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King Kong

By Jimmy Castor Bunch (1975) on The best of (RHINO, cd, R2 72209, 1995)

Jimmy Castor, The E-Man-multithreat singer, writer, arranger, saxophonist, percussionist, and producer. With the exception of James Brown, no other performer's music has weathered the changes in R&B over the last 40 years as well as Jimmy Castors. From the street-corner harmonies of Sugar Hill to the scratching turntables of today, Castor's  music has been in the limelight for almost four decades now, still vital, never dating.

Jimmy Castor (born June 23, 1947) was a product of Harlem's Sugar Hill. The early 1950s were exciting times on Edgecorne Avenue. It was the dawn of the rock in' roll era, and just as sure as  rolling rhythm & blues was a product of New    Orleans and rockabilly the spawn of Memphis, New  York's indigenous rock in' roll sound was the street-corner harmony of doo-wop, and every corner in the city had iN groups. In Sugar Hill, The Valentines, The Harptones, The Cleftones, and The Scarlets    were the local stars all having made it downtown to  cut discs.

     It was The Teenagers (originally The Premiers), however-"the first super group," as Jimmy    would remember them-that first ruled the corner of  Edgecome Avenue and 1 64th Street and later the    world. Castor was raised alongside The Teenagers, attending Public School 169 and Junior High    School 164 with the pint-size star Frankie Lymon.
    When The Teenagers exploded on the national    scene in early '56 with "Why Do Fools Fall In Love,"    Jimmy Castor was hot on their heels, forming his   own vocal group

Jimmy &The Juniors (Al Casey Jr. singing bass, Johnny Williams, tenor, and Orton Graves, baritone). They managed to hook up with Wing, Mercury's R&B subsidiary for their debut disc, I Promise To Remember," which The Teenagers  would cover and take into the Top 10 in the summer of '56. The Juniors cut a second disc in early '57, "This Girl Of Mine," for the tiny Atomic label, before splitting up the same year. Having gotten his feet wet, young Jimmy Castor jumped into the hustle and bustle of the Now York record business headfirst.

By late '57 Castor was subbing for Frankic Lyman, who had split from The Teenagers and was just beginning the long decline that would end 11 years later when he OO'd in his grandmother's bathroom. Castor no doubt learned some valuable lessons from witnessing all of Lymon's mistakes firsthand, for as Lymon's star descended, Castor's would slowly rise and rise and rise.

Castor's stint with The Teenagers was a brief  one, and soon he was involved with new outfits such as The Clintonian Cubs and The Casals. An  accomplished alto and tenor saxophonist, he soon found work as a studio musician, making himself an invaluable addition to many sessions (that's him blowing tenor on Dave "Baby" Cortez's great 62  instrumental smash "Rinky Dink"), These were Jimmy's years of internship, where he would learn  his craft in the studios and clubs, building his arsenal of talents, forging the personality that  would eventually emerge as The Everything Man.

Castor recorded a few singles for the My Brothers label with the Clintonian Cubs in the early 1 960s before his first solo sides for Jet Set ('65), Decca ('66), and then Smash, a subsidiary of Mercury, the label he had started out on, By 1966 there was a new sound in Harlem; doo-wop was out (although it would never die, experiencing regular revivals into the 1 990s). The new sound, inspired by the large and growing Puerto Rican population of Harlem, was dubbed Latin soul, and locals like Ray Barrette (11 Watusi") and Joe Cuba ("'Bang' 'Bang'") were the new stars uptown, By now Castor had added cimbales and vibes to his arsenal of talents and with his longtime writing and producing partner John Pruitt came up with one of the all-time great New York Latin soul discs-"Hey, Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You." "Hey, Leroy" was and is irresistible, with its fat melodic bass line, descending piano triplets, timbales, and conga grooves, wailing sax, and call-and-response refrain"go to yo' mama, go to yo' mama." By Christmas week of '66 it had risen to #16 on Billboards national R&B charts (#31 pop), but in Harlem it was as good as #1 and would be sung by kids on the baseball fields and playgrounds of New York for a decade. Smash issued an LP to cash in on the hit in early '67. The Hey Leroy album was a mixed bag, featuring the title track, a couple of nice originals (heard here is "Southern Fried Frijoles," another fine Latin jam), as well as a couple of cover tunes-"Winchester Cathedral" and "Old Man River"-that even when heard are not to be believed. Castor had developed a penchant for cover tunes so seemingly inappropriate as to often come across as downright surreal. He would go on to fill out LPs with versions of "Purple Haze," "You Light Up My Life," "Daniel," and "Stairway To Heaven."
Smash was never able to aptly follow up on the success of "Hey, Leroy," even when Castor presented them with a natural follow-up with "Leroy's In The Army," so soon he left Smash and cut sides for Compass ('68), Capitol ('68-'69), and Kinetic ('70) before being inked to RCA in '71.
By this time the billing was The Jimmy Castor Bunch, and in addition to Jimmy on sax, timbales, and vocals were Gerry Thomas on trumpet and piano, Harry Jensen on guitar, Lenny Fridle, Jr., on congas, and old Harlem doo-wop buddy Doug "Bubs" Gibson (formerly of The Vibraharps) on bass. Their first LP It's Just Begun-was released in March 1972, followed by the single, "Trogiodyte (Cave Man)," and soon it was off to the races.

It's Just Begun is Castor's masterpiece, the most fully realized example of his vision and his most successful album to boot. In addition to tapping into his doo-wop and Latin soul roots, The Jimmy Castor Bunch had developed a relentlessly funky groove, with full-bodied churning bass, ultradistorted fuzz-tone guitar, and layered percussion. "Troglodyte (Cave Man)," which exemplifies this, was one of the monster records of '72, rising to #6 on the pop charts by May of that year, as well as being one of the discs that refined that coining funk explosion of the mid -70s. Opening with a spoken word introduction (which would become a favorite sample of old school rap DJ Afrika Bambataa at New York's Boxy disco)-"There was a time when men lived in caves.... Now we're gonna go back, way back . . cave men, cave women, Neanderthal, Troglodyte!"-the groove fades in. and Castor begins the wild and woolly tale of primitive love. It's funny, menacing, and funkier than anything that had come before it.

There had never been a groove this fat blasting out of AM radio. Castor's approach to prehistoric sexism was so obviously tonque-in-cheek and full of good humor that even in those heady years of social outrage and the women's movernerit (remember this was the same year that John Lennon was to inform us that "Woman Is The Nigger Of The World"), nary a ferri complained, to the contrary, the song's central figure-Bertha Butt (one of The Butt Sisters)-would become (along with the aforementioned Leroy) Castor's most beloved character, Ending with the echo-laden scream 'Hot i Hut Pants!" "Tioglodyte (Cave Man)" is one of the pinnacle moments of '70s funk.

"It's Just Begun," the Lo's title track, has never been issued as a single but remains one of Castor's best-known classics. The track turned up in Flashdance arid Beat Street in the film's big break dance "battle" scenes. It also can be found as a sample on Countless rap discs and is heard on the dance floor to this day (thanks to many bootleg 12" singles that made the rounds in the '80s). 'It's Just Begun was probably too far ahead of its time to be a hit in 72 when it was issued; today it sounds totally contemporary, with Castor's blaring sax figure riding over both fuzz-tone and wah-wah guitar rifts and a groove to end all grooves. "Just watch me now!" shouts Castor, and this time the whole world vivas watching, and listening.

The Jimmy Castor Bunch cut two more LPs for RCA in 1972 and 1973. Phase Two was perhaps even more relentless than It's Just Begun. one long thundering groove jam from which we've chosen "Say Leroy (The Creature From The Black Lagoon Is Your Fathell a tune that reprises his first big hit, grafting the continuing saga of Leroy onto a Troglodyte" -style deep groove. This was followed by Dimension N in 1973, yet another solid collection. But RCA failed to capitalize on Castor's momentum. and his only other chart showing for the label was the ristrurriental ballad "Soul Serenade."

In 1974 The Jimmy Castor Bunch switched labels to Atlantic The first effort for the new label was billed as Jimmy Castor (The Everything Man) And The dimmy Castor Banch. The first single released was "Maggie," a super furiked-up rendition of a tune by the Native American rock group Redbone (of Come And Get Your Love" fame), and here's one example of how Jimmy's oddball choice in cover tunes was right on target: it remains one of his finest recordings. It never charted. however, arid by their second Atlantic LP Castor returned to what he knew the public wanted-more Bertha Butt!

In "Bertha Butt Boogle," Bertha, her sisters, the Troglodyte himself, and Leroy are all reprised against a funky wash of guitars and percussion (Jeff Grimes had replaced Harry Jensen on guitar). It kicked off a string of R&B hits that lasted for five years. "Bertha Butt Boogie" rose to #16 on the pop charts in late 1974 and is featured on the classic LP Bull Of Course.... whose garish cartoon cover depicts Jimmy in his E-Man costume (much like Superman's suit) chasing down Bertha. The second single from Butt Of Course..., "Potential," written by prolific drummer Ellwood Henderson, Jr. (who had replaced Bobby Manigault when the Bunch moved to Atlantic), kicks off like a Kool & The Gang disc but soon mutates into a wicked James Brown parody. It reached #25 on the R&B charts in the spring of '75. Now enamored with his own E-Man incarnation, the next LP, Supersound, was issued in late '75, once again depicting Jimmy as a cartoon superhero on its cover. Keeping to the ever-popular jungle theme, the first single was the fabulous "King Kong" (although it refers to Kong by Tonto's nickname for the Lone Ranger, "Kemo Sabe," and kicks off with a Chinese gong!); another monster groove number, it rose to #23 R&B and #69 pop and has been a New York dance floor staple ever since. The next single, the album's title track, "Supersound," kept the party going and hit #42 on the R&B chart in the winter of '76. By this point, disco had taken over from hard-core funk as the popular form of R&B in America, but Jimmy, who'd pretty much invented the shit with "It's Just Begun," wasn't about to sweeten things up to compete. In "Supersound" he sings, "Listen to the rhythm section pound!" and it does-no syrupy strings and gooey gal chorus for these hard-core groove dealers. Castor's timbales, featured prominently, tell the story, but Jimmy, of course, couldn't get through the number without dropping Bertha Butt's name at least once. A killer version of Exuma's "Boni Bom" became the third single to chart from the Supersound LID, hitting the lower reaches of the R&B charts in May 1976.
The Bunch's next Atlantic long-player, E-Man Groovin', contained more than a healthy dose of the hard stuff, including "Space Age" (once again from the pen of drummer Henderson), which introduced synthesizer to the Bunch's lineup as well as new bass player, Paul Forney. "Space Age" can be interpreted as a cry against the encroaching mechanization of R&B as Jimmy sings, "Don't be a roboUln the space age." It hit #28 R&B and #101 pop (his last pop chart entry to date), As if to take a stance for hardness in a soft era, the cover of E Man Groovin' is graced with a photo of Jimmy resplendent in leathers, shades, and Afro posing with his motorcycle, the words T-Man" and "Kong" painted on its side.
And the grooves kept comin'! Though 1977 was the year of Saturday Night Fever disco mania, The Jimmy Castor Bunch was still a churning funk machine, as witnessed by yet another reprise of Leroy (now age 11) with the single "The Return Of Leroy Pit. I. " Its failure to chart is more a comment on the sad state of the public's taste than anything else; this track is some bona fide good shit. The album Max1mum Stimulation followed; it was another solid Castor Bunch effort, and the title track (once again from the pen of Henderson) became the second single, this time hitting the lower reaches of the R&B charts in the final weeks of '77.
It was in 1977 that Castor once again delved into his doo-wop roots (although he'd never really forsaken them, even cutting a funked-up version of "I Promise To Remember" on the It's Just Begun LP in '72), issuing a strange album-Jimmy Castor Remembers Yesterday-on the Crystal Ball label. The album included the original '50s sides by Jimmy & The Juniors along with unissued tracks by The Clintonian Cubs, The Casals, and several tracks with the remnants of The Teenagers, led by bass singer Sherman Games. The original 1 Prornise" is included on this collection for historical value.
Castor's tenure with Atlantic ended in '78 and 1979 saw him signed to Drive, a subsidiary of Miami's soul powerhouse T.K. (home of KC &The Sunshine Band, et al). "Let It Out," yet another of Ellwood Henderson, Jr's driving grooves, was as good as R&B got in '79 but it failed to chart. The Let It Out album (Jimmy as a protogangsta waving a shotgun on the cover) was a good one, especially "Bertha Butt Encounters Darth Vader," which more than balanced out the inclusion of a version of Debby Boone's dire "You Light Up My Life."
The same year brought a switch to yet another new label, this time Cotillion, a subsidiary of Atlantic better known for Southern rock. But "Don't Do That!" (in which Jimmy admonishes a beast, "Don't do that!") hit #50 R&B, his best showing since "Space Age" three years earlier; it remains one of the Jimmy Castor Bunch's strongest tracks, The solo Cotillion LP, The Jimmy Castor Bunch, was released in June; though it was another good 'un, Jimmy and the Bunch were soon out on their own again. The 1980s saw Jimmy Castor hit the lower reaches of the charts for a variety of small labels: Long Distance (with a rendition of Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love"!), Dream, Sleeping Bag, and others. So far the '90s have been quiet years for the E-Man, but as a 1993 appearance at New York City's Sounds Of Brazil nightclub from the re-formed Jimmy Castor Bunch proved, Jimmy Castor, still youthful in his early fifties, still has plenty spark left in him.



It's just begun (RCA LP, 72)


 Phase II (RCA LP)


 Dimension III (Atlantic LP)


 Butt of course (Atlantic LP, 74)


 Supersound (Atlantic LP, 75)


 Bertha butt boogie (Atlantic, 74)


 The everything man (Atlantic, 74)


 King kong (part 1) (Atlantic, 75)


 Potential (Atlantic, 75)


 Supersound / Drifting (Atlantic, 75)


 Bom bom (Atlantic, 76)


 I love a mellow groove (Atlantic, 76)


 E-man boogie (Atlantic, 76)


 Everything is beautiful to me (WEA, 79)