Monday 23 April 2018

Jimmy Castor

Funk music legend whose virtuosity earned him the 'E-Man' nickname

Jimmy Castor, who has died aged 71, was a prolific singer, saxophonist and songwriter credited with inspiring the birth of hip-hop.

Castor's command of many genres during his long career -- doo-wop, hip-hop, Latin soul and disco to name a few -- earned him the nickname 'The Everything Man'. But it was the 'E-Man's' dirty funk of the Seventies that made his name and his 1972 hit Troglodyte, performed with the Jimmy Castor Bunch, epitomised this style.

"What we're gonna do right here is go back, way back," Castor purred in the opening monologue, "back into time, when the only people that existed were troglodytes."

The song that followed -- detailing early man's primordial urges alongside a high-tempo beat -- became a funk classic, reaching number six in the charts and selling a million copies. The band had similar successes with It's Just Begun and The Big Bertha Boogie. Love, or more accurately lust, was often at the centre of Castor's songs. One reviewer would describe his output from the Seventies as fusing "the instrumental prowess of a psychedelic James Brown and the sexual preoccupations of Homer Simpson".

The demand for live performances waned throughout the Eighties, only for Castor's work to enter a remarkable renaissance as he began to feature in the burgeoning hip-hop movement.

His tracks were sampled by Grandmaster Flash, NWA, Beastie Boys, Usher and Kanye West. All in all, some 3,000 songs are believed to have used Castor's music.

James Walter Castor was born on January 23, 1940, in Manhattan and raised in Harlem's Sugar Hill where his interest in singing was sparked by the hit local group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. "Everyone wanted to be them," he recalled.

Castor soon became Lymon's understudy but then took up the saxophone and formed a group called The Juniors. His first taste of success came while still a teenager, when his I Promise to Remember became a big hit in the summer of 1956.

Determined to make it as a performer, Castor enrolled in New York's High School of Music and Art, followed by two years at City College of New York.

His music was initially heavily influenced by the music of Upper Manhattan's Puerto Rican and Dominican communities. For example, his Sixties' Latino soul ballads -- most prominently the 1966 hit Hey Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You -- were infused with a calypso feel and bongo drums. These features faded as Castor moved into harder funk with the Jimmy Castor Bunch in the Seventies.

Castor signed for a host of major record labels but his desire to retain creative freedom meant he rarely stayed with a label for long. By the late Seventies, his tunes were being sampled by the street dancing scene.

In 1983, the film Flashdance used Castor's It's Just Begun during the breakdance battle scene. The royalties he earned from his being featured on the Spice Girls' If U Can't Dance are said to have paid for his Las Vegas mansion.

Jimmy Castor is survived by his wife, Sandi, and by two sons and two daughters.

Sunday Independent

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