wonders. • Crow • Ballinjack • Cold Blood (with the fabulous Lydia Pense on vocals) • Seawind horns (did a lot with Christian group Sweet Comfort)

    There were some awesome horn bands in the 60s and later that were one or two-album wonders.
    • Crow
    • Ballinjack
    • Cold Blood (with the fabulous Lydia Pense on vocals)
    • Seawind horns (did a lot with Christian group Sweet Comfort)

  • Robert
    Robert Oakland
    Failed to mention the JB’s Fred Wesley Macio Parker and the horny horns I think Kool and the gang should get some honorable mention however TOP is the bench mark of funky horns no one close in the Genre

    Failed to mention the JB’s Fred Wesley Macio Parker and the horny horns I think Kool and the gang should get some honorable mention however TOP is the bench mark of funky horns no one close in the Genre

  • Dennis Wheeler
    Dennis Wheeler Kingman, AZ
    Why in hell is Otis Redding’s horn section The Memphis Horn left out of this discussion??

    Why in hell is Otis Redding’s horn section The Memphis Horn left out of this discussion??

Add comment