Bobby Vega is a world-class collector and vintage bass freak of the first order. The gear is real. The stories are true. The dates are foggy. And the names of the innocent have been changed to protect their identities… and save Bobby’s ass!
I’VE ALWAYS LOVED THE WAY TOWER OF POWER makes me feel when I hear them. East Bay Grease, Bump City, Tower Of Power, What Is Hip—man, I wore those records out. And now I know why—it’s the groove! When my wife told me we were going to have a baby boy, I asked her how she felt about Rocco as a name. She said, “Rocco? That’s a lovely name.” So I named my son Rocco, after Tower Of Power bass player Francis “Rocco” Prestia.
I got to meet Rocco through the years. At one NAMM show, I saw Rocco and told him that I named my son after him. He said, “Bobby, I’m flattered, but if you really meant it, you would’ve named him Francis!” There you have it.
So one day I got a call to come audition for Tower Of Power. About a week before that call, Tower was in the studio, and I called Tower guitarist Jeff Tamelier and asked him to give a few photos of my son to Rocco. He told me to come on down and give them to Rocco myself.
I get to the studio, see Jeff and hang out a bit, and then I see Rocco, who asks me to take a walk with him.
He says, ��This gig is going to be good for you.”
I was like, What?
He said, “I’m sick. I’m going to the hospital.” I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “I can’t play like you.” And he said, “I can’t play like you, either.”
That said, what are you supposed to do? The Jeopardy question is, what Tower Of Power songs should you learn for an audition? I picked three: “Soul With a Capital ‘S,’” “Can’t You See,” and “What Is Hip.” The audition was a nightmare: There were no horns, I was in a control room sitting on the sub with alto sax player Emilio “Mimi” Castillo giving me spoken horn parts, and drummer Dave Garibaldi was in another room. So were the keyboards. The first song was “Soul with a Capital ‘S,’” which has an intro with horn hits—but guess what?
That’s right, no horn section. Quack! Next song was “Can’t You See.” On the live version the band had given me, the singer kept saying “oop op,” so when Mimi asked me what song I wanted to play next, I said, “oop.” Jeff looked at me and gave me the sign to shut up. I start to laugh, and it was an “oh, shit” moment.
Next was “What Is Hip.” That song is tricky—you can learn it, and you can play it with the CD, but try playing it with the band that wrote it, let alone playing it onstage. It ain’t as easy as you think!
Well, I made it through. So when I received word that I got the Tower gig, I locked myself in a room for eight to 12 hours a day for three weeks straight, listening and learning and taking apart those songs. And I still don’t have them, but now they’re a part of me.
Nobody can play Rocco. It’s in his soul, and his sound is his soul! So I played the sound of the band—Bump City, the Tower Of Power and What Is Hip records. My first gig with Tower Of Power was at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, with no rehearsal. As of matter of fact, I never got to rehearse with the band; we put the songs together at soundcheck. It was like being put in a slingshot, pulled all the way back, and let the fuck go.
Remember: They can’t play like you either. So play the sound of the music. Them that don’t know, don’t know they don’t know!
May the groove be with us.