In Memoriam: Francis “Rocco” Prestia
Another bass hero has left us. Longtime Tower of Power bassist Francis “Rocco” Prestia has passed away after an extended health battle. He was 69 years old. The news was shared on social media with a note from bandleader Emilio Castillo.
“Our dear ‘Rocco’ passed away last night, peacefully with his family by his side at a hospice in Las Vegas,” he wrote. “Some of us were blessed to have a few parting words with him over the last few days and for that I’m so grateful. Many people know that I always called him Frank because his name was Frank Hueton back in 1965. Frank was a very sweet kid with really cool hair when we first met in junior high school and we actually brought him into our band because of his hair; he was a horrible guitar player. My father had hired a teacher named Terry Saunders to teach us one song a week and the first thing Terry said to Frank was, ‘You need to play the bass!!!’ How right he was!!! As a bass player he was totally unique and as a person he was one of a kind. He fought a long fight over the last 20 years and now he’s with the Lord and heaven is his home. I’ll miss him dearly but I know that he’s now at peace and I look forward to seeing him there. To say that Francis Rocco Prestia was a huge part of the Tower of Power sound is a gross understatement. When people listened to Tower of Power it was always Rocco that they walked away talking about and he had a major impact on the music world.”
Prestia was the first bassist in the band and the longest-tenured in its 50-year career. He changed the way bassists play with his rapid-fire, 16th-note fingerstyle funk. His lines on “What Is Hip” and “Only So Much Oil in the Ground” setting a new standard for right-hand dexterity that players still strive for today. His style evolved as the band did, he told us in a 2014 interview.
“Well, it was actually very natural for me,” he said. “Once we got hip to soul music in late 1967 or something like that, we started adding horns and such. 1968 is when we changed the name to Tower of Power, and in 1969 we were pretty much on our way. 1970 is when we acquired [drummer] Mr. David Garibaldi. When he came in, he was a very, very busy player. I came more from that R&B background, so when the two styles collided what came out of it is pretty much what you hear from me today. It naturally happened. I was already on the road to playing like that, but when he came in it just all clicked – it wasn’t thought about or anything. It wasn’t like, ‘I want to play like that.’ It was just the clash of both of us. I brought him back a little bit and he brought me up a little bit, if that makes sense.”
Prestia is featured on 22 Tower of Power albums. Health issues over the past two decades forced him to sit out most performances, and the permanent bass chair has been filled by Marc van Wageningen since 2018. He received a kidney transplant in 2014. Last year, he began work on a solo album to follow up 1999’s Everybody on the Bus!
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Francis “Rocco” Prestia.