Jimmy Castor: Funk musician who was sampled more than 3,000 times


Outside of 1970s funk aficionados, most people don't know the American musician Jimmy Castor by name. But they have certainly heard his distinctive voice, explosive beats, relentless grooves and infuriating hooks on the myriad records that have sampled his work. The memorable opening statement – "What we're gonna do right here is go back" – and percussive breaks of his infectious 1972 Top Ten US million-seller "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" have popped up on NWA's "Dayz Of Way Back", Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance" and Christina Aguilera's "Back In The Day", while the heady saxophone riff of the title track from his 1972 album It's Just Begun has blared all over "Pump Up The Volume" by MARRS, "You Showed Me" by Salt-n-Pepa and even "If You Can't Dance" by the Spice Girls.

"I wouldn't say that's the house that Spice Built, but, yeah they helped with the down payment," Castor, who has died of heart failure, told the author Garth Cartwright, who tracked him down to his home in Las Vegas and interviewed him for his book More Miles Than Money: Journeys Through American Music in 2009. "I've been sampled over 3,000 times," stressed Castor, with the facts and royalty statements at his fingertips to back up his claim. "First up were the Beastie Boys. They thought they could rape my music so I went to court over it. Luke Skywalker and a lot of other rappers were the same. They don't know that Jimmy Castor's from the ghetto, from the street, that he's going to fight to protect his music. Well, they know now. You sample me, you better damn sure pay me."

He was the most sampled funk artist after James Brown, and Castor's influence was all-pervasive and became part of the DNA of popular music. Upbeat tracks like the wonderfully graphic "Bertha Butt Boogie", his second biggest hit, "King Kong (Part 1)", "The Return Of Leroy" and "I Just Wanna Stop" provided the solid foundations on which hip-hop stars Eric B & Rakim, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Ice Cube, the Jungle Brothers, Kanye West and the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as dance acts like Bomb The Bass, Coldcut and Bentley Rhythm Ace and, perish the thought, novelty pop merchants Jive Bunny and the Master Mixers, built their floorfillers.

Born in New York in 1940, he was brought up by his mother and grandmother. In his early teens he sold newspapers and worked as a shoeshine boy to help his family. He showed great musical promise, learning the piano, the violin and the saxophone, which became his main instrument, and mastering music theory at the High School of Music and Art. By the mid-1950s he was fronting a doo-wop group call Jimmy Castor & the Juniors, and wrote and sang lead on their infuriatingly catchy debut single "I Promise To Remember", which didn't stand a chance once Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers recorded their own version.

Castor didn't mind, especially when the royalty cheque arrived. "$2,500! My family shifted straight out of theghetto! No more living among roaches and rats," he said. Castor sometimes toured with the Teenagers, covering up Lymon's shortcomings or replacing him when he went AWOL, but he stillmanaged to complete his education at the City College of New York, where he studied accounting and music. During the first half of the '60s he playedweddings and bar mitzvahs in New York and recorded several unsuccessfulsolo singles.

He finally scored a Top 40 US hit in his own name in 1966 with the Latin soul-flavoured "Hey, Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You", which ushered in a slew of character-referencing singles including the Vietnam-topical "Leroy's In The Army", "Hey Shorty", "Psycho Man" and "Say Leroy (The Creature From The Black Lagoon Is Your Father)". In 1972 he assembled the formidable Jimmy Castor Bunch, and began giving Isaac Hayes and Barry White a run for their money with extended sax-heavy versions of pop standards like Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and Elton John's "Daniel" and his own irrepressible compositions like "E-Man Groovin'" and "E-Man Boogie".

With the Bunch, he cut three albums for RCA and six albums for Atlantic, Ahmet Ertegun's label which had started out as a rhythm 'n' blues powerhouse in the 1950s but had different priorities by the late 1970s. "Once Ben E King and I got off on the wrong floor in the Atlantic building and everywhere there were posters and campaigns for Genesis and Led Zeppelin but no black promotion anywhere," Castor recalled. "We never got no support." He subsequently started his own label, Long Distance, and in 1988 blew a mean saxophone on disco diva Joyce Simms' version of "Love Makes A Woman".

Buoyed up by the royalties from the B-boys and rap and pop producers who dug deep in the crates and unearthed gem after gem from his exhaustive, percussion-heavy back catalogue, Castor, who considered himself "the only link between doo-wop and hip-hop", could afford to be philosophical about musical trends. "It's very negative, that gangsta element, full of self-hatred," he said. "Slavery has implanted too much anger and hatred in the US."

Pierre Perrone

James Walter Castor, singer, songwriter, saxophonist and producer: born New York 23 June 1940; married (two daughters, two sons); died Henderson, Nevada 16 January 2012.

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