Rocco Prestia, the founding bass player of the legendary funk band Tower of Power, died on Sept. 29 at the age of 69.

Founder and saxophonist Emilio Castillo confirmed the news yesterday on Tower of Power's Facebook page. "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."

The cause of death wasn't given, but he'd had numerous health problems, including a liver replacement in 2002, open heart surgery in 2006 and a kidney transplant six years ago.

"He fought a long fight over the last 20 years and now he's with the Lord and heaven is his home," Castillo added. "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."

Born March 7, 1951 in Sonora, Calif., Francis Rocco Prestia received an electric guitar, amp and lessons as a Christmas gift when he was 10. Four years later, he met Castillo, who recalled that Prestia's attempt to join his band didn't go too well.

"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," Castillo said. "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."

By 1970, the two had formed Tower of Power and released their debut East Bay Grease. Their stint on Warner Bros. began with the follow-up, 1972's Bump City, which gave them their first Top 40 hit, the ballad "You're Still a Young Man." Over the years, they had two more Top 40 hits, "So Very Hard to Go" and "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)," as well as the classic "What Is Hip?"

Prestia was fired in 1977, during which time he played in Bay Area blues bands, but was asked back in 1984, although they never regained the commercial momentum of those early '70s records. He stayed with them until 2018, when his deteriorating health forced Tower of Power to move on without him, but he remained on the payroll.

Listen to Tower of Power's "What Is Hip?"

 

In Memoriam: 2020 Deaths