Who was/is Jimmy Castor Bunch ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Jimmy Castor Bunch
“They called me the Everything Man," Jimmy Castor told me in 2004. “That’s because I did everything. I played the saxophone, clarinet, keyboards, percussion, l led my bands, I sung, l wrote, I arranged, produced, I did everything.”
James Walter Castor really was an all rounder. A rare talent, he sung on—the- corner doo wop in the ’50s, pioneered Boogaloo pop in the ’60s, pushed forward with the funk in the ’70s and laid the foundation for hip hop in the ‘80s.
Born in 1940 in Manhattan, New York, and raised in Harlem and Washington Heights, his mother listened to the jazz singers Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine, but it was a kid he went to school with called Frankie Lymon who blew Castor's mind. “Everyone wanted to be Frankie Lymon, he was an incredible singer. I got my own group together after seeing him and the Teenagers perform. We sung doo wop like Frankie,” he recalled. Named Jimmy Castor and the Juniors, with line up completed by Johnny Williams, Orton Graves and Al Casey, they issued the Castor penned I Promise To Remember on the Mercury subsidiary Wing in 1956.
The single never stood a chance when the aforesaid Lymon took his version into the US R&B Top 10. “I wrote I Promise To Promise, recorded it, Frankie’s management who were good friends of mine heard it, got him to cover it, he had the hit and I got paid S2500,” he said. “I didn’t mind though, that was a lot of money back then.” Jimmy also filled in for Frankie Lymon at live shows when the temperamental singer went awol — the pair shared a similar high tenor voice, delivery and phrasing. “I knew the songs, I’d been back stage watching them play from when Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers started out and I could do a pretty good Frankie Lymon so no one was disappointed.” Castor also sung with Lymon’s brother Lewis in Lewis Lymon & The Teen chords — he’s on their 1958 single Dance Girl backed with Them There Eyes issued on the Juanita label. By the time he had his first hit under his own name in 1966, Castor had done time as a sessioneer, most notably playing sax on Dave Baby Cortez’s Rinky Dink in 1962 and recorded a bunch of flop singles for the Hull, Jet Set and Decca labels. He finally hit paydirt though at Smash with Hey Leroy Your Mama’s Callin’ You. A melting pot of soul, calypso and boogaloo it pushed boundaries and made the US pop Top 40 (#31) and R&B Top 20. “I was listening to Cal Tjader, Tito Puente, Ricardo Ray, Joe Cuba,” he explained in way of the song’s inspiration. “It crossed over, became a pop hit, but no one wanted to put it out initially. it was Sammy Davis Jr who got it released, he heard it, it was down to him.”
By 1969, Castor was taking direction from Sly And The Family Stone and helming the Jimmy Castor Bunch. “We actually started out as a Sly Stone covers band, Sly was the bomb,” he said. 1972’s It’s Just Begun, the group’s most cohesive album issued on RCA was also his most commercial. It yielded Troglodyte (Cave Man), which became his biggest hit, reaching the US Pop Top 10 and R&B Top 5. It remained on the chart for 14 weeks and was certified gold; its heavy groove driven by bass and drums and silly lyrics also provided the bedrock for hip hop. Along with the album title track, with its timbales and wah wah guitar break, it’s become a go-to track for sampling; NWA, Lil Kim, Erykah Badu, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five have all used both tracks gratuitously.
The Jimmy Castor Bunch then followed It’s Just Begun with a further two albums for RCA, 1972’s Phase 2 and 1973’s Dimension 3 before signing with Atlantic for five consecutive albums beginning with 1974’s The Jimmy Castor Bunch featuring The Everything Man and ending with 1977’s Maximum weighted towards the dancefloor. King Kong, the title track and Bom Bom provide the monster jams, the first named, inspired by the gorilla of the same name hit the Top 30; the latter is a carnivalesque hands in the air percussive groove; Supersound a frantic call to arms covered in cowbells and wah wah. “Because I’d had a hit with Troglodyte, the record company wanted me to repeat the success, so I had no choice but to make answer records, hence King Kong, Bom Bom... ,” explained Castor. “King Kong came about when I was walking with the president of Atlantic Records Jerry Greenberg past the Empire State Building and suddenly I’m making gorilla noises, I had the song come to me right there.” Breadth is provided by the inclusion of Magic In The Music, a slice of psych pop soul, cloaked in horns and fuzz guitars, Drifting a sax led soft soul instrumental and What’s Best?, a contemplative ballad.
It’s A Groove Will Make You Move though that provides the album stand out. In just under five and a half minutes, Castor delivers his manifesto over the hardest funk he ever made. The result is mesmeric, and Jeff Grimes’ guitar soloing is phenomenal. 1976’s E Man Groovin is more of the same and while Dracula Pt 1 and Pt 2 are simple retreads of Caster’s previous novelty songs, other tracks such as Space Age and I Love A Mellow Groove are among his best work. Space Age meets at the point funk becomes disco and rewarded the Jimmy Castor Bunch with their final US R&B Top 30 hit in 1977; I Love A Mellow Groove, meanwhile, is a frantic call to dance, with Castor calling himself “a lover not a dancer” but unable to resist the pull of the super tight groove. Their reading of the Spinners’ I Don’t Want To Lose You, meanwhile, is simply ace. Castor who died aged 71 in 2012, has sadly never got his proper due as a singer, multi instrumentalist and funk visionary. Hopefully this reissue will go some way in rectifying that situation. Lois Wilson, Oktober, 2015
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