Mic Gillette, first trumpet and founding member of Oakland funk outfit Tower of Power, died over the weekend after suffering a heart attack, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. He was 64.
“The Tower of Power family was stunned today by the news that Mic Gillette, our dear friend and bandmate going back to 1966, passed away,” Emilio Castillo, Tower of Power bandleader, said in a statement. “Mic was without a doubt the greatest brass player I’ve ever known. Our sincere condolences go out to his wife Julia, his daughter Megan and their entire family.”
Formed in the late-Sixties as the Haight-Ashbury scene flourished across the San Francisco Bay, Tower of Power cultivated a brass-heavy sound that would make them one of the most important funk groups of the Seventies — and their horn section one of the most coveted.
Revered promoter Bill Graham signed Tower of Power to San Francisco Records in 1970 after an audition at the Fillmore and released their debut LP, East Bay Grease, later that year. For their follow-up, Bump City, the group signed with Warner Bros. and scored a minor hit with “You’re Still a Young Man.” Their 1973 self-titled third LP spawned their highest charting track, “So Very Hard to Go,” as well as seminal cuts “This Time It’s Real” and opener “What is Hip?”
Gillette played a bevy of brass instruments alongside trumpet throughout his tenure in Tower of Power, including trombone, flugelhorn and tuba. A California native and the son of Ray Gillette — a trombonist for big band leaders like Harry James and Tommy Dorsey — Gillette first picked up a trumpet at age four and by 15 was playing in the Gotham City Crime Fighters with fellow future Tower of Power members Emilio Castillo, Francis Rocco Prestia and David Garibaldi.
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Along with Tower of Power, Gillette was a member of two Bay Area funk bands, Cold Blood and the Sons of Champlin, and for a time played with Blood, Sweat and Tears. Both on his own and as a member of the Tower of Power horn section, he recorded with an array of artists including the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Santana, Sheryl Crow and Rod Stewart.
After years of touring, Gillette left Tower of Power in the mid-Eighties to focus on raising his family, but continued to work as a session musician and record solo material (his group, the Mic Gillette Band, featured his daughter Megan McCarthy). While Gillette rejoined Tower of Power for a reunion tour in 2009, he continued to focus on teaching music to East Bay middle and high schoolers.
“It’s a funny life,” Gillette said in a 2014 interview with the Sonora Union Democrat. “I’ve already had a great career, sat next to presidents and played the national anthem before 200,000 people. But what I’d like to be remembered for is when someone I taught makes good and when somebody walks up to them and asks how they learned to play like that, they mention my name.”