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