Rick Stevens is Still in Jail and is Not a Young Man

Rick Stevens, the first lead singer for Tower of Power, as he was in the early Seventies (Courtesy: BobbyG)

Rick Stevens, the first lead singer for Tower of Power, as he was in the early Seventies (Courtesy: BobbyG)

UPDATE, 09/23/09: After reading, please see below in the Comments for another version–and a correction–of some of these events by Rick’s former wife Georgina Stevenson.

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Since that walk in time with Santana last night, I went cruising on Wikipedia again to look up Tower of Power and its famous Horn Section, which has played on so many albums. Apparently, the group has recorded a DVD at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco which featured many of the old band members and vocalists and will be released this year. Unfortunately, one lead singer in particular was missing from the line-up, and that was Donald Stevenson, also known as Rick Stevens, who along with Rufus Miller, sang lead on such diamonds as “You’re Still a Young Man,” and “Sparkling in the Sand” on their first two albums, East Bay Grease and Bump City.

Despite these accomplishments in rock history, Rick Stevens was also known committing one of the most notorious crimes in the Bay Area in the Seventies, in which he and an accomplice whacked three drug dealers to whom he had owed money, and who had been pressuring him to sell drugs to youngsters in lieu of payment. I remember how he was apprehended. I think I was watching a special news report on the CBS affiliate, KPIX Channel 5, in San Francisco. The cops caught up with him on a school playground, naked, totally effed up. In fact, that was how he killed the dealers; he was in a drug-soaked, completely altered frame of mind. Even during his early hearings, he was messed up. He was talk for weeks. He was given a double life sentence, in which he had to serve a 25-year minimum. It’s been several years since he served that minimum, and the authorities haven’t let him out yet.

Rick Stevens is now 69 years old.

Writer Katy St. Clair of the East Bay Express probed this sad story in 2002, and interviewed a founding member of Tower of Power:

“He shot up three people,” recalls Emilio “Mimi” Castillo, sax player and founding member of the group. “He tied up this lady and left her in a trunk — pretty gruesome stuff.” Although Stevens had been out of the group for a few years at the time of the incident, the media played up the Tower of Power connection anyway, much to the dismay of the band, which already had moved on to singer Lenny Williams. “Rick was a really great guy,” says Castillo. “But he got strung out on hard narcotics — when he was in that state of mind, he was not a nice guy.”

The singer’s belligerence got him booted from the band, despite many members’ still-strong feelings that he was the best vocalist ever for Tower of Power. “Let me tell you something about Rick Stevens,” says Castillo with dramatic pause. “That guy was one of the greatest singers that ever lived. Unbelievable. And if it hadn’t been for the drugs, he’d have been a huge star.” On top of his musical skills, Stevens had a charisma and compelling stage presence. That’s his lead vocal on “You’re Still a Young Man,” which arguably was the band’s biggest hit, as well as being the song that Prince claims he lost his virginity to.

We juniors and seniors in high school thought Tower of Power was hot. Of course, before ToP went national, it was a Bay Area band on one of rock impresario Bill Graham’s labels. The girls in my circle naturally swooned over “You’re Still a Young Man,” but I preferred “Sparkling in the Sand,” and still do. When the lead changed to Lenny Williams, we just could not figure out why other than the standard music business reply, until Stevens’ explosion several years later.

In prison, Stevens took years before he found religion, got clean (drugs are rife in jails), and built trust so that he can work unsupervised. He is presently incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, CA. He has married. He sings in a choir. Age can also mellow a volatile personality. There may come a point when someone feels he cannot be wasting time on BS as Stevens did before, even during previous parole hearings when he was still volatile and on drugs. Despite turning his life around and expressing remorse for his crimes, Rick Stevens still cannot get out of jail. He has been reduced to asking yearly for parole which has been repeatedly denied. Another hearing is coming up later this summer.

St. Clair believes:

Even if Stevens is a changed man, many people will no doubt balk at the idea that a double-lifer should be released from prison. If the question comes down to whether or not he is a threat to society, most evidence suggests he is not. That leaves the question of punishment, and for some — perhaps the majority of Californians, if you believe the polls — prisoners such as Stevens never should be released.

Rick Stevens is not Charles Manson. I wouldn’t be surprised if what the man really needed was lithium.

St. Clair’s observation was made when Stevens was 62. The world is very different now than when Stevens entered prison, and he is not the same man. How many other musicians–whether or not they committed murder or attempted mayhem–were clapped in jail and made parole? Aaron Neville, Merle Haggard, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Buddy Miles, Flora Purim; the list can be endless. Frankly, I don’t think an elderly man like this should be kept in jail. No doubt, his voice is not the same as it was when he was younger, but if the man still has what it takes, Rick Stevens should be allowed to spend the remainder of his life among his friends, advocates and the musicians who care about his talent, and to make restitution in other ways before he dies.

Free Rick Stevens.

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~ by blksista on May 31, 2009.

24 Responses to “Rick Stevens is Still in Jail and is Not a Young Man”

  1. hello, all… beleave this: Rick(donald) Stevens iS mY FATHER..I “Love him very much” My name is kellie i was about seven yts old…When he Went To prison. daddy I Love you And Miss You… I have a email It is Kbrooks40@live.com

  2. [...] Rick Stevens is Still in Jail and is Not a Young Man [...]

  3. I’d love to add my thoughts here for my Association with Rick, goes waaaay Back late 60′s early 70′s, when I was with Rufus Miller, who then at the time was the Lead Singer but Rick came on to the scene shortly thereafter and displaced Rufus, along with the others that followed.

    I’m Sorry, this how Rick’s played out for he was a Man, who had a Good Heart, in spite of What Drugs turns people into and this is what happened here as it has to sooooo Many….I Regret this for him for the Spirit of this Guy was a Good Man.

    Rick, if you get a chance to read this…I wish you nothing BUT THE BEST and will keep you in my prayers that God is Merciful…which, we KNOW is Possible. LIFE SUCKS SOMETIMES but what comes from the DARK is Our Own Enlightenment and that was the MISSION. You’ve Gotten There…I’ll PRAY YOU’LL SEE FREEDOM AGAIN for Our Freedom is EVERY THING.

    God Speed…

    Melody McGriff
    Vallejo, California

  4. Best of luck to Rick on his upcoming parole hearing! I am 43 and remember this well, because my dad was Doug Sohn road manager of TOP from 1972-1981. I remember well my mom calling me in the house for the news report, because Tower was all over the news along with Rick! As a young kid kicking around back stage at a few of the TOP concerts, I meet Rick several times and he was very nice! My dad died a few years back, but I still catch the band when ever they are in town (Seattle)! Rick’s YSAYM the bands best work ever! I will say a prayer for Rick’s release/parole! God Bless!

  5. Thanks to a member of the Tower of Power message board, I found out that the YouTube recording of “You’re Still a Young Man” that is posted in this blog is not Tower of Power – that recording is a cover of the TOP song, done by a band called “Bloodstone”.

    • Georgina, you are correct. I only listened to half of the recording, thinking that this was the Tower of Power of “Bump City.”

      Unfortunately, I can find no other free recording of “You’re
      Still a Young Man” and so I will “erase” it.

  6. Just so folks know, the vocals on the YouTube version of “You’re Still a Young Man” embedded in this blog are not Rick. This sounds like something recorded live at a concert, and there are two singers, taking turns on the vocals. I’m guessing one of the singers may be Hubert Tubbs, and I don’t recognize the other. It’s an odd recording, because I don’t recall ever being at a TOP concert where two people did lead vocals on this song – it is definitely not something they normally do in concert.

  7. I thank you for getting the word out about Rick’s upcoming parole hearing, and taking the time and trouble to post the addresses for letters. I know your heart is in the right place – I just wanted to correct a few errors. (This is the third time I’ve had to respond to that Katy St. Clair article, it keeps popping up on message boards and blogs, it’s like a zombie that won’t die…)

    My best to you, and good luck with your blog.

  8. My name is Georgina Stevenson, I am Rick Stevens former spouse, and still his good friend. I have known Rick for 30 years – we met in 1979, three years after he went to prison. I would like to correct some erroneous information that is circulating around. Regarding Rick’s case, he (alone) shot three drug dealers, to whom he owed about $3,000 – they had beaten his friend and threatened his family. The first shooting was ruled manslaughter in self-defense, the other two as first degree murder, although those shootings also involved an element of perceived immediate danger on Rick’s part. Rick received a sentence of 7-years-to-life.

    I have posted a lot of information about Rick’s case, and what he has been doing during his incarceration on the Tower of Power message board, go to the TOP website for a link to the message board.

    More corrections to various rumors floating around on the internet – (1) Rick kicked the drugs “cold turkey” while in jail awaiting his trial, and has been clean ever since. (2) Rick was originally given the death sentence, but his sentence was changed when CA Chief Justice Rose Bird overturned the death penalty in California. (3) The shootings took place in January 1976, and the trial was completed in December of that year. (4) Rick was born in 1940 in Port Arthur, Texas and moved as a child to Reno. He in nightclubs there before moving to the Bay Area. (5) Rick is a nephew to singer Ivory Joe Hunter (“Since I Met You Baby”) Ivory Joe was an older brother to Rick’s mother.

    The article written by Katy St. Clair for http://www.eastbayexpress.com (1/30/02) contains several errors, and a couple of years ago I wrote a response to eastbayexpress correcting the errors. Here is the full text of my response to the article:

    “The “Free Rick Stevens” article contains several errors, which my comment corrects. Rick Stevens was the second lead singer for Tower of Power; Rufus Miller was the first. The shootings for which Rick is in prison involved drugs, and all three victims were drug dealers – the situation was desperate and Rick thought his life was in immediate danger in each case. The woman tied up and placed in a car trunk was released unharmed – in that particular situation Rick thought (in his drug-addled mind) that it was the best thing he could do to keep her out of harms way in a meeting with some dealers that he was afraid would go bad (and it did).

    Rick left Tower of Power voluntarily – he was not “booted out due to belligerence”. The most egregious error in this article is Emilio Castillo’s statement that when Rick has gone to parole hearings, he has “… always managed to show up to the hearing wasted or in a fighting mood.” This is an absolute and complete falsehood. Rick kicked the drugs “cold turkey” during his first year in jail and has been clean ever since. When Rick has gone to parole hearings he has always been well prepared, calm and polite to the board members. And finally, Rick has been on good behavior for the entire time, not just several years.

    I have known Rick since 1979, and we have discussed his case at length; his drug addiction, the whole scenario leading up to the shootings, and his great remorse over the victims who lost their lives. Rick has accepted full responsibility, and will be the first to tell you that he deserved to do some time. In my opinion he has done his time and is ready in every way, mentally, spiritually and emotionally to be released. Rick wants to give back, working with troubled young people to help them learn from his mistakes; I have no doubt that he will be an outstanding, hard-working citizen and an asset to his community.” (End of my response to the St. Clair article.)

    Rick and Emilio have spoken since the above article was written; Rick apologized to Emilio for the harm and stress the bad publicity caused the band, and Emilio apologized to Rick for the negative and untrue things he has said about Rick to the press. They have patched things up and are hoping to work together when Rick gets out.

    As I mentioned previously Rick has worked at clerical jobs since early in his incarceration, and has gained an excellent reputation as a reliable, trustworthy, quick-thinking worker who learns fast – in fact, correctional staff have specifically requested that Rick be assigned to their office.

    When correctional staff want to put something positive in the official record about an inmate, they write a brief statement called a “laudatory chrono”. Rick has amassed a large stack of laudatory chronos; many of the staff at the various prisons where Rick has been housed over the years have thought very highly of him.

    In addition to positive statements from correctional staff, the judge who presided over Rick’s trial, the late Honorable Judge John McInerney, started writing letters in 1988 stating that he had no problem with Rick being released from prison.

    The D.A.’s office for Santa Clara Co. has indicated to the CA Board of Prison Terms (BPT) that they have no problem with Rick being released. In fact at Rick’s Februay 2006 parole hearing, the Asst. D.A. told the Board that if Rick was released that day, he would be happy to give Rick a ride home.

    AS I mentioned in my response to the St. Clair article, I have discussed the case at length with Rick, and I can say without hesitation that Rick feels genuine remorse for the lives lost by his hand, and he will carry a heavy burden over that for the rest of his life. Rick wrote letters to the families of the victims, expressing his sorrow over his actions, and the pain it caused them.

    In addition to working, education and counseling, Rick continues to sing. Throughout his incarceration, Rick has performed at two or three large shows every year out on “the yard”, for both inmates and correctional staff. Rick called me after his most recent how to tell me how it went, and he said his voice is strong and he sounds as good as ever. Rick also sings at church services every Sunday in the prison chapel.

    Rick has received a lot of letters recently as result of the postings on the Tower of Power message board, and also letters of support written to the Board of Prison Terms. The addresses on the “Rick Stevens Parole Hearing” portion of this blog are correct, however it is not necessary to send a letter to the Chairman of Commissioners; the letter to the Parole and Classification Representative is sufficient. And yes, do send copies of support letters to Rick (his address is correct also), for his files.

    And finally, Rick is very grateful for all the support and encouragement he has received over the years, and he enjoys hearing from people. Rick replies to all letters, and says “Thank you!” to all his supporters.

    That is just a brief summary of all the information I have posted on the Tower of Power message board, see the board for more.

    • Thank you, Georgina, for taking time to correct facts in the St. Clair article from which I took from the Web. Since I didn’t know anything else except from the article and from the unupdated message board, please understand that I wished Rick well, and out of jail. That has always been my point.

      Blessings to you and yours, especially Rick.

  9. Thank you for info on my father parole hearing he’s doing good,blessed and ready to come home. He looking forward to counseling adults and children who might be in his former state of mind so they won’t do what he ended up doing.Pray for forgiveness because GOD is LOVE!
    I just set up a facebook page for him (Rick Stevens not many know his given name Donald Stevenson) so look him up!
    “C.C.” son of Rick Stevens

  10. These are some excellent ‘overviews’ if you will regarding Rick as well as the backwards US penal system. I too would like to correspond with Rick. I too loved the talent. I just read the in-depth story about Rick and was shocked. This is what ‘Hollywood’ does to the unprepared – alot.

  11. Rick will get out real soon because God has forgiven him. We do not really need society to really validate who we are. In the world to come we will see who is really free. Stay strong and in Christ because life is short but God is eternal. Give him the Praise.

  12. Blksista or others concerned for Rick Stevens..is there a letter writing campaign happening? Do you know is Rick underwent AA or the drug equivalent in prison? I met him in ’72 at a Tower Of Power concert and he was a gentlemamn to a fifteen year old fan..very humble. An amazing talent who became an addict and suffered for horrible crimes now for decades. My heart goes out to him and the families of those affected. Very sad indeed.

    • I know nothing about a letter writing campaign. If I had, I would have put it here. If any of you find out about such a campaign, please let me know.

  13. I love this song “you’re still a young man”. I feel so hurt because he was a talent artist. But you did the crime and now you have to sit in prison. It’s a shame. i wish him well. Put GOD first.

  14. My pleasure Black Sista! I left out a part though. I did not want to consider how much I loved his singing and TOP back in those days. He has one of the sweetest voices ever recorded. David Ruffin, Marvin Gay…well, I guess it isnt the BEST, but certainly one of them. But I dont think it would be right to factor that into whetrher he should go free or not.

  15. I dont know about this. Certainly, I can understand what drugs can do to someone. I certainly had my problems, though they never got to where Rick went. I worked as a prosecutor in Southern California in the early 80′s, so I have a different slant perhaps. Bad actors, as we called defendants back then, need to serve their time. So I’m kind of torn between what my view of crime and punishment is, and my understanding of the man and the torment that led him to commit these crimes.

    I dont care about finding the lord. Most prisoners do. Good for them. But the penal system is about punishment for the crime. Not vindication after the fact. The important thing to me is that he appears to have been rehabilitated and not likely to offend again. How much time does a man have to spend in prison after that happens? What’s the purpose or the gain to society? I dont see one here.
    I think it’s time to let him out. I hope they do.

    • Thanks for your reply, even though you do have mixed emotions. I think the closer we get to mortality in old age, the less we want to act a fool. Why mess up now? Best to you and yours…and comment again.

  16. Hi. Sparkling in the Sand was included with a compilation I downloaded from Playlist. Brought back a lot of memories for this 60 year-old. So I started Googling and came upon this. I appreciate the information, and the beliefs. Way too many folks in prison, and for far too long. G*# D&%@ drugs. Brings even more sadness to this really beautifully written, sung and played song. I cannot even listen to You’re Still a Young Man.

  17. Rick was my bandmate and my friend in San Francisco in 1967-68. I need to go and see him.

    • Do that, and tell him at least one blogger is spreading his story around. Blessings…

  18. [...] Original post by blksista [...]

    • I stumbled upon this article while doing a web search to see if Rick was ever released from prison…I was shocked to see he was’nt. My life has taken me from drug addict to ordained minister so I know firsthand the power of redemption. Maybe it is time to let him out. God’s bessings on him!

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